Suns

Suns Shooting for the Moon With Durant

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The Phoenix Suns have gambled the mortgage.

Rent will be due June 1st— day one of the 2023 NBA Finals. Will Kevin Durant be able to help the Suns cash in the biggest bet in franchise history? Or will they be left high and dry looking for more once again?

Let’s look into the Suns’ insane trade-deadline deals and examine what this means post-deadline.

Twins Out Of Town

First, let’s dive into what the Suns lost.

In the Hearts

Daggers were stuck into all Suns fans’ hearts late Wednesday night (or early Thursday morning if you weren’t awake) when the two most lovable guys on the team were traded away. Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson were the headlines of Phoenix’s package deal going to the Brooklyn Nets for Kevin Durant.

While this was always in the back of everyone’s mind of what it was going to take to get someone of that caliber, it doesn’t mean it hurts any less. Words can’t describe what these two guys meant to the city.

Bridges played every single game in his Suns tenure. The ironman became a staple in everyday Suns life. Johnson was the Valley’s sweetheart, making minds explode one poster dunk at a time.

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On the Court

As well as leaving holes in all fans’ hearts, this is going to leave holes on the floor that will need to be fixed, too. Bridges is an S-tier point-of-attack defender, guarding the best player on the other team every night. While Durant can hold his own on the defensive end, he’s not coming to replace Bridges as the first-option stopper.

In his own right, Johnson has proven he will be a high-level glue guy for years to come. He brings a career 40% three-point percentage and the type of work ethic everyone should want to play with.

There will be more options opened up eventually after the buyout market starts to fill itself. In the meantime, however, these gaps are going to be felt. Depth was already an issue for this team in the past and this deadline didn’t necessarily fix the back end of the roster like it bolstered the top half.

Eyes will be on James Jones moving forward to see how they end up trying to polish off this roster for a deep playoff run. Nevertheless, they still have the frame to build.

Super Dario’s Time Has Come

The other move the Suns made pre-deadline was trading Dario Saric and a second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Darius Bazley. With reports of Saric wanting to expand his role and “play more minutes”, it felt inevitable something would come from the $9.2 million expiring contract he is on.

Saric produced a lot of positive play so far this season in his 37 games played. He became a staple small-ball five for Phoenix and was always able to flex to power forward whenever deemed necessary— always ready for any moment that came his way.

However, it seems clear the Suns were looking to go in a younger and cheaper direction. Bazley comes in on just a $4.3 million deal while being in the last year of his rookie contract. As mentioned before, Phoenix is going to be a prime player in this coming buyout market. Thus, flexibility is going to be needed in the long run.

Durant To Dazzle In Phoenix

With what the Suns lost out of the way, we can finally look into what actually is. That is Kevin freakin’ Durant.

Per BetMGM, the odds for the Phoenix Suns to win the championship this year went from +1800 to +450 after the Durant trade was announced— the second-best odds behind last year’s Finals runner-up Boston Celtics. Instant favorites above other teams around the league.

For good reason, too.

This is a clear upgrade to the top-end talent of the Suns’ roster. Durant was playing at an MVP level before his injury back in January. Averaging 29.7 points per game, Durant’s high-powered offensive game will fit right in with Phoenix. Durant is currently shooting a staggering 59% (98th percentile, per cleaning the glass) on mid-range shots. Monty Williams‘ sets and philosophies will align seamlessly with Durant’s offensive skill set.

KD remains out due to an MCL sprain he suffered in his right knee. He is looking to return around the All-Star break, however, and is actually “hoping” to participate in All-Star weekend. This would bode well for Phoenix to get as much time with him on the floor with the others as possible before playoff time.

Warren Makes His Return

Part of the KD blockbuster deal was the inclusion of T.J. Warren in a return to Phoenix. This is a sneaky pickup the Suns were able to contrive— one that seems to be flying under the radar more than it should.

With the shipment of Bridges, Johnson and Crowder in the trade, the depth department was lacking. Warren exploded as a scorer in the NBA bubble, averaging 26.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in the 10 games there. Since then, he has truly developed the scoring aspect of his game.

This gives the Suns a seasoned player to add to their bench capable of creating their own shot. Something desperately needed in last year’s playoff meltdown against the Dallas Mavericks.

Darius To Develop

22-year-old Darius Bazley is a 6’8″ power forward in the third year of his career. Conveniently — as Saric was — in the last year of a contract, too.

As mentioned above, this has been speculated as a deal that was more about the money than about the on-court product.

In the end, though, Bazley is an athletic and long wing, which is a nice replacement for Dario.

With a 6’11’ wingspan capable of defending various positions, Bazley adds much-needed defensive depth to the bench. His development throughout the year will give fans something to watch for, as he has the potential to develop into something more than he was showing in OKC, with the right structure.

Suns Going For It All

It is championship or bust for the Suns this season. New majority owner Mat Ishbia said in his introductory press conference, “money follows success”. The man came in with a plan and is looking to go for it all as soon as he can.

The Western Conference is as wide open as it’s ever been. As of February 10th, the Suns are only 2.5 games back from the third seed. With health on the horizon, plus an All-Star break to rest up, the Suns are set to go on a second-half streak.

The time is now to strike and go for the organization’s first-ever title. What better way to do it than to get a top-five player in the NBA in Kevin Durant?

About Cameron Prichard

Twitter: @CameronPNBA

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