As we head into the August slump in our first true NBA season in three years, we can take some time to reflect on the value of continuity with Phoenix Suns.
On the one hand, the Suns have (mostly) a young, healthy, closed core that has already won the Western Conference, with lone Chris Paul nearing the end of his career. All of the other great players on the Suns squad – Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges – are youngsters and have signed for at least four seasons through their NBA games.
Let’s take a moment to learn about the investment the Suns ownership group has made in this latest team iteration. In the last 12 months, all general managers, coaches and senior players have all signed long term contracts/extensions that can keep them together for more than a decade (already three years plus another 4+). Nearly half a billion dollars in contracts committed since the first round of the playoffs together contrast sharply with the team’s previous iterations under Robert Sarver.
Best Sun team ever?
These current Suns might rival the last Suns team at the finals level in the late ’80s and early ’90s, except that they made it to the top faster, and with a younger core. Tom Chambers was already 29 years old when he joined the Suns in 1988, and was in decline by the time Sir Charles took to the stage four years later (he scored 12 points in 23 minutes per game during 1992-93). By the time that group reached the finals, the much-injured Kevin Johnson (26) was the youngest player at the All-Star level.
The companies with the best talent-to-age ratio might be Seven Seconds or Less Suns in the mid-2000s, whose young heart rode MVSteve’s back to three conference finals in six seasons. That group did not reach The NBA Finals It had a lot to do with the injury (Amarie Stoudemire’s knee and eye, Steve Nash’s back, eye and nose), but it also had to do with the failure of contract negotiations. They charged All-Star start-up Joe Johnson with more than a few million dollars, traded starting center Kurt Thomas for less than nothing to slip under the luxury tax and traded perennial All-Star Shawn Marion when much demanded in an upcoming extension. All these movements, as well as others, flew into the ceiling of the team.
I wouldn’t waste more than a few words on the 2013-14 Suns, a fun group but all of them had a huge appetite for money and most of them were near-all-star ceilings. Goran Dragic made his third All-NBA team that year as the only player recognized in the league for the Suns. Years later, he formed the 2018 All-Star Team in Miami while Isaiah Thomas later formed two All-Star teams and an All-NBA team with Boston.
The current Suns team could be the best of all three iterations. They already have five Collegiate All-Star entries, three All-NBA nods, an Executive of the Year award, two Coach of the Year awards (one from her peers, one from the media), an All-Defense nod and a final appearance.
They have (mostly) youth, health, a high ceiling, great training, a very efficient front desk… and finally an owner willing to spend a lot of money to keep it that way. Not only did they keep the core together, they also re-signed the key players as well. As of today, the Suns will have the sixth highest payroll in the league this coming season – a new top for a Sarver-owned team.
The biggest investment ever, for sure
By committing $224 million to Devin Booker (could be higher with a high ceiling), $133 million to Dender Eaton, $120 million to Chris Paul ($75 million guaranteed), and $90 million to Michal Bridges, Sarver gave Over half a billion dollars to his top four players in the last 12 months.
Devin Booker (26 next season), Michael Bridges (26) and Dendry Eaton (24) are approaching their best years in the league, with Booker already reaching first-team status in the NBA and Bridges already finishing second-largest Number of votes for Defensive Player of the Year and second most overall for the annual All-Defense Team. Ayton, two years younger than him, may be the most talented of the three and he now has this long-term contract in his back pocket to allow him to focus on maximizing his potential going forward.
As a group, they’ve won the second-most number of playoff games in the league over the past two years, and should still have one or two more seasons on All-Star Chris Paul – who we might forget single-handedly carried the Suns to four of their playoff games just two months ago.
On the other hand, the NBA is not built on continuity.
Can continuity lead to championship?
A third of the league’s players change teams every season, and nearly half of all stars retract or change teams within two years as well.
If you ride a group too long, you risk that your more expensive seasons will be the most frustrating for you. Just look at Utah Jazz And the Portland Trail Blazers as an example. Neither team won a game in the conference finals, but both took it back hard with their same first and second players, coach and GM for half a decade before finally blowing it up.
Most teams are impatient. One or two early exits from a playoff and ready to restart, or at least retool. Just look at any LeBron James team as an example. Bron hasn’t had the same teammate/coach/GM for more than two seasons without a championship. or the Sixerswho continue to build around Joel Embiid but have changed in the front office, coach and top players around him year after year.
If the Suns are bucking this trend and digging up their heels in continuity as their way to the championship, they should seriously look for players who stayed together for 3 seasons before winning a ring.
Most of them never get that payoff without first making some kind of change to Best duo, coach and/or general manager.
Present Boston Celtics Close, but no cigar yet. Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been together for five seasons now, and never made it to the NBA Finals until 2022. They had to change their coach and GM in 2021-22 to break through to the Finals, and they’re still searching for that ring.
Present Miami Heat They go into Year 4 together (Jimmy/Bam/Spoelstra/Riley) and have a profile very similar to the Suns. They reached the finals together in year one and had a rough second round in year two. In the third year they dealt with tough injuries (Butler, Lowry, Hero), but they only came once, Butler lost three times before qualifying for the finals again in 2022.
2009-2015 Oklahoma City Thunder He kept the same duo/coach/general manager (KD/Ross/Brooks/Priste) for seven seasons, even making it to the finals once. But they did not penetrate. They finally changed coach (Billy Donovan) for one last try, and then watched Kevin Durant rise to the champs in free agency. The era is over.
2008-2012 Orlando Magic They held the same coach/GM duo for four seasons, making the Finals once, but didn’t win the whole thing. They eventually gave up, traded in Dwight Howard, and began rebuilding in the middle-level land over the past decade.
mid 2000 Dallas Mavericks They stayed together for four seasons (Dirk/Terry/Carlisle/Nelson), once beating the Suns in the 2006 Western Conference Finals before losing the finals to Dwyane Wade’s free-throw volley. In the end, they had to change coach (Rick Carlisle) and import Jason Kidd to finally break into the ring in 2011.
early 2000s New Jersey Nets He held the same coach/general manager duo for three seasons, making the Finals twice, but never got the ring. They quickly spoiled the group and have not returned to the finals since.
This is it. That’s all I can find for the past 20 years.
Again, I’m only listing the duo/coach/GM who have reached the finals at least once, been together for over 3 years, but have not made it to a championship, because that’s the profile of the current Suns group going into their third year together.
So we don’t include teams like the SSOL Suns, the pre-SSOL Kings, the Blazers, the Jazz, the Raptors or the Rockets who have never breathed the Finals. A note about the Raptors: Laurie/Demar Raps has always missed out on the Finals. It wasn’t until the Kawhi Leonard deal, and the new coach, that they broke that ring.
None of those teams that lost finals early in their time together have come back like the duo/coach/GM to win the entire title.
The one outlier
There is only one: the current Milwaukee Bucks. Yes, the same team that beat the Suns in the 2021 finals.
The Milwaukee Bucks have had their core together — coach Mike Budenholzer, Giannis Antikonmo and Chris Middleton — for four years now. Four years may not seem like long, but in the NBA that’s a lifetime. They started with a couple of supplement disappointments in 2019 and 2020 but they haven’t unraveled despite a lot of pressure. Coach Bud has been on the hot seat every day for over a year, and many people have speculated about forcing Giannis to trade before signing his maximum extension. Note: That was just two years of not reaching the championship and there was tremendous pressure to change something big, both the coach and the players.
But they kept the duo/coach/GM together, added a third All-Star player on the Jrue Holiday, and won it all the following year. We might have seen them win back-to-back had it not been for Middleton’s injury.
Can the Suns do the Bucks thing and win a championship from the same core that has been knocked out twice now?
It seems that the answer should be yes. It’s entirely possible, with no trade at all, that Deandre Ayton or Mikal Bridges could develop into a third All-Star as Jrue Holiday had for the Bucks.
But the long-term evidence about the NBA says no. The Suns (Year 3), Heat (Year 4) and Celtics (Year 2 with Udoka) are hoping to break that trend, but the Nets, Thunder, Magic, and Mavericks are shaking their heads no.
Hence, Kevin Durant paid
That’s why you see Suns GM James Jones laser-focused on adding a player like Kevin Durant to this team as their third All-Star. You can’t keep running to the same exact core and expect different results.
Again, could these guys suddenly evolve into much better players? Certainly, I think. As it is built, Suns is one of the finalists once again.
here it is DraftKings’ latest odds.
They can only hope for inner improvement as their catalyst for breakthrough. But that’s what Denver NuggetsAnd the Memphis GrizzliesAnd the Dallas Mavericks And the Minnesota Timberwolves We also count on it.
Odds are that the Suns need to make a bold move to cross that barrier for the championship ring, after defaulting with this crew in two qualifying rounds.
Playing edges with RPG upgrades won’t do this. Adding another star, a better candidate for the best player in and of itself, is the move that could really work.