A new season is upon us, and with it comes plenty of intriguing storylines. From massive traves and superstar uncertainty in the East to a West perhaps the deepest it has ever been, here is an early season NBA Power ranking.
Far-Fetched Friday: The Phoenix Suns Will Lose in the First Round of Next Year’s Playoffs
By: Ryan Stein
If it were not for the epic tailspin the Lakers found themselves in after winning the 2019-2020 NBA championship, the Phoenix Suns would be the most dramatic rollercoaster of a franchise over the past four seasons. After finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA in the 2018-2019 season at 19-63, they were firmly in the doldrums of the NBA hierarchy. Upon the hiring of Monty Williams as head coach prior to the following season, the team saw a marked improvement, finishing with an unspectacular 34-39 record during the COVID-19-interrupted year. While the record itself was nothing special, the 8-0 showing by the Suns in the Bubble was a telling precursor to Phoenix's precipitous rise in the following season.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This Friday, we go down to Phoenix.
Amidst a grueling 10-year playoff drought, NBA's team in The Valley made a huge trade for all-star "Point God" Chris Paul. While the team was expected to make a nice leap following this transaction, you would be hard-pressed to find a person who expected them to claim the 2-seed in the Western Conference. Not only were they an elite regular season team, but they also managed to make a run to the NBA Finals, beating the likes of the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers, as well as that year's MVP in Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets. While the team ultimately fell short to the best player in the world Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, the improbable jump from missing the playoffs the previous year to a Finals trip the next year left many excited for the team's future.
This past season, the Phoenix Suns lived up to the hype they generated...at least, during the regular season. The Suns blitzed through the league, earning a 64-18 record, which was eight games above the second-best record. However, real cracks started to show in the Suns seemingly impenetrable armor. After struggling to get past the 8-seeded New Orleans Pelicans (who were missing their best player in Zion Williamson) in the first round of the playoffs, they faced off against a Dallas Mavericks team lead by young superstar Luka Doncic. Phoenix was heavily favored to win the series, but the Mavericks just would not relent, forcing the series to go to a decisive Game 7. With the game taking place in Phoenix (the home team had won every game in the series up to that point,) the Suns were still expected to finish the job and earn their second consecutive trip to the Western Conference Finals for a date with the Golden State Warriors. What happened instead was a historic trouncing of the Phoenix Suns. Leading by as much as 46 points in the game, the Mavericks completely embarrassed the Suns and moved on to the next round.
So where are the Phoenix Suns now, following a traumatic collapse in the playoffs? Well, the roster has largely been kept intact from last year, although with perhaps a slight downgrade at backup center from Javale McGee to Damian Lee. They re-signed former number-one pick Deandre Ayton by matching the Indiana Pacers' offer sheet for the big man. However, there has been reason to believe that Ayton and the Suns do not have the best relationship with one another, which could be a concern if it becomes a distraction during the season. The lack of commitment to make improve the roster following a disappointing playoff appearance, matched with an aging Chris Paul and a potentially disgruntled Ayton, will lead the Suns to continue the downward trend on their rollercoaster. With that, I predict the Phoenix Suns will be upset in the first round of next year's playoffs.
Make no mistake about it; the Suns have one of the most talented rosters in the league. Devin Booker finished 4th in MVP voting this past year and is only entering his age-26 season. Chris Paul, while likely to see some sort of decline to his game, is perhaps the steadiest point guard in NBA history when healthy. Ayton is one of the most efficient centers in basketball, and got paid like it this summer. Mikal Bridges was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and Cam Johnson was in the running for Sixth-Man of the Year. That being said, there is just something that seems a little...off with the team. Maybe it is the team's lack of humility against the Mavericks, which was the team's downfall last year. Perhaps it is the roster remaining the same, allowing other Western Conference teams the opportunity to catch up to Phoenix. The looming idea of a trade for Kevin Durant is also on the table, which could have players like Ayton and Bridges looking over their shoulders in anticipation of them being the centerpieces of the hypothetical deal.
To me, all of these factors will lead to another underwhelming playoff appearance for the Phoenix Suns. While, they will surely finish as a top-3 team in the regular season, I believe the Mavericks, and to a lesser extent the Pelicans, exposed the Suns in a way the team has yet to address. While obviously the season has not started yet and a lot can change, as of right now, there are at least 8 team in the West with a legitimate chance at advancing past the first round of the playoffs. If the Suns end up as a 3-seed next year, I am not convinced they would beat the likes of the New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves, or Dallas Mavericks. The West is so deep this season that the 8-seed this year will likely have the talent of a 5-seed most other years. With that, the Suns will be going fishing by the time this upcoming season's second round of the playoffs begin. Prove me wrong, Phoenix.
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