For this mid-30s NBA junkie, the first thought that comes to my mind is former glory. A few decades ago, the Suns were always so devastatingly awesome and fun to watch. From Charles Barkley to Jason Kidd and Rex Chapman in the ‘90s, then Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion in the 2000s and early 2010s, Phoenix was always a high octane team that thrilled both hardcore and casual fans.
Over the past few years, it hasn’t been the same story, though. The Suns have been known more for baffling decisions than shrewd transactions, more for shaky basketball than elite-level performances from franchise stars. They have been, in a word, forgettable.
Not anymore, though.
The Phoenix Suns are not supposed to be in this situation. Everything that the Suns have done, goes against what we expect from teams that reach the Western Conference Finals.
Teams that enter the Final Four of their respective conferences are usually veteran-laden squads with at least one top five or two top 10 players, similar to the Los Angeles Lakers with LeBron James and Anthony Davis or Steph Curry and Kevin Durant with the Golden State Warriors a couple of years back.
The Suns don’t have any of those. Chris Paul is one of the greatest point guards in the NBA, but at his advanced age, no one’s claiming that he’s the best PG in the league today. Same for Devin Booker at the two-guard position. Always underlooked his entire career, Booker didn’t even make an All-NBA team this season, which is a shocking development after such a magnificent run.
The Suns also didn’t follow the usual route that contenders take. True title contenders are usually fraught with adversity in their first few playoff runs before finding a way to break through, overcome all obstacles to persevere in the end.
Before this season, the Suns’ last playoff run was in 2010. During that season, Nash and Stoudemire were one of the most devastating 1-2 combos in the league, running pick-and-rolls until teams just buckled in less than seven seconds. They came achingly close last year in the NBA bubble, but they were too far back in the standings that even going undefeated couldn’t get them in the play-in tournament. They got eliminated and had to wait for another opportunity.
That opportunity has come today. Every member of the Suns is tired of waiting and messing around, weary of waiting for their turn, and watching superstar squads dominate the headlines and the championship conversation.
Just look at what Phoenix did in this magical playoff run. They disposed of the defending champion LA Lakers, taking advantage of spectacular play from Booker to overwhelm and deflate the champs in six games. Then in the second round, they faced the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic and his dangerous squad, the Denver Nuggets. Somehow, the Suns got even better and swept the Nuggets out of the playoffs.
There’s no blueprint for this. This is uncharted territory. From zero to the Western Conference Finals? No team could be as audacious and anti-establishment as this Phoenix Suns team.
No one knows just how far they will be able to rise, especially after the news that Paul entered the league’s COVID-19 protocols and could be out for an extended period. But there is reason to believe that these Suns are for real and have a shot at winning the championship. Because, why not? They’ve come this far already — who’s to tell DBook and company to slow their roll and wait for their turn once again?