It was announced on June 26th that long time Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal was being sent to team up with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker in Phoenix Arizona to play for the Suns in return for now Golden State Warrior, Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, four future round pick swaps, and six future second round picks.
With the only star in trade talks being sixers guard James Harden, it is safe to say the Suns are done making roster moves after acquiring Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Keon Johnson, and Nassir Little. Their current roster only consists of one player from their memorable 2021 finals run, Devin Booker, in which they fell short to the Bucks.
How this all happened
So, let’s look at what the Suns have here. Kevin Durant being accompanied by two other stars who have no chemistry with each other and their supporting teammates? We’ve seen this movie before. I still remember when the Nets traded for James Harden and many, including myself, thought the league was in serious trouble for years to come. Nearly a year and a half later, after only playing 16 games together, and one second round seven game playoff run, the Harden and Irving Durant era was officially finished.
After this was the “big 3” of Ben Simmons joining the talents of Durant and Irving. After two failed trade requests from both Kevin and Kyrie, the Nets tried it out, ultimately failing and trading Kyrie to the Mavericks, and Durant to the Suns. Then it was Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul; basketball media, in shambles. James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant, now away from the Nets described the difficulties playing under the Nets General Manager Sean Marks, and that it was nothing to due with chemistry issues. Under this assumption, I was terrified of the Suns coming playoff time. But once again, the “big 3” performance, was a short second round run, and here we are once again.
When I think historically of successful big 3 pairings, I have three main eras that come to mind. The three-time champion ‘Showtime’ 80’s Los Angeles Lakers with Guard Magic Johnson, Forward James Worthy, and Center Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the second stint three peat Chicago Bulls with Guard Michael Jordan, Forward Scottie Pippen, and Center/Forward Dennis Rodman, and lastly the Miami two-time champion, “Heatles” which consisted of Guard Dwyane Wade, Forward Lebron James, and Center/Forward Chris Bosh.
When looking at these pairings I see certain patterns, first being the position matchings. All three follow a somewhat basis of guard, small forward, and big forward or center. On top of this, looking at team chemistry the duo of Magic Johnson and Kareem had already won two championships, and Jordan and Pippen had already won three.
Lastly, I think of play styles. With the Lakers, Magic Johnson, always looking for guys on the low block, like Kareem, cutters, like Worthy, or a splitting lane for his own bucket. The Bulls triangle offense of Michael Jordan, mid-range slashing specialist, Scottie Pippen, two-way transition finisher, and Rodman, baseline hoverer ready for an open look or rebound. Then, with the Heat you have Wade, quick three level guard, Bosh, stretch big with elite inside touch and presence, and last Lebron, the jack of all trades.
So, after looking at these legendary successors, we can now compare. The first thing to compare is position matching. The Suns have big guard Devin Booker, big guard Bradley Beal, and untrue Power Forward, big Small Forward Kevin Durant. Without a true point guard leading initiative, and an anchor presence in block, the Suns offensively will take some time to find a system. I will give it to Booker and Beal in terms of patience, but Kevin Durant, not so much.
After making two trade requests in the span of one year in Brooklyn, and time running out in his career, I don’t believe Kevin Durant will have the patience of letting the Suns create first a system around their big 3, and secondly create a roster to fit that system. This leads to the comparison of team chemistry. The Lakers had their long-time guys like Kurt Rambis, Byron Scott, and Michael cooper. The bulls had Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, Toni Kukoc, and Ron Harper, and the Heat had key role players like Udonis Haslem, James Jones, and Mario Chalmers.
As said before, the Suns have completely replaced their roster in the past two seasons around Devin Booker. So first there’s no chemistry, and also, I don’t believe the surrounding players are near the talent level of the great team’s role players. Guys like Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Okogie, and Eric Gordon can play at a championship level, but I don’t believe at the velocity they will be required to. In terms of the Suns future, they have young guys like Bol Bol, Jordan Goodwin, and Saben Lee, who I just don’t believe have the ceiling of key dynasty pieces.
The last, and most crucial factor to why I think the Suns won’t work is playstyle, and where guys get their touches. The elephant in the room with Durant, Booker, and Beal? They all get their buckets in the mid-range. This doesn’t necessarily mean they only shoot mid-range shots, but that’s where they will typically start to make a scoring move. This has worked historically where star team members will do offensive business in a similar area like Tim Duncan and David Robinson, or Rasheed and Ben Wallace, but the thing that made it work is a great playmaker like Avery Johnson, Tony Parker, or Chauncey Billups. The Suns had someone who would have been great in making that work, with Chris Paul, whose absence due to injury was heavily felt in the Suns recent playoff loss to the Nuggets. But now with either Booker or Beal running the point guard, I first do not think they are the level of playmakers they need to be, and if they take initiative to be that level, they won’t have enough time.
One thing not stated in the historically successful pairings is injury complications, as they did not have many in playoff time. It is something important to mention that Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant do have a shaky injury history, but this writing is in the hopeful occurrence that nothing interferes with their physical ability.
With the NBA Preseason starting tomorrow, I am beyond excited to have professional basketball back on every night. I will be tuning to some new faces like Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, Brandon Miller, and some familiar ones in new places like Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, and of course, Bradley Beal. Whether my prediction is correct, or incorrect, I will absolutely be watching, and you should too!