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'I'm excited to be back and stay back': Bradley Beal talks recovery process and return to Suns lineup

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
December 11, 2023
Bradley Beal is finally set to return for the Phoenix Suns

It’s been exactly one month since Bradley Beal last played for the Phoenix Suns. After missing the last 12 games with a back injury, he’s set to return to action Tuesday night against the Golden State Warriors.

“I’m excited,” Beal said. “It’s been a process for sure. It’s been a game of patience, but I’m definitely ready.”

It’s been a long, arduous process to get to this point. After missing the first seven games of the season, Beal returned for three contests before his “low back strain” sidelined him once again. Apparently, the injury was worse than that.

“Yeah, it was more than a strain,” Beal said coyly. “I can’t give you all the details, I would be here all day.”

Whatever the true nature of the injury, Beal underwent a painful, painstaking process to get back into the lineup. He couldn’t sleep or even sit down without feeling pain in his back, and managing that type of discomfort required constant diligence on a daily basis.

“It would literally be an account of a day-to-day process, of how you feel, the recovery process the day after from working and putting your body through the stress,” Beal said. “So it was definitely a mental challenge for sure of just getting over the hump the last few weeks.”

Beal credited the Suns’ training staff with pushing him to his limits to ensure he’d come back stronger, but the mental hurdles extended beyond the rehabilitation process. Phoenix went on a seven-game win streak after their 4-6 start, but since then, injuries and losses have continued to pile on.

The Suns have lost four of their last five games, and Beal’s prolonged absence contributed to the overwhelming sense that this team simply couldn’t get healthy.

“I think it’s a little bit different because it’s his first year as a Phoenix Suns member,” coach Frank Vogel explained. “There’s a lot of excitement for him coming here and getting a new start in the second phase of his career. So I think that makes it different than most injuries that you face, but he’s a guy that wants to be out there and I admire the work that he’s been putting in.”

Beal’s heard all the injury concerns before, and those narratives grew louder as Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and the rest of the supporting cast struggled to stay on the court.

“It was more mental than anything,” Beal said. “Obviously, a lot of things were out of my control. I mean, nobody’s in control of being injured. I think that’s probably one of the biggest frustrations that a player can have.”

Suns urged Bradley Beal to take his time

It’s a familiar frustration for Beal, who’s missed 32, 42, 12 and 15 games over the last four seasons. With the NBA’s new 65-game minimum, Beal is already disqualified from end-of-season awards.

But after months of expressing his excitement to play in games with real stakes again, Beal has largely been denied his chance to contribute because of an uncooperative back that’s out of his control. The last time he played, he tried to push through the injury, playing through an entire second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder that ultimately cost him a few weeks.

Beal was ready to do it again, but Booker, Durant and his teammates emphasized the difference between this Suns team and the Washington Wizards squads that needed him on a nightly basis: They could afford to wait until he got fully healthy.

“Honestly, I probably would’ve played and been hard-headed probably through the process if I didn’t listen to my teammates,” Beal admitted. “I think they more or less gave me more confidence and just kind of made me feel better about the situation.”

As much as his teammates, Vogel and the entire, anxious fanbase wanted Beal out there, the Suns maintained their long-term mindset…and made sure to reinforce that approach while he recuperated.

“I hate to be in that position, but to hear it from K and hear it from Book, they’re like, ‘No, take your time, make sure you’re 100 percent, we got it,'” Beal explained. “‘We have more than enough to stay afloat and push this thing to where we want to go. We need you down the stretch.’ And so that made me feel awesome every single day.”

Beal’s three-week re-evaluation period was last Friday, and half a week later, he’ll be available to return against the Warriors. The goal was for Beal to stack a few practices together and see how his body responded, and everyone involved felt comfortable with how his body responded to being a full participant over the weekend.

After weeks of being engaged on the sidelines, giving pointers during timeouts and staying up-to-date on the Suns’ playbook, Beal has been working to get his wind back. There’s no substitute for the real thing, and after a few games without KD, Booker is excited at the prospect of having Beal back.

“One piece can always change a team drastically, and that’s not no ordinary piece that we’re adding either; it’s Bradley Beal,” Booker said. “Me and KD have played together this year, but we haven’t had Brad out there. So one person can change everything, the whole landscape, the spacing.”

Bradley Beal ready to relieve Devin Booker

Assuming there are no last-minute setbacks — no longer a guarantee, given what happened before Durant’s scheduled home debut last season, or the fact that the Suns were supposed to see the Big 3 weeks ago — Beal will join Booker on the court for the first time since the preseason.

Over the last handful of games, teams have overloaded their defense against Booker. The Memphis Grizzlies top-locked him with constant ball denials, the Los Angeles Lakers and Toronto Raptors effectively smothered him with length, and the Sacramento Kings sent double-teams his way all night.

Even in the midst of Point Book’s career year, having an additional ball-handler and scoring threat should hopefully take a lot off Booker’s plate.

“I love everything about what Bradley Beal’s gonna add to Devin Booker’s game and making his life easier, both when he gets doubled and punishes on the back side, and being able to attack and create stuff for Book as well,” Vogel said.

“That’s the nightmare that all coaches have trying to guard Brad, and not only coaches, the opposing players,” Booker added. “I’ve been on the other side of it. He can stop on a dime and get to his pull-up so fast. But he’s also played different roles. I think the last couple of years, he was more of a facilitator. Then a year before that, he averaged 30 a game. So it just shows the versatility of what he can do, and he’s a problem.”

Beal wouldn’t divulge his “secrets” on specific coverages where he can help Booker, but after weeks of having to watch from the sidelines, he’s eager to get started and alleviate some of that pressure.

“Beyond excited, man,” Beal said. “He’s playing at an elite level right now. It was tough the last couple of games just seeing him get double-teamed, triple teamed, and I’m like, ‘That’s what we want to avoid, that’s what we’re trying to stay away from.’ So I’m definitely happy that I can come in and fill that void for him, relieve a little bit of pressure and just try to keep on lifting his plate.”

With Durant listed as questionable due to his left ankle sprain, there’s a chance the Suns’ Big 3 finally makes their debut together. At this point, most Suns fans will believe it once they see it, but whether it’s Tuesday or later in the week, the day is rapidly approaching.

Booker has expressed his excitement about how the three of them will fit together and how defenses will try to stop them. Beal has been waiting his whole career to share the court with this much talent. And Vogel understands that once they’re on the court together, the season can really begin in earnest.

“We knew from the start this summer that there’s still gonna be an element of cohesion that has to be built amongst them and amongst the guys that are out there with them,” Vogel said. “This is really stage one of seeing that, so you never know how quickly those things are gonna take shape. Sometimes they click right away just because of the talent alone, and sometimes it takes time for teammates to learn each other and learn what they’re doing within our system.”

Despite the long wait, frustrating recovery process and looming anxiety over when this team might get whole, Beal played the long game and did his due diligence before returning. Now, Tuesday’s game marks another promising step toward the Suns reaching their full potential.

“I’m excited to be back and stay back,” Beal said.

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