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The Beal gamble isn’t paying off

Some said the Suns were reckless in their move to acquire the oft-injured scorer. They appear to have been right.

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

I wrote prior to the season starting that Bradley Beal was the Phoenix Suns’ “X factor.” I was right, but not in the way I hoped.

Beal’s acquisition, in a major trade that saw the Suns part ways with Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, and picks, was controversial immediately. Not because anyone doubted Beal’s talent, or because either Paul or Shamet were viewed as particularly important to the Suns' chances of winning the 2024 NBA Finals.

Rather, the controversy (rightly) was whether Beal, particularly, was the right big contract to take a swing at. He’s past his prime, a poor defender, and most of all, hasn’t been particularly healthy for a season since before any of us had ever heard of “COVID-19.”

I’m not here to cry over spilled milk. What’s done is done, and can’t be undone. And it’s not as if either Paul (playing below mediocre basketball in reduced minutes for the Golden State Warriors) or Shamet (playing a limited spot up shooter role for the Washington Wizards) is giving the Suns much reason to have seller’s remorse.

But I am here to say that I think my very initial instincts, that the Beal trade was a gamble likely to go bust, appear to have been on target.

The Suns have played 28 games this season as I write this. Beal has played in just six of those contests. In his very limited time, he has played at a very average level. He says he is very close to ready to return, and that is good news. I hope he does, and I hope he plays at the all-star level he once was capable of.

But I’m becoming increasingly concerned that adding another scorer isn’t going to cure what really ails the Suns. They have, after all, only the #17 defense in the NBA by opponents points per 100 possessions. A better offense would help a bit because it would offer opponents fewer opportunities in transition, but Beal (a negative defender throughout his career) is not going to get the Suns to where they need to be defensively to be serious competitors for an NBA championship.

I fully admit I was much more upbeat just a few weeks ago. I was expecting some serious growing pains for these Suns, including being around .500 right now. But the Suns’ record alone isn’t as much my concern as the way it has happened. The Suns aren’t playing good basketball. They know it. They’ve commented on it. They’ve said they know they need to fix it. They have not been able to.

And this has been the case even though some things have actually gone well for the Suns. 35 year-old Eric Gordon has actually played pretty well given how much the Suns have asked of him. Most of the bench is playing hard, if limited by their abilities. Kevin Durant, who has Suns fans holding their collective breath every time he makes hard contact with either a player or the floor, has been pretty healthy and is having a pretty good year.

Again, it’s pointless to cry over a finished trade, I get that. But it’s hard not to think about how much better off the Suns might be if they’d taken a more measured approach and used their trade capital this past offseason to acquire a durable new three and D wing who could complement Durant and Devin Booker on offense while providing a boost on defense. And actually play in the games, of course.

I’m afraid the Suns as currently composed, while they’ll still be able to reach the playoffs and give some teams some trouble, are a clear-cut below the NBA’s best teams. They need to make a trade, but their current roster configuration will make it tricky.

I don’t like to be wrong, but there are times I’d rather be wrong than right. I’ve never been one of those fans who hoped for new acquisitions to fail just so I could gloat about it later. There’s no joy for me in watching the Suns struggle...I’ve had plenty of that in my time as a fan.

In the meantime, we can only hope Beal gets healthy, the other Suns stars STAY healthy, and this team figures it out very soon.

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