At the trade deadline, Kevin Durant to the Phoenix Suns was the most significant mid-season
trade in modern NBA history. Not since Wilt Chamberlain was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers
from the Golden State Warriors during the 1965 All-Star Game has there been a mid-season
blockbuster of this magnitude.
Durant is a top-five player, still in All-NBA First Team form at 34 years old, and his arrival in Phoenix makes them instant contenders and the favorites to win it all.
There have been rumblings of Durant to the Suns since his initial trade demand out of Brooklyn
last summer. Even though that trade ended up not happening at the time, the lynchpin to the Phoenix Suns remaining the favorite in any Durant deal was their ability to retain star center Deandre Ayton. The ability to surround Durant, who is expected to make his debut with the Suns on Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets, with Ayton’s 7-foot frame and silky-smooth game was pivotal to the Suns maintaining an elite inside-out game. Ayton is averaging a career-high 18.7 points and 2 assists while pulling down 10.1 rebounds.
Well, mission accomplished. The Phoenix Suns retained Ayton, giving up versatile wing defender Mikal Bridges and sharpshooting forward Cam Johnson, along with Jae Crowder and four unprotected future first-round picks for Durant and T.J. Warren. That left a starting five of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Josh Okogie, Durant, and Ayton. The team scooped up Terrence Ross on the buyout market in an attempt to replenish their perimeter depth alongside Damion Lee, Cameron Payne, Torrey Craig, and Landry Shamet.
Bridges will be sorely missed, as he and Johnson were the two players on the Suns with the most untapped potential. Not to mention Bridges was the Suns’ best perimeter defender, a role necessary when defending the league’s seemingly endless lethal wings. That role will now be
by committee, with Durant and Booker having to pull their weight in hiding the aging and
declining Paul on defense.
Forming another super teams with Phoenix Suns
Durant makes the Suns the instant favorites, but it’s also his fourth super team. His first was
created organically, through the drafting brilliance of Sam Presti, first with the Seattle
Supersonics before they relocated as the Oklahoma City Thunder. That trio consisted of three
future MVPs in Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. The Thunder’s historic waste of
talent, only reaching the NBA Finals once, propelled Durant to join another super team, the Golden State Warriors, where he won two titles alongside future Hall-of-Famers Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Then he moved on in an attempt to reclaim his own narrative, pairing with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn to bring the Nets back to relevance.
The Nets eventually reunited Durant with Harden, but the big three proved to be the most
underperforming “Big 3” of all time, thanks to injuries and clashing egos.
Durant now joins the Suns as the best player on the team, but similar to his Warriors tenure, outside of the organic building process of the Suns’ last five years. Winning with the Suns would add another championship trophy and likely a Finals MVP award to Durant’s trophy chest. But it
doesn’t rewrite the narrative around him as a superstar that joins established contenders to make them unbeatable in an NBA 2K kind of way.
Joining the Phoenix Suns, narratively speaking, is a retread of what he did with the Warriors. Just two years ago, the Suns were in the Finals, losing to the Bucks in six games. Durant tried to change
the perception about who “drives the bus” on the teams he has been on by joining the Nets, only
to bolt when things didn’t go as he planned. So now he hand-picked the Suns as his next
destination, a team that was squarely in the playoff hunt.
Adding his elite offensive bag gives the Suns the best duo in the NBA with him and Booker, just like with Durant and Curry before. There’s only five players on the floor at all times. You can’t double both Durant and Booker. One of them can cook on single coverage throughout the game. The Phoenix Suns’ role players will have plenty of open looks thanks to the gravitational pull Durant demands.
The Suns weren’t the only team that reloaded in the Western Conference arms race. The Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and Memphis Grizzlies all made marginal moves, none as big as the Suns. It won’t matter as Durant is enough of a proven playoff performer, tilting the scales in the Suns’ favor.
While it might not move the needle on Durant’s legacy, it will be the first championship for the
Phoenix Suns’ excellent head coach, Monty Williams. As well as for Booker. It might be enough to convince Ayton, who signed a four-year $133 million max contract in July, to find happiness in the desert and stay with the team long-term.
No player benefits from Durant’s arrival more than Paul, who may finally be able to hoist the NBA championship trophy come June. Paul is one of the greatest players never to win a chip. He should finally see the promised land if his legs can last until the Finals.
With all these narratives at play, it’s a shame Durant’s won’t change. Joining another super team will only continue the critiques pundits, and former players have of his decision-making toward team-hopping. This is a shame, as no player’s mere presence on the roster has carried as much weight toward contention since Shaquille O’Neal.
Lee Escobedo covers the NBA for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @_leeescobedo