NBA: Here comes the sun in Phoenix

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In this Aug. 22, 2020, file pool photo, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Chris Paul (3) drives against the Houston Rockets during the third quarter of Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Veteran point guard Chris Paul was the marquee addition during the offseason for the Phoenix Suns. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP, File.

The Phoenix Suns have acquired Chris Paul, finally showing budding superstar guard Devin Booker that they are serious about building a championship caliber team around him. Booker himself had said publicly that he is done with not making the playoffs and playing in meaningless games which made one thing clear for the franchise: It is either win now or go twenty years before drafting another potentially transcendent talent. With the team going undefeated in the bubble play in games, even if falling one game short of the eighth seed in the west, it was exciting to see Booker elevate his game in pivotal moments. The Suns can be sure that they have their franchise player. With the acquisitions this offseason and Booker’s improved play, the Suns are primed to be a true sleeper threat in the loaded NBA Western Conference. 

People forget how recently the Phoenix Suns were an NBA contender. While the franchise has never won a championship since it came into the league in 1968, the team has made multiple playoff runs that have resulted in two finals appearances. The latest of these finals appearances occurred in 1993 when the team featured household names Charles Barkley and Danny Ainge. This team ran into Jordan’s Bulls and like much of the league at the time, were denied a ring they likely would have won in any other era. After that, the Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni led Suns team revolutionized the game with an offensive philosophy known as seven seconds or less, a precursor to the blitzkrieg style of high volume shooting that has been seen from the Houston Rockets over the last few seasons. However, even with that team’s offensive prowess and prolific statistical dominance, it never reached the NBA finals thanks to the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers of the 2000s. Following the departure and retirement of Nash and the breakup of that star-studded roster, the franchise endured a long playoff drought of a decade and counting. Nevertheless, the balance of power in the NBA can be shifted drastically by the movement of just a few players and this 2020 offseason has renewed hope for basketball fans in the valley of the sun. 

Table: A summary of the Sun’s offseason moves 

Players Added Players Lost  
Draft: Jalen Smith (10th overall) 
Trade: Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder), Abdel Nader (Oklahoma City Thunder) 
Free agency: Jae Crowder (Miami Heat), E’Twaun Moore (New Orleans Pelicans), Dario Saric (re-sign)  
Trade: Ricky Rubio (Minnesota Timberwolves via Oklahoma City Thunder), Ty Jerome (Oklahoma City Thunder), Kelly Oubre Jr. (Oklahoma City Thunder), Jalen Lecque (Oklahoma City)
Free agents: Aron Baynes (Toronto Raptors), Cheick Diallo, Frank Kaminsky, Tariq Owens 

The Suns front office should be given a medal for their chess moves this offseason. The biggest acquisition without a doubt is point guard Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder. While much of the league had passed up on Paul’s massive contract, he proved his worth by taking a young Thunder team to the playoffs when they were projected to have a meager 0.2% odds at accomplishing the feat. The Suns now get to add his veteran presence, leadership and experience for only a two-year commitment. The mentorship this move provides Booker is invaluable and vaults the Suns back into playoff relevance.  

Additionally, it is important to point out the acquisitions that buffer the depth, perimeter defense and floor spacing that are often the most vital components of a winning team in the current NBA. The Suns already led the NBA in team assists per game in the 2019-20 season. Adding Chris Paul to a team already featuring former No. 1 pick center Deandre Ayton and newly drafted 6-foot-10 forward Jalen Smith would only further catalyze an already potent playoff ready offense. Paul’s ability to turn defense oriented big men into offensive threats with his passing also bolsters the Suns’ potential playoff legitimacy on both sides of the ball. It allows them to run defensive-oriented lineups that cater to the strengths of Booker without sacrificing efficiency on the offensive side of the floor. Dario Saric, E’twaun Moore and Jae Crowder complement the Suns’ pick-and-roll offense with floor spacing and defensive versatility to switch on multiple positions. 

The Suns were able to effectively liquefy deadweight and non-unique assets for pieces that complement each other and develop chemistry through the 2020-21 regular season. Fit may be the most understated aspect of basketball. While the Suns may not have the showtime star power of the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets or other title favorites, they are a team nobody wants to play in a seven-game winner take all series. If the Suns play their cards right, a championship window might be ready to open just as Booker hits his prime in full stride.  

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