A dream run ended in nightmare-like fashion for the Phoenix Suns.
The Suns went up 2-0 in the 2021 NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks, only to lose four straight games and see Giannis Antetokounmpo lift the championship trophy. Phoenix was unable to find offense outside of Devin Booker and Chris Paul, leading to offensive struggles as the series went on. Deandre Ayton was dominant for most of the playoffs, but became a non-factor in the Finals.
Paul has a $44 million player option and all reports suggest he’ll decline it in return for a long-term deal with the Suns. Phoenix took a gamble in trading for Paul and it paid off with a run to the Finals. There were some fortunate breaks with Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis and Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard going down due to injuries, but the Suns won’t apologize to anyone.
Booker, Ayton and Mikal Bridges form a talented young core that should improve. Cameron Johnson and Jalen Smith complement that trio well. Dario Saric suffered a torn ACL in the Finals, but is locked in for a couple more seasons.
After a 10-year postseason drought, the Suns broke through with a 51-win season and the No. 2 seed. Paul and head coach Monty Williams energized the young group and drove them to believe they could win it all this year. Booker rose to the occasion, registering the most points in a debut postseason in the history of the NBA. This franchise has every reason to be optimistic going forward.
Cameron Payne, Frank Kaminsky and Torrey Craig will be free agents and the Suns will have to make decisions on all of them, especially Payne. The guard provided a spark off the bench and ran the offense well when Paul took a seat. Kaminsky and Craig may take lesser deals to return. The Suns will also have to decide on extensions for Ayton and Bridges, who are eligible this season. There’s no reason Phoenix won’t lock up the core for the long haul.
Unfortunately for the Suns, the West is not going to be as easy as it was this time around. The Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Lakers and Clippers look to be contenders next year. The Dallas Mavericks are on the rise with MVP candidate Luka Doncic. The Golden State Warriors have arguably the best backcourt in the league and two lottery picks they can either use as trade bait or add young talent. The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings could be surprise teams with young cores looking to explode.
This was a good run for the Suns and it set the tone for the future, but there’s no guarantee they make it back to the Finals. According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Phoenix is +1300 to win the title next year. That’s good for the fifth-best odds entering the offseason. Booker is +1800 to win MVP. One thing is almost certain; the Suns won’t have another decade-long postseason drought with this core intact. Phoenix fans can take solace in that.