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Thursday, February 09, 2023

Suns Go All-In With Kevin Durant Acquisition

The Phoenix Suns squandered a 2-0 lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals, and they suffered a humiliating game seven home loss to Dallas in the second round of the 2022 playoffs, so it is evident that the Devin Booker-Chris Paul-Deandre Ayton trio is missing a crucial ingredient to win a title.

Enter Kevin Durant, two-time NBA champion/two-time NBA Finals MVP. The Suns acquired Durant and T.J. Warren from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cam Johnson, and four first round draft picks (the Nets subsequently sent Crowder to the Milwaukee Bucks). The Suns gave up a lot of valuable assets, but they acquired an all-time great player who is averaging 29.7 ppg this season while leading the league in free throw percentage (.934). I love Bridges' versatility, his commitment to play in every game--no load management for him--and his tough defense, but the price for Durant is understandably high even considering his age and injury history.

Durant is an elite three level scorer who is also an above average rebounder, passer, and defensive player. He will command double teams and space the floor to open up opportunities for Booker--who made the All-NBA First Team last season--and others. The injury-riddled Suns rank 21st in scoring and 22nd in field goal percentage this season, but they ranked fifth and first respectively in those categories last season--when they enjoyed better health--and with Durant in the fold they could emerge as the league's most efficient and productive offense.

It is fair to wonder about the Suns' chemistry--Crowder refused to play for the Suns, Ayton's relationship with Coach Monty Williams has been tempestuous at times, and Paul's teams often suffer from internal strife despite his reputation for being a great leader--but on paper the Suns have superior top level talent, solid depth, and impressive versatility. It is premature to crown them as championship favorites--after all, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were expected to lead Brooklyn to a championship but they never carried the Nets past the second round--but there is no doubt that the Suns have the potential to be exceptional at both ends of the court. Durant, Booker, and Paul are midrange assassins, the Suns were a very good three point shooting team even before acquiring Durant, and the Suns' already excellent defense should not miss a beat with Durant playing either forward position.

Regarding the Nets, in less than a week they traded away Durant and Irving, and they went from at least believing/hoping that they could be a championship contender to understanding that they are in a transition phase. The Nets lack star power, but they still have several very good players, and they are capable of reaching the playoffs with their current roster. It will be interesting to see if the Nets try to add a star in the offseason, or if they go into full rebuilding mode.

While the Nets sort out their long term future, it is stand and deliver time for the Suns and specifically for Chris Paul, who is often praised as "the best leader in the NBA." Paul's teams have blown five 2-0 series leads, his Clippers squandered a 3-1 lead versus the Rockets in 2015, his game seven record is 3-5, and--as noted above--his Suns disappeared in game seven at home versus Dallas last year. Every time Paul loses, excuses proliferate like weeds in an unmaintained yard. Now, Paul has an MVP caliber small forward, an MVP caliber shooting guard, an All-Star caliber center, and solid role players. If he does not finish his career with at least one NBA title, there are no acceptable excuses.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:39 PM



At Friday, February 10, 2023 10:36:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as you try to make this about Paul, it's about Durant obviously, just like any other team's best player. As I've heard you say before, why would we put the team's blame on the 3rd or 4th best player as Paul now is on Phoenix? He's 37yo; 38yo by the end of the playoffs. Who exactly is expecting him to lead a team deep into the playoffs now? It's amazing he's still even playing and contributing at a high level at that.

And let's not cherry pick playoff results. And have said Booker has been Phoenix's best player these past few years, so these recent Phoenix teams aren't 'Paul's teams', they're Booker's teams. There's been a lot of big-time AS/HOFers who've never won titles and/or never as the #1 guy, no shame in that. Paul might have been overrated by many at times, but he's accomplished a lot. He was the #2 guy on Houston who was up 3-2 vs GS in the 2018 WCF before he was injured and couldn't play games 6/7. That was GS at the height of their powers, too. That's as tough as it gets, and much tougher than a normal NBA year.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 11:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


My article focuses on Durant, and makes it clear that he is the team's best player.

The point about Paul is that he has been repeatedly praised as the "best leader in the NBA." Further, "stat gurus" insist that he is more efficient--and therefore more valuable--than, among other superior players, Kobe Bryant. If Paul is the NBA's best leader and if he is in fact more efficient than players who have won MVPs, multiple Finals MVPs, and multiple championships, then it should be no problem for him as a leader and efficient player to be the third or fourth most important player on a championship team. I trust Durant to live up to the responsibility of being the number one option. I trust Booker to live up to the responsibility of being the number two option. I trust Ayton to deliver 18-10 with a high field goal percentage (unless Williams benches him for unknown reasons).

I don't trust Paul to stay healthy, to not wear down, and to actually do the leading he is supposedly so good at doing. He and his teams have repeatedly squandered advantageous playoff opportunities, as I noted in the article. Now, he is not even tasked with the responsibility of being the first or second option. It will be interesting to see his vaunted leadership in action.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 12:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous 2 said...

Durant really learned from all the flack he got for joining a 73 win team that was already good enough to win three Finals games without him, this time only joining a 64 win team that was already good enough to win two Finals games without him.

Great player, but I don't know if I've ever seen a star with less pride, or one as committed to finding the path of least resistance. Even Lebron at least custom-built his super teams, rather than just hopping onto ones that were already contending.

You say Paul's got no excuses now, but I think the same is true of Durant. This is yet another chance for him to prove he has what it takes without Curry. Can't say he doesn't have enough help now, with two All-NBA teammates and a Top 5 to Top 10 center besides.

With his knee issues he's only got a couple more elite years at most, and Paul's going to get weaker every one of them. This season is probably KD's last, best chance to prove he can be "the man."

I don't really think he's gonna do it, though. This team already had chemistry issues and they traded the two most well-liked dudes on the team for the moodiest man on the planet.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 3:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You finished your article denigrating Paul a decent amount. The onus is on the #1 player(not the #4), Durant, to be able to win with as good as a #4 option as Paul, along with great #2/#3 options.

I wouldn't trust any 37yo to stay healthy, especially guards. We don't need a stat guru to see how efficient each player is. What that means is another thing. Paul was obviously incorrectly rated over Kobe. When this happened, it was very brief. However, this had more to do with Kobe hatred than anything about Paul. Kobe was perennially rated the 2nd best player in the NBA for a decade; however, the best player was basically changing yearly. Kobe had his fans, but he had adamant haters.

I don't know who's calling Paul the best leader in the NBA and don't really care. His teams consistently do well though. I don't rate leaders based on team/individual performance necessarily. I consider James a horrible leader, but since he is such a great player along with having multiple super teams during his career, he's obviously going to accumulate team/individual award eventually.

Booker/Durant both missing large numbers of games. When will they be back? Will they have enough time to mesh before the playoffs?

Durant has only been able to win titles with an AS cast in GS. His cast was ridiculously better than any other player's in the league at the time. Durant could've been replaced quite a few players and GS would've still won. He only made 1 Finals with Westbrook, and that was with another future MVP teammate. His casts were great in OKC too. It was a complete disaster in Brooklyn with Durant. He has a lot to prove.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 3:15:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disagree the Phoenix won't miss a step on D. Durant doesn't play as hard on that end as Bridges and even when he tries he isn't quite as good a defender. Warren also a big step down from Cam Johnson as a defender, too. They obvious fix would be playing Okogie more, but kid can't shoot and even with a loaded offense like this one that probably matters.

Who is their perimeter stopper now? Who is in charge of slowing down Kawhi Leonard or Ja Morant or Jayson Tatum?

In true Suns tradition, this team is going to win by outscoring the other team, not by stopping them from scoring. It didn't work for Barkley and it didn't work for Nash, but now they might just have the armaments to do it. Even if they do I can pretty much guarantee this team will be weaker defensively than the previous version (and especially than the version with Crowder on it).

At Friday, February 10, 2023 5:34:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous 2:

I don't like team-hopping by star players, and I think that I have made that clear many times.

That being said, Durant has been a consistently productive player both in the regular season and in the playoffs. There is no question that he was the best player on both of his championship teams, and there is good reason to believe that Golden State may not have won either of those titles without him.

I wouldn't blame Durant for Phoenix not winning unless he is the reason that Phoenix doesn't win. The team had chemistry issues, injury issues, and problems at both ends of the court before he joined, and he may not be able to singlehandedly fix all of that in roughly 25 regular season games plus a playoff run. The Suns obviously should be a contender now, but they are not the only strong team in the West.

Regarding Paul, his fans cannot have it both ways: he can't be deemed a great leader/efficient player who is the primary reason that his teams are successful, but then evade any criticism or blame after his teams annually collapse in the playoffs.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 5:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I agree that Durant has a lot of responsibility, and that if the team falls short he should be blamed if he plays at a subpar level.

My point about Paul, as mentioned in the comment above, is that his fans love to give him credit when things go well and then offer "the dog ate my homework" excuses after his team's annual playoff collapses. If his fans are fine with saying that he is the third or fourth best player on the Suns and not the main driver of success or failure, then I am fine with saying that he should not get the bulk of the blame if the Suns fail in a way that is not his fault--but if the mainstream narrative is going to keep being "the Suns are great because of Paul's great leadership and efficiency," then he definitely has a lot to prove.

Also, looking at his career as a whole, if he is being touted as an all-time great point guard worthy of being compared to Isiah, then his checkered playoff resume is an important part of that conversation. When he was clearly his team's best or second best player, the playoff results were not impressive.

At Friday, February 10, 2023 5:44:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Durant is not a lockdown individual defender like Bridges, but Durant is bigger, rebounds better, and is a better rim protector. I believe that the Suns' overall team defense should not be worse after this deal. Of course, we are talking about a one or two year championship window. Bridges would have provided All-Defensive Team caliber defense for the next decade (barring injury), so the Suns' long term defense will be worse but, as the article title states, the Suns went all-in to try to win right now.

You are correct that historically even the best Suns' teams have been offense first, defense second/defense optional--but the Durant/Booker/Paul/Ayton nucleus is the best in Suns' history, at least on paper, so this team should be better both offensively and defensively than previous Suns teams that reached the Finals or Conference Finals.


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