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The Phoenix Suns introduced Bradley Beal as the newest member of the team with a press conference on Thursday.
Beal, coach Frank Vogel and general manager James Jones spoke with members of the media about the big trade to Phoenix, the team’s championship expectations, how he’ll fit on the court alongside Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, and plenty more.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from Bradley Beal’s introductory press conference.
1. Bradley Beal and the Suns embrace championship expectations
Until someone knocks them off the mountain, the Denver Nuggets are the reigning NBA champions. But there’s no question that any team with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant should contend for titles, and now with a former three-time All-Star like Beal joining the mix, those championship-or-bust expectations will only be heightened.
In a league where new CBA rules discourage teams from paying max-level money to three or more players, the Suns will be sporting one of the NBA’s last true Big 3s, as well as another max-money player in Deandre Ayton.
As a former NBA champ, James Jones understands that winning a title is the most difficult thing one can ever do in the sport of basketball. There’s still work to be done in rounding out the roster with their own free agents and external targets, but Jones believes Beal puts them in a better position to meet their goal.
“I always look at the game as, you want to have an advantage at as many positions as possible every night,” Jones said. “And adding Brad, I truly believe every night we’re gonna walk out there with four of the five best players on the floor at those positions.”
For his part, coach Frank Vogel paused and smirked when asked how much closer Beal pushes the Suns toward their championship goals before responding, “Tremendously closer.” Vogel sees Beal as one of the best players in the league, regardless of what his win-loss record said during his time with the Washington Wizards.
“Bradley hasn’t always had the pieces around him to win a championship, but there’s an old saying that we used to say back when I was in Indiana and I was able to carry it through it with the Lakers: Champions behave like champions before they’re champions,” Vogel explained. “And I believe Bradley’s carried himself that way and performed that way throughout his career. And hopefully now he’s got the pieces around him to help him achieve that goal.”
Beal just turned 30 on Wednesday, 11 years to the day from when he was drafted. Ironically enough, he was wearing the same tie to Thursday’s presser that he wore on draft night back in 2012. His NBA journey has come full-circle, but he acknowledged he’s never been over that second-round hump in the playoffs. Playing meaningful basketball ultimately swayed him to push for a trade to the Suns, and the Wizards worked with him to send him where he wanted to go.
“I think that’s one of the biggest decisions that impacted me of coming here, knowing that every single night, I’m gonna be in an important game,” Beal said. “Every single night I may have a chance of being on television, and every single night teams are gonna give us their best. So I look forward to that challenge, and also being in the position to where we’re kind of a targeted team.”
As the third member of Phoenix’s new Big 3, Beal said he looks forward to leaning on the playoff experience of guys like Durant, Booker and Ayton. The stats are irrelevant as long as the wins follow, and as someone who hasn’t been able to play in big games for a while now, he embraces those championship expectations.
“I understand that there’s a huge expectation,” he said. “We have an expectation for ourselves, but we’re not gonna make your expectations bigger than what ours are. And that’s where I think a lot of teams crumble.”
2. Beal believes he’ll fit well with Booker and KD
When the Suns pulled off their unlikely heist for Bradley Beal, the Brooklyn Nets comparisons immediately followed. The Nets’ failed Big 3 of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden was a natural comparison, since true “super-teams” with three legitimate superstars are exceedingly rare in the NBA these days.
But beyond that most basic set of criteria, the two Big 3s couldn’t be more dissimilar. The Nets’ Big 3 failed because they couldn’t stay healthy, and they were dismantled because one of their stars refused to be vaccinated and was a head case off the court who drove another out of town. And even then, in their limited games together, they were fairly unstoppable!
“I think one of the biggest things we take for granted as players is who’s around you, the players around you and what they bring to the table every single day,” Beal said. “It’s not easy to win in this league, and I think that’s what a lot of people get kind of misconstrued. No matter how much talent you have, you still have to make it work, you have to still put in the work and go get the job done.”
In Phoenix, the Suns’ star trio is not as ball-dominant as Harden and Irving were. All three can score on or off the ball. All three can facilitate, all three shot 40 percent or better last season on catch-and-shoot 3s, all three can create their own looks in iso situations, and all three can handle the ball.
Beal said he gets “antsy” just thinking about the possibilities with those three stars.
“It’s the first thing James [Jones] said is, ‘Okay, when we played you, we pretty much doubled you when you had the ball,'” Beal recalled from his initial conversations with the Suns. “He’s like, ‘But with you, with us, who are you gonna double-team? What are your rotations gonna look like?’ And so just that two seconds, I was like, ‘Damn. That makes a lot of sense.'”
It’s been quite a few years, but this isn’t the first time Beal learned how to play with other star scorers on his team. At Florida in college, Beal helped the Gators reach the Elite Eight despite starting at the 4-spot. People gave him strange looks when he decided to go to Florida, since they already had three guards on their roster, but Beal is confident this situation will be a lot like his college experience.
“You have a lot of dynamic scorers who, the biggest box that we check is our unselfishness,” Beal said. “All of us just want to compete, we want to play hard, and the biggest thing is we want to win. I think we all have unbelievable talents that we respect, and we unselfishly push each other to be the best we could possibly be.”
Beal joked about being able to “chill” more often and work on his catch-and-shoot looks now that he won’t have to worry about constant double-teams. There will be an adjustment process in learning to play together, but everyone’s message from the Suns’ camp has been the same.
“They already told me from day one, ‘We don’t want you to come in and be anybody but yourself,'” Beal said. “‘We don’t need you taking a backseat. Just be aggressive, be who you are.’ And K and Dev and DA are the same way. They don’t want anybody to come in and feel like you have to walk on eggshells.”
Beal understands Phoenix is “Book Nation,” but he doesn’t look at it as the Suns being any one person’s team. For his part, he’s just excited to play alongside two Hall-of-Famers who can push each other to reach new heights. It’s something he hasn’t had since Russell Westbrook was in D.C., and surrounded by Booker, KD, DA and Vogel in Phoenix, he’s looking forward to being pushed in ways he’s never been pushed.
“Seeing Russ every single day, his work ethic, his mentality, that took my game to another level, and I think it’ll be the same thing here,” Beal said. “Around a championship coach, around KD who has two, Book who’s played in the Finals, DA who’s played in the Finals — their mentality is gonna be a lot different than what I’ve seen, so I’m excited for it. I think it’ll propel my game and it’ll prepare my mentality.”
3. Suns are comfortable starting Bradley Beal and Devin Booker in the backcourt, but will still explore
As of right now, Devin Booker appears to be the favorite to start at point guard for the Suns. Beal grew as a playmaker in D.C., and KD can initiate offense too, but Book probably has the best profile to fill that role in “Point Book” lineups now that Chris Paul is gone.
Beal and Vogel look at it a little less conventionally.
“I see it as being free-flowing,” Beal said. “I don’t think either of us really have any position. He can create, he can facilitate, he can shoot the ball, he can score the ball, and I can do the same. So it’s not gonna be a ‘Who plays point? Who plays shooting guard?’ I think it’s an interchangeable thing, and whoever gets it goes.”
Vogel said he’s comfortable with Booker and Beal being his starting backcourt entering the season, but also mentioned those situations will play out in training camp. Book and Beal will be starting no matter what, but Vogel left the door open for Cam Payne to earn the starting point guard spot, or even someone else the Suns might land in free agency.
“We want to play with pace, so we’re gonna have a multiple ball-handler attack on most possessions, but I love the fact that both Bradley and Devin have played point at phases of their career and can initiate offense, as can KD,” Vogel said. “We also want to see how the rest of the roster shakes out to see if we add a point guard. Cam Payne will be in mix. All those decisions will play out in camp, but we’re gonna play with pace and have a multiple ball-handler attack.”
Payne probably isn’t a starting-caliber point guard, but he does play with pace and should be familiar with associate coach Kevin Young’s offense. There are distinct advantages to putting the ball in a floor general’s hands and letting Booker, Beal and Durant play in their more natural spots off the ball.
Either way, though, the Suns’ offense sounds like it rely less on conventional roles like “point guard,” “shooting guard” and “small forward,” and more on sheer scoring and playmaking abilities bouncing off each other.
“I love the idea of getting those guys down the floor with a point guard and advancing it up to them and letting them attack, but I know that they can handle it on their own as well,” Vogel said. “We’ve seen that through Book’s career, through Bradley’s career, and again, with the pace that we want to play with, I think most possessions are gonna have different ball-handlers each time down.”
4. Suns remain high on Deandre Ayton
Ayton’s already been mentioned a few times in our first three takeaways, and when asked about him directly, both Beal and Vogel continued to reiterate their praise for what he brings to the table.
“He’s one of the best two-way centers in the game,” Vogel said, echoing what he told PHNX Sports earlier this week. “Obviously, he’s gonna be a defensive anchor for us. I’ve long utilized his skill-set in my defensive scheme to build a dominant defense, and I think he can do that. And I think there’s a lot that we can untap offensively with him as well. So he’s a pivotal part of what we’re gonna accomplish this year.”
Beal hasn’t played with a true big man this talent since Marcin Gortat, who he playfully jabbed at by saying DA is “a lot better” than his former Wizard teammate. But with two other gravitational scorers like KD and Book on the perimeter, Beal recognizes the impact Ayton can have with his rim-rolling and especially his defense.
“I think DA can be a huge piece to our team,” Beal said. “It’s tough ’cause we’re on the outside looking in always, but I see his value. I think he’s a really talented big, one of the best bigs in the league, and a willing defender. I think that’s a lost art in our game too. So I think his impact is gonna be huge this year for us.”
5. Two final James Jones tidbits
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Chris Paul name-dropped “Isiah” alongside owner Mat Ishbia when asked about the Suns’ decision-makers trading him away.
The implication was that Isiah Thomas, a former Detroit Pistons legend, New York Knicks executive and personal friend of Ishbia was involved in Phoenix’s front office, pulling strings in the shadows while Jones remained the public face as GM and president of basketball operations.
A rumor about Thomas being in a front office role emerged before Ishbia’s introduction as owner, which was met with vitriol due to a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against Thomas back in 2006. Ishbia denied any official position for Thomas within the organization at that time, but Thomas was recently seen at multiple Suns playoff games sitting next to Ishbia, so speculation about his potential unofficial role spread.
On Thursday, Jones was asked directly about his role in the new regime, and he shot down the idea that his role or responsibilities had been diminished.
“Mat’s awesome, he’s been extremely awesome to work with,” Jones said. “My role has expanded, as you see with this recent transaction that we made to acquire Bradley. But working with Mat, with [Suns CEO] Josh [Bartelstein], with Frank has been great for me. It’s allowed me to to improve my team, and my team with me in basketball operations, we’ve been able to push forward with some really big — I’d say some, like, really high or big asks, and we’ve been able to accomplish it as a team.”
That wasn’t the only rumor Jones had to address. Earlier on Thursday, Bleacher Report’s Chris B. Haynes reported the Suns would meet with Dallas Mavericks star Kyrie Irving at the start of free agency. It felt like a desperate ploy from Irving’s camp to put pressure on Dallas to up their offer in order to retain him, but it was a report Jones was asked about.
“What we do in free agency is an internal matter that we always keep internal,” Jones said. “There are plenty of great players that we’ll talk to during this period. And so that’s where I’ll leave that.”
Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro shot down the possibility of a Suns meeting with Irving, but the logistical nightmare of trying to get him on Phoenix’s roster should’ve been enough to rule out this highly unlikely outcome.
Between Booker, Durant, Beal and Ayton, the Suns already have $161.6 million on the books in salary. Any sign-and-trade would hard-cap Phoenix at $172 million, which means they could not cross that line on their salary cap sheet under any circumstances. That means Ayton’s contract would need to go out in the deal.
As The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted, in that scenario, Irving could sign for no more than $21 million in salary for the upcoming season, and Dallas would either have to send another contract to a third team, or renounce the rights to Christian Wood or Dwight Powell in order to make the math work. And even if all of that happened, the Suns would still need to fill their remaining 11 roster spots with about $20-25 million in cap space.
That’s a logistical nightmare to navigate, and Cam Payne’s $6.5 million would eat a significant chunk out of that now that his contract became fully guaranteed on Thursday. So really, the only way Irving to the Suns would actually work is if he agreed to forgo hundreds of millions of dollars and take the veteran minimum in Phoenix.
Irving has always marched to the beat of his own drum, but never at the cost of his money. That would be quite a financial sacrifice just to stick it to Dallas and reunite with Durant. It would quite literally be unprecedented, which is why we felt comfortable shooting that possibility down just moments after Haynes’ report first broke.
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