Although the Phoenix Suns did not beat the Los Angeles Clippers in four games like the fans wanted, the Suns have finally reached the NBA Finals. The last time Phoenix reached the Finals was in 1993. In retrospect, the NBA world was much different then. Michael Jordan only had two championships. The Toronto Raptors, Memphis Grizzlies, and New Orleans Pelicans did not have a franchise.
Back to the ’90s
The landscape of the NBA world was not surrounded by dominating three-point specialists, and centers were post players rather than stretch bigs. A lot has changed since Phoenix’s last appearance in the Finals. In 1993, the Suns were led by Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, and an aging Tom Chambers. The team would lose to the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in six games. After the team’s loss in the Finals, the organization reworked its roster. Barkley would head to Houston, Chambers would head to Utah, leaving Johnson to play for himself.
The team would have another chance to reach the Finals. As they drafted Steve Nash in 1996. Although they let him go only after two seasons, they would re-acquire him in 2004, creating a new era of Suns basketball. A historical era of basketball led by Nash, and coached by Mike D’Antoni. The two would create the seven seconds or less offense that swept the NBA landscape. As they produced; at the time, the NBA’s best offense scoring output.
Nash, Amar’e, and the Hired Guns
This team was always in the hunt to reach the finals but never saw success past the Western Conference Finals. The team of Nash was filled with tremendous talents. Phoenix would draft Amar’e Stoudemire who would complement Nash’s playmaking style in the pick and roll. The team also acquired Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion during their primes. That was not every move they had done, they would consistently bring in veterans that in theory would help contribute instantly for a title run. Big names such as Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter, and Grant Hill all played for the team during this era of Suns basketball.
Unfortunately, the team suffered injuries that would derail their playoff hopes and after seven seasons of competitive basketball, the team eventually broke up their core. They would let Stoudemire head to New York and see their two-time MVP-winning point guard leave to Los Angeles. Outside of some injury-riddled playoff runs, the owner of the Phoenix Suns, Robert Sarver, contributed to years of mediocrity.
A New Era
Since the Nash era ended in 2012, the team never made the playoffs until 2021. The team outside of a 2014 cinderella run, never finished above .500 in a season. They consistently found themselves selecting the NBA draft lottery. To no avail either, as it seemed most draft picks never managed to have good NBA careers for the team. In 2014 the team selected T.J. Warren and was the team’s first good selection after nearly a decade of draft busts. Although Warren would not stay on the team for this title run, Warren was a good sign to come on the draft boards. The following year the team drafted future all-star, Devin Booker. Booker is a leading contributor to the organization’s success and is the team’s main building block. It was not until 2018 when the team drafted Deandre Ayton and traded for Mikal Bridges in the same night.
This move gave the Suns a top-five center in the NBA, and the perfect wing to complement Booker. The team now had a young core to build a championship roster around. The team would spend two more seasons retooling the roster, trying to find the missing veteran point guard and bench pieces. After two more failed seasons, the team made a trade that ultimately revitalized the organization. The Suns would trade for point guard Chris Paul. Paul, who was 35, just led a young and developing Oklahoma City Thunder team to the playoffs.
Suns in Four
Paul’s playstyle makes every player around him perform at their best. With his leadership and playoff experience, the team could finally make a run for the playoffs. As the second seed in the Western Conference, the team ended up beating the reigning champions, the Los Angeles Lakers. Phoenix would also sweep the MVP Nikola Jokic and his Denver Nuggets. After an iconic moment for a Suns fan who had a viral video reach the team’s locker room. The motto from the video of “Suns in Four” became a catalyst for their organization, as the hype around it became growing in popularity.
The Suns would then beat the Los Angeles Clippers in six games in the Western Conference Finals. For the first time since 1993, the Suns reached the Finals. In Booker’s first playoffs, he helped lead his team on this historic run. As for Paul, after 16 seasons of trying to reach the finals, the veteran point guard is making his debut. The Phoenix Suns have not only shocked the NBA world but have become the fan-favorite to win the title. The Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks are still playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, but to most NBA fans the winner of that series will be outdone by the “Suns in Four”.
Follow John Devereaux on Twitter @NBADevereaux