In a move that seemed scarcely believable as recently as one week ago, the Phoenix Suns pulled off the impossible on Sunday by trading for Bradley Beal. The Washington Wizards’ scoring machine waiving his no-trade clause to land in Arizona, with the Suns only giving up Chris Paul, Landry Shamet and some second round picks to acquire him.
On the surface this was an excellent piece of business by the Suns, with owner Mat Ishbia continuing to take every opportunity to maxmize the championship window of this group. Getting the chance to add a soon to be 30-year-old who three seasons ago averaged 31.3 points per game to pair with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker is something you do if you want to win.
If you dig below the surface however, acquiring Beal is not the home run move that it looks, and it points to a worrying trend set out by Ishbia of defying basic team building principles in search of stars.
We need to pause at this point to give Ishbia and the front office of the Suns credit, as it is that same aggressiveness that landed them Durant soon after Ishbia bought the team, and which also saw them keep top assistant coach Kevin Young. In fact the entire process of hiring the coaching staff from the organization has been exemplary.
The Suns got their man in Frank Vogel, surrounded him with guys who he won with before while with the Los Angeles Lakers, and also managed to keep Young around as their ideal Plan B if Vogel doesn’t work out. They didn’t cut corners with the coaching staff, and took the less cool part of building a winning unit on the sidelines just as seriously as their search for stars.
But did the scales tip in the wrong direction the moment the Suns traded for Beal, or is the front office simply several steps ahead of everybody else? As things stand, this team will surely lead the league in offensive rating next season, and at worst will finish second or third. But defensively, there are no real role players or glue guys to work hard while their stars take all of the shots.
A defensive-minded player Beal isn’t, and although Booker is a tad underrated on that end, Durant suddenly finds himself needing to do a lot more defensively to just keep the Suns treading water. That is not what you want a 34-year-old Durant to be doing, and this roster is now not only top heavy, but interested only in scoring in bunches and not defending for 82 regular season games.
We’ve seen a version of this already with the Brooklyn Nets, and the inability of Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden to win a championship. On their day both Irving and Harden are better than Beal, and their contracts aren’t nearly as ugly either. If we’ve been here before, why on earth did the Suns lock themselves into a player like Beal?
This is where the real issues lies, and it is with the fact that the Suns have gotten rid of any small flexibility they had in order to get Beal. They could have waived Paul, or better yet waived and stretched him, to create more cap space to build out a roster. Instead the Suns are sticking two fingers up at the incoming new CBA and continuing to collect players who make insane money.
New owners have long bought teams and then gone about making a splash to show they mean business. Who could forget Mikhail Prokhorov’s disastrous time as the owner of the Nets? Ishbia has been a fan of basketball his whole life and played the sport, which makes the blatant star chasing that he has gone about doing all the stranger.
Another potential misstep by Ishbia is the hiring of Isiah Thomas to the front office, despite Thomas being a dreadful GM in the past with the New York Knicks. Thomas was all for taking on bad contracts and going after bigger players at a time when the league was beginning to trend in the other direction, and he flamed out badly. You can bet he is guiding Ishbia some as well.
About the only reasons to not panic about the full throttle time nature of Ishbia’s time at the helm so far is if he has plans to also trade center Deandre Ayton. To do so would add some much needed depth, and perhaps could lead to the cap sheet looking better next season if Ayton is traded for players who are on expiring deals.
The Suns did also somehow manage to land Jordan Goodwin and Isiah Todd from the Wizards in the Beal deal, which at least gives them some bodies to add to the end of their rotation. Small but important pieces of business while Beal gets all the headlines as the player who gives the franchise perhaps the only truly “Big 3” in the NBA today.
Really though the organization need to bump the breaks for a bit now, and take stock of where they are and what they have. Ishbia has certainly put his money where his mouth is in trying to build a winner, but the addition of Beal means there are no more outs. The core of this group has to get it done, at a time when top-heavy rosters aren’t as in fashion as they used to be.