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Center of the Sun: Kevin Durant enjoying his third Superteam born from Team USA runs

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2020 Tokyo Olympics: USA v France Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

To hear new Phoenix Suns guard Bradley Beal tell it, Kevin Durant has been talking to him about teaming up for years now. Beal says it started well before the 2021 Olympics, where he wanted Durant to come to Washington. That never happened, but it doesn’t mean Durant and Beal stopped talking about making a superteam together.

When he became a free agent in 2016, Durant started superteam shopping. He’d made a name for himself, including NBA regular season MVP in 2014 and a Finals appearance in 2012 alongside budding stars Russell Westbrook and James Harden, but couldn’t get all the way.

By then, Durant had gotten his first taste of the ultimate Superteam with Team USA in 2012, playing with future teammates Andre Iguodala, James Harden and Chris Paul. Then in 2016, just after signing with the Superteam Warriors, his 2016 Team USA roster included — ding, ding, ding! — future teammates Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. Fast forward to pandemic-delayed 2021 Team USA, where Durant won a gold with future teammate Devin Booker. Bradley Beal was on that team as well, but bowed out early with COVID.

Now that you know about those Team USA experiences, let’s follow Durant’s NBA path.

His first free agency after the 2012 Olympics, Durant joined the already-existing Superteam Golden State Warriors. He went on to make the NBA Finals in all three seasons with the Warriors, winning NBA Championships and NBA Finals MVP in both playoff runs he was able to finish healthy.

Durant reached free agency again in 2019, and this time he left Golden State for Brooklyn to team up with good friends and 2016 Team USA teammates Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan. They expanded the Superteam a year later with another 2016 Team USA teammate James Harden. Only injuries, bad decision-making by teammates and age derailed that run.

While Durant signed an extension with the Nets in 2021, he was already looking for his next Superteam as well.

What we’ve come to know since, that extension with the Nets marked a shift in Durant’s — and other supermax players’ — tactics. Until then, Durant had controlled his future by picking his team in free agency. Now, the supermax level players have found out they can have their steak (max possible money, with max raises) and lobster too (forcing a trade to a team of their choice).

You see, changing teams in free agency does not maximize a max-player’s income. If you’re already a supermax player, the only difference-maker is and trade kickers. Other teams can only give 4-5% raises, while the incumbent team can give 7.5-8% raises.

So a new plan was born: sign the maximum possible extension with your current team, no matter how crappy they are, wait the required six months (or more, if you want to look sincere), and then demand a trade to the team of your choice.

This shouldn’t work in the players’ favor, but it does when you’re a supermax player. Anthony Davis, back in 2019, might have been the first to prove this theory.

Durant proved it too. Despite the chaos, Durant signed an extension in August 2021 for the most possible money any team in the league could offer (4 years, $198 million), waited till the following summer and then made his trade demand in July 2022. It took another nine months, but the Nets finally relented and sent him to the team he wanted all along.

This summer, you’re seeing the same tactics being used by Bradley Beal (hello!) and Damian Lillard. Both signed max possible extensions last summer and have made trade demands as soon as a year went by. James Harden is trying to demand his way to his preferred destination too.

Now Durant has formed his third different ‘Superteam’ in five years, this time in Phoenix, and if you think that’s by chance you’re not paying enough attention.

I asked Beal last week when Durant started talking to him about teaming up and he said with a smile that it’s been years in the making, dating all the way back to the Wall/Beal heyday. These plans blossom on Team USA runs, when the world’s best players spend two months together in a competitive environment where they get a feel for playing on the same team.

The LeBron/Bosh/Wade trio formed in 2010 hatched with the Redeem Team in 2008. LeBron, Anthony Davis (2019) and Russell Westbrook (2021) had played together on Team USA in 2012. As I showed above, Durant’s future team decisions have always ended up with former Team USA teammates as the lead characters.

All this to say the Durant/Booker/Beal trio has been a long time coming, though I’m not sure Booker and Beal knew it. Kevin Durant is the one at the center of all this.

Now your Phoenix Suns get to test the latest on-the-fly Superteam attempt. Let’s see how this one ends.

Now, check out links, quotes of the week and final thoughts on a new way the Suns could add an above-minimum salary player in free agency.

News & Notes

Free agency started last Friday and the Suns were BUSYYYYYYYYY! Here’s a quick recap:

The Suns now have 15 players under guaranteed contract, plus unsigned second round draft pick Toumani Camara and restricted free agent/two-way Saben Lee. On the ‘OUT’ list, those with contracts are crossed out, while the others remain unsigned. On the ‘IN’ list, those added over the weekend are shaded green.

Don’t worry about number of roster spots. A team can have 20+ players on their roster until October, at which time they need to get down to 15 plus up to 3 two-ways.

Here’s some articles around the web.

Sportskeeda - Suns depth chart, updated starting five after free agent spree

Hoopshype — Pistons, Kings, others interested in Torrey Craig

AZcentral — Jock Landale leaves Phoenix for $8 million per year with Rockets

AZCentral — Charles Barkley gives $5 million for Auburn diversity after Affirmative Action vote by Supreme Court

PHNX Sports — These stats prove Deandre Ayton is regressing for the Suns

SportingNews — Suns get A grades for Watanabe, Bates-Diop signings

SportingNews — Suns get best overall day one grade in free agency

Quotes of the Week

“Man, good luck! Good luck. That’s all I’ve been thinking about. It’s surreal to be able to think that’s even a possibility of us playing together.” — Bradley Beal, on how teams will attempt to defend a Booker/Beal/Durant/Ayton lineup

“With KD and Book (along with Beal), we form a trio of three of the most prolific scorers in the game, a great two-way center, one of the best two-way centers in the game and these pieces are a great foundation for what we hope can be a championship run for this franchise.” — head coach Frank Vogel on the Big Four

“I get antsy just thinking about it... the biggest box we check is our unselfishness... more open shots, work on my catch-and-shoots” — Bradley Beal

“It’s not gonna be who plays point, who plays shooting guard. I think it’s an interchangeable thing and whoever gets it, goes.” — Bradley Beal on who’s the point guard, with Booker

“The biggest box that we check is our unselfishness.” — Bradley Beal

“I’m super ecstatic that every single day I have a chance to play in a meaningful game.” — Bradley Beal

“Phoenix is where my heart is.” — Eric Gordon, way back in 2012 when the Suns signed him to a restricted free agent offer sheet. He finally joins the Suns in 2023.

Important Future Dates

July 6: Free agency moratorium period ends (10.01 am ET). Teams can begin officially signing players, extending players, and completing trades. The two-day period for matching an RFA offer sheet signed during the moratorium begins.

July 7-17: NBA Summer League (Las Vegas).

July 13: Last day for teams to unilaterally withdraw qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

August TBD: NBA schedule released.

August 31: Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2023-24 salaries.

September 5: Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks; those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered.

Late September: (specific dates TBA) Training camps open.

October 24: 2023-24 NBA season begins.

Next Up

The Suns still need to keep filling out the middle of the rotation. Eric Gordon is great, but he’s 34 years old now and will almost certainly be coming off the bench as a scorer. Yuta Watanabe and Keita Bates-Diop are an upgrade on the wing, but I’m not sure either of them are a surefire 5th starter or 6th man.

The Suns need to acquire a player or two who are already worth $10-20 million a year to fill out the middle of the rotation, like Denver had with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown. Maybe that’s Eric Gordon? Probably not, unfortunately.

I’ve been writing about the Suns trade options for a while — Deandre Ayton, Ish Wainright, Cam Payne — but had not considered until this weekend the possibility of generating sign-and-trades with outgoing free agents.

A sign-and-trade is helpful for the signing team if they don’t have the cap space to sign the player outright. So far Jock Landale signed for $8 million a year, and Torrey Craig is still weighing offers that are likely better than the minimum. We haven’t heard yet on T.J. Warren or Terrence Ross; the latter made $12.5 million last year before being released after the trade deadline.

Forget Jock Landale. Turns out his $8 million is really a series of one-year team-controlled contracts, with only the first year guaranteed. Sign-and-trades require at least two years to be fully guaranteed to the player. On top of that, the Rockets have plenty of cap space, so they don’t need the Suns help to fit him inside the cap rules.

But what about Torrey Craig? If someone over the cap wants to outbid competition for Craig, they might need the Suns help to acquire him via trade rather than outright signing. If the Suns facilitate the trade, its possible that team could send back a second round pick or a player the Suns could use.

This is a really slim possibility, I know. But it’s just one more ‘tool’ in the box.

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