In 2020, the Phoenix Suns firmly planted themselves within the
NBA as a sustainable contender. Following the addition of Chris
Paul, Phoenix ended its 11-year playoff drought with a miraculous
The 2021-22 campaign was supposed to be the crescendo moment for
an instant rebuild that was stuck in neutral before the arrival of
general manager James Jones and head coach Monty Williams. All
season, Phoenix was dominating opponents, putting on historic
efficiency clinics in clutch-time situations that vaulted the team
ahead of everyone else. However, a near-worst-case scenario
occurred when Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks delivered a
knockout blow in the Western Conference semifinals.
How it all ended was a look-in-the-mirror moment for the Suns,
one that has brought some ripple effects to their current roster
and long-term situation.
From an off-court perspective, majority owner Robert Sarver will
soon sell his stake in the organization following a year-long
suspension. Early evaluations lean toward the Suns soon becoming
the NBA’s most expensive team from new ownership buy-in. Before
this occurred, restricted free agency involving 2018 No. 1 overall
pick Deandre Ayton brought some icy feelings, which included
internal tension between he and Williams after their Game 7 bench
spat. Ayton admitted that the two didn’t speak to each other after
the season ended, which somehow lasted into training camp.
Ayton signed a lucrative four-year maximum offer sheet with the
Indiana Pacers, but the Suns matched it within mere minutes; this
situation bears watching well into the season. Phoenix’s summer
flirtation with Kevin Durant, who had the Suns as his preferred
trade destination, will only linger until it’s finally resolved one
way or another by July.
Jae Crowder is also away from the team, as his trade request has
been granted. Crowder was expected to take on a reduced role in
favor of Cameron Johnson, but the veteran forward wasn’t receptive
to the idea.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania recently reported that the
Atlanta Hawks are a top candidate to
acquire Crowder, but Phoenix won’t simply make a deal to get
the starting-caliber wing off their roster. Phoenix’s intention is
to improve their depth in any Crowder transaction, which could
happy soon with the regular season on the horizon. Evidenced by the
Suns’ pursuit of Bojan Bogdanovic (prior
to the Detroit trade) and promising young Utah Jazz forward Jarred
Vanderbilt, monitor that framework as any potential outline for
a deal moving forward.
Mining through the chaos is an all too familiar occurrence in
Phoenix that is creeping back into its most successful era since
Steve Nash piloted Mike D’Antoni’s 7 Seconds or Less offense in the
mid-2000s. Questions have been persistent all offseason about the
Suns after their postseason embarrassment.
Is the window closing on Phoenix and their realistic
With the Suns’ core pieces now entering their primes — led by
soon-to-be 26 year old shooting guard Devin Booker — that would be
a strong bet against consistent internal improvement. Booker has
now fully established himself as one of the NBA’s best scorers.
Mikal Bridges was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, and
will now be empowered to take more scoring looks this season.
Johnson adds much-needed sharpshooting and floor-spacing
capabilities while holding his own on the other end of the court.
Ayton will also be relied upon as more of a scorer this season
since Paul will be going into his age-37 season.
The biggest questions around the Suns persist from the looming
Crowder trade, which will leads right into the second-unit depth.
Currently, Phoenix’s primary bench rotation consists of Cameron
Payne, Landry Shamet, Torrey Craig, Jock Landale and Dario Saric.
Saric’s return from a torn ACL suffered in the 2021 Finals helps
bring back a connective piece, but it’s a lot of pressure on Payne
and Shamet to bounce back from subpar campaigns. In turn, the
consistent theme of Paul and Booker maintaining their elite status
as a backcourt will be of utmost importance in 2022-23.
The Western Conference is only getting stronger around the Suns.
The defending-champion Golden State Warriors aren’t going anywhere
anytime soon. The Denver Nuggets are finally at full strength with
the impending returns of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
alongside two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. The Dallas Mavericks and
Memphis Grizzlies continue their climb up the ladder thanks to
their young stars. Also, the New Orleans Pelicans easily stand out
as a team ripe for a major leap thanks to Zion Williamson’s
This season, we will truly find out whether the Suns’ hopes to
finally win a championship will be one left in the rear-view
mirror, or if it becomes even more of a potential reality with
their current core.