Did any NBA team do more to boost their competitiveness this offseason than the Phoenix Suns?
The Suns have not made the playoffs in over a decade, when an aging Steve Nash was still the franchise player and Amar’e Stoudemire was preparing for free agency.
Phoenix has struggled to build a winning formula since then, and the past few seasons have been especially frustrating. The Suns have harbored a bona fide star in Devin Booker, yet the team has struggled to win with Booker in the fold.
Things began to change this past year, however. Phoenix went 34-39 after sweeping all eight of the seeding games in the NBA bubble. Booker finally earned All-Star recognition, and Deandre Ayton looked more like a two-way star after serving an early-season suspension.
The Suns entered the offseason with a certain sense of desperation, and they acted accordingly. Let’s take a look at the moves Phoenix made in the past few weeks.
Phoenix’s offseason essentially begins and ends with the acquisition of Chris Paul.
The Suns were aggressive in their pursuit of the “Point God,” who had a number of suitors this fall. Phoenix gave up a budding star in Kelly Oubre while also trading veteran point guard Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a 2022 first-round pick.
Yet, the ends will almost certainly justify the means.
Paul is one of the eminent leaders in basketball. The Oklahoma City Thunder were hardly given a fighter’s chance at the playoffs last year. But with Paul leading the way, the Thunder stormed to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, and also came within a game of winning a playoff series.
This Suns roster needs a motivator and playmaker like Paul, who fits perfectly next to Booker and Ayton. The 35-year-old will inspire more effort on the defensive end while being able to score and defer to Booker whenever necessary. Paul also figures to be a menace in pick-and-roll with a rim-running big like Ayton, who excels at the catch and scores from anywhere around the rim.
However, the addition of CP3 looks even better when factoring in who else the Suns brought in around him.
Phoenix had some cap space to throw around even after acquiring Paul from the Thunder. The Suns used this space wisely.
Mikal Bridges has excelled in his role as a “3-and-D” wing capable of spacing the floor and rebounding at a fairly high level from the small forward spot. But the Suns appeared to need more toughness and defensive acumen on the roster. They found the perfect target to fold into the mid-level exception.
Jae Crowder signed with Phoenix on a three-year, $30 million contract, giving the Suns one of the toughest and most valuable veteran wings on the market.
Crowder was terrific especially in his run with the Miami Heat, averaging 11.9 points and 5.4 assists while shooting a whopping 44.5 percent from deep on 6.4 attempts per game. The 30-year-old’s efficiency decreased in the playoffs, but he still gave the Heat a capable scoring option and rebounder who could also defend multiple positions.
The Suns needed another capable wing scorer and defender in addition to Bridges, which they got in Crowder. They also needed more shooting.
Paul had success in OKC in part because the Thunder had floor-spacers and secondary ball-handlers like Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Booker can certainly handle the ball and shoot, while Bridges also offers an outlet on the perimeter.
But the Suns added more shooting off the bench, which is a key development in terms of depth. Phoenix signed former Detroit Pistons combo guard Langston Galloway, who shot nearly 40 percent from the arc on 5.0 attempts per game.
The Suns also signed E’Twaun Moore and brought back Jevon Carter, giving the bench a number of capable perimeter threats and ball-handlers in the backcourt.
Although the decision to re-sign Dario Saric rather than create added cap space might have been somewhat curious, Saric still gives the Suns a stretch-big type who can rebound.
It was imperative for Phoenix to add more shooting around Paul, and signing Crowder gives this team more veteran leadership and toughness on the defensive end.
The 2020 NBA Draft offered the Suns another vital opportunity to add a key piece to the roster.
Phoenix had the No. 10 overall pick, seemingly making it a candidate to select any number of quality wing players available.
But the Suns went with a bit of a surprise, selecting former Maryland big man Jalen Smith.
This is not meant as a knock on Smith. The Baltimore native averaged 15.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks for the Terps this past year while shooting 36.8 percent from beyond the arc on 2.8 attempts per game.
Smith has exceptional length and athleticism. He has grown more comfortable expanding his game to the perimeter and can explode to the rim at any given moment. Smith will give the Suns more rim protection alongside Ayton while also being a pick-and-pop option for Paul.
But, might the Suns have continued to add on the wing? Or even make another backcourt addition.
Consider some of the players who were still available at the No. 10 spot: Devin Vassell, Tyrese Haliburton and Aaron Nesmith, among others.
Vassell would have been a key “3-and-D” addition who shoots at a high level and hampers opponents on the ball. Nesmith would have been an interesting add as the best shooter in the draft.
Passing on Haliburton feels especially surprising. The former Iowa State star is terrific off the ball, shoots at a high level and can be a secondary ball-handler. Haliburton also causes havoc in the passing lanes, with his length constantly disrupting things on defense. He could have spelled Paul or Booker of minutes and the Suns would likely not have missed much of a beat.
Again, Smith will help the Suns and has pretty good upside. He also looks like the more sensible pick considering how Phoenix operated in free agency. Still, it is worth wondering whether one of the other guys available would have been better fits.
It is hard not to consider the Suns one of the biggest winners of the offseason.
While middling Western Conference teams like the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks mostly stood pat, Phoenix got aggressive in landing a star who makes everybody better while also making key additions via free agency and the draft.
The Suns could finally return to the playoffs this year. Perhaps they could even make a fairly serious title push, depending on how everyone on the roster gels together.