As the first seed in the West, and the holders of the NBA's best record, the Phoenix Suns are looking to be taken seriously as title contenders.
And while some have already given them respect, NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal isn't quite ready to acknowledge them as a serious threat.
"They ain't got nobody that scares you," Shaq said on the Big Podcast. "Listen, Phoenix is like Utah to me. Got a lot of good players, but some of those players can be punked now, Michelle, I'm just saying."
The Suns have everything you could want in a Championship team. They've got a savvy, experienced veteran in Chris Paul, a young scoring machine in Devin Booker, and a solid two-way big man in DeAndre Ayton.
Still, there is a surprising lack of faith in the Suns and their chances to make a deep run in April.
“If the Suns beat Golden State I am going to walk two blocks with Suns written on my ass, I’ll post it live on Instagram with it," he said, as transcribed by Sportskeeda.
It remains to be seen if Phoenix can prove all the doubters wrong this spring, but their leader, Chris Paul, refuses to let this Championship race define his career.
I'm so at peace. Like for real... I'm going to fight my a** to win this championship this year, the next year, whenever it may be. But I'm not like "Oh man, I'ma just die".
I've had so much time to over all these years to think about it and process it man. I'm in such a good place to where I get to hoop... I'm so grateful and blessed that I still get to play...I can't imagine the feeling of winning a championship. First of all, just cause I've seen how good it felt to win the Western Conference this past year.
Paul and his squad did show a lot by making it to the Finals in 2021, but there are still some major questions about the identity of the ball club. Are they pretenders or contenders? Can they really compete with the likes of Golden State?
We will find out who these Suns are in due time but, in the meantime, don't be surprised to see folk counting them out. As a small-market team with a history of dysfunction, that's just the way it goes.