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Stephen A. Smith: ‘Kevin Durant in Phoenix is a problem’

© Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns still have a lot of questions left on the table after hiring Mike Budenholzer as the team’s next head coach, two days after dismissing Frank Vogel.

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Their biggest concern is roster construction, as the team is projected to have the highest salary in the NBA next season. Yet, with all the same starting 5 back in 2024-25, the Suns did not win a single playoff game this year, getting swept in the first round by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and finished the regular season with a 49-33 record, which placed them as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went on a lengthy rant about Kevin Durant on First Take this morning and how he caused the Suns’ problems. This came a few days after ESPN’s Mike Wilbon said the Suns’ roster is “fatally flawed,” no mater the coach.

“Here’s where Mike Wilbon didn’t go into the details that all of us covering the NBA are fully aware of,” Smith said. “Kevin Durant in Phoenix is a problem. It is a problem. We don’t see it because the stats are there. Him and (Devin) Booker averaged 27 points per game and what have you. But they say, Kevin Durant is never happy. They say that he went more than a month without even talking to the head coach. They say that he doesn’t look happy there. And all he wants to do is play when the game starts and tip off time arrives. But when it comes to ingratiate yourself with your teammates and getting along with everybody and stuff like that, he just lives in his own world.

“He’s not hated, he’s not despised. He’s not doing anything negative. He’s not being somebody that’s two-faced and then behind people’s back doing stuff. No, that’s not who Kevin Durant is, but keeping to himself. Why does that matter? It’s similar to what he was doing in Golden State before he ultimately departed, which is what was driving Draymond Green crazy, which is why they ultimately got into it on the court, in that Clippers game and what have you. Because you hear stuff, you hear stuff, you hear about the level of unhappiness, etc, etc. And you get tired of it. Because when you don’t want to talk when you don’t want to answer questions, you don’t want to leave in a very visible way. Well, that forces other people to have to step up on take on a level of culpability that they don’t want to stomach.

“Because of all of that stuff, that’s the untold stuff that’s going on in Phoenix. There’s more than that. Make no mistake, it’s not all on Kevin Durant. But that’s a big, big part of it, which is why you’ve got to disband this group. They’re not a Big 3. They’re a Big 3 in money.  They’re a Big 3 in name, but they ain’t a Big 3 in level of production. They were the worst fourth quarter team in the NBA last year. They got outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions.

“(I attribute that) schematically in terms of Frank Vogel, that’s number one offensively because defensively the man knows what he’s doing. But evidently, they were one of the poor defensive teams, particularly in the fourth quarter. They just didn’t get it done. And in the end, when you get swept in the first round and you’ve got those kinds of problems, I’m talking to America, I’m not speculating. I’m not guessing. I’m talking to you as somebody that covers this league.

“Most of us in the league who have covered the NBA know this stuff has been going on in Phoenix, but it’s far more problematic than we gave noise to it about as the season progressed. Once the season ended, you heard more and more and more about what happened. That’s why they got a championship coach up in there with a five-year deal, giving him more than $10 million a year because you’re making that investment because you know more changes have to come, and you have to have that person in that position that could facilitate them.”

Some of Smith’s criticism is based on an articcle written by the The Athletic immediately after the Suns’ first-round sweep:

“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 Vogel and his coaching staff.”

Suns general manager James Jones addressed this report at his end-of-season media availability two weeks ago.

“A constant focus for us is to continue to figure out how to maximize Kevin Durant,” Jones said. “No one’s done it yet. I believe we’d be the first team to do it. Because if we can maximize him, we can maximize our entire roster (and) we’re a better team. But that’s not an issue. I think Kevin had a phenomenal season this year offensively. I think there’s a stretch, he had some of the best stretches of his career this year. So it wasn’t an offensive thing, it wasn’t just a utilization or usage thing. It was just the totality of figuring out when and where and how to do it together. We just could not get on the same page. We ran out of time.

“I think if you ask Kevin, he’ll tell you, Kevin enjoys playing the game, we enjoy him playing the game. And when he’s playing at the highest level, he makes us a really, really good team and we’re damn near unbeatable. And you saw that at times this year. But like every great player what we may view as being like, awesome, Kevin thinks isn’t good enough. Because he wants to be great. That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer. And so the moment he becomes satisfied with the way he’s playing, I think that’ll be the moment he’ll tell you that it’s probably time to think about something differently.”

Per Spotrac, Durant will be making $51.2 million next season with an additional year on his contract after that, Bradley Beal will be earning $50.2 million on the third year of a five-year deal and Devin Booker is set to make an estimated $49.4 million on the second season of a four-year extension. Additionally, Jusuf Nurkić is locked up for two more seasons after this one and will earn $18.1 million next year. Grayson Allen will be on the first season of a four-year, $70 million extension signed three weeks ago.

Beal’s no-trade clause carried over from when the Suns acquired him from the Washington Wizards, so he has the power to veto any trade.

Outside the starting lineup, Nassir Little is set to make $6.75 million on the second year of his four-year rookie extension next season. David Roddy is owed $2.9 million on the third of a four-year rookie deal next year (not much more than a veteran minimum contract).

The Suns have Royce O’Neale’s bird rights if they want to sign him to a contact extension, while Eric Gordon, Josh Okogie, Drew Eubanks and Damion Lee also all have player options to extend their veteran minimum deals to next season.

When the Suns dismissed Vogel Friday, Jones said the following in a statement:

“We are here to win a championship and last season was way below our expectations. We will continue to evaluate our operation and make the necessary changes to reach our championship-caliber goals. We all take accountability, and it’s my job, along with (CEO) Josh (Bartelstein) and ownership, to build a championship team.”

There is no doubt the Suns have a lot of questions still remaining and will have them no matter what they do heading into next season because of how disappointing this year was.

Is disbanding the Big 3, like Smith suggested, the answer?

Mike Wilbon says Suns roster is ‘fatally flawed’ no matter the coach

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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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