It’s been almost a week since the first NBA offseason bombshell of the summer arrived. NBA star shooting guard Bradley Beal, the newest Phoenix Sun was exchanged for Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, multiple second-round picks and pick swaps to the Washington Wizards. Similar to Portland Trail Blazers Damian Lillard, Beal has been one of the surfacing names that have come up regarding potential NBA stars on the move next. The peculiar timing of the Washington Wizards front office to move off Bradley Beal after rewarding him a lucrative $251 million-dollar supermax contract with a no-trade clause attached instead is one of the most questionable and dubious moves in recent memory. The decision backfired when Beal’s production took a step back from his stellar 2019-20 & 2020-21 seasons. Beal also has failed to play more than 50 games each of the past two seasons due to minor lingering injuries.
Were the Wizards optimistic that Beal would be able to contribute more All-NBA basketball that would warrant the dollar amount of his contract? Probably. But continuing to alter the coaching tree and failing to surround Beal with the necessary competent pieces that would help contend in a rather open Eastern Conference was a part of the recipe that got them to this point. The Washington Wizards knew they were not moving the needle toward an NBA championship even after acquiring forward Kyle Kuzma and center Kristaps Porzingis in the off-season either. Both those players were in situations where their focus was primarily on using D.C. to build their value in the open market rather than helping build a playoff contender. All things considered, the Wizards failed to reach the postseason for a second consecutive season and that’s how the Bradley Beal sweepstakes became a reality. The Phoenix Suns became a realistic pathway because of Beal’s no-trade clause and the flexibility to choose his desired destination. The rumor that the two sides could potentially come to an agreement started to build more and more momentum when it was noted Mark Bartlerstin (Beal’s agent) is the father of Suns’ CEO Josh Bartelstein.
The biggest implication of Beal’s heavy contract in addition to a roster that already enlists three max contract salary players on the roster (D. Booker, K. Durant, and D. Ayton) is that every financial decision going forward is going to be critical for a newly sought out owner Mat Ishbia and GM James Jones led front office. It can’t go unmentioned that the Suns don’t have any control over their draft picks until 2031. Any NBA team that’s above the CBA’s second apron will lose access to the taxpayer mid-level exception and any team over either apron is prohibited from signing a player waived during the regular season if their annual salary is higher than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. The Phoenix Suns, without a doubt, will be facing major ramifications under the new CBA second apron but even before the Beal deal became official the Suns were already an above-the-tax apron team. It’s evident Mat Ishbia has been on the gas pedal since being handed ownership and has willingly mortgaged off future assets in an attempt to win now. Now, with the financial restrictions not going into absolute full effect until the 2024 off-season, how can the Phoenix Suns maximize their roster this very second without draining their pockets even more than they already have? Should they have considered shopping Deandre Ayton? Who could they have realistically targeted in return that would make them a better-constructed basketball team? Devin Booker’s $224 supermax contract extension kicks in at the beginning of the 2024-25 season. There are still options on the market though they’d more than likely be asking potential role guys to take substantial pay cuts especially if the Suns decide not to move off of Ayton. More importantly, acquiring Beal more than likely ensures that Durant will spend the rest of his career in the Valley.
Since the announcement that Beal was on his way to Phoenix, the new threesome of Durant, Booker, and Beal has drawn many comparisons to the former Brooklyn Nets trio of Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden who spent two seasons together before ultimately going their separate ways. Rightfully so, there are a lot of similarities between both star trios. Everyone knows Durant, Booker, and Beal are three of the NBA’s most prolific three-level scorers and can create a shot for themselves with ease. The reason why all three are going to fit beside each other so seamlessly is that they know how to be effective in different spots on the court and share similar skill sets. All three can initiate pick and roll, relocate off pin downs, catch and shoot, penetrate into the lane, and create out of triple threat. Frank Vogel should feel confident that at almost all times, two of his three All-Star players will be sharing the court.
Deandre Ayton hasn’t been an unfathomable disappointment thus far in his early NBA career. Still, even at 24 years old there’s so much room to grow for the seven-foot big man. In his first six years, Ayton has shown flashes of his full potential if he puts it all together but who else but him is going to help him solve the “if” factor? “Well, I think he [Ayton] can be one of the best centers in the league. And I think he’s shown that at times throughout his career. I know he showed it when we played him in the playoffs a couple of years back and shot about 80% from the field and deterred every drive, every cut, every effort to attack the basket. He can be a big-time deterrent and there’s still areas that he can grow offensively. I’m intent on really connecting with him. Restoring him to an all-star player.” That was an excerpt from newly signed head coach Frank Vogel speaking at his opening presser back on June 6th. All of Vogel’s coached teams dating back to the Paul George-led Indiana Pacer squads were amongst league leaders in defensive rating year in and year out. Vogel may have the schemes to maximize Ayton into a version we’ve yet to see. If Vogel can get Ayton to buy into that specific hard-nosed, bruiser big-man role that we saw from former Pacers center Roy Hibbert the Suns will instantly be a Western Conference contender. The addition of Beal inevitably will spread out the floor which will leave Ayton to be uber-aggressive in the paint. Ayton will also have cleaner pick-and-pop opportunities despite limited field goal attempts.
Even with Deandre Ayton on the roster and defensive-minded Frank Vogel at the helm, the way the Suns are currently constructed they’re still lacking a lead defensive forward/wing to throw at opposing elite shot-creators and scorers on a nightly basis. Kevin Durant is turning 35 in September and can’t be tasked with such an objective, especially at this stage of his career. Josh Okogie, if brought back on a similar deal, could be the off-guard to take on those specific matchups against prominent opposing scorers. Under Vogel’s new schemes, there’s a world where both Booker and Beal are at least above-average defenders and able to buy in more on that side of the court seeing that neither of them will have to deal with the same taxing, demanding offensive burden that they’ve become accustomed to most of their careers.
Kyle Kuzma is an unrestricted free agent and would be an absolutely perfect fit for the Phoenix Suns with his ability to score, stretch the floor, rebound, and guard multiple positions at a high level. The problem is he’s fresh off a borderline All-Star campaign where he averaged 21.2 points, seven rebounds, and shot 45% from the floor, 33% from three (7.5 3PA/game) in 64 games for the Wizards. The former Ute standout got the opportunity to display his offensive capabilities creating off the bounce, initiating pick and roll, and calling his number in isolation. In 2021-22 Kuzma shot 35.9% on catch-and-shoot three-point jumpers and this past season Kuzma shot 33.8%. In Phoenix, those numbers would climb with even more open looks. Kuzma is going to command serious interest on the market approaching almost $30 million a year. Not to mention Kuzma already has a history with Suns head coach Frank Vogel back when he played a very key complementary 3-D role for the 2020 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble. Kuzma has also gotten very familiar with Beal from their brief stint together in D.C. the previous two seasons. Is he willing to sacrifice a major payday for a shorter deal in hopes of reviving championship aspirations in the Valley?
PJ Washington is a restricted free agent that had a very promising 2022-23 season for a Charlotte Hornets team that lacked direction and was derailed by injuries to notable roster pieces. Washington started and appeared in a career-high 73 games and averaged a career-high 15.7 points per game on 44% shooting from the field and 35% from the three-point line (5.9 3PA/game). Washington may not be the tenacious aggressive rebounder Kuzma is but he is a terrific long athlete that can bring similar versatility that they once possessed in Mikal Bridges. Washington has been a quiet, uprising utility four that could bring a unique skill set in the halfcourt next to Booker, Durant, and Beal. He is capable of finishing with either hand around the rim and is very comfortable displaying touch on push floaters in traffic. He could become a vital piece of their offensive sets in dribble handoffs, pick and roll settings playing off the three stars. Durant, Booker, and Beal’s gravity on the perimeter will stretch the floor exponentially so there’ll be plenty of spots in the paint for Washington to be effective. Among all NBA players that spent at least 120 possessions as the roll man in pick and roll in 2022-23, PJ Washington averaged more points per possession (1.28) than Joel Embiid (1.23), Deandre Ayton (1.20), and Kristaps Porzingis (1.18). Though the possessions are slightly skewed you’re at least optimistic about the idea of Washington’s potential fit and production alongside Durant, Booker, and Beal, especially given the sample size and inferior playmakers in Charlotte. Washington is the more disciplined three-point shooter but like Kuzma, has a history of co-existing alongside perimeter ball-dominant shot creators. Washington, who’s turning 25 this year, was initially seeking $20 million annually but the Hornets’ underwhelming season has overcast his actual value a bit. Washington is further from a finished product than Kuzma and may have a higher likelihood of convincing to take a massive cut in hopes of a championship pursuit. Washington would certainly be a promising defensive piece for Frank Vogel and under his vision could very well grow into a vital two-way player for Phoenix. The question is can Phoenix afford a notable free agent like Washington at this current juncture of their offseason spending? More importantly can they without sacrificing Ayton?
At 26 years old, Devin Booker seems to be entering the early stages of who he’s going to be for the rest of his career. Booker averaged a scorching 33.7 points in the playoffs (11 games) including shooting a ballistic 61% on two-point field goals and 50% from deep. Undoubtedly the sharpest stretch we’ve seen from the three-time All-Star and the presence of Kevin Durant on the opposite wing allowed Booker to wreak havoc in one on one settings where he was able to display his all-world scoring ability. For a player that only spent a handful of games with his new team, Kevin Durant played exceptionally during his first postseason run in the Valley. Durant posted 29 points, nine rebounds, and five assists on 48/33/92 splits in 11 playoff games and co-existed beautifully alongside Booker. Booker and Durant had four playoff games this past postseason where they both eclipsed 30 points including a 86-point barrage in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semis vs the Denver Nuggets. The Suns bench and supporting cast was depleted and the Suns simply didn’t have enough on the other side of the court to keep up with the eventual-champion Denver Nuggets.
Booker is undoubtedly primed to handle the majority of the ball-handling duties now with CP3 on his way out. Booker’s career assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t eye-popping but it’s steadily improved each year he’s spent in the league. His experience navigating and maneuvering around double teams and different coverages leaves you confident that he’s very capable of maturing into an elite playmaker. The similar skill sets of both Durant and Beal will also alleviate Booker of having to run the offense on his own. In fact, last season both Booker and Beal’s production as pick and roll ball handlers were nearly identical. Last season, 29.4% of Booker’s possessions were as the pick and roll handler and in those possessions, he shot 46.7% from the field and averaged 1.00 points per possession. Last season, 29.8% of Beal’s possessions came as the pick and roll handler and in those possessions, he shot 48.2% from the floor and averaged 0.94 points per possession. Booker, Beal, and Durant all shot 40% plus on catch-and-shoot threes this past season as well.
Durant has exemplified over the course of his hall-of-fame career that he can exist in any modern NBA offense without hindering or taking away from his teammates. When you have that many shot creators that command the defenses’ attention it’ll only simplify the game for everyone else on the court. Vogel boasts a strong coaching staff behind him. Associate HC Kevin Young is the league’s highest-paid assistant and was in demand by numerous organizations to fill their head coach vacancies. David Fizdale was previously an associate general manager with the Utah Jazz before being lured to Phoenix. Fizdale won two NBA championships as a member of Eric Spoelsta’s staff in 2012 & 2013 as a member of the Miami Heat. James Jones, the Suns’ current GM, was also a part of the same two championship teams under Fizdale as a role player. Miles Simon was a former standout player at the University of Arizona and aided Vogel’s NBA champion-staffed Los Angeles Lakers in 2020. We know the new Suns trio shouldn’t have any problems scoring the ball as maybe a handful of teams in the league can say they have this level of firepower. The bigger question is how will the rest of the roster fit around them. That is if they can afford the surrounding competent pieces that’ll help bring a championship to the Valley.
- NBASeptember 3, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, Page Ten
- NBAJuly 15, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, Page Nine
- NBAJune 26, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, page 8
- NBAMay 14, 2023Nass’ Trip Around the Association Vol. 3, Page Seven