Three months ago I had an exchange with some fellow Phoenix Suns fans in the BSOTS comments section that I’ve been turning over in my mind since. The Milwaukee Bucks had taken a 3-2 series lead, had all of the momentum, and defeatism was setting in among Brightsiders.
“Well, win or lose tonight, it was a heck of a season,” the sentiment was starting to run. But I wasn’t ready to go to that place, as I said. Being up 2-0 in the finals and then losing...how could that feel like anything but a failure? A choke? A disaster?
Three months later it still feels like those things. But it DOES feel like it was a heck of a season, too. There were two Suns selected to the all-star team. The Suns were winners. The Suns were the best in the west.
Now we enter a season with sky high expectations. Expectations higher than last season. How will we know if 2021/2022 was a success?
I have to admit, I don’t care that much about this. I know players, do, however, and for Deandre Ayton to miss the all-star game would probably feel to him like a major affront. So I do think the Suns should be represented by at least two all-stars again. For only Devin Booker or only Chris Paul to get that recognition might feel like a step back. Chris Paul was all-NBA second team last season, and I think at least one Sun should also make that list.
In the grand scheme of things, these accolades do not mean much. But because they do mean something to the players (and to many fans), I think some increase in recognition for individual Suns might be one reasonable way to view the season as successful.
The regular season?
I don’t think the Suns need to finish the regular season atop the west to be successful. But they do need to be close. Finishing a game or two behind one of the other top teams in the Western Conference is no big deal. It really doesn’t matter much. But finishing middle of the pack, even in solid playoff position (say, 5th) would DEFINITELY feel like a team underachieving. It would be frustrating. And that frustration would make it hard to feel like this season was really successful. Unless, of course...
The playoffs is ultimately what we’re going to remember about this season, and last season’s Suns set an awful high bar coming as close as any Suns team has ever come to winning it all.
That said, the playoffs are hard. It seems unreasonable to say anything less than an NBA championship is a failure. If the Suns do come up short, it will absolutely feel like a failure in that moment. But a few months later, it might not. I’m living proof of that.
The bottom line:
Disappointingly, upon reflection, I’m left with a bit of a cliché. I can’t say that there is some specific outcome that will make this season a success in our hindsight. But if the Suns are going to go out they need to go out on their shields, having given all they had. And if that isn’t enough to overcome another elite NBA team, we as their fans will live with that. And maybe when the pain subsides, the memory will be a good one.
But here’s hoping we don’t even have to debate it. Cheers to a new season, full of promise.