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After Cam Johnson injury, what will the Phoenix Suns need to be a championship contender?

The Suns are the top team in the Western Conference, again. But how could this year’s roster translate toward postseason time?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns are first in the Western Conference with a 7-2 record.

That sound familiar at all?

It has been a great start for Phoenix. It has the third-highest highest offensive efficiency according to TeamRankings. The Suns also rank third in assists per game (28.6) and No. 10 in effective field-goal percentage (54.5). Defensively, they rank second in opponent points per game (103.9) and fifth in opponent field-goal percentage (50.9), a solid start to the season.

But, will it be a repeat of last year?

We saw the Suns achieve a franchise-best 64 wins last season. That team seemed destined to make another run to the NBA Finals and perhaps win a championship after it came up short in the 2021 NBA Finals. It did not happen.

Unlike the Suns of the regular season, who ranked among the top-10 teams in the NBA in nearly every major statistic, Phoenix had a forgettable postseason that included blowout wins and losses and uncharacteristic play from a team that thrived in crunch time. Their lack of consistency got them eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks in a blowout 123-90 loss at home in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

Rather than making any dramatic roster changes – which included a potential trade for Brooklyn Nets superstar forward Kevin Durant, who may have not been available after all – the Suns chose continuity and retained their core with All-Star guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Mikal Bridges and starting center Deandre Ayton, who signed a four-year, $133 million offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers in restricted free agency this offseason that Phoenix quickly matched.

Sure, the Suns have gotten contributions from some new guys, like backup center Jock Landale, who is averaging 9.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes per game, and backup guard Damion Lee with his defense.

Cam Johnson stepped up with a career-best 14.9 points with 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game entering Friday’s game, but he suffered a torn meniscus on Friday night and will be out for most of the season, if not all of it. The Suns announced he will undergo surgery, and there is no timetable for his return to basketball.

With Johnson out, the Suns are missing forward Jae Crowder immensely. They will need to either find a way to fix that relationship or facilitate a trade for him so the Suns can get an impact player for Johnson’s spot.

Even that might not be enough though. The Suns are arguably still lacking the same thing Durant would have brought – an extra shotmaker.

Phoenix is certainly trying to find ways to organically take pressure off Paul, who turns 38 years old in May and is in his 18th NBA season. He has the lowest usage rate of his career (15.4, according to Statmuse) through nine games and the Suns are using other players to bring up the basketball, something that could have cost them in the 2021 NBA Finals with Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday often guarding Paul the whole length of the floor.

Booker is averaging a career-best 27.0 points per game and is improving when the Suns need him most. Plenty will be needed from him as Phoenix looks to make another deep run in the postseason.

But, who are going to be those extra guy(s) for the Suns?

Bridges is poised to take another big step – he is also averaging a career-best 14.9 points with 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists – but he is not the option Phoenix will need to get more buckets. He shoots 50.6 percent of his shots without a dribble and shoots pull-up shots just 15.7 percent of the time, according to

Ayton was a huge factor in the Suns’ 2021 postseason run, shooting 65.8 percent from the field and having numerous big games. But Phoenix’s big was arguably underutilized last postseason and is averaging 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds in 26.0 minutes per game through seven contests this year.

Ayton may be used for a trade once Jan. 15 hits due to rules with his restricted free agency offer sheet but he has full veto power for a trade for a full year, something that may limit the Suns’ options. It is very likely they will head into the 2023 postseason with the same roster or makeup.

That’s not to say Phoenix cannot make another run. The Suns exceeded expectations with their 2021 season and have been the winningest team in the league over the previous three regular seasons. But again, this is about winning a championship.

Phoenix general manager James Jones stressed continuity as very important for the Suns and they certainly have that with himself and coach Monty Williams inked to multi-year details. The Suns will certainly be an attractive free agency and trade destination with the culture they have built. Just look at Durant.

But Phoenix’s current championship window is short, especially with Paul in the latter stages of his career. It is doing the right thing by giving him more leniency within their offense. He is leading the NBA at 10.2 assists per game and could still have the ability to take games over with his scoring (he has shot 12 times in a game only once this season, so it is yet to be seen). However, he is shooting 34.6 percent from the field and 23.8 percent from 3-point range through nine games.

The Suns are off to a hot start so far. But they will need to add to their roster without Johnson and may even need to make a move after that to be a true championship contender. Our ZonaHoops suggested the Suns could pursue Carmelo Anthony, who will not offer much defensively but could fill in for Johnson with his shooting.

That missing piece could still be out there outside of Crowder, Anthony or another temporary power forward replacement.

Let us know what you think.

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