Phoenix Suns star Bradley Beal is unlikely to play tonight in season opener vs. the Golden State Warriors, league sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Suns are taking a cautious approach with Beal’s back ailment to begin the new season.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) October 24, 2023
Beal was the biggest prize of the Suns’ offseason, coming over from the Washington Wizards in a trade where Phoenix gave up a bunch of pick swaps and took on Beal and the four years and over $200 million left on his contract. The idea was to form a Big Three with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, although also a trio that’s a Big Injury Risk, having missed a combined 96 games last season.
While Shams Charania reported that Beal wouldn’t play, his archrival Adrian Wojnarowski said it would be a “game time decision” whether Beal’s back spasms would keep him out.
Woj: "[Bradley] Beal (back spasms), I was told he was actually feeling better today. He's truly going to be a gametime decision tonight... I was told it was a little closer to possible this afternoon than it was this morning. [The Suns] will let him test it out pregame." pic.twitter.com/qve0n5xNBD— Oh no he didn't (@ohnohedidnt24) October 24, 2023
Booker is also nursing a toe injury, but he’s been upgraded from “questionable” to “probable,” meaning Phoenix’s other All-Star guard will probably play. As will All-Star Kevin Durant, who will finally be playing in front of Bay Area fans for the first time after leaving for Brooklyn in 2019.
The injury news won’t please commissioner Adam Silver and the rest of the league office, who instituted a series of reforms this summer trying to discourage “load management,” where players sit out to prevent or nurse injuries. Players now have to suit up for 65 games to qualify for postseason awards and All-NBA teams, and teams are subject to fines if stars players have unexcused absences. Now, in the high-profile season opener, one of the league’s premier teams is likely holding out one, if not two stars.
The Warriors will be without All-Star Draymond Green, still nursing an ankle injury suffered in late September. That’s not a surprise, as Green was only cleared to play 5-on-5 at practice earlier this week. But it does dull some of the star power for the league’s big debut.
That’s an issue because the NBA is clearly sweating its upcoming television rights deal. With regional sports networks in trouble and Disney looking to sell off pieces of ESPN, the league is worried about their goal of tripling their TV rights fees. Multiple All-Stars sitting in the very first game is the opposite of what the NBA wanted, after Joe Dumars’ summer campaign for players to have an “82-game mentality”.
For the Warriors, it should make dealing with Phoenix’s potent backcourt a little easier. The Suns were already playing Beal out of position at point guard, so they may go with backup Jordan Goodwin, Eric Gordon, or shooting guard/tripping expert Grayson Allen in the starting lineup. Splash Brother-In-Law Damion Lee is still out after his meniscus surgery.
If Booker plays, don’t expect another dust-up with Klay Thompson, who admitted he was “in my feelings” when they clashed last year. But at least Beal won’t get in the way of Chris Paul and Dario Saric’s joyful reunion with their old teammates. After all, who could imagine Chris Paul holding a grudge?