- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2023

At his opening press conference Wednesday morning, new Suns owner Mat Ishbia insisted he wasn’t just a “short-term thinker” but also had an eye out for the long term. Then, later that night, the 43-year-old billionaire mortgage executive pulled off a seismic trade that attempted to blend those philosophies: He traded for Kevin Durant. 

Ishbia’s decision to trade for Durant — a two-time champion disgruntled in Brooklyn — is a bold, aggressive move that rocked the NBA in the early hours of Thursday morning. Durant’s arrival to Phoenix makes the Suns instant title contenders — and his presence could make them a powerhouse for years to come if the 34-year-old plays out his contract, which doesn’t expire until 2026, in Phoenix.

Locally, the trade also carries a fascinating “what if?” for the Washington Commanders — yes, the football team. 

Before Ishbia purchased the Suns for a valuation of $4 billion, the Michigan State alum was interested in buying the Commanders from owner Dan Snyder. Ishbia dropped out of the running after securing the Suns, but it would have been interesting to see if he maintained his no-holds, go-for-it-now approach in the NFL and for Washington — a franchise that has made the playoffs only once in the last seven seasons. 

Would Ishbia have come in and tried to push coach Ron Rivera to trade for Aaron Rodgers? Maybe he would have wanted to trade for No.1 pick in the draft so Washington could land a quarterback like Bryce Young. 

This is all speculation, of course, but those are the kinds of moves that would have fit the bill for a Durant-style splash.

“I know you can’t win every single day,” Ishbia said, “but we’re going to try.” 

Make no mistake, Phoenix sent Brooklyn a massive haul to land Durant — a package that has the potential to age horribly for the Suns if the 34-year-old can’t consistently stay on the court because of injuries, or decides to force his way out in the way that other NBA superstars have. The Suns not only traded promising, young forwards in Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges, but they also gave up veteran Jae Crowder, four unprotected first-round picks (2023, ‘25, ‘27 and ‘29) and the option for a 2028 first-round pick swap. 

And yet, based on multiple reports, the trade happened because of Ishbia’s vision. Late Wednesday evening, ESPN reported, Phoenix started to pivot to a possible trade for Atlanta’s John Collins when Ishbia got wind and instead pushed general manager James Jones to stay focused on Durant. “Ishbia wouldn’t go to bed and he had his GM make one more run at a deal with Brooklyn,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote. 

Perhaps if he had bought the Commanders, Ishbia might have taken a different approach to build Washington. Beyond the obvious differences in the sports themselves — and the way they are run — the Suns made the NBA Finals just two years ago and led the league in regular-season wins last season. The Commanders are … not that.

But Ishbia’s actions are still revealing because they fit a trend of what The Ringer’s Bill Simmons has dubbed “New Owner Syndrome.” In other words, when owners shell out to buy a sports franchise, they often look to make dramatic, sometimes foolish, moves.

Washington fans can identify that course of action all too well. In Snyder’s early years, the owner signed the likes of Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and Mark Carrier in order to chase a Super Bowl — only for the acquisitions to backfire completely.

Ishbia should hope his trade for Durant — a Commanders fan who has expressed interest in owning a minority stake in the team — turns out better.

“My belief system is about how do we focus on winning?” Ishbia said. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide

Sponsored Stories