The Phoenix Suns came a long way in under one year. From finishing 34-39 last season to finishing 51-21 this season. The hype of this team has been incredible since the Orlando Bubble days. Going 8-0 under weird circumstances was a catalyst for this recent season. The acquisition of Chris Paul ended up being one of the biggest offseason trades in their franchise history. The trade for Paul helped the Suns break a playoff drought, as the last time the team made the playoffs, their starting point guard was Steve Nash.
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The Suns going into the season were a mystery. Many media members were split on the team, as some had them making the playoffs, while some believed they were going to just miss the playoffs. Paul, who had brought a rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder team to the playoffs single handley, had other plans. Paul is 36 and had never been to an NBA final appearance, while Devin Booker is 24 who has never been to the playoffs. Both players were on different tracks to start the season, but the underlining goal was to win. The Suns did just that, they started to win.
Both Paul and Booker had extremely good years, and yet again Paul led another young team to the playoffs. Even though the Suns made the playoffs many believed they would not make it past the tough Western Conference. The team finished second in West and had to face an injured Los Angeles Lakers squad that had LeBron James. Phoenix shocked the NBA platform as they easily beat the Lakers and swept the MVP Nikola Jokic led Denver Nuggets. The team would then face the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Finals, where the team yet again was the underdog. The Suns would win in six games, and reach the Finals for the first time since 1993. Unfortunately after winning the first two games of the finals, the team would lose the next four and be eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks.
MVP – Chris Paul
Ever since Paul landed in Phoenix after the trade the team became instantly better. The suns were a struggling franchise with no leader. They had the young talent and head coach to improve, but without a leader, on the court, they were just sitting ducks. We have seen Paul take a rebuilding team to the playoffs, and his presence has such a high impact on an organization.
Paul averaged 16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, and led the Suns to their first playoff berth since the Nash era. The veteran point guard was able to lead a frustrated and talented Booker to the playoffs. His playstyle and leadership also helped improved the progression of former No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton. The guard’s presence alone helped progress the franchise at a very fast rate making him the MVP of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year – Mikal Bridges
Bridges is an incredible defender. He has been given the duty to guard the best perimeter player on the opposing team every game. Bridges were able to come down the floor and help neutralize the opposing offense. Able to switch with any position, and run the floor in defensive transition gave the Suns a better chance at winning games. Bridges averaged 1.1 steals and almost a block per game.
Sixth Man of the Year – Cameron Payne
Payne was very efficient this season and a reliable point guard behind Paul. The 26-year-old guard averaged 8.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Payne was able to contribute to the team in any way possible. If the team needed scoring, he came off the bench and scored. If the team was looking for playmaking, he came off the bench and dished the ball out. Most importantly, he was the energy guy off the bench. He always hustled for loose balls and forced the offensive transition into a score.
Most Improved – Cameron Payne
Payne was on the verge of leaving the league. As he was entering his fourth team, Payne was finding it difficult to get meaningful minutes. The guard could not find an organization that would give him more than a 10-day contract, as he was slowly fading out of the league. When the Suns gave him a chance last season, he performed decently well. In the eight games he played with the team, he averaged nearly eleven points per game on tremendous shooting splits.
The team would then offer the guard another chance, signing him to a deal to stay in Phoenix. This allowed him to learn the offense, and he shined doing so. Payne would come off the bench and replace Paul as the team’s primary ball-handler. He would fill in the offensive schemes and run the offense and succeeded in doing so. It is a surprise to many that Payne was able to help a championship-caliber team after being almost out of the league.
Biggest Disappointment – Jalen Smith
Smith was the 10th overall pick in the 2020 draft. The center was drafted to become the backup of Ayton. However, the 10th overall pick would start the season with an injury that would lag the start of his career. Once Smith was able to return he barely saw the court. He would only appear in 27 games, in which he started only one. In these games, he averaged a measly six minutes per contest.
The Suns drafted Smith with the 10th pick, and he barely saw the court. Most of this is due to Ayton’s emergence as a top-five center, but the team wasted a draft selection on a guy they did not even play. Smith averaged two points and 1.4 rebounds per game. As the 10th pick in the draft, these are not suitable numbers, and the team is just slowing down his young career.
For the Suns, this offseason is the matter of retaining superstar guard Paul. He has a player option for this season and could look into declining the final year. Paul would make 44 million next season if he wanted to accept his player option. Losing 44 million for most players would be insane, but for Paul, he would be looking into a long-term contract with a contender. The Suns are not necessarily going to be contenders next season. The team had an amazing run but was always the underdog. With other Western Conference teams getting better and healthier the Suns will have to make major moves to compete.
Paul could decline his option and re-sign to a cheaper three-year deal if he believes the Suns are able to improve the team with the money that they are saving. However, it would be harder for them to get the pieces that Paul is looking for. As Booker will be making $31 million a year, and after next season Ayton will be asking for a max contract. If Paul does leave, the team will need to make a move to replace the veteran guard.
Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard could be available, but it would take a lot to acquire them. There are not many talented guards in free agency outside of Kyle Lowry that can replace Paul’s leadership and production. Phoenix is in quite the stranglehold as of right now and their future plans are in the hands of veteran guard Paul and his contract situation. The team would clearly like another chance at the title with Paul on the roster.
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