As prognosticators and analysts continued the coronation of the Phoenix Suns as 2023 NBA Champions because of their acquiring of Kevin Durant during the NBA trade deadline, ESPN’s “First Take” crew discussed which player had the most pressure to win in the aftermath of the blockbuster.
KD’s never won without Stephen Curry and he went to BK to prove he could and failed to accomplish the goal with James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Devin Booker wet the bed the last time he was in an NBA Finals and his team blew a series lead. So both of those players have legacies at stake and pressure.
But Stephen A. Smith wasn’t buying it and immediately put it all on the back of Chris Paul. Smith ran off the abundant of talent the Suns now possess and the minimized load CP3 now has to carry because of it.
Pressure Is On CP3 To Lead Suns To NBA Title
Durant is considered a top 5-10 all-time player and has two rings. Booker can get it at will and has a 70-point game on his résumé. Deandre Ayton is a multi-skilled big man whose versatility causes problems for the opposition.
“All I’ve got to do If I’m CP3 is run the show?” Smith asked. “You got to win this year. If you’re CP3 you’ve got to win this year.”
Co-Host Jay Williams understood Smith’s point, but he added some caution to the expectations and the narrative that Smith was painting.
“I get that from an internal perspective for CP3,” J-Will said. “We both know that’s how he’s built all day long. From the media perspective, outside looking in… he, to me, is a game manager. An elite game manager, but towards the latter part of his career. If we were talking about him in his late 20s, early 30s I would say, ‘OK’ because he’s the guy. But to me, he’s not like Steph where he’s a prolific scorer. Isiah Thomas, prolific scorer.”
CP3 Has Struggled At Times In Playoffs
Stephen A. countered by reminding Williams of the numerous times Williams has highlighted CP3’s playoff failures over the years, particularly with the L.A. Clippers. The elusive ring and some playoff heartbreak is the only stain on an otherwise Hall of Fame career for the Point GOD.
“So you think (past failures) are not going to come into play now that he has Kevin Durant and Devin Booker?”
Williams responded: “I do but I do also understand that the last couple of years he’s been injured and this year he’s managing another injury. Do you think CP3 still has the same impact on the game, the way we look at KD and Devin Booker? Do you still think it’s as impactful?”
SAS wasn’t letting Paul off the hook so easily. He doubles down on his assertion that with a healthy Kevin Durant, aka Easy Money Sniper, the Phoenix Suns are too loaded not to play in the NBA Finals and win them.
“CP3 is one of the great, great point guards this game has ever seen and one of the great floor leaders,” Smith said. “But you can’t have Kevin Durant and Devin Booker and you’re CP3 and you have no chip to show for it.”
Phoenix Suns Are Among NBA Championship Favorites
The Suns are 32-27 and sit in fourth place in the deep Western Conference. The trade deadline power move that secured Kevin Durant from Brooklyn is a game-changer in the eyes of most NBA insiders and the Suns have elevated among the top three favorites to win the NBA championship. However, as we’ve seen in past playoffs, CP3 staying healthy is the key to Phoenix holding off the other talented teams in the West.
He’s averaging a career-low 13.9 points per game, but his assists are healthy (9.0 apg). His field goal percentage is the second-lowest of his 17-year career at 43 percent. There’s definitely some decline there for the 37-year-old 12-time All-Star, but he’s also got enough in the tank to run the offense and put his insanely talented offensive teammates in a position to win.
Both Smith and Williams have a point, but Paul is surely focused on being at his best when it counts the most, which is something he hasn’t always been able to accomplish for one reason or another. An elite game manager is probably exactly what the Suns will need when Durant and his 20 plus shots per game falls into the rotation. One with some pressure on his back, pushing him to get the job done this time. A little motivation never hurt anybody.