Duane Washington Jr. is the newest addition to the Phoenix Suns, joining last year’s best regular-season team on a two-way contract. The 22-year-old point guard will be reunited with his old friend Devin Booker after the Indiana Pacers waived him to make room for Deandre Ayton’s max offer sheet. Phoenix immediately matched DA’s offer, and then subsequently scooped up Washington (like we predicted they might).
On Tuesday, Washington spoke with Gerald Bourguet, Lindsey Smith, Saul Bookman and Espo on the PHNX Suns Podcast, diving into how he handled the Pacers and then Suns news, his relationships with Book, Derek Fisher and “Uncle Kobe,” what he brings to the table, and much more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Duane, thank you so much for joining us. I’m guessing the last three weeks have maybe been a little chaotic. How has the last three weeks been, and are you even here in Phoenix yet?
Duane Washington Jr.: Yeah, the last couple of weeks have been great nonetheless. I mean, a lot of stuff has been happening, a lot of stuff has been changing, but all for the better. And, you know, super, super excited about this next opportunity I got, and it’s always a blessing to be in the position that I’m in. So as chaotic as it’s been, it’s just always been good stuff and been able to keep a straight head. I’ve got a great support system with me, so everything’s been great. I’m doing just fine. But I’m actually still in Indiana right now, I’m getting my move on and we’ll be out there in a few weeks.
So you’ve got a friend there with you. Let’s just disclaimer in case we hear some barking in the background, who do you got in the car with you?
Washington: This is Draco, he’s a Cane Corso. He’s my guy, he’s my little guard. He’s watching the car for us right now, so if he barks, I appreciate it. But he’s a little crazy. [Laughs.]
What was your initial reaction when the Pacers made the decision that they did when they signed Deandre Ayton, your new teammate, to his offer sheet?
Washington: Yeah, we had heard some things conversed a little bit going back and forth. So it wasn’t a super unscripted type of deal. But yeah, just played a few games of Summer League and got the call, and it was a very, like…love-hate part of the business. I told myself that day that that was something that I didn’t ever want to feel again, and I was gonna work my tail off even harder than I have been before. So yeah, found out, was out in Summer League, and then actually headed home that day just to kind of clear my head and get all my thoughts straight.
We all like to envision that the NBA is kind of petty. So there’s a scenario in our minds that James Jones was like, ‘Don’t try to sign DA!’ and then they signed DA, and they’re like, ‘You know what? We’re going to try and get D-Wash now too!’ How long did it take before James Jones reached out to you?
Washington: Yeah, so, like I said, man, I took a couple of days just to myself. I’m expecting a baby boy here in November soon, so it was with my girlfriend and my dogs, man, just hanging out. Took a few days off of basketball as well, so those days were great. And then talking back with my agent when the week started, had a few teams calling and asking around. Had to let my waivers clear, of course, and then no one picked up my waivers and the Suns reached out and they told us that they were interested. And the market had been kind of frozen, in a sense, due to the the trade requests and stuff going on with Kevin Durant and a lot of the top-tier guys in his league, so the market was just super, super frozen. Basically, I was headed back to Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was about to go work out with my dad in the old high school, in the hot summer gym, like, I was about to bring it all the way back, and the night I got there — I want to say it was the end of July — and then basically, I started working out, I got three calls from my agent and they told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to the Suns.’ And you know, it was amazing. So as soon as I got to Grand Rapids, I had to leave the next day and get a flight to Phoenix. It was a long, long day, but it was all worth it. I got to see the beautiful new practice facility, got to meet a couple of the players, got to meet James Jones himself, I got to meet the owner, I got to meet everybody, so it was great. But yeah, a couple of weeks after, I want to say 2-3 weeks after, was when it officially was, ‘This is what we’re gonna do.’ And blessings, man, like I said before.
You had talked about things kind of changing for the better in your mind. Just kind of what were your impressions of the Suns from afar last year and what do you feel you can bring to this group?
Washington: I have great awareness of what’s necessary, and I’ve been a winner my whole life. So going into a situation last year where a couple of years had been down, for me, I just tried to go out there and be who I could be and bring the energy and bring the passion that I have and play with every single day. And now to be going from a bottom-five team to a top-five team in the NBA, it’s like a light switch, blink of an eye. I’m super, super excited to just see how guys operate, see how guys move, follow directions, listen, learn — like, get better, and also be who I am. Just be who I can be, and whatever they ask of me, I’m gonna make sure I give 110 percent and just learn. Like, I’ve got my big bro D-Book on the team and Torrey Craig, I played with TC in Indy, and those guys are gonna take me under the wing. And then we’ve got a Hall-of-Fame point guard in Chris Paul, and I just can’t explain enough how excited I am to just go learn and retain information and sponge everything. So I’m super excited, man. I can shoot the ball, I can pass the ball. It’s kind of give and take, man. Whatever the team needs at the time, it’s something that I can do for sure.
Can you tell us a little bit about your guys’ relationship growing up in Grand Rapids? Like how did that kind of all get started as far as you two being friends?
Washington: So our parents knew each other, man. Basketball is a small world. It’s the biggest world, but it’s also the smallest, and his father and my father knew each other. My dad’s from Little Rock, Arkansas. He ended up playing some ball in Grand Rapids and ended up settling down there, so that was how that happened. But as far as me and D-Book, I grew up watching D-Book play for the Grand Rapids Storm. I mean, he was on the B-team and he was in the sixth grade and I was super, super young. Like, sixth, seventh grade, he was in seventh, I was in the third, like, going to the games just trying to watch the dudes. He only played one year on the real team, that was his either eighth-grade year and then he ended up moving down to Mississippi with his dad in high school. So our relationship was from a distance. I got to watch him grow up, get better and play for the Mississippi Challenge on the EYBL, commit to Kentucky, go to Kentucky — like, I got to watch all this stuff. And we always were in touch, always on the phone. He basically would tell me, like, ‘I’ll see you soon. I’ll see you here. You’re next. You’re next.’ And he just kept believing in me when it felt like a lot of people weren’t. So it’s all real, man. Like I said, he definitely grew up like 30 minutes in Grandville. Like, Grandville, they were maroon and white, and I went to Grand Rapids Christian High School and grew up in the Kentwood area, so everything is super familiar. It feels full-circle. It’s just crazy. My uncle is Derek Fisher, and he came to Phoenix one year for Larry Fitzgerald’s All-Star baseball celebrity softball game. And I was 17 at the time going to Sierra Canyon, and our uncle was like, ‘We’re going to take a trip.’ I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’ And I knew D-Book was here, so I was at D-Book’s house when I was 17, so what’s that, five years ago? So five years ago, D-Book was young, Adidas jersey still in the NBA, like, it was just a different vibe. The Suns were on their way up, and to see where he is now and where he’s grown from, I just can’t wait to join him, man. It just feels right, how about that? Like, simple as that, it just feels right.
What are you most looking forward to as far as playing with Book now that you guys have kind of, like you said, it’s all come full-circle? What are you most looking forward to about being his teammate?
Washington: Man, I just understand that we’re trying to win, and we’re trying to win right now, and the expectations are even higher than I expect. So as far as doing what I need to do, as far as playing, as far as being on the court, I’m gonna have to listen and apply and understand. If a play’s going on and they need somebody in the corner ready to shoot, like, that’s gonna be me. If they need somebody bringing the ball up and having D-Book come off a pindown with Deandre Ayton, then that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll put it where it needs to go. So as far as us being connected and knowing each other and being brothers and whatnot, we’re gonna go on the court and take care of business and do what we do. And like I said, even more, I can’t wait to learn and to grow and to show and apply what I’m learning from these guys, man. I can’t wait to get to Phoenix if you can’t tell. I’m super excited.
Well you mentioned that your uncle is Derek Fisher, and that led to another connection that you and Book have, right? Your love of Kobe Bryant. Did you have a relationship with Kobe through your uncle?
Washington: Yeah, man, rest in peace, Uncle Kobe, rest in peace, Gigi. Those are two amazing people that have been taken from us. Yeah, man, Uncle Kobe was — for me, I didn’t even pay attention to the basketball about Kobe. Like, I was too young to really know what was going on. The times that I met him, the times that I hung out with him, we were hanging out, eating food and playing Sorry, the game of Life, and watching movies. After the game or in the hotel room, like, I never got to really talk basketball. He just saw me grow. He saw me grow, and every time he would see me the next game, it’d be every couple of months. My uncle and the Lakers would come into town, I was staying in Michigan, so we would go to the Bulls game, the Pacers game, the Pistons, the Cavs, the Bucks — anything around, like, we were just trying to get there. Every Finals we would try to make it out and do what we did, but every time he saw me, he just would acknowledge how much taller I got, how I’m doing in school, like, am I being a good son? Am I listening to my parents? It was such an amazing thing to see a basketball player of that status and of that greatness to be able to care about somebody who he doesn’t see that much or his relationship is through his teammate. I called him Uncle Kobe, he used to pick me up every time he saw me, and I just kind of grew up around that culture, man. Just a winning culture, winning basketball, winning people, people in life who win — like that’s just who I am and that’s who I want to surround myself with. And Book knows that, and that’s why it’s such a pull towards Kobe so much. You know, the energy that he gives often, it requires greatness. And that’s something that I’m trying to chase, and I know D-Book is after it. ‘Be legendary,’ man. That’s what it is, in a nutshell.
When was the first time you beat your Uncle Derek at basketball? Let us in on a little family family secret here.
Washington: Honestly, I hope he watches this one day and he sees me say this: We’ve never played one-on-one before. So I’m calling him out right now. What’s the deal? [Laughs.] But I always tell my dad this too, my dad says I wasn’t ready, and then when I got ready, now he too old. And my uncle, honestly I never told him. We used to shoot, and like I said, I was too young, I wasn’t ready. But now I’m ready, so we’ll have to see what we can get done with that.
Do you hear when the fans chirp at you?
Washington: Yeah, you hear everything. If you’re aware, and you’re aware of your surroundings, you definitely hear everything, especially court-side.
Do you like it when they chirp at you?
Washington: It just depends, man. I’ve seen it a lot where, I’ve seen it personally last year, somebody said something to LeBron and he had 45. You say something to D-Book and then he has 60, you know what I mean? Dudes that you’re talking to, you gotta be a little — some fans just want to see a good game, but sometimes it hurts the home team if you’re saying something to the fans, and then now you turned on a monster who can’t be stopped, you know? So I love it. Me personally, I love it and I’m with it all. So I can’t wait, man. Like I keep saying, you guys are getting me amped. I’m about to go to the gym right after we talk and get ready. Like, I’m about to go get right.
The Get-To-Know-You Game:
- Nickname: Wiz
- Favorite NBA player: Stephen Curry
- Favorite food: Wings
- Who he listens to before games: Future and YoungBoy
- Xbox or Playstation: Playstation
- Greatest TV show of all time: SpongeBob SquarePants
- Playing at home or on the road? Playing on the road
- Would you rather dunk on someone or cross them up? “Cross ’em over bad.”
- Favorite tattoo? “Great question. My favorite tattoo is — I have a lion on my chest. It was my second tattoo I received. It just represents how the male lions take care of their pride. And my family is my pride, and it’s my favorite animal and that’s something I live by.”
- Would you rather beat Devin Booker one-on-one or dunk on him? “I’m gonna do both. At least once, you know what I mean? [Laughs.] Yeah, both. But one-on-one, if I had to choose, one-on-one, for sure….Make sure — cut that one out. [Winks.]”