A Phoenix From the Ashes

The Phoenix Suns clinched their first playoff berth in over a decade after a victory in Los Angeles.

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By Julia Shen

Being a fan of the Phoenix Suns in recent years has been hard, to say the least. Year after year, the Suns were regarded as one of the worst franchises in the NBA, even by their own supporters. But all of that is changing this year, as the Suns have finally clinched their first playoff berth in over a decade, and fans have something to look forward to at last.

The last time the Suns made the playoffs was in 2010, when they had veteran Steve Nash as their point guard and Amar’e Stoudemire as their center. The two led the Suns to a 54-28 record, allowing them to clinch the third seed in the Western Conference. The Suns then went on to beat the Portland Trailblazers 4-2 at the first round of the playoffs, followed by a sweep against the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semifinals. Their final challenge was the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Conference Finals. Unfortunately, Derek Fisher broke Nash’s nose in game three of the series, and the Suns eventually lost the series 4-2.

But what Suns fans didn’t expect was how far downhill it would go from there. Head coach Steve Kerr, who has now won three titles as the Warriors head coach, announced his resignation as the Suns’ general manager in 2010. The owner of the Phoenix team, Robert Sarver, made one of the worst trades in franchise history by trading away their only star player, Nash, to Los Angeles for two future first-round draft picks, two future second-round draft picks, and $3 million. The organization won a total of only 199 games and cycled through five new head coaches from 2012 to 2019. Moreover, the Suns threw away prime opportunities to draft future All-Star players such as Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, instead drafting players who would end up underwhelming on most fronts. Worst of all, the Phoenix Suns became a meme in 2017 when they set the worst loss in franchise history and worst loss margin for an opening game in NBA history and went on to have the worst record in the league.

However, the Phoenix Suns have now entered the dawn of a new era with the addition of Chris Paul. Paul, who was traded for a few players and a 2022 first-round pick, is well known for significantly improving any team that he arrives in (a phenomenon known as the Chris Paul effect). The 10-time All-Star has already worked with other elite guards in previous years and had no trouble becoming a leader for the team, especially for Devin Booker. Paul’s exceptional playmaking, ball-handling, and scoring skills have once again acted as the driving force behind the success of his team, having a 39.5 percent for three-pointers and 8.9 assists per game.

Veteran forward Jae Crowder was also a great addition to the team. Before his signing with the Suns, Crowder was a part of the Miami Heat’s surprise run to the NBA finals last year. Crowder seemed to have an influence on the three-point percentage of his team, which was the case once again in Phoenix. While Crowder doesn’t put up big numbers, his presence on the court has helped young guards like Mikal Bridges and Langston Galloway shine behind the three-point arc. Crowder has also helped Deandre Ayton step up both offensively and defensively. Ayton averages 10.5 rebounds per game and is scoring at a 62.6 field goal percentage, which is the best in his career.

Overall, these factors have helped the Suns once again rise through the standings like a phoenix from the ashes. On the night Phoenix secured a spot in the postseason, they finally managed to beat the Clippers, who won the first two season games against the Suns. Booker scored 21 points and had six rebounds, and Paul scored 28 points and had 10 assists. Paul, who was playing in his 16th NBA season, showed that he still was a force to reckon with. He made 10 shots out of 15 attempts, and half of those were made in the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, fans showered Paul with MVP chants, praising his contributions to the team. However, Paul wasn’t even surprised because he already knew it was his job to elevate this team to success. “I know who I am,” Paul said. “Coming to this situation, I knew who [Devin Booker] was. He told me about some of the guys on the team. I knew [about] playing for Monty [Williams and] how detail-oriented he is.”

Through his leadership and experience, Paul has even led the bench players to have outstanding performances. The Phoenix Suns bench was able to outscore the Los Angeles bench 28-8 in the first half. Center Frank Kaminsky led the team with 13 points at halftime, and shooting guard Cameron Payne scored 15 points off the bench. Eventually, the game concluded with Phoenix winning 109-101, improving to a 44-18 record and putting them within firing range for the top seed in the west.

Though the Suns have clinched a spot as the second seed of the Western Conference, they now face their ultimate playoff challenge: the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only are the Suns playing against the defending NBA champions, but they have come full circle as they have a chance to get their revenge from 10 years ago. Luckily, the Suns have beaten the Lakers twice out of a three-season series, and they hope to continue their dominance this season through the playoffs. “We are not satisfied. We’re not settling,” Suns coach Williams said. “We feel like we’re just scratching the surface.” The future now seems sun-bright for Phoenix basketball.