The 2022/2023 NBA season hasn’t even crowned a champion yet, but I’m already stressed out about next season.
The reasons for this are varied, but can all ultimately be boiled down to a truth that may be difficult for many Phoenix Suns fans to confront: this is probably the last season before we enter another period of rebuilding.
Do I expect that rebuild to look like the dark decade of 2010-2020, when the Suns had zero playoff appearances and finished above .500 only once? No. I don’t expect that.
But let’s consider the reality of the Suns’ situation dispassionately. The only players on guaranteed contracts for the 2024/2025 season are Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Deandre Ayton, and Landry Shamet. Chris Paul’s deal is not guaranteed, and he would be 39 years old. If he’s even on the team this season, he is unlikely to be two seasons from now.
Ayton, likewise, may well be on his way out of town. He’s a better player than many Suns fans give him credit for (a LOT better in the case of the fans who seem determined to think he is deep bench quality), but he’s just about the only piece the capped-out Suns have available to try to upgrade the roster before making another try next season.
Even if he’s not moved, though, it doesn’t change the fundamental truth that the Suns have bet big on KD, and he is not the man he was 10 years ago. Although he is capable of performing at approximately that level in stretches, the modern Durant is definitely a bit more fragile and prone to struggles than we’ve seen from him in the past. His 6/27 shooting slump from downtown in the Denver series hurt, and it’s a general truth that players don’t exactly get better on the other side of 35, where Durant is headed in just four months.
The Suns didn’t win the championship with Booker and Durant this season. If they also don’t win next season, after a whole season offseason and season together to build cohesion, what are the odds Ishbia and whoever is in charge of the basketball operations (be it James Jones or someone new), is going to stay all in on the even older version of Durant? Could the Suns go that route? Yes...it just doesn’t seem likely to me.
The Suns pushed in all their chips with Durant. And it was a two season...MAYBE three season play. I think there’s almost no chance the Suns try to sign Durant beyond his current deal.
It can’t be ignored that this wasn’t a twist of fate that landed the Suns in this position. It was a very deliberate choice to sacrifice Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson to try to win a championship in the immediate future, rather than hope to stay generally “in contention” for the next 4-5 years and hope they could break through opportunistically.
I’ll leave it to the historians to decide whether the KD trade was a hit or a miss. It’s too soon to say.
But it’s the right time to say don’t sleep on this coming season. It might really be the end of an era.