The Phoenix Suns will need to prove last year's success was not a fluke as they enter the 2021-22 season.
After going 10 years without a playoff appearance, the Suns surprised nearly everyone with a 51-21 record that was good for second in the Western Conference. The success carried over into the playoffs with a trip to the NBA finals after beating the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets.
Though the magic ran out in the NBA finals with a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, this group showed it could compete with anyone in the league.
The Suns should remain top contenders in the West after keeping most of its rotation intact from last season. Chris Paul re-signed on a four-year, $120 million contract while reserves like Cameron Payne and Frank Kaminsky also returned on new deals.
With Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and other young players continuing to improve, this can be a dangerous team next season. Here is a look at what's ahead of them in 2021-22.
2021-22 Suns Schedule Details
Season Opener: vs. Denver Nuggets (Oct. 20 at 10 p.m. ET)
Championship Odds: +1400 (FanDuel)
Milwaukee Bucks (First Game on Feb. 10 in Phoenix)
Any NBA Finals rematch is noteworthy, and this battle should be no different as the Suns try to get some measure of revenge against the Bucks.
Phoenix was seemingly on the path to an NBA title with a 2-0 lead in the Finals, but Giannis Antetokounmpo took over to lead Milwaukee to four straight wins. Three of the Suns' losses came by single digits, meaning a few bounces the other way could have led to a much different result.
The Suns still know they could have done better, especially Booker after he shot just 26.8 percent from three-point range in the series. The defense also had too many holes in the final few games as they failed to contain Giannis and Khris Middleton.
The next battle could be a chance for the Suns to redeem themselves and show they should be taken seriously as a title contender.
It won't bring Phoenix a championship, but it could provide some confidence as the season progresses.
Los Angeles Lakers (First Game on Oct. 22 in L.A.)
While the Suns will be busy thinking about their loss to the Bucks all summer, the Lakers will be focused on avenging their loss to the Suns.
Even as the No. 2 seed facing a No. 7 seed, Phoenix was seemingly the underdog in the minds of many heading into their first-round matchup. Los Angeles was the defending champion and had two of the best players in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but it was the Suns that came through with a six-game series win.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, things won't be as easy this time around.
James and Davis were each limited by injuries suffered in the regular season, but they should be healthier for the upcoming regular season. The addition of Russell Westbrook also gives the team another dimension offensively, while other veterans like Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard provide plenty of experience for the title contenders.
Even with last year's results, Los Angeles will likely be favored when these teams match up again; it will be up to the Suns to prove everyone wrong once again.
Even if the Suns' success last year was sudden, there is no reason to think they will take a step back next season.
Booker and Ayton were already an exciting inside-outside tandem, but adding Paul gave the team stability as a floor general who excels on both ends of the court. While his new contract might be excessive, keeping the point guard was vital for the team to stay competitive.
With other players like Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder filling their roles, this team has all the tools needed to make another run. If last year's lottery pick Jalen Smith improves and JaVale McGee adds defense down low, the Suns can be even better in 2021-22.
The Western Conference will be loaded with talent, but don't count out Phoenix being near the top of the standings by the end of the season.
Record Prediction: 58-24