This NBA season has been unlike any other. That is especially true for Kevin Durant, whose season came to an unexpected end last night. No one could have guessed Durant would have been traded from the Brooklyn Nets to the Phoenix Suns, only to be eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals.
While many people (not Giannis Antetokounmpo) will consider Durant’s season a failure, it was easily one of the best years for his signature Nike sneaker line. Below are the top ten sneakers worn by Durant during the 2022-23 NBA season.
The Suns’ Championship aspirations had been boosted further earlier this season when Durant arrived via a trade from the Brooklyn Nets, uniting him with Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
He now turns his attention to next season as he continues his search for a third Championship ring, his two previous wins coming in his time with the Golden State Warriors.
“I just try to control what I can, which is, you know, working extremely hard and putting a lot of preparation into the game and my skill and then just being present for the organisation wherever they need me at any point,” he said.
It’s time to trade Chris Paul
The Suns missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons before they acquired Chris Paul in a trade with the Thunder. Since then, Phoenix went to the NBA Finals, and made two second round appearances. It won’t be an easy decision to trade Paul, but it feels like the best option to help the team reload around Durant and Booker. Paul just can’t be counted on to finish a playoff run at this point in his career his injury in this postseason isn’t an outlier, it’s a trend.
Paul has two years and $60.8 million left on his contract, but next season is only partially guaranteed at $15.8 million, and the following season is fully unguaranteed. His big salary number would give Phoenix a way of matching contracts to acquire multiple players, and the team on the other end could just cut him after next year to open up cap space.
Does any team want 38-year-old Chris Paul? There isn’t an obvious suitor for CP3 at the moment, but the flexibility his contract offers could be appealing to a team in the right package.
Kevin Durant needs to regain top form
This one is easy. The Suns did not get the best version of Kevin Durant in the playoffs this year, not even close. Here are Durant’s final numbers for the series against Denver: 29.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, and five assists per game on 45.4 percent shooting from the field and 22.2 percent shooting from three-point range. The per-game numbers were great, but the efficiency wasn’t.
Durant looked like the best player in the world two years ago in the playoffs against the Bucks. Since then, he’s been slowed down significantly in playoff exits against the Celtics (who swept his Nets in 2022) and now the Nuggets.
A shift in Durant’s shot profile might be the easiest change. Durant took 68 percent of his shots from mid-range during the playoffs, according to Cleaning the Glass. Durant made an impressive 47 percent of those mid-range attempts, but the Suns need him to take more threes, more rim attempts, and more free throws to really maximize his scoring punch.
On the season, between stops in Brooklyn and Phoenix, Durant averaged 4.9 three-point attempts per game, while hitting 40.4 percent of those shots. He took 4.6 threes per game in the playoffs. Durant could legitimately stand to double his three-point attempts. Durant ranked No. 86 in three-point attempts per game this season. Four players took double-figure attempts per game. Yes, KD is a great mid-range shooter, but he’s also one of the best three-point shooters in league history. He needs to shoot more threes.
There is also wondering around the NBA, according to league sources, about whether Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton two players who were driving forces in Phoenix’s run to the 2021 NBA Finals but were sidelined for Thursday’s elimination game will wear a Suns uniform again.
The challenge for Phoenix is to create a championship-caliber supporting cast around its pair of superstars. Paul and/or Ayton might need to be moved for the Suns to address their glaring depth issues, which factored into the heavy burdens placed on Durant and Booker, who rank first and second, respectively, in minutes per game during the playoffs. The priority is to surround Durant and Booker with quality role players who complement them well, not add another perennial All-Star.
“We need to understand each other on a different level individually and as basketball players, and I think that will come,” Durant, who was limited by injuries to only eight regular-season games after being traded to the Suns, said postgame. “So we’ll see what happens. Definitely frustrating and disappointing and embarrassing.”
Paul, 38, who missed the final four games of the series against the Nuggets because of a strained left groin and showed signs of decline throughout the season, is guaranteed a little more than half of his $30.8 million salary for next season. The salary would become fully guaranteed on June 28, and the Suns are expected to explore what they might get if they traded Paul before making a decision on his contract.
The relationship between Ayton and the Suns has been awkward for the past two years, due in part to Phoenix’s reluctance to award Ayton with a maximum extension of his rookie contract. Phoenix was essentially forced to pay up for Ayton when the Indiana Pacers signed him to a four-year, $133 million offer sheet as a restricted free agent last summer, leaving the Suns with the options of matching the deal or losing the 2018 No. 1 pick for nothing.
The relationship between Ayton and Williams publicly frayed after the coach benched the big man during that aforementioned Game 7 loss to the Mavericks and then refused to discuss Ayton postgame or during the next day’s exit interviews. Ayton revealed early in training camp that he did not have a single conversation with his coach all summer, even after signing his maximum contract. Ayton’s teammates have shared their coach’s frustration with what they perceive to be inconsistent effort and aggression from the 7-footer.
Ayton would be excited about a fresh start with another franchise. The Suns are expected to aggressively explore the trade market for him this summer, league sources said.
Although Ayton had a disappointing series against Denver getting benched down the stretch of the Suns’ Game 3 win and frequently dominated by two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic league sources expect several teams to show interest in acquiring the 24-year-old, who averaged 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game this season.
“I come in listening, learning humbly,” Ishbia said during that February news conference. “I’m a mortgage guy. I love, love, love basketball. I love business, so I feel like it can be pretty good. But the next 60, 90, 120 days is about listening and learning.”
And the next 60, 90, 120 days will be about taking the actions necessary to maximize the Suns’ star duo’s chances of delivering the first NBA title to the Valley.
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