Kevin Durant on state of Suns: ‘I love where we are’

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PHOENIX — Despite being swept in the first round of the NBA playoffs by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia said he felt his team was in a “great position” for the future in his end-of season press conference in May.

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“The house is not on fire. We’re in great position” – #Suns owner Mat Ishbia. Thoughts? 🤔

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The Suns backed up Ishbia’s comments this offseason, re-signing Royce O’Neale to a four-year contract and bringing back Bol Bol and Damion Lee on one-year, veteran minimum deals. They only signed two incoming free agents in Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee and also drafted Virginia forward Ryan Dunn and Marquette center Oso Ighodaro.

So, barring any trades, Phoenix will be bringing back at least 10 of its players from last season with 14 of 15 standard contract roster spots currently filled. Last season, the Suns only retained Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Lee and Josh Okogie on standard contracts from the 2022-23 team.

Phoenix had championship expectations heading into this past season, but ended the regular season the No. 6 seed in the West after winning 49 games. Durant, who has been the center of trade rumors that have been debunked this offseason, likes where the Suns are at, specifically because of himself, Booker and Bradley Beal, despite how much stronger some of the top teams in the Western Conference have gotten.

“I like our team. We got me, Brad and Book, who can go out and do a lot of different things on the basketball court. It starts with us,” Durant said in an interview with ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “I love where we are. I felt like we gave away a lot of games last year, and we won 49 of them. But every team has gotten better, I feel, in the West and some teams in the East as well.

“It’s gonna be a competitive league, but I like where we are.”

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Even at age 35 and five years removed from an Achilles tear, Durant still played in 75 games this past season and averaged the fifth-most points in the NBA at 27.1 per game on .523/.413/.856 shooting splits to go along with 6.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists after only playing eight regular season games for Phoenix his first season. The 16-year veteran forward was then named to the All-NBA Second Team, the 11th time he has received All-NBA honors in his career.

However, immediately after the Suns were swept in the playoffs, The Athletic’s Shams Charania released a story detailing some of the frustrations in the Suns’ locker room, including with Durant:

“Meanwhile, Durant, among the best scorers in NBA history, was not always happy with how he was used. Sources briefed on the matter told The Athletic that Durant never felt comfortable with his role in Phoenix’s offense alongside Booker and Beal this season. Those sources said Durant had persistent issues with the offense, feeling that he was being relegated to the corner far too often and not having the proper designs to play to his strengths as the offense was built around pick-and-rolls. At the same time, some teammates and people close to the organization believed Durant needed to voice his concerns more adamantly and directly with (Frank) Vogel and his coaching staff.”

Phoenix fired coach Frank Vogel a week and a half after the season ended and hired new coach Mike Budenholzer to replace him two days later.

Durant addressed this report in an interview Arizona Sports’ Kellan Olson.

“If we struggling on offense and the ball is not moving and your best players aren’t being put in a position or in space to showcase their skill — that’s with anybody,” Durant said. “I ain’t like when Book was in the corner a lot or if Brad was sitting around a lot. We just stood around. I think you could make more options or we (could have) had more movement in our offense.

“To say I was frustrated about that — that’s just a basketball thing that we always (feel). We trying to figure it out, you know what I mean? Style of play is not something that I’m pissed off at the team about. It’s just like, ‘Yo, we need to figure it out to get better.’ I think (Budenholzer) has been watching film of what we did last year to try to incorporate some of those things that worked for us and try to finetune some of the things that didn’t.”

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In his 10 seasons as a head coach, Budenholzer has a 484-317 record, which gives him the fifth-highest win percentage by a coach (min. 800 games). He is also 20th all-time in playoff wins, going 56-48 in the postseason.

Durant is looking forward to working with coach Budenholzer this season.

“I’m excited about Bud,” Durant said to Olson. “He’s an experienced coach, been around for the last 20 years coaching. So he’s seen so many different types of players, different locker rooms. I’m interested to get to work with him. I’ve been chopping it up with him all summer. Just trying to get to know one another so we can help each other out once the season starts.”

Nobody, even Durant, knows exactly how this continuity approach will work next season and how the team will look under Budenholzer.

“I’ll know more once we all get out on the floor,” Durant said to Olson. “But we did win 49 games last year — it was a discombobulated season. Guys in and out, we didn’t have quite a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball, defensively we still trying to figure stuff out and we still was able to win 49 games our first year together. We just want to build off that. I love what we have. I feel confident in our group and I feel like a lot of people are underestimating us because of what we did last year so it’s on us to come out there and play with that chip on our shoulder.

“It’s not the first time that I’ve come into a season with people like, ‘Yo, your team is (expletive).’ You know what I’m saying? Your team underachieved. So it would be good to kind of play with that little chip on our shoulder as well. But at the end of the day it’s about going out there, playing together and having some fun and I think we’ll do that.”

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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