DAN BICKLEY

Stephen A. Smith’s Kevin Durant trade report spotlighted heavy questions for Suns

Jun 26, 2024, 8:31 PM

Devin Booker and Kevin Durant...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns talks with Kevin Durant #35 during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on November 22, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Warriors 123-115. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

For many Suns fans, the 2024 NBA draft coincided with another big event on Wednesday: the apparent death of sports journalism.

It was a day when Stephen A. Smith — the face of ESPN and a headline performer seeking $25 million per year — reported that the Suns were desperate to unload Kevin Durant. He didn’t shout. He didn’t scream. He actually REPORTED this bit of news, giving you his journalistic vow.

A few hours later, Suns owner Mat Ishbia stopped just short of calling Smith a liar, expressing the love that Phoenix has for KD.

The whiplash on Planet Orange was far more excitement than anyone expected from a low-wattage NBA Draft where there were few household names or players with established followings. As a result, many wondered if the Durant report was a hoax, a staged narrative constructed by ESPN to command your attention and save the television ratings. Engagement farming at its worst.

I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I believe the Suns are wrestling with a very heavy question. They know Kevin Durant is a Hall of Fame talent who provided elite productivity and availability in 2023-24. They know he is a transcendent player with on-court value that is not easily replaced. I am always excited to watch him play basketball.

But is he a good influence on Devin Booker?

When a star like Durant comes to a market like Phoenix, the heaviest questions always begin as whispers. We heard that Durant was frustrated on Christmas Day. That he was so uninspired by the coaching staff that he effectively shut out Frank Vogel for a large swath of last season. No matter the level of hyperbole or what the details looked and sounded like, it couldn’t have been good for team chemistry.

We heard Booker tell reporters he was “chillin’” after a painful playoff loss, the kind of tepid reaction that made our knees buckle. It was a reaction we never expected from the Valley’s most popular assassin. And with the leadership vacuum in Phoenix, the Suns need Booker to seize the reins like never before.

Booker is a history buff with respect for greatness and tradition. Will he ever feel comfortable being the unquestioned team leader inside the current dynamic? Can he do that with Durant in his presence, a player who prides himself on balling and chilling?

Heavy questions, indeed.

Hence, the path forward is clear. The Suns will try to reset with a new head coach, new role players and a new culture. They will try to conjure up a better version of the Big Three, a partnership built on real trust. If there are no signs of elevation by January 2025, the Rockets will be waiting as potential trade partners.

Which means our very first super team in Arizona enters a make-or-break season with a very short leash. Here’s hoping Booker and Durant prove to be more than another good idea gone bad.

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

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Stephen A. Smith’s Kevin Durant trade report spotlighted heavy questions for Suns