Only 25 teams have won 64 or more games in a single NBA season. The Phoenix Suns are one of those teams, as they went 64-18 during the 2021-22 regular season, setting a new franchise record for wins in a season and claiming the top-seed in the entire league.
What the Suns achieved during the regular season is definitely no small feat, but they will forever be known as one of the “teams that could” in regards to their disappointing postseason run.
Everything went right for the Suns this year, as Devin Booker continued to grow into an offensive superstar, Chris Paul led the league in assists, Mikal Bridges finished as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year and head coach Monty Williams was named the league’s Coach of the Year.
However, the 64-win Phoenix Suns did not look like the dominant team they were during the regular season once the playoffs began.
Maybe there were some injuries we did not know about or maybe they were just mentally fatigued after what they achieved during the regular season.
Who knows, maybe it was both!
Whatever the case may be, the Suns entered the playoffs with home court advantage and they took on the New Orleans Pelicans in the first-round, a team that had to earn their playoff spot by winning two Play-In Tournament games.
After winning Game 1 by 11 points, the Suns dropped Game 2 on their home floor by 11 points. They then went on the road and split Games 3 and 4 with the Pelicans and all of a sudden, the No. 1 overall team in the playoffs found themselves in a “Best-of-3” scenario with a team that claimed the final spot in the postseason with a 36-46 record.
Ultimately, Phoenix was able to defeat New Orleans in Games 5 and 6 of this series to win 4-2 and advance to the Western Conference Semifinals, but the Pelicans played their hearts out and seemed to give the rest of the league confidence in the fact that the Suns were not the “all mighty, unbeatable” team that they looked like over the course of the regular season.
What Went Wrong Against Dallas?
Taking on the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Semifinals, a team they had beaten three out of three times in the regular season by an average of 7.6 points per game, the Suns took the first two games of this series and many began to think that Phoenix may end up sweeping the Mavericks after beating them by 20 points in Game 2.
On their home floor in front of a rowdy, sold out crowd in Dallas, the Mavericks completely flipped the script in this series the next two games, winning Game 3 by 9 points and Game 4 by 10 points, holding the Suns to an average of just 97.5 points per game in these two games.
Home court advantage mattered again in Game 5 back in Phoenix, as the Suns dismantled the Mavericks by 30 points to take a 3-2 series lead, but this was the last we saw of the dominant Suns.
From this point on in the series, something did not seem right mentally with this group and the Dallas Mavericks took advantage of the Suns’ inability to close this series out.
Dallas not only won Game 6 by 27 points, but then they went back to Phoenix for Game 7 and absolutely embarrassed the top team in the league, leading by 46 points at one point and winning 123-90 to end the Suns’ season.
At the end of the day, the Mavericks simply played harder than the likes of the Suns in this series, but that is not where things went wrong for Phoenix.
Having confidence in yourself and your team is one thing if you are the Suns, but they overlooked the abilities of the Mavericks and this was clear after they took a 2-0 series lead.
Those next two games in Dallas, Phoenix started to play careless and they gave off this certain energy that seemed like they really did not care since they knew that they had home court advantage in this series.
Chris Paul did not look right, Devin Booker was getting mentally frustrated with the referees on some of the calls they were making and the Mavericks’ defense really got in the heads of the Suns’ bench, one of the best bench units in the league this year.
Head coach Jason Kidd made all of the right adjustments for his squad in this series and while Monty Williams and his coaching staff made adjustments for the Suns, nothing they tried to do really worked.
The Mavericks played with energy, they played with confidence and most importantly, they did not care who the Suns were in this series or during the regular season, which really seemed to psych Phoenix out.
Turnovers, lack of movement on offense and the inability to defend by keeping their opponents in front of them led to the Phoenix Suns' downfall in this Western Conference Semifinals series and now, after back-to-back years of disappointing playoff losses, there is a level of concern brewing for the Suns heading into the offseason.
Deandre Ayton’s Future and Contract Situation Heading Into Offseason
There will not be question marks surrounding the Suns being a high-level team again entering the offseason, but their ability to contend for a championship could hinder greatly on what happens with former No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton.
Entering this offseason, Ayton is set to become a restricted free agent, still giving the Suns the ability to match any offer sheet he may sign, but this situation has a lot of levels to it right now, especially after the young center and the team where unable to agree on a deal prior to the start of the 2021-22 season.
Prior to this season, Deandre Ayton and the Suns were in advanced talks on a possible contract extension since he was entering the final year of his rookie contract, but the Suns did not want to offer Ayton a max contract, something he felt like he deserved after is performances in the NBA Playoffs and NBA Finals last year.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, at the time, the negotiations between Ayton and the organization ended without a deal, as Suns owner Robert Sarver never mentioned the possibility of a max contract offer to Ayton.
Now, heading into the offseason, Deandre Ayton is “up for grabs” and there are multiple teams expected to pursue him. The Portland Trail Blazers, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons are three teams with a level of interest in the young big man and other teams that could open up a max-level slot on their roster to pursue Ayton are the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs.
On Monday, Wojnarowski spoke about Deandre Ayton’s pending free agency and stated that he feels that the former No. 1 overall pick is going to get a max contract somewhere, whether that is in Phoenix or elsewhere.
“Going into this season, Deandre Ayton did not feel valued by this Phoenix organization,” Woj said. “They were not able to come to an agreement on a rookie extension. He saw many of the top players of his class get extensions. He wanted a max deal. He would not move off that.
“So now he moves toward restricted free agency this summer where now he'll have some more options. But ultimately Phoenix can still match an offer out there and keep him if he signs an offer sheet with another team.”
Should Phoenix continue to move forward with the mindset of not wanting to extend Deandre Ayton on a long-term, max contract, they could also entertain the idea of a possible sign-and-trade deal, as Adrian Wojnarowski also pointed out.
“You're going to look at the teams with cap space. Let's say for example Oklahoma City, a San Antonio, Portland. Teams that can create enough cap space to go out and sign him. But also the discussions of a sign-and-trade… If Phoenix decides they want to get assets back for Deandre Ayton. They don't want to match an offer sheet and either decide to pay him that max, or allow him to leave for nothing, which I think is what they won't do. There will be a lot of conversations around the league… Deandre Ayton is going to get a max contract in the marketplace somewhere.”
Through four seasons in Phoenix, Ayton has been a constant in their offensive attack, as he has averaged 16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and has shot 59.9% from the floor. Continuing to grow his game and now starting to develop a more fluid jump-shot, Deandre Ayton is already turning himself into one of the best centers in the entire NBA.
Winning a championship is not an easy thing to do in the NBA nowadays with all the talent around the league and for the Suns, winning or contending for a championship starts with the moves they make financially.
This decision involving Ayton in the offseason could drastically affect the Phoenix Suns as an organization, as well as the entire NBA, for years to come.
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