Time for Phoenix to rise from the ashes of the Kevin Durant trade rumors.
The summer of speculation seems to be over with reports that Durant met with Brooklyn Nets leadership and agreed to give things another try.
Good. Now that that’s over, the Suns know what’s on the horizon: Chris Paul, Devin Booker and the guys who didn’t get swapped out will try to have another monsoon of a season that ends with fans flooding downtown streets in a championship parade.
There’s always the question of whether trade rumors will mess up team chemistry. We won’t know the answer for sure until about Christmas after we’ve seen the team play for a few weeks. But don’t expect KD to throw off the balance of Phoenix’s pH.
Rumors and speculation are part of life in the NBA. Guys who can’t block that stuff out don’t last at this level.
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Mikal Bridges seems to be fine. He said on Twitter two years ago that he loves Phoenix. “I don’t ever wanna leave (heart emoji) @Suns” remains pinned to the top of his page.
The Suns-Nets trade rumors shouldn’t have burned bridges. They should have transformed him into the cockiest guy in the NBA.
His name was floated as a key piece in a potential deal for one of the best scorers of all time. That shows just how valuable Bridges is. Time for him to lock in and continue locking down everyone in front of him. This should give him the confidence to become the first defensive player of the year in Suns history.
The trade talk heated up based on reports that Durant picked Phoenix as a preferred destination, and it dovetailed the acknowledgment that the Suns needed to shake some things up to win a title.
Phoenix got as close as it was going to get with the way things were. Two years ago, they won two championships. Last season, they jumped out to the league’s best record before New Orleans showed Dallas how to eclipse the Suns in the playoffs.
Durant would have provided offensive firepower and proven playoff leadership to a team that could have used both.
Now that it’s clear KD ain’t walking through that door, it’s time to look inside. Maybe the Suns have guys who are up to the challenge of filling Durant’s shoes? It’s a tall order, and not just because Durant is 7-feet tall. (He’s listed at 6-10. I think they measured him without correcting his posture.)
It’s a tall order because if Durant’s shoes were one size smaller, Brooklyn would have eliminated Milwaukee in 2020, instead of the Bucks winning the title that season. (There was a 3-pointer that became a 2-pointer when replay showed Durant’s shoe on the line toward the end of Game 7.)
But if the Suns rise together, they can do it.
Perhaps coach Monty Williams should start with expanding Cam Johnson’s role in the offense?
Johnson shot 43 percent from 3-point range last season. He scored 38 points, including a game winner, over the Knicks in March before missing the next three weeks with a deep thigh bruise, which disrupted his best stretch of basketball.
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In the five games that culminated with the March 4 win over New York, Johnson averaged 29 points per 36 minutes. He was shooting almost 60 percent from 3-point range.
Mikal and Cam might be similar enough that they’re called “The Twins,” but a closer look shows that Bridges is a slasher and Johnson is a shooter. For as similar as they are, they don’t take up the same space on the court, offensively.
Maybe they should both be starters, rather than Johnson coming off the bench?
Deandre Ayton is another option for increased offense. The modern NBA has little use for banging big men. Those of us with gray beards and memories of Kareem, Shaq and Hakeem might recognize the value of a monster who gets his money with one foot in the paint, but modern giants Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns create for themselves on the perimeter.
Maybe Williams could expand Ayton’s role to give him more freedom to attack off the dribble or shoot 3’s? That way, if they need Ayton to score more in the postseason, he can do it. If nothing else, it will give defenses more to deal with.
But now that it looks like the Durant deal is dead, the guys who remain can sweep up the ashes, earning respect that comes with stepping into bigger roles.
The Suns know what’s on the horizon.
It’s time to mix things up with the group they have to rise to heights they’ve never reached.
More:What’s next? 5 things Phoenix Suns must do with Kevin Durant staying with Brooklyn Nets
Reach Moore at email@example.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.
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