The trade is now final and a golden era of Phoenix Suns basketball is over. Sure, a new one is about to start, but Chris Paul heralded a specific and ultimately too-short stretch of The Valley basketball that reached as high a peak as any Suns team had ever reached.
Before we say hello to a new Suns era, we have to recognize just how incredibly good Paul was to the franchise and the city of Phoenix.
Before Paul’s arrival, the Suns were riding a streak of 10 straight years out of the playoffs, including 6 straight losing records and a whopping 5 seasons with 57 or more losses. In fact, no team had experienced more losses from 2015-2019 than the Phoenix Suns, which at that time spanned the entirety of Devin Booker’s NBA career.
Yet here was 10-time All-Star Chris Paul in December 2020 insisting on being traded to the Phoenix Suns so that he could play with Devin Booker, the only All-Star the Suns had cultivated in that 10-year span. In fact, the Dark Era included trading away more future All-Stars (2) than they’d kept (1).
We were all shocked when news broke that the rising Suns, who’d finished the 2019-20 season on an 8-game winning streak, were about to acquire one of the greatest point guards of all time. 10-time All-Star. 9-time All-NBA. 9-time All-Defense. 4-time assist leader. One of the best floor generals in NBA history, soon to be named by the NBA as one of the best 75 players to ever play in the league.
And Chris Paul wanted to play for the SUNS? Our Suns?
Like, that has never happened before. No All-Star had ever forced his way onto the Phoenix Suns via trade. Back in 1993, Charles Barkley wanted to be traded to a contender but he didn’t make it ‘Suns or bust’. Steve Nash and Tom Chambers were free agents signings.
This was new territory for the Phoenix Suns and their fans.
So we of course tried to find fault with the move. We worried about his health history and his reputation of burning bridges with teammates from his irascible behavior and constant demands of perfection.
But from the day Paul joined the Suns he was a perfect teammate. He especially loved playing with Devin Booker, talked glowingly about his relationship with former turned current coach Monty Williams, referred to his teammates as his family, and young players like Mikal Bridges and Jevon Carter as his kids.
Over and over again, he called that first Suns team ‘special’. And he was right. The Suns were sudden contenders, hurtling through the regular season with the second best record in the whole league. In Devin Booker’s own words, the ‘vibes’ were ‘immaculate’.
During his three years with the Suns, he passed a number of statistical milestones — the greatest of which was to become the first player in NBA history with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists. The only player in that vicinity is LeBron James, who has since passed the 20/10 mark too but remains a steady 1k assists behind Paul. No other active NBA player is even close to reaching that 20/10 mark.
In three years as a Sun, he became their first All-NBA player in a decade, led the league in assists and totaled two All-NBA and two All-Star nods.
With Paul at the helm, the Suns made their first NBA Finals appearance in 28 years, made at least the second round of the playoffs all three seasons, won more regular season games than any other NBA team and more playoff games than any other NBA team.
They quite literally went from the losingest team in the league to the winningest.
So why stop now?
For one thing, Father Time’s at the door. Again.
Chris Paul is 38 years old now. He was old when he got to the Suns at age 34 and he’s even older now.
But that’s not the reason he was traded. Old players can stay in the league — according to Stathead, 93 players have taken the floor age 38 or older in league history — but they have a hard time staying healthy and productive.
Only six of those 93 made an All-Star team at age 38 or older. Chris Paul could do it again, I have no doubt, if his body would just let him.
Which is the real reason he was traded: health. Or lack thereof. While he avoided the injury bug for much of his Suns career, he has consistently gotten injured at the absolute worst times. 2021 Playoffs Round One (stinger). 2021 Playoffs Conference Finals (COVID). 2021 NBA Finals (wrist, requiring postseason surgery). 2022 Playoffs Round Two (rumored to be COVID, but we still don’t know; mid series his numbers dropped off dramatically to 9 and 6). 2023 Playoffs Round Two (groin). He also missed at least a month of each of the last two regular seasons.
Some combination of age and health has caused a significant downward spiral on Paul’s career since the All-Star break of the 2021-22 season. Even the most positive person couldn’t talk himself into Paul regaining his All-Star form again, or even surviving a playoff run intact.
So the Suns pivoted.
“We are grateful for everything Chris and Landry (Shamet, who was included in the trade) added to our organization,” said President of Basketball Operations and General Manager James Jones. “Chris had an immeasurable impact on our team, on and off the court, and we thank him for all he did for the Valley.”
We’ll see in the coming months and years whether the Chris Paul Age was a heart-beat shaped blip on an ugly palette of Suns basketball, or the start of something much longer lasting.
Good luck on the rest of your career, Chris. I’ll be watching.