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10 things to know after Kevin Durant trade to Phoenix Suns

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
February 9, 2023

Kevin Durant is officially a member of the Phoenix Suns.

It’s not a late-night fever dream or some groggy, early-morning fantasy; on the first day under new owner Mat Ishbia, and about 14 hours away from the 2023 NBA Trade Deadline, the Suns swung arguably the biggest midseason trade not only in the history of this franchise, but the league itself.

As reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Suns will be receiving KD and T.J. Warren from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder, four first-round draft picks and the rights to a first-round pick swap in 2028. All four first-rounders in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 are unprotected.

A blockbuster trade of this magnitude is bound to scatter fans’ brains as they try to make sense of the conflicting emotions, player salaries, luxury tax ramifications and other ripple effects involved. To sort all of that out, here are the 10 initial things to focus on in the immediate aftermath of Kevin Durant coming to Phoenix.

1. This is the biggest midseason gamble in NBA history

Kevin Durant is a top-15 NBA player of all time, and one could make a strong case for him cracking the top 10. To put it simply, players of his magnitude are not normally dealt in the middle of the season, if at all.

Not since Wilt Chamberlain was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1965 has a surefire Hall-of-Famer and current superstar been dealt midseason, and even then, there technically was no trade deadline at the time. So it feels safe to call this the biggest trade deadline blockbuster the league has ever seen, and because of what’s at stake for the Suns, it’s arguably the greatest gamble ever too.

For starters, the superstar headlining the deal is one of the greatest scorers who’s ever lived, and he’s joining a franchise that’s never won a championship in 54 and a half years of existence. The thirst for a title in this desert is very real.

There’s also the inherent risk that comes with a deal like this. Durant is 34 years old, and while his 2019 Achilles tear hasn’t diminished his game in any way, it — and other health problems — have conspired to keep him off the court. That could become a concern with another three years and $153.6 million left on his contract after this season.

Durant joins another aging, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in 37-year-old Chris Paul. His contract is only partially guaranteed for next season, and non-guaranteed the season after that, but Phoenix is clearly pushing its chips to the middle of the table with these two aging all-timers.

That’s especially risky for a team built on young cornerstones that looked like contenders when fully healthy. Despite his struggles to take on the role as a No. 1 scorer and playmaker in December, Bridges had risen to the occasion over the last few weeks. Aside from averaging a career-high 17.2 points and 3.6 assists per game on .463/.387/.897 shooting splits this season, Bridges had strung together the best stretch of his career, topping 20 points in 12 of his last 15 games.

Considering his second-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year, his bargain annual salary of $22.7 million over the next three years, and the fact that he’s never missed a single game in his NBA career, Bridges’ unwavering availability, point-of-attack defense, 3-point shooting and burgeoning ball-handling and playmaking skills will be missed.

As for Cam Johnson, while his mensicus tear sidelined him for 37 games, every indication pointed to him being a dynamo in the starting lineup when healthy. Johnson averaged a career-best 13.9 points per game on a blistering 45.5 percent shooting from deep, and the Suns posted a +24.8 Net Rating in 79 minutes with their preferred starting five of CP3, Devin Booker, Bridges, Johnson and Deandre Ayton.

Of course, this only speaks to the on-court progress of Phoenix’s two 26-year-old wings. There’s not enough space in this section to adequately describe what the “Twins” have meant to this organization (that will come later this week), but they helped build up the culture of a 19-win team into the contender it is now.

Both likely would’ve been under team control for the foreseeable future, both loved playing in this city and being a part of this community, and even with an all-time talent like KD joining the mix, that twinge of sadness fans felt about their departures was understandable.

Depending on how KD ages and what the Suns do with CP3 beyond this season, the title window for this current group is basically this year and next year. It’s the type of all-in move teams are rarely able to make, and at the cost of two highly-coveted wings, four unprotected first-rounders and an additional pick swap, it comes with great risk.

2. Kevin Durant is worth that risk

With all of that being said…Kevin Durant is worth the risk. Losing Bridges, Johnson and a handful of picks stings, but make no mistake about it: KD is the type of bet you have to make if you’re in a position to do so.

It doesn’t matter what their record is by the end of the regular season; as long as it’s good enough for a playoff spot and everyone’s healthy, the Suns are back to being the favorites to win the Western Conference.

Being favored to win the West and actually doing so are two different things, as Phoenix discovered last year. But adding a player like Durant gives Booker the co-star he needed, especially with Paul taking a step back.

Averaging 29.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, Durant is having something of a Renaissance season. He’s shooting a career-high 55.9 percent overall, including 37.6 percent on 3s and a staggering 62.2 percent on 2s, which is also the best mark of his Hall-of-Fame career.

At age 34 and nearly four years removed from a debilitating injury, Durant has somehow gotten even deadlier as a midrange scorer. He ranks in the 97th percentile in points per possession on isolation plays, but he can also be effective as a facilitator (95th percentile in passing creation quality) or off-ball shooter (100th percentile in points per possession on spot-up looks).

Booker was already posting career numbers against opponents’ best defenders; now he’s going to have a field day with all the attention on KD, and vice-versa. All of a sudden, a foundation of Booker and Durant becomes a heck of a lot more attractive to prospective free agents too.

3. James Jones finally makes his Jae Crowder trade

On the one hand, it’s unfortunate Brooklyn chose Crowder’s contract to help match salary in this deal, since it prevents the Suns from using him as a separate trade piece elsewhere to fortify the bench.

On the other hand, all the people who had been clamoring for James Jones to finally trade Bossman got the most emphatic and impressive response we’ve seen in a while. Turning Jae Crowder into Kevin Durant seems pretty good!

To be fair, there were stretches during the season where Crowder’s feud with the Suns really hurt. They missed his defensive communication and grit overall, and when Johnson tore his meniscus, Crowder’s absence hit especially hard.

With that being said, Jones’ stubbornly patient approach yielded the biggest trade in franchise history. All the build-up over the Crowder trade was finally worth the wait.

4. Mat Ishbia puts his money where his mouth is

Earlier on Wednesday, new owner Mat Ishbia sat down with PHNX Sports in a one-on-one interview, and this is how he answered a question about the trade deadline:

“The first thing is, like I said, I think our team’s in a great position. I think we got a great team, got a competitive team. When we’re healthy, I don’t know if there’s a better team in the West than us, right? And I really believe that. Now, can we improve our probability? Can we make things better? Absolutely. And being aggressive means we’re going to look at everything. And I do look at everything. But at the same time, we’re gonna only make the right choice that’s gonna help us win short-term and long-term. And if we’re gonna make a short-term decision, it better not be the wrong thing. And so we’re really making sure we look at everything, but I feel great. We got some of the best players in the league on our team, we’ve got young players, we’ve got veterans, like, we’re really in a great position. I don’t know if people in Phoenix realize how great it is. I know our record last year was a lot better than it is this year, but there’s been a lot of injuries. Like, I love our team.”

Less than 12 hours later, he made good on his promise to be aggressive, even if it came at the expense of how much he loved the team as it was.

The neat thing is, Ishbia was reportedly pressing for the deal to get done. According to Wojnarowski, Jones texted Nets GM Sean Marks after 11 p.m. ET “on the direction of his new owner.” Ishbia “wouldn’t call it a night” without making another run at KD, and when he “wouldn’t go to bed,” he had Jones try again until they worked out this deal.

According to that report, Ishbia basically went full King Joffrey until the Suns got the trade done.

Kevin Durant is joining the Phoenix Suns

How much of this is true and how much of this is the Nets leaking things to make Jones look bad is unclear, but whatever the case, Ishbia immediately put his money where his mouth was — not only by landing Durant, but quite literally when one takes a look at the luxury tax bill.

Phoenix was already in tax territory, but with Durant’s $43 million salary inbound plus Warren’s $1.8 million salary, and only $37.1 million heading out between Bridges, Johnson and Crowder, the Suns are racking up quite an expensive bill:

True enough, an extra $36 million in luxury tax payments sounds like a drop in the bucket for a guy who just spent billions on purchasing a franchise, and that’s especially true when a player like Kevin-Freaking-Durant is the prize.

But some owners get into this business just to say they own an NBA team, without actually investing in it or making it competitive. In his first 24 hours on the job, Ishbia swung for the fences, got one of the best players in NBA history, and didn’t flinch over the extra expenses — nearly $69 million in luxury tax payments — that came attached.

5. Health is now everything

Saying a team’s title chances depend on health is not unique to any team in NBA history. But for the Phoenix Suns and their personnel, it is a particular concern.

Kevin Durant has missed 15 games (and counting) this season with an MCL sprain. Chris Paul missed an entire month early in the season due to right heel soreness and another two weeks because of right hip soreness. And of course there’s Devin Booker, who missed 21 straight games after Christmas thanks to a left groin strain that will sideline him for back-to-backs for the time being.

All three have dealt with injury problems in recent seasons.

And of course, that says nothing of Warren, the returning Sun who’s played a grand total of 30 games over the last two and a half years.

Thus far, Durant has defied the stigma that comes with a career-threatening injury like a ruptured Achilles. Knock on wood that he, Booker and CP3 can avoid the issues that have plagued them this season and in recent seasons.

6. Who’s the fifth starter between Torrey Craig and T.J. Warren?

Paul, Booker, Durant and Ayton make for one hell of a core four. The question is, who the hell is going to be the fifth starter?

There are a few potential options once everyone’s healthy. Damion Lee or Josh Okogie could be thrown in there as point-of-attack defenders, but that would make the Suns’ lineups a lot smaller. Dario Saric could man the 4-spot, but KD might be more effective there, and Saric has struggled to be effective as a 4 alongside DA.

For now, the most likely options come down to two of the Suns’ remaining wings: Torrey Craig and new arrival T.J. Warren.

Craig has been huge in stepping up for Phoenix as a starter this season. Filling in for the injured Johnson and the absent Crowder, the 32-year-old Craig has averaged a career-high 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game on 46 percent shooting overall and a career-high 40.2 percent from deep.

He might be the default option to slide back into the starting lineup at the 4 if KD prefers the 3-spot, though he won’t do much about Phoenix’s need for a point-of-attack defender.

As for Warren, he’s quietly had a good season for the Nets this year. In 26 appearances, the 29-year-old wing has put up 9.5 points per game on 51 percent shooting. However, he doesn’t fill up the stat sheet anywhere else, and his 3-point touch has plummeted from above 40 percent in his last two healthy seasons to 33.3 percent this year. It’s alarming how much of Phoenix’s rotation may suddenly lean on a recovering, injury-prone player.

7. The defense took a hit

You’ve probably noticed how often the phrase “point of attack defender” has come up so far. It’s only because the Suns are really going to struggle with that unless they’re able to swing another trade.

With the Suns needing to hide CP3 on defense and Booker shouldering most of the offensive load, Bridges routinely took on the assignment of defending opponents’ best guards and wings. Whether it was Ja Morant, Luka Doncic or Paul George, Bridges’ versatility served as the foundation that made Phoenix’s top-10 defense possible.

Now, they’ll be missing their premier perimeter stopper, along with another smart team defender in Johnson.

Durant is no slouch defensively, and he’s even averaging 1.5 blocks per game this season. But he won’t be shutting down guys like Morant or Doncic in a playoff series, and neither Warren nor Craig is that guy either.

Booker has transformed into something of a glue guy defender playing alongside Kevin Durant before, but this will be the ultimate test for the Suns buying in defensively.

8. Suns take a big swing on Deandre Ayton

Little has been said about Deandre Ayton to this point, but this needs to be made clear: The Suns didn’t want to trade Mikal Bridges until they had to, and not having to include Ayton was telling on multiple fronts.

For the Nets, it reaffirmed reports from last summer that they had no interest in DA. For the Suns, it indicated they were glad to be able to keep him in a deal that cost them their two starting wings. And for DA, it means there’s no more room for inconsistency or hesitation.

Booker gets a high-powered scorer as his costar and CP3 can continue to ease up off the gas, but Ayton stands to benefit from Durant’s arrival more than anyone. The floor-spacing and scoring ability will open things up for Ayton in the paint, and when he’s running pick-and-rolls with the Point God, flanked by Booker and KD?

No NBA defense will have a prayer of stopping that, no matter who the fifth player is.

However, we should reiterate: Deandre Ayton just lost two of his best friends in this trade, guys he considered “triplets” and routinely enjoyed goofing around with.

There is no room for error anymore, and with KD joining demanding teammates like Book and CP3, Ayton is going to hear it plenty on the nights when he’s not completely locked in or loses focus. He’s turned things around dramatically in the last week or so, but that will have to continue in a more serious, veteran locker room.

9. Can the Suns still improve at the NBA trade deadline now?

Kevin Durant was the first major trade domino to fall. The question is whether the Suns can continue to upgrade with a few minor deals before the deadline.

We’ve seen what Jones can do with guys on veteran minimum deals, but this bench could still use additional help.

The second domino of the KD trade appears to be the Toronto Raptors raising their asking price for OG Anunoby. Earlier on Wednesday, potential targets like D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley went to the Los Angeles Lakers in a frustratingly one-sided, three-team deal.

However, even mentioning past targets like these points out the obvious: The Suns’ cupboard of assets is pretty barren after surrendering Bridges, Johnson and all four first-round picks the team could offer. Phoenix could technically dangle pick swaps attached to expiring contracts like Craig or Saric, but those players — or at least Craig, a much-needed wing defender — might need to take on more prominent roles now.

Even if Saric and Landry Shamet are available, they’re unlikely to yield the type of return Phoenix needs to bolster its bench, especially without first-round picks included. In terms of additional trades, Jones may need to scrape the bottom of the barrel with non-essential salaries and as many second-round picks as he’s allowed to offer.

Matisse Thybulle might have made sense, but he was just traded to the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday morning. Jae’Sean Tate, Alex Caruso or Kenrich Williams could make sense too, though again, Phoenix will be hard-pressed to land quality defenders or players in general with the few assets they still have at their disposal.

The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson mentioned the Miami Heat might have interest in Saric, and from a financial standpoint, wing Caleb Martin or guard Victor Oladipo would work logistically. However, Martin has started in all 44 of his appearances this season, and Oladipo has played well off the bench. Even if the Suns threw a heap or second-rounders on top of Saric, it feels unlikely Miami would be interested in moving either one for Super Dario.

Perhaps looping in a third team would help make the money work and get the Suns a player that could help, but that will be difficult to navigate just hours before the deadline.

10. The buyout market just became pivotal

(Update: For a more in-depth look at potential buyout candidates for the Suns, check here.)

Eric Gordon? (Not anymore!) Will Barton? (Perhaps.) Russell Westbrook?? (Please no.)

At this point, any and all veteran players who get traded to bad teams before the deadline are officially on buyout watch for the Suns.

The biggest needs are perimeter/wing defense and a backup ball-handler or shot creator. Phoenix can offer more than most teams, given that they have their full taxpayer mid-level exception with a starting salary of $6.5 million.

A few names coming to mind in the immediate aftermath of the trade deadline include John Wall (traded back to the Houston Rockets, where both sides were miserable with that pairing), Danny Green (on a $10 million expiring deal also being sent to Houston), Patrick Beverley (traded to the Orlando Magic) and Reggie Jackson (dumped to the Charlotte Hornets).



BONUS: 11. It all started with Devin Booker

Remember back when Devin Booker was a looter in a riot? When he was inefficient, didn’t make his teammates better, didn’t play defense, wasn’t a winner and wasn’t actually good?

Now that Booker’s not surrounded by G League talent, two of the greatest players of all time have wanted to come join him in the Valley. He’s built the super-team he always wanted, and he’s at the very center of it:

People like Monty Williams, James Jones, Chris Paul, Mat Ishbia, Jae Crowder, Ricky Rubio and so many others helped pave the way for a benchmark moment like this, but without Devin Booker at the center of it all, none of this ever falls into place.

The script on Booker has changed dramatically in recent years, but KD’s arrival should only drive the point home further: A lot of people were dead wrong about the star of the Phoenix Suns.

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