2024 NBA Playoffs Takeaways: Where do Vogel, Durant, Phoenix Suns go now?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns - Game Four
Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns - Game Four

Things move fast in the NBA playoffs, so to help you stay on top of things, from now through at least the end of the second round, we will have nightly takeaways from the postseason action.

Where do Vogel, Durant, Booker, Phoenix Suns go now?

When this season tipped off, the Phoenix Suns were among the top four betting favorites to win the NBA title. With the star power of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal, expectations were that Phoenix could push Denver in the West and be in the mix to host a parade in June.

Sunday, reality hit hard. Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves swept the Suns out of the playoffs in the first round. Phoenix was never a true threat and never lived up to its fantastic potential.

Where do the Suns go now? This is as win-now a team as their is in the league, what changes are coming to prevent next season from looking like a repeat of this one?

Those changes could start with coach Frank Vogel. He was only hired a year ago — after owner Mat Ishbia fired Monty Williams following the Suns playoff loss to the Nuggets — but has he already lost the locker room? In his postgame comments Sunday, Devin Booker said of the Suns, “We can’t be unprepared,” a clear shot at Vogel. Durant reportedly was “never comfortable” with the Suns offense, reports The Athletic. Most importantly, after an entire season under Vogel, what is this team’s identity?

For his part, Vogel said he is “very” confident he will return next season saying, “I have the full support of Mat Ishbia.”

The real question: If the Suns fire Vogel, who are they getting that’s better? (No Suns fans, the answer isn’t “anyone.” Vogel has a championship ring for a reason.) Mike Budenholzer is out there but seems a poor fit with this roster. There may be coaches let go in the coming weeks that interest Phoenix, but there is no clear and obvious choice, especially now that top assistant Kevin Young — who almost got the job over Vogel a year ago — is headed home to Utah to take over the BYU job.

Fixing the roster is much more complicated than replacing the coach.

Beal, Booker and Durant are all under contract for next season for a combined $150.6 million — the salary cap is expected to be $141 million. Add in other contracts like Grayson Allen’s recent extension and the Suns have an estimated $206 million payroll for next season already, well over the estimated $171 luxury tax line and about $16.3 million over the second apron tax number (using Bobby Marks numbers from ESPN). That means a $104 million tax penalty on top of the payroll, putting the Suns at $310 million in salary and tax. And they haven’t filled out the roster yet.

Can the Suns trade one of the three stars? Beal has a no-trade clause (the Wizards gave him that with his max contract). Beal waived it once because he wanted to come to Phoenix, but he can only be traded with his consent, which is not very likely. There is no way the Suns will trade 27-year-old Booker entering his prime. That leaves Durant, and Phoenix isn’t moving him either unless he demands out, and Durant talked about the need for continuity in his postgame comments Sunday.

The expectation around the league is the Suns try to retool their roster around their top six: Durant, Booker, Beal, Allen, Jusuf Nurkic and Royce O’Neal.

Phoenix needs a floor general point guard to organize and settle them — as the Timberwolves had with Mike Conley. Or like Chris Paul, who the Suns traded away to get Beal. Phoenix also could use a good wing defender.

However, the Suns being over the second tax apron ties the hands of the front office this summer: They do not have a mid-level exception to use, they don't control any of their first-round picks for the next six years and can't trade them, they cannot aggregate multiple contracts in a trade, cannot use a pre-existing trade exception, cannot take back more money than they send out in a trade, cannot send out cash in a trade, and once the season starts cannot bring in players on the buyout market who made more than the league average salary.

If the Suns did something like trade Nurkic to get the point guard they need, it would create another hole in the roster.

There are no easy answers, no clear paths forward. While the Suns could find some steals at the veteran minimum those guys are available and playing for the minimum for a reason.

There is no easy path forward that turns this Suns team into a threat to Denver, a rising Timberwolves team, or for that matter a rising Thunder team, a Grizzlies team about to get healthy and everyone back next summer, and a West that is generally getting better — the worst team in the conference this season has Victor Wembanyama.

It’s going to be a hot summer in Phoenix and there are no easy answers.

Start sculpting Jalen Brunson’s statue now

I know the Knicks don’t have room for a bunch of statues in front of Madison Square Garden, but if there can be a Stephon Marbury statue in Beijing then there can be a Brunson statue somewhere in New York.

Brunson was brilliant on Sunday, scoring a Knicks franchise playoff record of 47 points in New York’s win over Philadelphia. New York is heading home to Madison Square Garden up 3-1 and with a chance to close out this series.

Coming into this first-round matchup, Philadelphia thought it had a chance because it had Joel Embiid — he could be the most dominant player in the series. He’s tried, but Embiid is dragging one leg around, has a mild case of Bell’s Palsy, and while he dropped 50 in the 76ers win this series he has not been the most dominant player on the floor.

Brunson has been. That’s why New York is on the verge of a return to the second round.

Clippers are better without injured Kawhi

The Los Angeles Clippers are not better without Kawhi Leonard. At least the healthy version of him.

They are better off without Kawhi Leonard at 50%, or whatever he was for Game 3. That Leonard, trying to gut it out, held the team back.

No Leonard on Sunday meant a more aggressive Paul George and James Harden and that has been hard for Dallas to slow down.

“When Kawhi is not in the lineup, you can see they are different players to a certain degree,” Kyrie Irving said of Harden and George. “I don’t want to disrespect their talent, but I think [they] play with a little bit more liberation [and] they take a lot more tough shots. When Kawhi is out there, I think they’re looking to be efficient and get each other going a little bit more.”

What may ultimately be the difference in this series is which team gets more from its non-stars. Not that the Doncic/Irving vs. George/Harden cancels each other out exactly, but the Clippers get wins when they get strong games from Ivica Zubac (Game 1) or players like Norman Powell and Terance Mann.

Dallas needs P.J. Washington, Derrick Jones Jr. or others to step up and put them over the line.

Game 5 between these teams is Wednesday night in Los Angeles, but this series feels like they will be back in Los Angeles for Game 7.