It’s time to snap back to reality, health permitted. Last season’s Game 7 did not “break” the Phoenix Suns this season. Injuries did.
It’s easy to get things twisted with recency bias along with that sour taste that was in our mouths all summer long — but at full strength — the Suns have already shown they can still play with anyone. Hell, even near full strength, you can line them up toe-to-toe with just about any team in the association.
Around the time Devin Booker (among others) went down, the team was sitting at a comfortable 19-12 record. Since then, Phoenix has only won 5 games and lost 12, including a brutal 1-9 stretch that had them freefall in the Western Conference standings.
Before this three-game winning streak, the sky was falling. The vaunted word “tank” was being used again for the first time since CP3 arrived. The panic of being the 12th seed was creeping in, but thanks to how mediocre the Western Conference is, Phoenix made up ground fast by leaping to the 7th seed in the span of a weekend. They now sit just 1.5 games back from the 4th seed in a tight Western Conference race.
We all know that injuries have played a major factor to the point where it’s not just some lame excuse, but actual statistical data to back it up. They’ve been absolutely marred and discombobulated by the injury bug this season more than any other NBA team by a comfortable (or uncomfortable depending on how you look at it) margin.
NBA top 5, impact on teams by players lost to injury (Lost-vorp metric, lost value over replacement player)— Man Games Lost NBA (@ManGamesLostNBA) January 20, 2023
Phoenix’s schedule starts to lighten up a bit (compared to their past month of the season) and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Next 7 Games:
- vs. Charlotte Hornets
- vs. Dallas Mavericks
- @ San Antonio Spurs
- vs. Toronto Raptors
- vs. Atlanta Hawks
- @ Boston Celtics
- @ Detroit Pistons
The goal here should be at minimum to come out of this stretch 4-3 with three of these games looking winnable along with a few that could go either direction.
5-2 is a very real possibility if they are able to take 2 of the first 3 and then get Booker back for the last portion. Getting a reeling Charlotte team at home next should help continue to build confidence if they take care of business.
The Suns' internal reinforcements cannot arrive soon enough. Some already have, and plenty more are on the way.
Chris Paul and Cam Johnson returning in the same week certainly gave the Suns an injection of much-needed life.
Deandre Ayton could return as soon as Tuesday if he’s fully recovered and gets his conditioning back to par after dealing with a non-covid illness.
Devin Booker is still likely 2-3 games away, so if he returns for the second portion of that aforementioned seven-game stretch against Toronto or Atlanta that could provide a boost that allows them to steal an extra game or two during this portion of the schedule.
There’s no telling exactly how far along Landry Shamet and Cam Payne are on their timetables, but neither of them sounds particularly close given the information we have at this point.
There also figures to be an external reinforcement (or two) once the Jae Crowder situation is resolved. According to Shams Charania, Phoenix has been given the green light to trade a first-round pick and even take on salary in a winning move.
Incoming Suns owner Mat Ishbia will attend Phoenix-Brooklyn tonight, his first Suns game since agreeing to buy team. Details on @TheRally about how Ishbia’s impending arrival impacts Suns at the trade deadline, plus his approach to relationships across basketball: pic.twitter.com/uNnEPDge2S— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 20, 2023
Along with their own players returning from injury, the Suns will certainly be active in the trade market as well.
This team still has weaknesses to address, so finding an impactful rotation player that fills their needs should be a priority at the trade deadline. Jae Crowder is likely to be dealt along with a future pick or two and the necessary contracts to match whatever salary they take back.
Phoenix has options on the trade market and the weapons to pull off a blockbuster should they opt to go that route. I’d temper my expectations a bit and lean toward a more conservative roster upgrade being realistic in what could be a tame trade market.
Sustaining health will be a major factor, and as we’ve learned this season there are no guarantees on that front.
Now is the time for the Suns to start chipping away at that hole they dug themselves into. Ready or not, here come the Phoenix Suns.