The Phoenix Suns reached the NBA Finals after facing (and defeating) two of the preseason favorites to win the Western Conference in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Now it would appear they are setting the foundation for another run at the big game next season after a flurry of free agency moves in the first 24 hours.
Last year’s NBA Executive of the Year, Suns’ GM James Jones, made all the right moves last season grabbing Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to help lead the young core of Suns to the playoffs for the first time in ten years.
Not only did Jones’ decisions pay off and end in a playoff trip but they led to a Western Conference trophy with Phoenix’s name on it and a Finals appearance that will not be forgotten in “the Valley” for years to come.
Although GM Jones obviously believes in his 2020-21 team he added key pieces on Monday that not only have experience in the playoffs but have the skills to keep other players rested and prepared.
Suns moves so far…
Firstly, the Suns traded their 29th overall pick and 3rd-year PG Jevon Carter to Brooklyn for the talented Landry Shamet. This move was somewhat of a shock considering the deep talent pool that the NBA draft provided this season, but it made sense in regards to Shamet’s 3-point shooting and his relationship with head coach Monty Williams.
Shamet will add floor-spacing talent and a deep threat that can come off the bench at any time and score efficiently in place of Booker or Mikal Bridges.
Once free agency started the Suns did their due diligence and kept their promise to their key players, specifically “Point God” Chris Paul (a.k.a. CP3), who inked a 4-year deal worth up to $120-million within the first 12 hours on Monday.
The Suns not only re-signed Paul but they locked in his backup Cameron Payne who averaged 9.3 pts, 3.2 assists, and 2.5 rebounds during the playoffs with Phoenix this past season.
Payne’s 3-year/$19 million deal shows that the Suns are confident in the squad that fell short of the title by two games. It also shows that they believe in the strength of their depth across the bench that helped lift them to the final games of the NBA season.
Along with Shamet the Suns added the veteran center Javale McGee who has won three NBA Championships over his 12-year career which has spanned seven teams.
This move not only helps the young, talented Deandre Ayton grow as a center but it drastically boosts the depth behind him that recently held Dario Šarić who tore his ACL in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Who in the West can stop this resurgent Suns team?
The Suns will be heading into the 2021 season angry, disappointed, and fiending for the Larry O’Brien trophy after falling two games short of grasping it. That much is true.
What else is true? The Western Conference has done nothing but improve since the beginning of the off-season.
For instance, the L.A. Lakers made a deal for Russell Westbrook that solidified them as the major threat for the conference this upcoming season. And while some may not believe the Lakers truly won the deal it is still the biggest superteam in the West now no matter who the Clippers, Warriors, or Jazz might sign in free agency…
The Lakers stand up against the Suns the best next season if both teams can remain healthy. Not just because both starting superstars (LeBron James & CP3) are almost 40 years old but because both have significant talent behind them that can put up serious points any time of the week.
But while the Lakers have a plethora of talent on their starting five there is not much depth on their bench after trading away Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell for Westbrook…even with the magnanimous returns of 35-year old Dwight Howard and 36-year old Trevor Ariza.
The Clippers also stand a chance against the Suns’ odds of repeating as Western Conference Champs next season. They were close to dismantling Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals but without Kawhi Leonard–who we now know was dealing with a partially torn ACL–they simply did not have the manpower to keep up with CP3 and Booker.
It all depends on what Leonard does this off-season after declining his $36 million player option with the L.A. Clippers earlier this week. If he decides to rejoin Paul George and can stay healthy (or load manage) long enough to be a force in the playoffs then the Clippers could still be the favorites to come out of the West, even over the geriatric Lakers or the invigorated Suns.
The Clippers could still add a fresh face or two to their lineup to help with their depleted bench but the list of marquis names left in free agency is dwindling by the hour.
The Nuggets were swept by the Suns in the second round of these most recent playoffs but with the talented Jamal Murray returning to the lineup and Nikola Jokić coming off an MVP season it’s hard to see these Nuggets shrinking to anything less than championship-caliber levels.
Murray was a key piece that was missing from the Nuggets’ lineup after an ACL injury in April. Jokić, along with Michael Porter Jr., held up the team pretty handily against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers but it was obvious their bench talent was holding them back during their series with Phoenix.
They have already addressed some of their most pressing issues by signing forward/center Jeff Green and forward JaMychal Green to respective deals for the next two years. Now they have the size and strength to compete underneath the basket and amongst mid-range better, then they have since their rise up the Western Conference.
With an entirely healthy squad and an equally dominant Jokić next season, this Nuggets team could very well do what no Nuggets team has ever done before: make an NBA Finals.
The Jazz finished the 2020-21 regular season with the best record in the NBA (52-20) but did not have the opportunity to play the Suns in the Western Conference Finals thanks to Paul George and the L.A. Clippers.
Utah has shown that no matter how great their defense can be with 3x DPOY Rudy Gobert under the basket they still do not have the wing defense that can keep people like Devin Booker, LeBron James, or Kawhi Leonard from doing whatever they want with the ball.
They have already attacked that weakness by re-signing Mike Conley Jr. and adding his former Memphis teammate Rudy Gay to a two-year deal which should instantly help their chemistry and defense simultaneously.
Now that they have some extra hands to help around the arc the Jazz is a free agent or two away from becoming a complete team with little-to-no weaknesses, but players like Andre Igoudala (who Suns’ SF Mikal Bridges has received high praise from) and Stanley Johnson are some of the only players left that could boost, not bruise, the Jazz.
If Igoudala decides to go to Utah and help Donovan “Spida” Mitchell, which he can definitely do with his veteran experience and ability to lead in silence as he has for multiple Championship teams, then the Jazz might be a major threat to the Suns’ chance of repeating.