First off, let me say there’s a minuscule chance Kevin Durant, one of the greatest pure scorers in NBA history, even considers the Suns once July rolls around. But that doesn’t mean they should pack up shop and quit.
No, the Suns should actually let it be known to Durant and his agent, Rich Kleiman, this summer that Phoenix wants a meeting with the man who would be biggest unrestricted free agent since LeBron James if he were to decline his 2019-20 player option.
You may be asking why, but there’s a method to the madness. As currently constructed, the Phoenix Suns have a bustling young core led by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and T.J. Warren with others like Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, and De’Anthony Melton still developing. If Phoenix were a market where stars would want to flock — Kevin Garnett originally wanted to be a Sun before becoming a member of the Boston Celtics last decade — then there wouldn’t be a question as to why they aren’t an attractive destination.
The main roadblock standing in the Suns’ way of ever attracting pure superstars to the Valley, unless they’re homegrown like Booker and Ayton, is their management style. From the outside looking in, owner Robert Sarver is seen as the NBA’s version of Al Davis or Jerry Jones.
There have been steps taken to try to wash away this notion, though.
First, Sarver hired James Jones and then named him co-interim general manager alongside Trevor Bukstein after firing Ryan McDonough nine days before their regular season opener. Jones, one of the more respected players during his career, knows his way around the bargaining table. Not only was he the NBA players association’s treasurer, he was revered as one of the favorite teammates of Kevin Love and LeBron James. Jones has also been a consistent winner on the NBA level and he studied from the likes of Pat Riley and David Griffin before dipping his own toes into the management side after retiring.
Could Jones possibly work his tight connections this upcoming summer and end up on Durant’s list of teams? Durant could treat the summer of 2019 like James did 2010. He will set up shop with his group and listen to offers carefully and closely, dragging it out in the process. Who knows, though — Durant could make his choice on July 2 for all we know.
LeBron’s reps met with Phoenix back in 2014, but everyone knew it was just a courtesy call at the time before he ultimately wound up back in Cleveland after immense success with Miami alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Durant doesn’t strike me as someone who will consider his hometown Washington Wizards one bit considering the chaos in D.C.
The teams currently expected to be in the Durant chase are the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers. If he doesn’t re-sign with Golden State to continue their dynasty, many are expecting Durant to go to the No. 1 or No. 2 market in America. With how today’s superstars think, that’s not a surprising outcome, but I truly believe people are sleeping on the idea of Phoenix joining those teams as chasers.
There’s a reason the Suns are preserving max cap space. They have grandiose plans to try to reel in a star to finish off their core of Booker, Ayton, Warren, Bridges, Jackson, Melton/Okobo and maybe their 2019 first-round pick. They can sell the fact that unlike some of those other teams, they wouldn’t have to move any of their young core off the roster. If a star joined, they would start with plenty of depth unlike the struggles we see happening right now with Golden State, Philadelphia, and Houston.
If the Suns were to keep their pick (No. 5 overall — maybe select Durant’s favorite college player Ja Morant or another scoring wing like Cam Reddish?) and trade Ryan Anderson’s expiring with the 2020 Bucks pick, they would have $38.6 million heading into free agency. If the Suns moved their own 2019 pick and Anderson in a trade, that bumps Phoenix’s salary room up near $44 million.
“They got some talent over here. T.J. Warren, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton play well off each other,” Durant said postgame when asked about the Suns’ young nucleus. “I thought we did a solid job of making everything tough for them, making them shoot over hands all night.”
Especially with their play over the past few weeks keeping games competitive with the recent play from Booker and Ayton, that’s definitely a marketable idea to free agents. Booker is looking more and more like the next James Harden, while Ayton could turn into the NBA’s next elite big man.
Booker has already established a relationship with Durant, and the Warriors’ superstar has raved about him openly on The Bill Simmons Podcast whenever he’s brought up. Durant even said Booker was next up, and he certainly has proved capable so far this season.
This past summer, Booker had the chance to be around the likes of Durant on a daily basis during the brief USA Basketball Camp in late July. Both played one-on-one against each other, then met up a few weeks later at an open run in Los Angeles a few weeks later.
Following Saturday’s closely contested loss against the Denver Nuggets, I asked Booker about his past interactions with Durant as Golden State was on their way to town. When I brought up the USA Camp portion to Booker, I was surprised to find out that Durant was the one who actually approached Booker about wanting to play together and developing their relationship even further.
“It’s pretty well, we’re just fans of basketball,” Booker said. “When you love the game and watch somebody with that much skill, on both ends of the floor, you just have immediate respect for him. So, at USA [camp], he came to me like, ‘lets play one-on-one, we have always been at a distance […] keep going, you know, your game is really solid’ and having that chance to interact with each other then, develop the relationship even more. One of my favorite players in the league to watch from a skillset standpoint, he has it all.”
Coming from a player who used to have a Fathead of Durant up in his room for years, wouldn’t that be something, if he could somehow recruit one of his idols to Phoenix? Booker told Yahoo! Sports’ Vince Goodwill earlier this season that he wants a superteam to come to him in Phoenix.
For Booker to achieve this idea, it could be done in one fell swoop in less than seven months’ time. No need to wait around until he’s actually in his physical prime.
Pairing Durant next to Booker and Ayton would immediately vault them into title contention if Jones hit the rest of the summer out of the park, and I’m not even kidding. Durant can change any team like that once he arrives, which would be the same effect landing with Kristaps Porzingis in New York.
Hypothetically speaking here, if the Suns were to land the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft and select Murray State point guard Ja Morant (I believe he’s the next Russell Westbrook or De’Aaron Fox, but we’ll save that for another day), this could be the lineup they roll out next season all within the $109 million salary threshold:
Starters: Morant, Booker, Warren, Durant, Ayton
Bench Mob: Okobo, Melton, Jackson, Bridges, Holmes (bird rights)
That’s one dangerously explosive team filled to the brim with young talent surrounding Durant. This has less than a five percent chance of even coming to fruition, but it doesn’t hurt to at least try from the Suns’ point of view.
As mentioned, even getting a meeting with Durant would go a long way toward helping cement the Suns as legitimate contenders to reel in stars within the very near future. Maybe even just asking Durant for his opinions of the state of the franchise within a quick sit-down meeting arranged by Jones would be valuable, if he won’t actually consider choosing the Suns compared to Los Angeles or New York. Word would travel if the Suns actually do impress someone like Durant in a meeting.
When looking ahead to the free agent classes in 2020 and 2021, Phoenix truly is positioning itself to be a legit contender for some humongous names.
2020 will be headlined by an aging Draymond Green, Anthony Davis (unlikely because he seems on the way out via trade in 2019), and a super intriguing restricted free agent target with Ben Simmons. The following year, 2021, is truly looking like another superclass, headlined by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard and Paul George.
If not now, shocking the world somehow pulling off a signing of Kevin Durant, the next two to three summers are looking bright as the Suns slowly chip away at the reputation of not being an attractive destination. The on-court product will do the most talking, as players will continue to watch Booker and Ayton grow together, but getting your name out there earlier than expected works too.
Don’t be surprised if the Suns end up a surprise suitor in the Durant sweepstakes this summer. The question is, will they even get a meeting in the first place to pitch him, and other future star free agents, on the bright future Suns in Phoenix?