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Will the Suns make it back to the NBA Finals?

After an 8-0 record in the NBA bubble during the 2020 season, the Phoenix Suns went 51-21 and clinched the second seed in the Western Conference last season. It marked the first season that the Suns won at least 50 games in 11 years.

In the playoffs, the Suns ran through the Western Conference. they defeated the defending champions, Los Angeles Lakers, in six games. They swept the Denver Nuggets in four game in the conference semifinals, and defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in six games to win the conference and go to the finals.

Phoenix was two games away from winning their first NBA Championship as they fell to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Before the 2020-2021 season, the Suns traded for 10-time All-Star point guard Chris Paul. In his first season with Phoenix, Paul made a huge difference, averaging over 16 points and nearly nine assists per game. However, it was the final year of his deal.

This offseason, the Suns re-signed Paul to a four-year deal, keeping the “Big 3” of him, Deandre Ayton, and Devin Booker together. They also re-signed guard Cameron Payne, who became a key contributor off the bench for Phoenix last year. Frank Kaminsky and Abdel Nader also re-signed with the Suns.

However, General Manager James Jones made moves to add to the roster as well. The Suns traded for guard Landry Shamet from the Nets, and signed him to a four-year extension. Phoenix also added center JaVale McGee guards Elfrid Payton and Chasson Randle, and forward Chandler Hutchison..

Going into this season, the question surrounding the team is whether they can make another run for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Looking at the Suns, last year was not a fluke. Everyone saw the potential that Phoenix had in the bubble and that one piece could make a difference. That’s what happened last year. They got the piece in Paul and became a top team in the league.

This year, getting back to the finals is going to be extremely tough with the Western Conference getting better.

Stacked Western Conference

The Lakers traded for Russell Westbrook, creating their own “Big 3” of him, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James. On top of that, Los Angeles added Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo, Trevor Ariza, Malik Monk, and more.

The Lakers have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA. They have arguably the best player in the world, along with Anthony Davis and a triple-double machine in Westbrook. On paper, they look like the best team in the league and are one of the favorites to win the title.

The Clippers are still one of the top teams in the West. They were without Kawhi Leonard in the Western Conference Finals last year and they still have a a deep roster.

The top seed in the conference last year, Utah Jazz, are still a team to look out for. Donovan Mitchell is one of the most athletic and dynamic guards in the league. Rudy Gobert is a beast on the defensive end.

Do not forget about reigning Sixth Man of the Year, Jordan Clarkson. He was a catalyst for Utah last year off the bench. The Jazz also have Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, and now Rudy Gay and Jared Butler.

The Golden State Warriors will be at full strength at some point this season with the return of Klay Thompson. Steph Curry carried the Warriors to a play-in spot. This year, Golden State has Jordan Poole, who is a candidate for Most Improved Player and the return of James Wiseman.

When the Warriors are healthy, they are one of the best teams in the NBA. When Thompson returns, watch out for the Warriors.

The Western Conference is loaded and it will be tough for the Suns to remain as the top dog. The Suns have the potential to make another run and get back to the finals.

Chasing Franchisee History

For this to happen, Chris Paul will have to remain at his MVP-caliber play. At the age of 36, he has finished top five in MVP voting the past two seasons.

Devin Booker has proved that he can be the top player on a contending team and will produce at a high level. However, the Suns need to see continued growth from multiple players.

Ayton took some strides last year, but is still not playing at the No. 1 pick level. He does a great job in pick and roll situations, but doesn’t do anything that makes him stand out.

Mikal Bridges just got a four-year extension. He is becoming one of the premiere 3-and-D players in the league. His continued growth will go a long way in Phoenix’s quest for the finals.

Cameron Johnson improved in his second season and will need to continue to add to his game and be a top contributor off the bench. Payne played the best basketball of his career last year and will be relied on to lead the second unit.

The signing of McGee will be huge for the Suns. With Dario Sarić recovering from a torn ACL, he will be a big piece off the bench. The three-time NBA Champion will also provide leadership down the line along with Paul.

For the Suns, this year is a great test for them coming off of a finals appearance. This team proved that they can compete with the best that the Western Conference has to offer.

The Suns can make another trip to the finals, but the odds are stacked against them. Due to the improvement in the conference, the Suns will fall short of making the finals for the second straight year.

I believe that Phoenix will be a top team, winning upwards of 50 games and securing a top four seed. However, the improvements that opponents made will be the difference.

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