Have the Phoenix Suns become NBA title favorites after acquiring a dynamic star (Bradley Beal) to pair with two of the league’s most lethal scorers (Kevin Durant, Devin Booker)? Or did the Suns simply swap one injury-riddled point guard (Chris Paul) for another (Bradley) without addressing their depth?
Both statements currently can be true. Leading into the NBA Draft (Thursday) and free agency (June 30), the Suns will have opportunities to fill out the rest of their roster. Before the 2023-24 season begins, though, the Suns will have a clear idea of their direction. No pressure, but the route the Phoenix Suns take could end with a championship parade or a fragile roster falling like a house of cards.
After Phoenix experienced a second-round exit to the Denver Nuggets, it became clear the outcome pointed to three developments. One, the Nuggets appeared well on their way toward winning an NBA championship because of their perfect blend of star talent, depth, and continuity. Two, Father Time defeated Paul for the second consecutive season, and there’s no reason to think that won’t become an issue again. Three, Phoenix lacked enough role players both to complement Durant and Booker as well as absorb Paul’s absence. The Suns couldn’t contend for a title simply by relying on Durant and Booker to post numbers usually only seen on NBA2K.
No doubt, Phoenix needed to make off-season changes. So far, though, Suns owner Matt Ishbia has overseen moves to show that he’s in charge and that he’s willing to spend. But will the Suns actually address their problems?
The Phoenix Suns fired head coach Monty Williams, who bears at least some responsibility for not preparing his team to compete in an elimination loss for the second consecutive postseason. Williams hardly deserves much of the blame, though, because of his coaching credentials, Paul’s injury, and the lack of role players. Phoenix made the right next steps by hiring Frank Vogel, who has championship credibility and defensive expertise. But as Vogel experienced during his three seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, success largely depends on the roster itself.
The Lakers morphed from a championship team that excelled defensively (2020) to a team that couldn’t even make the playoffs and ranked low in several defensive categories (2022). The reasons? The Lakers suffered too many injuries, while also sacrificing their depth and defensive-oriented players in the Russell Westbrook deal in 2021. Vogel’s understated demeanor, strong defensive schemes, and comprehensive game plans will only become a strength if the Suns construct the right roster for him to coach. Otherwise, Vogel will face the same limitations as he did with the Lakers.
Phoenix Suns made a power move to land Bradley Beal
Phoenix then made another strong step on Sunday with Bradley’s acquisition. With Beal holding a no-trade clause, the Phoenix Suns indirectly had leverage in the negotiations amid Beal’s desire to play with Durant and Booker. Washington received scrutiny for not acquiring more than Paul, Landry Shamet, several second-round picks, and a picks swap. Kudos to Phoenix for taking advantage of that dynamic. Outside of Deandre Ayton, though, the Suns frankly didn’t really have much to offer Washington, anyway.
Phoenix already sacrificed its depth when it acquired Durant and T.J. Warren from Brooklyn for two valued wing players (Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson), a player that wanted to leave after not accepting a reduced role (Jae Crowder), and four unprotected first-round picks (2023, 2025, 2027, 2029).
Then and now, the Phoenix Suns needed to make the Durant trade for two reasons. Even with a full roster, the Suns were mostly just treading water in the middle of the Western Conference amid overlapping injuries to Paul, Booker, and Ayton. Despite missing a combined 109 regular-season games out of a possible 246 since missing all of the 2020-21 season to rehab his surgically repaired right Achilles tendon, Durant has still remained the NBA’s most prolific and efficient scorer.
Because of how he has fit in seamlessly with other star players in Golden State, Brooklyn, and Phoenix, Durant will surely do the same thing with Beal. As shown during the Suns’ short playoff run, Durant will gladly defer to Booker with the scoring workload. Meanwhile, Booker has struck a strong balance between aggressively exploiting defenses that give Durant too much attention and finding Durant for open shots when defenses sag off. Expect Bradley to showcase an even stronger blend of scoring and playmaking that Paul provided previously.
At least the Phoenix Suns are a super team that won’t have significant chemistry issues. Phoenix figured the Xs and Os puzzle last season with Durant, Booker, and Paul, however, and that still wasn’t enough. The Suns won’t have to worry about Paul’s durability during a pivotal playoff game, anymore. But they are far from out of the woods clearing out a crowded trainer’s room. The 29-year-old Beal has missed a combined 111 games in the last four seasons, so the Suns very well might go through significant stretches without their starting point guard as they did with Paul.
With the Phoenix Suns spending $163 million on Booker, Durant, Beal, and Ayton, how do they fill out the rest of their roster? With that top-heavy talent, they could entice valued role players to take a veteran’s minimum in hopes to win an NBA title. Considering his defensive expertise and hopes to follow a new voice, Ayton could revitalize his career under Vogel. But the Suns should also entertain deals for Ayton in hopes that give them enough players to fill positional needs.
Which route the Phoenix Suns take could largely depend on what else happens to lead into Thursday’s draft and in free agency. Regardless, Phoenix must show the same level of aggressiveness in filling out its roster as it did with hiring an elite coach and landing another elite star. Otherwise, the Suns might experience another early postseason exit because their top-heavy talent couldn’t overcome injuries and a depleted roster once again.