‘We’ve got the best team in the league’: New-look Phoenix Suns enter 2023-24 season with big-time expectations

(Video by Beatriz Martinez/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – How much of a new-look team are the new-look Phoenix Suns? Consider this: Devin Booker is the only player remaining from the organization’s run to the 2021 NBA Finals.

That was less than three years ago.

“We think we’ve got a great team,” said Mat Ishbia, the owner of a team that believes it can hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in June. “I think we’ve got the best team in the league, but obviously we’ve got to play it out.”

Ishbia said the overall goal is just getting better every day. However, adding a proven championship coach in Frank Vogel and creating a big three of Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal makes the organization feel good about its chances.

Durant said he never anticipated playing with Beal, but he is excited about the addition.

“Always been a fan of Brad; he played in my hometown his whole career,” Durant said at Monday’s Media Day.”So, I followed his career and how great he was as a player, and whenever you get the opportunity to play with someone like that, it’s exciting.”

Booker also shared his excitement about the opportunity to continue to grow his relationship with Durant, a player he grew up idolizing.

“It’s a full circle moment in life, and we have a great deal of respect for each other, and we continue to push each other,” Booker said.” I know he’s always in the gym, he doesn’t take a rep off, he doesn’t take a day off, so those are the people I like to be surrounded with.”

Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker are the centerpiece of a Phoenix Suns team that underwent a dramatic overhaul in the offseason. (Photos by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker are the centerpiece of a Phoenix Suns team that underwent a dramatic overhaul in the offseason. (Photos by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

Suns general manager James Jones said “fit” was the primary reason the Suns decided to move on from their 7-foot, former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton. Ayton was traded to Portland recently in a three-way trade that sent superstar guard Damian Lillard to Milwaukee to join Giannis Antetokounmpo with center Jusef Nurkic coming to Phoenix, replacing Ayton.

“A defensive anchor,” first-year coach Vogel said of Nurkic. “His ability to pass the basketball offensively with the perimeter firepower we have really makes him a great fit for our system.”

The Suns’ current roster construction differs from Vogel’s previous rosters that featured notable defensive standouts. Still, with key wing defenders including Josh Okogie, Vogel says the team still has the potential to be great defensively.

Durant named health as one of the most critical aspects to the team’s success.

Injuries were the Suns’ Achilles’ heel last season. Durant injured his leg in the pregame warmup in the Suns’ regular-season matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, allowing only eight games among the superstar trio of Durant, Booker and Chris Paul, who is now with Golden State.

Phoenix fell to the Denver Nuggets 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals after falling short in its third appearance in the NBA Finals in 2021.

The Suns’ new owner, Ishbia, wasted no time loading up the Suns roster and renovating the team’s culture once he took the reins last season. But after the season, in what he calls a “transformational summer,” Ishbia spent his time trying to figure out ways to better engage Suns fans in the community.

Fan engagement is what he most looks forward to this upcoming season, and if the Suns are the last team standing, its reach throughout the Valley could be unprecedented with its arrival on 3TV. Seventy regular-season games will air on Arizona’s Family and stream on Kiswe, with 12 other games set to be exclusive TNT, ESPN and ABC broadcasts.

“From a business perspective, we’re really excited about the TV deal because it’s really big for the community and the fans,” Ishbia said. “We want a whole lot of people to watch our games. The whole Arizona.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Alfred Smith III expects to graduate in June 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Smith III is a sports editor at ASU’s student-led newspaper, The State Press.

Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Beatriz Martinez expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Martinez has interned as a sports intern at Arizona’s Family CBS 5 3TV in Phoenix.

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.