Suns go big at trade deadline, still lose in second round of playoffs
PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns pushed all-in at the trade deadline, blowing up their roster nucleus to add 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant in a quest for the franchise's first championship in its 55-year history.
It didn't happen.
Now it feels like big changes are on the horizon after another embarrassing playoff exit.
Phoenix is headed to the offseason after losing to the Denver Nuggets 125-100 in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Suns fell into a 30-point halftime hole on their homecourt one season after losing to the Dallas Mavericks in eerily similar fashion.
“When it comes to a screeching halt, it's like everyone just flies all over the place and you're trying to figure out what just happened," coach Monty Williams said. “It just comes to a stop you don't expect."
Suns new owner Mat Ishbia enters his first offseason with the franchise and it remains to be seen how aggressive he'll be in reshaping the roster. The assumption is that three-time All-Star Devin Booker — who averaged nearly 36 points per game in a brilliant postseason performance — and Durant will be back.
The rest of the roster is in flux.
The biggest questions surround 12-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul and former No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton, who were both out with injuries by the end of the series. It also remains to be seen if Williams — the NBA's coach of the year in 2022 — will be back on the sidelines.
The 38-year-old Paul was solid when he was on the court for the Suns this season, but his body gave out again in the playoffs and he missed the final four games with a strained left groin. He's under contract for next season with a partially-guaranteed deal.
“We train, we practice to be in these moments,” Paul said. “When you can't be out there it's tough.”
The 24-year-old Ayton was ineffective for much of the Denver series, averaging 10.8 points and 8.2 rebounds, which were both well below his season and career averages. He suffered a rib contusion in Game 5 and watched the final game from the bench.
Williams is widely respected in the Suns' organization. Maybe most importantly, Booker has always been a fan.
But no coaching job is safe in the NBA. Championship-winning coaches like Mike Budenholzer (Milwaukee) and Nick Nurse (Toronto) have already hit the unemployment line this offseason.
On Friday, Williams sounded like a man who wanted to be back, but wasn't sure about his future. He led the Suns to the Finals in 2021, losing to the Bucks in six games.
“I've always felt like I have to do my job and not worry about it,” Williams said. "But you do scan the landscape and see what's going on and you know it could be a part of anybody's tenure. So from my perspective, you do the best you can, and if things don't turn out the way you want them to you can sleep and rest because you did the best you could.
“But I'm not closed-minded to what I've seen around the league. I lot of these guys who have lost their jobs are good friends of mine.”
The Suns signed Ayton to a $133 million, four-year deal in the previous offseason, matching an offer the Indiana Pacers made to the restricted free agent.
The athletic 6-foot-11 center had moments when he lived up to that contract, but the no-show in the Denver series could lead to a change of scenery, even if he said he's content to stay in the desert.
“I'm here, I'm happy,” Ayton said. “We didn't finish the season the way we wanted, but there's always next year. This summer is just more work. Just got to do a little more work.”
One of the first clues Durant's addition to the Suns roster might not be seamless came before his expected home debut.
In a bizarre moment, the 34-year-old sprained his ankle in pregame warmups, which kept him out of the lineup for a few weeks. He played just eight regular season games with the Suns after the trade.
Phoenix won all eight of those games, but it was clear Williams had trouble figuring out his playing rotations with the re-tooled roster. Those issues continued in the playoffs, with role players like Cam Payne, Torrey Craig, Josh Okogie and Jock Landale seeing wildly different roles from game to game.
“I can't use (the lack of time) as an excuse,” Williams said. “It's my job to put it together.”
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