For NBA players, it can be challenging to reminisce or even look forward. With trades, personnel changes and the whole lot, sudden moves can feel like clockwork, allowing little time to reset or calibrate a change.
T.J. Warren, who was traded along with Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets late Wednesday night for former Phoenix Suns forwards Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder – who was later dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks for five second-round picks – four unprotected first-round picks and a pick swap in 2028, may have felt that in the last week. Warren told reporters Monday in his first media session as a Sun this season he found out he was headed back to Phoenix – the organization that drafted him in 2015 and where he has spent the longest to this point in his NBA career – at 1 a.m. Thursday morning in his apartment in Brooklyn.
But for a moment, Warren could step back and appreciate what was next.
Just weeks before his trade, Warren recalled a conversation with Suns shooting guard Devin Booker, who was his teammate from 2015-16 to 2018-19, at Booker’s house in Phoenix when the Nets came for a game Jan. 23. He said they talked about their seasons together in Phoenix, which was difficult since they finished at the bottom of the Western Conference three times.
“Wow, I get to come back home! A place where I spent the longest in my NBA career, and to be able to be back with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Monty Williams and the whole team, it’s a surreal feeling.”— PHNX Suns (@PHNX_Suns) February 13, 2023
T.J. Warren on the trade back to the Suns and his bond with Book: pic.twitter.com/3kS5E7bdr5
But like the flow of the NBA, the situation just a few seasons later is much different. Warren and Booker are teammates again, now in a spot to compete for a championship.
“It’s surreal to be a part of this right now,” Warren said Monday in his first media session with local reporters since he was traded.
From a distance, Warren appreciated what the Suns had done since he was traded to the Indiana Pacers prior to the 2019-20 season. Phoenix has been arguably the best team since that point, reaching the NBA Finals in 2020-21 and posting a franchise-best 64 wins last season.
Now, the Suns may have their best chance at any point in their 55 seasons as an NBA franchise to win their first title. Durant is expected to give the team a huge boost – he is averaging 29.7 points this season – and create maybe their best team ever with himself, starting point guard and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, Booker and starting center Deandre Ayton, who has emerged in a positive way lately.
Collectively, Booker, Durant and Paul have combined for 28 All-Star appearances, which is believed to be the most on any Suns team in history.
Warren, a starter for Phoenix before, will have a different role now. An expected scorer and boost off the bench, it may fit him better than at any point previously in his Suns career.
“Just being aggressive, taking pressure off of Book, KD, CP and all those guys,” Warren said. “Trying to get acclimated to the system and just be myself.”
Suns coach Monty Williams did not get the chance to coach Warren when he was hired by the organization prior to the 2019-20 season. The two met but Warren was soon dealt in the summer, unable to be a part of a dramatic franchise change.
Now, the two have a chance to work together and compete for a very lofty goal. Even though Williams has not coached Warren, he knows what he can be capable of as a player who has averaged above 14 points per game in four of his nine NBA seasons (Warren averaged 15.5 points in four games with the Pacers in 2020-21 but later missed a great portion of that season and all of 2022-23 due to a navicular stress fracture in his left foot).
Imagine this TJ Warren comes back pic.twitter.com/5U87cAcATK— ᴱᵛᵃⁿ (@OfficialEvanAZ) February 11, 2023
“The thing I’ve always seen with him is an ability to just get a bucket,” Williams said. “He’s long, he’s got size.”
Warren’s role in Phoenix now could suit him better than any point earlier in his Suns career. He does not have to extend himself nightly to give his team a chance. Now, he said he can “be himself,” ready to step in behind Phoenix’s star-studded lineup.
“Just being aggressive, taking pressure off of Book, KD, CP and all those guys. Trying to get acclimated to the system and just be myself.”
Outside of Booker and the franchise itself, Warren’s move to Phoenix will have another key piece of continuity. He is still teammates with Durant, who is expected to be the piece that could push the Suns to their first championship in franchise history. The two were spotted working together at the end of the team’s practice Monday, and Warren said he holds his relationship with Durant in high regard.
“It’s like basketball heaven being able to be with Kevin in Brooklyn,” Warren said. “Just seeing how he goes about the game, seeing how he scores, his mentality coming in, consistently working on his game and routine and just giving me pointers, it’s just a great teammate to have with somebody who helps you.”
When Booker and Warren spoke several weeks ago, they likely did not have a whiff their careers would intertwine once again. But previously locked in the cellar of the NBA, the pair have a chance to reach the league’s highest point if they can secure the Suns’ first-ever championship.
That would be a dramatic change. But in a constant flow of time, Warren can only look to what’s in front of him.
“The expectations are definitely high, but that’s what we got each other for to build that trust, build that consistency and work hard every day and work toward that goal,” he said. “And that’s the ultimate goal, is to win that championship. But just got to take it day-by-day and understand it’s a process from now until then.”