Arguably more exciting than the Nuggets vs. Lakers matchup earlier in the night, the Warriors vs. Suns game has some major heat to it. For starters, former Suns point guard Chris Paul is now playing for the other team. The 38-year-old veteran has been quiet about facing his former squad for the last three years since they waived him this offseason, but he’s also been away from Warriors training camp while he recovers from an ankle sprain. The last we heard from Paul was right after he found out about the trade, telling Good Morning America that he was completely surprised as well. “In this league, anything can happen,” he said. ”You just figure out what’s next.”
Adding to the drama is Kevin Durant, who will also face a former squad left largely unchanged from when he was in Golden State—even though they just proved two years ago that they could win a title without him. During that time, Durant competed on a failed superteam in Brooklyn before requesting out to join another in Phoenix. “It’s very comfortable for all of us when we see Kevin,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told Yahoo! Sports ahead of opening night. “This time, we say our hellos and it’s great but for the fans it will be different. I anticipate our fans giving Kevin the love that he deserves. Two championships, trying to help us win a third, literally giving his body to the cause. He was incredible here and will go down as one of the great players in franchise history.”
It’ll be Durant’s first full season with his new team, alongside Devin Booker and Bradley Beal. Beal will be a game-time decision for opening night as he recovers from a “back ailment,” the team announced. But Draymond Green will also likely miss opening night for the Warriors with a sprained ankle. With two stars gone, it won’t be the complete showing for both teams who very may well face each other once again in the Western Conference Finals this upcoming summer.
But other notable points of intrigue for Phoenix will come from their newly stacked bench. Acquiring some of the greatest hauls of the free agency market quite early in the offseason, the Suns attracted many players including Eric Gordon, Yuta Watanabe, Keita Bates-Diop, Bol Bol, and Drew Eubanks on veteran minimums just for the chance to compete with a potential title contender. To do this, and keep all three stars, Phoenix anticipated the upcoming changes to the CBA and just greatly exceeded the luxury tax a year before the harshest penalties come into effect. If it ends up in a championship, it’ll all be worth it.
On the other side, Golden State also paid a boatload of cash to keep Draymond Green playing alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevon Looney. They gave up Jordan Poole to make the contract payouts work, but after the punching incident it would be silly to think that it wasn’t going to be one party or the other. The Warriors have also seen much improved play from Jonathan Kuminga during the preseason, which is just what the former champs need from their next-gen bench. Kuminga has scored over 20 points in three of Golden State’s preseason games, and he even hit four three-pointers against the Lakers on October 7.
We may not see either squad at full force tonight, but there’s plenty of games left. It was still smart to set them against each other for the first game of the season—especially as we build up the hype for Victor Wembanyama’s debut season on the Spurs soon to come.