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3 major decisions Suns must make this offseason after losing 2021 NBA Finals

Suns, Chris Paul, James Jones, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton

After winning the first two games, the Phoenix Suns lost four straight games and were dismantled by the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the 2021 NBA Finals. It’s now time to look ahead to the offseason after an incredible playoff run.

Last offseason, Phoenix pulled the trigger by trading swingman Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and a first-round pick for veteran superstar Chris Paul and Abdel Nader. They also made another solid move by signing forward Jae Crowder in the offseason. Devin Booker got all the help he needed as the Suns instantly became contenders and had a remarkable season in which they finished the regular season with the league’s second-best record after just missing out on the playoffs in last year’s bubble.

The big question for the Suns is what comes next for them after this tough Finals lost. GM James Jones and Phoenix will now shift all of their attention to the major decisions coming this offseason.

1. Retain Chris Paul

Here’s what Paul said after Game 6, via ESPN’s Dave McMenamin:

“It just means back to work. Back to work,” Paul said. “Nothing more, nothing less. Ain’t no moral victories or whatnot. We sort of saw what it takes to get there and hopefully, we see what it takes to get past that. … I ain’t retiring if that’s what you’re asking. That’s out. So, back to work.”

Paul has a $44.2 million player option on his massive contract. If he opts out, he will become an unrestricted free agent. These comments should be encouraging for the Suns as he sounded like someone who wants to run it back next season. However, crazy things happen in the NBA. Paul will have a lot of suitors this offseason after a terrific outing during the season and the postseason.

Retaining Chris Paul is very important and should be the No. 1 priority for the Suns this offseason. His leadership, experience, competitiveness, and feel for the game were huge boosts for a particularly young and inexperienced team in this year’s playoff run.

The best situation for Phoenix is for Chris Paul to opt out of his contract and then re-sign on a longer deal, but at a lower annual rate.

2. Sign a reliable backup center

Deandre Ayton balled out in his first playoff experience. He finished the playoffs with averages of 15.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks, all while shooting a blazing 65.8% from the field.

However, the Suns did not have enough outside of Ayton. Dario Saric tearing his ACL early in the Finals was a tough blow, and he’ll likely miss a good chunk of next season. Frank Kaminsky gave a valiant effort in Game 6 but isn’t reliable and is a free agent. Lottery pick Jalen Smith just was not ready to contribute and play at the highest level yet.

Phoenix needs to sign a backup center who can soak up minutes once Ayton gets a breather. Looking at possible names this offseason, one name stands out: Nerlens Noel. The 27-year-old center was one of the defensive anchors of a suffocating New York Knicks defense. Noel averaged 5.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and a whopping 2.2 blocks per game this past season. They could use the mid-level exception to try to entice the center.

Another viable option is Dwight Howard, and he’ll likely sign for cheaper than Noel. Howard is a shell of his former All-Star self, but he was still a key piece during the 2020 playoffs for the Lakers and was Joel Embiid’s backup in Philly. Howard has bought into his role of being a tough enforcer who crashes the boards and protects the rim.

Backcourt Depth

Cameron Payne was an incredible redemption story in these playoffs. After being out of the NBA at one point, he became the spark plug off the bench for the Suns during this year’s playoffs. His energy and intensity certainly helped the team when it was needed most. After having one hell of a playoff run, Payne will surely have some suitors who will be looking to lure him away from Phoenix.

If Payne goes elsewhere, T.J. McConnell would be a solid alternative. He is a good playmaker and pesky defender who can facilitate for his teammates. McConnell averaged 8.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.9 steals this past season for the Indiana Pacers. Phoenix will be an attractive option for McConnell and other veterans to do some ring chasing.