It’s been a full year since the Phoenix Suns made their blockbuster deal with the Brooklyn Nets for superstar forward Kevin Durant.
The full trade sent both Durant and depth forward T.J. Warren to Phoenix in exchange for core forwards Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, disgruntled depth forward Jae Crowder, four first-round picks and a 2028 pick swap. Both teams received mostly positive reviews after the deal, and ESPN Senior Writer Kevin Pelton even graded it as an ‘A’ for the Suns. Not even the Nets received an ‘A’ from Pelton for their side of the deal.
Fast forward to a year later, and Pelton has lowered the Suns’ grade to a ‘B’ … and even raised the Nets’ grade to an ‘A.’
“I was exuberant in installing the Suns as West favorites after adding Durant, who was sidelined by a knee sprain at the time of the trade,” Pelton wrote on Tuesday. “While Durant subsequently spraining his ankle in pregame warmups before his home debut was unforeseeable, the challenges to Phoenix’s continuity and depth that led to a six-game series loss to the eventual champion Denver Nuggets in the second round were to be expected.”
Why the Phoenix Suns fell short in 2023
Pelton wrote about this in his ‘2024 NBA trade deadline: Regrading last year’s deals’ piece for ESPN+. Durability cost the Suns a championship last season. As Pelton hit on, Durant did not have the chance to gel with his new Phoenix teammates after arriving in the desert due to his injuries.
Durant was able to play in just eight games with the Suns before the postseason. In fairness, the Suns put the LA Clippers away quickly in the first round of the playoffs, sending them on vacation after just five games. The next series, however, lack of durability beat the Suns again.
Phoenix was down 1-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals against the eventual NBA Champion Denver Nuggets, and was winning on the road in Game 2. Starting point guard Chris Paul was beginning to find his offensive rhythm as the game went on, but then went down with a groin strain. The Suns went on to lose that game, and later the series after dropping two of the next four.
They traded so much depth to the Nets that they were not able to make up for Paul’s loss. Not to mention, starting center Deandre Ayton missed Game 6 (the game the series ended) with a rib injury. Phoenix needed more than just Durant and Devin Booker to beat a championship-caliber team.
Pelton acknowledges, however, that there is still time to get the right production out of this trade. After all, it’s a new season and Phoenix is 17-6 in their last 23 games. Despite a 14-15 start in their first 29 games before that, they are still just five games out of first place in the West.
Suns’ opportunity for redemption
“There’s still time for the Suns to justify the outlay of four first-round picks and a swap,” Pelton wrote. “Durant is healthy this season and continues to perform at an All-NBA level. After a slow start with newcomer Bradley Beal sidelined by injuries, Phoenix has moved up the West standings and has the fifth-best odds to win this season’s title (+1600), according to ESPN BET.”
Durant has indeed not lost a step, shooting 53.9/45.2/87.1 shooting splits to go with 28.4 points per game, 6.5 rebounds per game, 5.7 assists per game and 1.3 blocks per game. Durant has also been healthy except for missing a few games. Beal also is healthy now and has looked like himself these last few games in shooting 37-for-64 (57.8%) from the field, shooting 12-of-22 from deep (54.5%), shooting 12-of-14 from the free throw line, scoring 98 points, swiping six steals and picking up 16 assists in his last three contests.
First appeared on www.azcentral.com