I’m a bit of a downer when it comes to the Phoenix Suns these days, I can admit that. I wasn’t always, but the decade of futility that preceded the current iteration of the team and the bitterly disappointing endings to the last two seasons have made me wary of getting too optimistic.
That said, I think it’s time for Suns fans hitting the panic button on this team (and I’ve seen it these past few weeks as the Suns have gone 4-6 over their last 10) to calmly reassess.
1. The Suns WILL make a deal before the deadline
I know it’s fashionable as of late to complain that Suns GM James Jones has done nothing to improve the team. And it’s not without merit to argue that he could and should have done more over the offseason to shore up the Suns’ front court and/or add another ball-handler and scorer.
But it isn’t credible to expect that Jones won’t make some kind of move by the deadline, especially if the pending sale of the team is indeed finalized by then, ending apparent restrictions on the scope of deals the team is willing to consider.
2. No team in the NBA looks prohibitively powerful
This is always arguable, but the 2022/2023 season doesn’t feature any all-time great teams in it. The Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets lead the Western Conference at (as of Dec. 21) 19-11, while the Milwaukee Bucks lead the East at 22-8. The Suns, through all the injuries, are 19-13.
While there can be no doubt that the Bucks, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Nuggets, and New Orleans Pelicans are all very solid teams, no team as currently constructed has the look of a 2017 Warriors, 2001 Lakers, or 1996 Bulls. Teams where you just thought “man...EVERYTHING would have to go right for someone to beat them in a seven game series.”
As of this moment the Suns would justifiably be underdogs against the Bucks or Celtics and possibly against one or two western teams too..but I firmly believe they’d be right in it with a perfectly good chance to win. And that’s all you can really ask for in a playoff series.
3. The rest of the league is far from static...and that cuts both ways
Some other competitors, like the Suns, will doubtless cut deals with tanking teams to acquire their best players. But on the flip side, other teams, like the Suns, will continue to deal with problems like injuries. It’s never okay to hope for injuries, but they are a fact of professional sports and it is a virtual guarantee that some of the other top teams will be missing at least one of their stars come playoff time. That could completely change the outlook of a matchup with them in a way that is impossible to predict right now.
4. Early season adversity will prepare the Suns for the playoffs’ challenges
The Suns have already had to juggle their lineups to deal with the absences for various stretches of Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Cam Johnson, and Deandre Ayton...not to mention playing the whole season to date without anyone replacing Jae Crowder on the roster.
This has forced various Suns to take on roles that may well benefit the team when it matters most...whether that’s Mikal Bridges as a go-to scorer or Josh Okogie being pressed into service on the big stage. Being forced to make these adjustments now will make it less difficult if they have to do it again later.
5. The Suns have Devin Booker
As frustrating as those nights can be when Booker’s shot isn’t falling and he seems determined to take 25 shots anyway, let me tell you: he is the kind of player a contender requires.
“Hero ball” may be a dirty phrase to many fans...something to be scorned as impure basketball. But every championship contender needs a guy capable of it. You can’t reliably just pick-and-roll your way to the NBA championship. You need that guy who can just pull up from deep and nail a three over his defender. Who can just drive against the defense and get to the cup or get to the line.
His heroic effort against the Pelicans in which he scored 36 second-half points to lead the Suns back from a 46-63 halftime deficit was a reminder (if you needed one) about what Booker can do when his team needs points and is struggling for them.
Will the Suns be the team hoisting the O’Brien Trophy when the NBA Finals wrap up in June? I hope so, but I obviously don’t know.
What I do know is that the Suns, despite the recent skid, are still one of the handful of teams capable of winning it all. Don’t forget that.