The Phoenix Suns have been eliminated, losing to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games in the 2021 NBA Finals.
It brings an end to an impressive season for the Suns, one that saw them finish with the league's second-best record, make the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and make the Finals for the first time since 1993.
The Suns can now shift their focus to what is shaping up to be yet another important offseason.
The 2021 NBA Draft
Picks: No. 29
Prospects to target: Josh Primo (Alabama), Miles McBride (West Virginia), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova), Greg Brown (Texas)
The Suns only have one pick in the upcoming NBA Draft - the 29th overall in the first round.
The reason there are so many "prospects to target" listed is because I truly believe Phoenix could take this pick in any direction it pleases. Depending on what happens with unrestricted free agent guard Cameron Payne, the Suns could aim to fill a backup guard role, in which case Alabama's Primo would be a great development project under Devin Booker and Chris Paul, while West Virginia's McBride would be more of a stabilizing pick off the bench as an upperclassman leader.
If the Suns can sign Payne to a favourable deal, they could look to either add depth on the wing or find Ayton a backup center. Villanova's Robinson-Earl would fit in perfectly with the versatility and play style of this Phoenix roster, and the Suns already hit on one Villanova prospect in the past in Mikal Bridges. Texas' Brown is an option for a mobile and athletic center who can still keep up with the Suns' high-octane offence, giving the team a burst of energy off the bench whenever Ayton needs a rest.
After falling just short of an NBA title, Phoenix is already in a great place to contend again next season, so it really has the freedom to get creative with its sole draft pick.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Upcoming free agents
This offseason is all about Chris Paul for the Suns.
Paul has one more year remaining on his contract, but it's a player option worth $44.2 million. If he opts out, he will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
While there's reason to believe Paul will opt into his player option - it's hard to imagine him signing a contract that pays him as much annually at this stage of his career - Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report reported not long ago that he intends to decline it with the "hopes of inking a new multiyear deal."
According to ESPN's Bobby Marks, Paul has until Aug. 1 to make his decision.
Other than Paul, the Suns have six players set to be unrestricted free agents at the season's end in E'Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Cameron Payne, Frank Kaminsky, Abdel Nader and Torrey Craig. Payne in particular could draw some interest around the league, having had a few breakout games in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
|Unrestricted Free Agent(s)||Restricted Free Agent(s)||Player Option(s)|
|E'Twaun Moore||Chris Paul|
According to Keith Smith of RealGM, the Suns aren't projected to have any cap space to work with this offseason.
Something to watch: Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton are both eligible for extensions this offseason. If they don't come to terms on an extension, they will become restricted free agents next offseason, giving the Suns the option of matching any offer they receive.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
What will it take to get over the hump?
After returning to the NBA Playoffs for the first time in over a decade, Phoenix made a run for the ages, returning to the NBA Finals stage for just the third time in franchise history and the first time since 1993.
The Suns' run was nothing short of impressive, defeating the defending champions, sweeping the MVP and eliminating a preseason title favourite en route to the Finals.
In immediate reflection, this run is a reminder of just how hard it is to win.
Phoenix is a young team, built around 22-year-old Deandre Ayton and 24-year-olds Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges, while 36-year-old Chris Paul and 31-year-old Jae Crowder were the veteran pieces that helped make this team a winner.
Now, what will it take for them to be a champion?
Looking at the landscape of the Western Conference, the Suns are in a pretty good position. Their young core has gained an inordinate amount of experience through this one run and each of the other top teams in the West has at least one glaring issue that will carry over into next year.
Is it a roster tweak? Can Phoenix just run it back next year and expect a better result? Is the answer on the roster now? Jalen Smith is a 2020 lottery pick who wasn't ready for prime time just yet but could help with the team's frontcourt depth moving forward.
Paul, Payne and Craig are three players that it will be paramount for this team to retain, and potential improvements can be made with a late first-rounder and in free agency, given the Suns' current standing as a very attractive destination.
The path is there, but they just have to play their cards right and stay healthy. With a shorter offseason, things become that much more difficult.
- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
One key stat
Devin Booker finished the 2021 NBA Playoffs with a total of 601 points. That's the most points ever scored by a player in their first postseason, surpassing NBA legends Rick Barry (521) and Julius Erving (518). Booker made even more history in the Finals, joining Barry, Jerry West, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo with back-to-back 40-point games.
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