Suns finish dizzying wheel-and-deal summer, focus on building around Booker, Durant and Beal

PHOENIX (AP) — Mat Ishbia has lots of good traits for an NBA owner, including deep pockets and a huge desire to win.

Patience doesn’t appear to be his strong suit.

The Phoenix Suns — outside of three-time All-Star Devin Booker — are nearly unrecognizable just eight months after Ishbia bought the team for roughly $4 billion from embattled owner Robert Sarver. In fact, Booker is the final player remaining from the franchise’s run to the 2021 Finals, less than three years ago.

To outsiders, the changes have been jarring. But 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant — a franchise stalwart at this point after eight months in a Suns uniform — said that’s just part of today’s game.

“This is absolutely normal. It’s the NBA,” Durant said on Monday at the team’s media day. “It’s been happening for years and years and years. It’s normal to me.”

One thing that makes the roster turnover more palatable? This isn’t a rebuild — far from it.

The Suns now have a trio of stars — Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal — who the franchise feels can finally bring home a championship for the first time in its 57-year history. They also have a new coach in Frank Vogel, who led the Lakers to an NBA championship in 2020.

Vogel values continuity, and realizes the Suns don’t have a lot of it after all the recent moves, but said that’s not the only way to build a winner.

“There can be a huge spark from a new group coming together,” Vogel said. “That’s what my focus is on. We want to take advantage of that first-year energy.”

Ishbia’s latest franchise shakeup happened last week when starting center and former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton was dealt to the Portland Trail Blazers in a three-team trade that brough Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson.

The owner praised Ayton on Monday, saying he expected the center to go to Portland, “put up some great numbers and really impress a lot of people.”

“But for our team, Nurkic was a better fit for us,” Ishbia added. “We’re trying to win a championship now. What Nurkic can do on the court and off the court, fitting into our organization, he’s a better fit for us. That was the decision we made.”

It was the latest seismic change for a franchise that seems to have one every couple months.

The Ayton trade capped a busy offseason. The Suns added Beal in June in a deal that sent Chris Paul, Landry Shamet and package of draft picks to the Washington Wizards. Paul has since moved on to the Golden State Warriors.

They also fared better than expected during free agency, adding several useful pieces, including veteran shooter Eric Gordon.

Beal spent most of his NBA career on mediocre teams during an 11-year stint with the Washington Wizards before coming to desert and said he’s pleased to be on a team that has legitimate title aspirations.

“It’s hard to explain — like a kid in a candy store,” Beal said. “You’re just embracing every single moment. That’s been my approach — very open-minded. I’ve never been used to change, or a fan of change, but this is the first time I would say in my career, where I’m sitting back and being open-minded about everything. The transition’s been awesome.”

Now Vogel and the Suns will spend the next few weeks figuring out how all the team’s new pieces fit together. One curious bit of roster construction is they don’t appear to have a true point guard, which might mean Booker is one of the team’s primary ballhandlers.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Booker is a willing passer and averaged 5.5 assists per game last season, but for a guy who is also expected to score 25-30 points a night, it’s a heavy workload.

General manager James Jones — one of the lone front office figures who has survived the transition to Ishbia — said he didn’t think it was going to be a problem.

“Devin’s a player,” Jones said. “He’s been able to figure out how to be effective on the ball, off the ball. You have him, plus Brad, plus some of the guys we don’t really talk about — the Jordan Goodwins and the Eric Gordons — we have more than enough ballhandlers. When you have great players, they find ways to make great plays.

“I’m excited about the opportunity for him. And I can tell you, he’s not going to complain about having the ball in his hands.”



Sports Reporter based in Phoenix