The Kevin Durant-to-Heat rumor leads to worry about Devin Booker’s Suns future

May 8, 2024, 3:06 PM

Brooms are great as long you’re holding the handle. The Suns ended up in the bristles, swept out of the first round of the playoffs, sentenced to an offseason of turbulence.

The solution is both inevitable and obvious:

Fire Frank Vogel. Or trade Kevin Durant.

Turns out, the delay in the former might be to accommodate the latter. The latest and hottest rumor is that Durant would consider a trade to the Miami Heat, if it makes sense to all parties involved. Former NFL wide receiver Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson said Durant told him as much in a lengthy conversation, apparently allowing Johnson to go public with the information.

That says a lot.

If true, it means Durant has greenlighted another runway departure in his nomadic career.

If true, it means Durant feels no responsibility or accountability to the current cause or mission in Phoenix.

If true, it means he’s cool abandoning Devin Booker. And that’s what worries me most.

But let’s rewind a moment: Vogel was a bad fit for this group from the very beginning. He is not confrontational. He pandered to his star players by always harping on the officiating, choosing to punch down in times of real adversity. He is the rare defensive-minded head coach who is NOT confrontational by nature. As a result, there was a lethal leadership vacuum at the top of the organization.

Durant’s alleged unhappiness was first reported on Christmas Day, and Durant soon retorted with a string of stellar performances. But as the season wore on, there were many random scenes where Durant looked unhappy and unconvinced, far removed from the huddle. A damning report in The Athletic detailed how Durant felt unhappy and misused in the Suns’ offense. The story also included an alarming anecdote of a desperate and angry Vogel screaming at the top of his lungs, attempting to save a sinking team while his players rolled their eyes.

In professional sports, you can transform from hardline authoritarian to a user-friendly players’ coach. Tom Coughlin did it and won a Super Bowl with the Giants. But you can’t go the other direction. You can’t go from kissing posterior to busting posterior.

When the season ended with another painful elimination-game loss at Footprint Center, owner Mat Ishbia may have landed on the correct strategy: Fire Vogel and run it back with the Big Three, giving them a robust leader, a new voice, a new direction, a new offense and a reason to believe.

But the lengthy delay on Vogel’s job status, along with Ochocinco’s recent comments on Durant, have both raised and changed the stakes. If Durant wants to be traded, and if Durant was the player who was truly most unhappy in 2023-24, well, there might be no need to part with Vogel. And this much seems certain to me:

Durant averaged 27.1 points and 37.2 minutes while playing 75 games. His availability, durability and productivity were spectacular. It was a season that will return Durant to the All-NBA team after a short absence.

Which means this offseason will likely be the last best time to trade KD. And I’m OK with that. This might be the last chance to get a point guard, some athletic wings, some glue guys and give the team back to Booker.

But it feels like Durant and Booker have grown very close over the past 1.5 seasons. And if Durant is willing to go public with passive third-party trade scenarios, what is Booker’s mindset? Is he still our hero forever? Is he loyal to the extreme like Larry Fitzgerald and Shane Doan? Or is he listening to the voices luring him to the Knicks and Madison Square Garden? Is he following Durant’s lead?

If so, we have a calamity on our hands. We will be stuck with an NBA franchise that lost its heart, soul and compass. A franchise no better than the Wizards, suddenly rebuilding around Bradley Beal.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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The Kevin Durant-to-Heat rumor leads to worry about Devin Booker’s Suns future