Do you remember the passionate speech Monty Williams gave to the Phoenix Suns after their run in the 2020 NBA Bubble?
"You want to be the kind of team that controls your own destiny, that's our next step."— NBA (@NBA) June 22, 2021
The @Suns have won 8 straight. They last won 8 straight when they went undefeated in the bubble. After that incredible run, Monty Williams had a powerful message for his team. #ThatsGame pic.twitter.com/rQMWsCQ2A7
“You want to be the kind of team that controls your own destiny.”
Those words hit hard in so many ways for the team.
Shortly after his speech, the Suns’ season came to an end when the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies took the last spots in the playoffs. But, one could sense that Phoenix was building something special. They had cracked open their championship window. The next step was for them to open it even wider.
In the next season, the Suns left nothing to chance anymore. They finished the regular season with the second-best record in the West, ensuring their spot in the playoffs. They took down several championship favorites en route to their first Finals appearance since 1993. The Suns were two games away from their first NBA championship but just couldn’t find that final push.
Coming off a championship appearance, the Suns looked like a legitimate contender last season. They dominated the league, winning 64 games, setting historic milestones in the process. The championship window was wide open for them. They simply had to step through. Instead, they took a step back. The Suns flamed out in the West semis, failing to meet everyone’s expectations of them.
This season, it seemed as if Phoenix’s championship window was closing. Chris Paul wasn’t getting any younger, or healthier. They signed DeAndre Ayton to a massive contract in the offseason, after several reports of the big man wanting out. That limits the team’s financial ability to acquire more pieces that could help the team. Devin Booker was still great. But was all that really enough to win the championship that’s eluded them in the past three years? Especially against a league that was getting younger and better all around?
The answer to that was a resounding “No.”
During the trade deadline, Phoenix – under new ownership – made a game-changing move to acquire Kevin Durant. They traded away, essentially, their future to win a championship now.
The window that seemed closing on them to start the season was once again pushed open, with the hinges propped up by one of the league’s best players. Getting Durant was like one of Nox boosts in racing games. He instantly boosted Phoenix’s title chances, pushing them above several teams vying for the championship.
Durant is one of the most efficient and creative scorers in the league. He was joining a team with a brainiac point guard that could set him up, a spitfire shooting guard that could back him up, and a big man that could do all the dirty work. On paper, that looked like a championship formula.
The fanfare that came with getting a mega star like Durant swept under the rug a lot of issues that this year’s team had.
The price of getting KD was losing several key pieces of the team’s rotation, most notably, their best defender in Mikal Bridges. There was also the fact that the new-look Suns team didn’t have a clear identity, especially when compared to previous teams. Finally, there were still the issues of CP3’s health and Ayton’s head space.
All of those concerns were exposed in the playoffs. Durant and Booker played awesome basketball. But Paul and Ayton were missing when the team needed them the most. The Suns were a walk in the park on defense and they were content to watch the KDBook Show on offense. Just like last season, the Suns were booted out before they could reach the peak everyone had envisioned for them.
Back in 2020, the Suns were a feel-good story. They were a young team, led by an inspirational coach on the cusp of something great. In 2023, no one knows what to feel about the Suns. On one hand, they’ve failed to win a championship even if they’ve been favorites for several years now. On the other hand, they still have players like Durant and Booker, talented enough to lead the team to a title.
The championship window that was so wide open for Phoenix in the past few years is now being held up by tape and toothpicks. If the Suns don’t win a championship next season with Durant, Booker, a new coach, and a new supporting cast, then they may never win one with this core.