‘Rejuvenated’ Bradley Beal ready to adapt alongside Devin Booker, Kevin Durant in Suns’ Big 3

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Bradley Beal wasn’t quite tongue-tied but he couldn’t think of the exact emotion, probably because he hadn’t considered it until that moment.

Dining in a metro Detroit restaurant the night before his first preseason game as a member of the Phoenix Suns, a passerby spotted Beal, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker off at a table.

Beal was asked how he was feeling about starting the season somewhere new, and he paused, looked up and put his hand on his chin. Enough time passed before he was given the perfect word by the observer.

“Rejuvenated?”

Beal’s eyes lit up, and pointed at the man as confirmation.

“Exactly,” he said.

Durant and Booker smiled, perhaps knowing that’s how they felt in moments. Durant, finally freed from the Brooklyn drama and trade demand that hung over the franchise for months. Booker, finally seeing the fruits of teams after years of toiling and hoping fortunes would change.

They could all relate.

“I’m trying to find a big word, but simpler is better,” Beal told Yahoo Sports a few days later. “Exciting. It rejuvenated my mind, transformed my mind where I know that every single day I have to work my tail off to get better.

“I have to work my tail off so that we’re reaching a goal. That’s probably the first time I can say everybody in our entire organization is working towards a championship.”

There are a lot of questions. Fair ones. Reasonable ones. Is it too much scoring, too much duplication? Who’ll defend the big fella in Denver? Is there a need for a natural point guard?

Who guards Steph Curry? Who handles Anthony Davis?

It sounds like Beal considered such things when Phoenix became an option. Those who’ve known Beal since he’s become a pro say he’s cerebral and straightforward, and given he’s the only one of his siblings not to play football, he’s comfortable doing unorthodox things.

Which is probably why Beal was always content in Washington. He built a home there and was willing to ride through organizational changes, coaching changes, hopeful for an eventual turnaround. Hopeful for what Booker is experiencing now.

He was always known as a good soldier, only going through extended frustration during the 2021-22 season. Beal played just 40 games, undergoing left wrist surgery to repair a torn ligament, missing the last 32.

It was only when the Wizards replaced Tommy Sheppard with Michael Winger did it become apparent for both sides to realize a change was necessary. The Wizards wanted to start over, and Beal was more than open to a fresh start.

Armed with a no-trade clause, Beal had a more affable divorce than his peers. It almost feels like many moons ago Beal was sent to Phoenix to play alongside Durant and Booker.

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (L), forward Kevin Durant and guard Bradley Beal pose for a portrait during media day at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Oct. 2, 2023. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports)

“Whether it’s [the] smallest people in the building, or Book leading the charge, it’s everybody focused on that same thing,” Beal told Yahoo Sports. “And I haven’t felt that energy probably since I played with Russ.”

“Russ,” of course, is Russell Westbrook, who played with the Wizards in 2020-21, when Beal had his highest-scoring season — the second 30-plus-point season (31.3) of his career — and made his third All-Star Game.

But the Wizards didn’t make any noise in the East during that time, so for all the individual success Beal experienced, it was almost as if people lost sight of how good he is, how great he can be.

“It kinda got swept under the rug,” Beal said. “You at the house [in the playoffs], throw the [30] out the door. It’s a bittersweet thing about D.C., being in one place for so long. You have roots there, you work your tail off there. But there were a lot of down years where you didn’t get the exposure, we didn’t get the [TV] representation.”

The Wizards reached the second round a few times, coming closest to the East finals in 2017 before falling to the Celtics in a Game 7. Those expectations are the bare minimum in Phoenix, and Beal finds himself in a rare spot.

One could easily make the argument, with respect to Westbrook and John Wall, that Durant and Booker are the two best players Beal will have played with in his career.

“I’ve played with a lot of great players but no Hall of Fame, first ballot, USA basketball, whatever, you name it,” Beal said. “I’ve never played with this type of talent. For one, I think I respect the most their competitiveness. In practice, we guard each other.”

Perhaps Ray Allen would be the closest parallel. He played on competitive teams in Milwaukee and Seattle, but it all changed when he linked up with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to revive a then-destitute Celtics franchise.

Allen settled neatly into the third-option role while Garnett commandeered the defense and Pierce stayed as the first option on offense. The situation is not as natural in Phoenix, but when he refers to Booker as “leading the charge,” it gives off the air there won’t be a battle over shots and oxygen in that locker room.

Beal and Booker have each been playmaking guards, but neither are what anyone would call a natural point guard. Both can facilitate offense and shoot off the catch, so neither will have to ground the ball into dust just to get a rhythm.

Being the newest member, it’s likely Beal will have to make the biggest adjustment of the three. Durant is perhaps the most pliable non-system player in the history of the game and made it a point to give Booker all the space to be himself when he arrived last February.

“I feel like I’m the most easily adaptable guy,” Beal said. “I’m gonna make do [with] what I got, with the situation I’m in, whatever it is. I’m gonna make do with it.

“But to know that I’m around several guys who are like-minded and that really respect the game and are very unselfish, it’s a match made. It’s really match made. It’s what I’ve been yearning for.”

Beal spent time with new Suns coach Frank Vogel, both in Los Angeles and in Phoenix, as they happened to stay at the same hotel during their respective transitions.

“A lot of those conversations get deep,” Vogel said. “When we met with him and his wife and talked about playing for the Suns, it was more than just the Phoenix Suns the team and Bradley Beal the player. It was an attempt to connect on a personal level, get to know his family and know what his family is about.”

Vogel is a championship coach, leading the Lakers to the 2020 championship in the Orlando bubble and helping the Indiana Pacers reach competitive status last decade, twice reaching the Eastern Conference finals before falling short.

These expectations are new for Beal, and he doesn’t seem like the type to shy away from it.

“That’s the beauty of it for me,” Beal said. “I’m enjoying the journey. I’ve never been a part of anything like this, a team of this caliber. So I have a completely open mind, like it’s a blank canvas for me.”

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