After an amazing year for the Phoenix Suns, a year which had them finishing with the best overall record in the NBA when taking the NBA Bubble into account, and a year where they reached the NBA Finals for the first time in almost three decades, we are left to ask ourselves, how do they get back?
It is evident that the Suns are one of the best teams in the NBA, but the moves that teams like the Lakers and Nets have made in the offseason have left doubt in Suns fans’ minds as to whether they can actually be NBA Champions next year. It would be incredible to see the Suns win the title next year, but an ideal world would not only ask for that, but for them to be contenders for the next decade as well.
General Manager James Jones has undoubtedly won the trust of Suns fans everywhere, and there is tremendous trust within the organization as well, but people cannot expect him to be able to make the same type of moves that the Lakers and Nets make. Those teams have built a reputation and they are what the NBA world refers to as "Super teams." James Jones on the other hand, has to focus on building a perfectly constructed team with the right pieces as if it was a puzzle. He did an outstanding job of that last year and he is well on his way to doing the same thing this offseason.
With the additions of Javale McGee, Landy Shamet and Elfrid Payton, along with the retention of Cameron Payne, the Suns are poised to have one of the best bench units in the league once again. Not to mention, there are still some moves that might be made before the start of next season that could solidify those expectations.
Of course, the "blockbuster" move of this summer has been the multiyear extension to Chris Paul, a move that nobody can blame given what he did for the team this past year. Yes, Paul is an aging Point Guard, and perhaps tying that much money to him in the future is not the most financially savvy decision, but his impact is immeasurable, and his game has been aging like fine wine. Paul will undoubtedly be a huge reason for this team’s title contention for at least the next three years.
But with the emergence of other teams as favorites, and with the understanding that the Suns will never be building "Super teams," we can come to the conclusion that the best bet for the Suns to contend for many years to come is the development of the young core. It is also important to note that cap flexibility will not be prevalent within the organization because of the contracts of Devin Booker and Chris Paul, along with the extensions of Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges on the horizon. These four players are all a key to what the Suns want to do in the future, not to mention the possible future extension to Cam Johnson as well. Looking at it objectively, these contracts will take up at least 90% of the team’s cap space in the future. This evidently limits them in terms of what they can do and who they can bring in during free agency. These players are also most likely pieces that the Suns will have no interest in trading away unless it is a blockbuster trade for a superstar.
All these factors contribute to the conclusion that the Suns’ priority should be to develop the likes of Ayton, Bridges and Johnson if they hope to be title contenders in the future. They will obviously be able to make fringe additions during free agency or the draft, but the odds of adding players who are elite three-level scorers or championship starting level players in the future are slim. However, based on what he has accomplished up to this point, you can never count James Jones out when it comes to making franchise altering deals.
When looking at Deandre Ayton, there are a few key parts to his game that will make him one of the best centers in the league. His defensive development has been outstanding up to this point, and there is not much more you can ask from him on that side. But one thing that would really elevate him to being one of the best defenders in the league is shot blocking. He has averaged 1.2 bpg in his career up to this point and raising that to 2 per game would come a long way. He has shown his upside on offense consistently throughout his career, but the consistency and aggressiveness has never been there. If he can develop a consistent package to get to the rim and be aggressive when he is in the post, he will easily become a top paint presence in the league. His touch is phenomenal, and his mid-range is a real threat, both of which would contribute to his offensive development in a big way.
Mikal Bridges is already one of the best 3 and D players in the league, but he is on record saying he does not like being limited to just that. In order to maximize his contributions to this team’s title aspirations, the development of his attack off the dribble would come a long way. If he can consistently put the ball on the floor and attack his defender in order to finish at the rim or in the mid-range, along with his elite three-point shooting and defense, that could arguably make him one of the best two-way players in the NBA. He has already shown he is capable of this; therefore it is a realistic goal to set for him.
Cam Johnson has also shown flashes of having potential off the dribble. If he were to focus on the same things Mikal is focusing on, as well as being able to defend the 1 through 4 positions, he and Mikal would make for a great wing combo. Unleashing them on the defensive end would ideally be a nightmare for some of the best scorers around the league. Not only that but if they could come back on the offensive end and be real three-level scoring threats, there is no telling where this team’s ceiling would be.
So there you have it, the development of these three players in certain areas, along with the expected growth of Booker, this team could be considered a homegrown "Super team." In an ideal world, this would put them with the likes of the Jordan Bulls or the Curry Warriors, being one of the few dynasties the league has seen. But of course, this is all wishful thinking, and nothing can be held against the players if they don’t reach this point. All we can do is hope.