EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Royce O’Neale addition should be ‘seamless’ for Phoenix Suns

Feb 9, 2024, 2:30 PM | Updated: Feb 12, 2024, 10:29 am

Royce O'Neale #00 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on against Maccabi Ra'anana during an exhibition game ...

Royce O'Neale #00 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on against Maccabi Ra'anana during an exhibition game at Barclays Center on October 12, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns general manager and president of basketball operations James Jones said Friday he wanted to come out of this trade deadline with a player for the playoffs.

Royce O’Neale is just that.

“It’ll be seamless,” Jones said of the addition. “You just have to look at his track record. He’s played with some really good players with some really good teams and been instrumental in their success. He’s fearless. That’s what this is about. We’re going into a Western Conference playoff race that is daunting. But it’s fun. And if you’re a competitor, you look forward to it. And lucky for us, we’ve been able to add a guy in Royce who looks forward to that challenge.”

O’Neale was acquired from the Brooklyn Nets in a three-team deal that involved Phoenix sending out three second-round picks and four players. Given the limited amount of assets the Suns own to make trades, it is an endorsement of O’Neale in general to give that up for him and also an indication of the potential for him to stay beyond this season (with his Bird rights coming alongside the wing giving Phoenix the ability to re-sign him this summer).

It is with good reason.

A four-year college player that went the overseas route first for two years, O’Neale’s 2017 Summer League impression with the New Orleans Pelicans was strong enough for the Utah Jazz to sign him to a deal. He immediately became an impact player in Utah’s rotation and stayed for five seasons before getting traded to the Brooklyn Nets, his home for the last two years. Across that time, O’Neale has developed a play-style perfect for a contender and he’s appeared in 44 playoff games.

“Little things,” O’Neale said of what he brings. “All the intangibles. Be the dirty work player. Knock down open shots, try to make my teammates better any way I can and learn from them every way and take us as far as we can.”

Kevin Durant, O’Neale’s teammate for a half-season last year in Brooklyn, expanded on his skill set.

“IQ, played with guys that can score the ball almost his whole career, underrated passer, can shoot the basketball — just a basketball player to be honest,” Durant said Thursday. “A positionless basketball player that’s gonna help us out and fit in so I’m excited about him. I love being around Royce and can’t wait to keep building with him as a person first and then as a teammate.”

O’Neale watched Thursday’s win in which Phoenix racked up 37 assists with excellent ball movement and pace. That is an area of the game he will improve even further. As Durant said, O’Neale’s passing is underrated. He’s not just going to stand in the corner shooting open 3s and play defense.

“I’d rather get an assist than a bucket to be honest,” O’Neale said.

Did he see the way the ball was zipping on Thursday and think it’s a good match?

“Oh, for sure! I said I’m gonna fit right in,” he said.

Durant spoke on that more, including how Phoenix switches a fair bit on defense.

“Being able to guard a few positions, being able to initiate and being a connective small-ball 4, 3,” Durant said. “A guy you can throw the ball to and have him initiate the offense to get guys going, can play in the pocket a little bit and make those passes as well. But he just plays extremely hard, loves the game, loves his teammates and I think people in the Valley are going to love watching him.”

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