Still in search of first title, the Phoenix Suns reinvent themselves again
It was just two-and-half years ago that the Phoenix Suns took the NBA by storm by making it to the finals before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks. But it seems much longer.
That team and organization barely resembles the one we see today.
The major changes start at the top with new owner Mat Ishbia.
“You look at where we finished Game 6 when we lost to Denver, to where we are today, we’re better. Are we good enough to win the championship? The NBA cup? The NBA championship? Are we good enough? We’re gonna find out," said Ishbia.
Ishbia has been making moves as fast as he talks.
On the same day he finalized a majority purchase of the team from the embattled Robert Sarver in March, he approved the blockbuster trade that brought Kevin Durant to Phoenix.
Days after the Suns lost in the conference semifinals for a second straight year, he fired head coach Monty Williams. In the offseason, Ishbia signed off on two more major deals, one that brought Bradley Beal to the Suns for Chris Paul and another just last month that saw former number 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton shipped to Portland in return for fellow big man Jusuf Nurkic.
While parting ways with Ayton was tough, Ishbia said it had to be done.
“You know, DeAndre Ayton is a great player. We loved having him on the team and he was a great part of our organization and I think he’s gonna do great in Portland. But for our team, Nurkic was a better fit for us," said Ishbia. "And we’re trying to win a championship now. We’re trying to build around three superstars, Kevin, Devin and Brad.”
Only Devin Booker remains from the team that made the finals in 2021.
“Everyone that was a historic part of this franchise, trades are the hardest part of this business. You know because me, personally, I’m so invested. But just understanding that people may be in a better situation," Booker said.
After the two played only briefly together last year, Booker is looking forward to getting more time to mesh with Kevin Durant.
“I’ve always looked up to KD and you know to be here first hand now and get to spend time growing that relationship, it’s a full circle moment in life and we have a great deal of respect for each other,” said Booker.
Durant said they needed the bonding time.
“It’s always good to build as teammates. We’ve been around and hung around together before as opponents, but to hang with each other as teammates was a different feeling. I’m looking forward to continuing to build with Book on and off the floor," said Durant.
And both will have to learn to play with the third member of the "Big 3," guard Bradley Beal — another versatile player used to having the ball in his hands.
But will there be enough basketballs to go around?
“It’s not just gonna be one guy. We’re all gonna be leading by committee, whosoever is out-letting the ball, whoever is closer or gets the rebound. We’re all free to push and get our offensive initiated,” Beal said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, like if we had a traditional point guard, he’s not gonna be slowing our offense down like yo, get the ball to Kevin, get the ball to D-Book, and let’s get this thing going,”
And it’ll be up to new head coach Frank Vogel to draw up the plays for this new superstar trio.
“You know we spent a lot of time in this gym, away from this gym, throughout the summer just getting to know these guys as people, talking about the system we’re gonna put in place," said Vogel.
Vogel replaces Monty Williams, having previously coached against the Suns with the Lakers.
“Devin Booker knocked us out of the playoffs a couple of years ago. KD has always been a nightmare and Brad has always been a nightmare to go against so to have those guys on my side, there’s a great deal of excitement with that,” Vogel said.
But it’s championship or bust for new owner Matt Ishbia, who is also working fast off the court to instill a new culture for the team. An NBA investigation a year ago found former owner Robert Sarver had engaged in a long history of racist, misogynistic and hostile incidents, forcing him to sell the franchise.
Ishbia lauds a new TV deal that puts the Suns and their WNBA sisters, the Mercury, on broadcast television for the first time in more than a decade. But the billionaire mortgage broker says it’s not about the money.
“If you put money first, you don’t make decisions like that. We don’t put money first on anything," Ishbia said. "We put winning, success, fan experience, community first and when you do those things, money will follow.”
The new Suns debut Tuesday in Golden State with an instant reunion against former point guard Chris Paul. They’re home for the first time on Saturday hosting Utah.