Are you one who believes the Phoenix Suns best chance at a championship is this year, given Chris Paul’s advancing age and likely salary demands?
Or do you believe that the Suns are a growing force, ready to make noise and fight for a championship for years to come?
ESPN appears to be in the latter group, as their insiders have given the Suns a lot more love in this arbitrary thing called a ‘Future Power Rankings’ that is meant to anticipate team rankings over the next three seasons after this one.
That bitter taste in your throat is your body recalling these rankings in recent years, predicting the Suns to be one of the worst in the league for the past decade-plus. You might have gotten excited when ESPN ranked the Suns 19th last April because that was the highest they’d been ranked, like, ever.
That was a HUGE jump, considering the years before that were: 24th last October 2019 with this same roster and management structure, 26th in March 2019, 22nd in September 2018, 25th in March 2018, 26th in October 2017, 27th in 2016, 22nd in May 2015, 12th in the fall of 2014 and 27th in the fall of 2013.
Now, lo and behold, after tallying the league’s second-best record this season (rather than 19th best), the ESPN boys have given the Suns a bit more love.
Phoenix’s first playoff trip since 2010 can be the first of many if the Suns skillfully manage the combination of their young core and 36-year-old point guard Chris Paul. Paul can become an unrestricted free agent this summer by declining a $44.2 million player option, but he seems unlikely to leave after helping orchestrate a trade to Phoenix last fall. Long term, the Suns’ payroll could be a concern when extensions for starters Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges kick in. That’s a good problem to have given the role Ayton and Bridges have played alongside two-time All-Star Devin Booker in lifting Phoenix out of the lottery. — Pelton
(Previous rank: No. 19)
Before we get to the lofty player ranks, let’s discuss ‘Money’ and ‘Draft’ coming in at a lowly 19th and 21st.
They downgrade the Suns ‘money’ situation not because of Robert Sarver’s pockets (if you look at other team rankings on ‘money’ it has little to do with ownership’s willingness to spend and everything to do with their cap situation). The Suns are down at 19th because of the likely bloating of Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul’s contract numbers squeezing out the Suns ability to fill in around them with quality depth.
Here’s my take on that: if the Suns truly see a championship contender for the next two years with those three plus Booker, they can pay them and fill the roster with contributors like Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore, Cameron Payne, Frank Kaminsky, Torrey Craig — all at minimum deals this year — to make a really nice rotation.
They also downgrade the Suns ‘draft’ situation because if the Suns are the 9th best team for the next three years, their draft slot will be around 21st and that doesn’t usually unearth any more cheap stars. And that’s after taking someone at 29 this next year, thanks to their 2nd-best record in the NBA. They can find role players, sure, but not stars.
Here’s my take on that: the Suns will need to be good in the Draft, and there’s at least a real chance that James Jones will find rotation regulars there. Cam Johnson might have been available two years ago at a lower pick. Ty Jerome...have any of you noticed he’s a real NBA player now? Making 42% of his threes, scoring 10 per game for the Thunder. Given what Ty has done, we can wait to see on Jalen Smith before writing him off. James can go back to the ‘22+’ well in future drafts to keep finding role players.
But to ESPN’s point, the Suns are unlikely to find more stars in the Draft if they’re drafting in the 20s. And they don’t have anyone else’s high picks either.
But here I am burying the lede.
ESPN likes the Suns players!
Weighing most heavily in these rankings is the ‘Players’ score, at 58.3% of the weighting and the Suns are tied for 7th in that category.
Remember, this is ESPN’s ranking of players for each team over the next three years (not this one). With rosters changing at a 45% rate each summer, I wonder how they can predict so much of the future, but they apparently focus on the guys at the top and predict that they are not going to change or will be replaced by guys at the same talent level.
The Suns come in tied for 7th in this analysis, thanks to Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton, plus having Dario Saric and Cam Johnson under contract for at least two of those three years.
The core of the Suns roster is strong with Booker, Ayton and Bridges already showing they can contribute mightily to a championship contender. And Chris Paul does not look like he is going to slow down any time soon.
We’ll see how they actually perform in the true real playoffs this year.
If they perform at a high level, the 9th overall ranking — or at least 7th overall in player ranking — might be too low.