The Phoenix Suns concluded the regular season with an NBA best 64-18 record, eight games over the second-place Memphis Grizzlies. The Suns dispatched a feistier than expected Pelicans squad in six games during the First Round of the Western Conference playoffs before opening up 2-0 in the Second Round against a young Dallas Mavericks team they’d beaten 11 times in a row. Phoenix looked set to crash the Finals for the second season in a row.
And then the Suns crumbled like my favorite childhood Lego dinosaur underneath my older sister’s fat foot. The Suns lost games three and four on the road by nine points and ten points, respectively, as the Mavericks turned up the perimeter heat on Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The Suns nabbed game five at home by a massive 30 points, and then the Mavericks shockingly won the final two contests of the series by a combined 60 points, sending Phoenix home with their head spinning and an assortment of unpleasant roster questions to examine during the offseason.
The Suns’ entire center rotation could leave during the summer. Deandre Ayton will almost certainly receive a max contract offer from the Trail Blazers, Pistons, or one of the other teams with the cap room to pay him north of $30 million per year. While Phoenix will have the right to match any offer, all the signs emerging out of the desert show they’ll scoff at giving Ayton the kind of money he’s looking for. Meanwhile, JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo will also enter the offseason as unrestricted free agents.
We haven’t mentioned Chris Paul, who’ll turn 38 next season and still has three years left on his contract. In addition, we haven't discussed Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder, two critical wings entering the final season of their respective deals.
Here, we’ll examine the Suns’ player status for next season and decide what the front office should do with each member of the team.
Chris Paul - $28.4 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 4-Year, $120 Million Contract (2022-23: $28.4 Million, 2023-24: $30.8 Million Partially Guaranteed, 2024-25: $30.0 Million Not Guaranteed)
Chris Paul launched 14.8 shots per contest during the first eight games of the playoffs. And then he attempted only 7.2 shots per game throughout the Suns’ final five games of the playoffs, averaging only 9.4 PPG in that span as he watched the Mavs beat the life out of his squad four games to one. Chris Paul’s ugly ending to the 2022 playoffs has brought about dozens of questions on the 37-year-old point guard, some of which are your standard absolutely ridiculous over-reactionary teardowns, while others are justified:
Is Chris Paul completely washed (ridiculous)?
Should the Suns trade Chris Paul (ridiculous)?
Did the Mavs wear out Chris Paul during the playoffs (Justified)?
Did Jason Kidd and the Mavs develop the blueprint to beat the Suns next year and beyond (justified)?
The Mavs wore out Chris Paul in a way we’ve never really seen before. They blitzed him on defense with one long-armed defender after another, and they constantly hunted CP3 off switches on offense, forcing him to play defense nearly every possession he was on the court. As the series wore on, it became apparent that CP3 was overwhelmed.
Jason Kidd and the Mavs did, in fact, come up with the blueprint on how to beat the Suns, slamming them in a convincing fashion with an organized attack centered on ruining Chris Paul’s life. The NBA is a copycat league, and you can rest assured all 29 other organizations already have their massive film departments breaking down the action.
However, all is not lost in the desert. It’s one thing for teams to try and copy the Mavs. It’s another thing entirely for them to succeed. Luka Doncic is a force of nature, and Jalen Brunson is morphing into an All-Star in front of our eyes, and blueprint or not, Dallas wouldn’t have come close to beating the Suns without both players transforming into two-way destructors.
Chris Paul finished the season, averaging 14.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG, and 10.8 APG as a surefire All-NBA selection. He’ll compete at a high level again next year for the Suns.
Devin Booker - $33.8 Million
Entering 4th Season Of A 5-Year Rookie Max Extension (2022-23: $33.8 Million, 2023-24: $36.0 Million)
A lot has been made about Chris Paul’s collapse against the Mavs, but what about Devin Booker’s inability to get it done when the Suns needed him most?
Devin Booker averaged 22.2 PPG on a 41.9% clip from the field during the Suns’ final five games against the Mavs, far from awe-inspiring numbers out of Phoenix’s superstar go-to scorer. And it’s not like the Mavs threw the kitchen sink at Book, selling out on him with double teams. Reggie Bullock primarily took on Booker in single coverage throughout the semis, covering him for 146.5 possessions and allowing him to score only 35 points on 37.1% from the field. And it’s not like Devin Booker is a 37-year-old point guard. He’s a spry 25-year-old who should have been able to strap the Suns on his back and carry them past the less talented Mavs.
But Book didn’t. He was thoroughly outplayed by Luka Doncic and Jalen Brunson throughout the Second Round of the playoffs.
Okay. Enough beating Book over the head for his lousy series against the Mavs. He struggled and looked lost, but the entire Suns team struggled and looked lost. Devin Booker averaged 26.8 easy points during the regular season while playing above-average defense. He also showed during last year’s playoffs that he is more than capable of leading his squad to the Finals.
Prediction: Devin Booker takes this loss to Luka Doncic and the Mavs to heart, and he hits the lab like a young Kobe Bryant over the summer, using Doncic’s goofy, taunting, audacious, smiling face as his inspiration. Booker then comes into the 2022-23 season with a nasty edge to his play and makes the leap from finishing fourth in MVP voting with no shot in hell at actually winning the award toward the actual MVP, outperforming N. Jokic, J. Embiid, and G. Antetokounmpo.
Further Prediction: Before the above prognosis occurs, Book will be selected to one of the All-NBA Teams, which will mean he’ll be eligible to sign a supermax extension this offseason which is projected at four years, $200 million-ish. And the Suns would be crazy not to lock up their superstar as soon as possible.
Deandre Ayton - $16.4 Million (Qualifying Offer)
If you’re an NBA fan, you know about Deandre Ayton’s contract situation. The Suns refused to offer their 2018 number one pick a five-year max extension similar to the deals the other top players (L. Doncic, T. Young, and M. Porter Jr.) from his draft class received. Because Ayton and the Suns didn’t agree to an extension, he can agree to a $16.4 million qualifying offer from Phoenix (which will never happen), or he can enter restricted free agency and sign an offer sheet from another squad, which the Suns will have the right to match.
Here’s a breakdown of what Deandre Ayton gives the Phoenix Suns:
He averaged 17.2 PPG and 10.2 RPG this season while flashing a solid array of post moves and excellent finishing skills off lobs and bounce passes.
He finished the season ranked 7th in the NBA in contested shots at 11.4 per game, and he held opposing players to 5.9% under their normal average within six feet of the basket.
Deandre Ayton is an elite rim protector who proved he can anchor a championship-caliber defense last season. At the same time, he’s no Rudy Gobert on offense, devoid of post moves or an elbow jumper. Ayton took 33.3% of his shots in 2021-22 from 3 to 10 from the basket, hitting 58.8% of his shots (proof of his post moves), and he took 18.4% of his shots from 10 to 16 feet from the basket, hitting 55.5% of his shots (proof of his elbow jumper).
Deandre Ayton might not be an All-Star, but he’s a top-10 center who will be eligible for up to four years, $131.2 million either through an offer sheet by another squad or via sign-and-trade.
The Suns will probably lose their big man over the summer, and they’ll regret not giving him the type of money he deserves. Taking things one step further, if the Mavs series was a sign of things to come, and the Suns struggle next season, it won’t be because of CP3 or Book. It will be because they miss Ayton’s presence in the middle.
Mikal Bridges - $20.1 Million
Entering 1st Season Of A 4-Year, $90.9 Million Rookie Extension (2022-23: $20.1 Million, 2023-24: $21.7 Million, 2024-25: $23.3 Million, 2025-26: $24.9 Million)
After coming in second place for the Defensive Player of The Year Award, Mikal Bridges struggled to contain Luka Doncic during the Second Round, allowing him to shoot 18-31 (58.1%) while guarding him. Doncic will do that to a player. And, sure, he only averaged 9.9 PPG against a Mavs squad that was clearly locked in on Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Dallas will also do that to a player. The Mavs ended the season with the 6th ranked defense in the league, and they were playing at another level against the Suns.
Mikal Bridges is still a top-5 perimeter defender, and he’s a capable playmaking wing who hits at an above-average clip from deep. All of which means his $90.9 million contract extension that runs through the 2026 season is one of the most attractive deals in the league.
Monty Williams and the rest of the Suns coaching staff will be wise to hand over more of the playmaking duties to Mikal Bridges next season, allowing Chris Paul to have a moment to breathe while he’s on the court.
Jae Crowder - $10.2 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 3-Year, $29 Million Contract
Jae Crowder is your typical clichéd love or hate player. Personally, I hate him. I hate the way he pounds his chest after making a stop. I hate the way he pounds his chest after making a three-pointer. And I really hate the way he pounds his chest merely to pound his chest. With that said, I understand fully why Suns fans love him. Jae Crowder made only 34.8% of his shots from deep, and he held his assignments to a ho-hum 46.3% clip from the field during the 2021-22 regular season, but his attitude was contagious. Crowder gives the Suns an edge, providing the type of aggressive trickle-down effect that pushed his teammates to play harder throughout the season.
Barring a misguided trade, Jae Crowder will be back in Phoenix next season for a reasonable $10.2 million. The Suns should let Crowder play out his contract and then sign the 31-year-old to another three-year, $25 million-ish agreement.
Cameron Johnson - $5.9 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 4-Year, $18.6 Million Rookie Contract
Cameron Johnson finished the 2021-22 season fourth in the NBA in three-point shooting with a 42.5% mark from deep off 5.9 attempts per game. He also flashed above-average one-on-one defense for the first time in his career, holding his assignments to 1.0% below their typical shooting clip from the field. In other words, Cameron Johnson is one of the most elite 3-and-D wings in the NBA.
3-and-D wings are all the rage in the modern NBA, and as Cameron Johnson enters the final season of his contract this offseason eligible for a rookie-scale extension, he’s about to cash in on his skill-set. The Suns should extend Johnson during the summer to the tune of something like four years and $75 million.
Landry Shamet - $9.5 Million
Entering 1st Season Of A 4-Year, $42.5 Million Contract (2022-23: $9.5 Million, 2023-24: $10.3 Million, 2024-25: $11.0 Million, 2025-26: $11.8 Million)
Instead of locking down Deandre Ayton last offseason, the Suns signed Landry Shamet to a four-year, $42.5 million contract that will begin in 2022-23. And Shamet responded by giving the Suns 8.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, and 39.4% from the field with a -0.4 Defensive Box Plus/Minus during the regular season. And things only got worse during the playoffs as Shamet averaged 4.3 PPG while shooting 39.6% from the field.
Robert Sarver, the Suns notoriously stingy owner, undoubtedly wants a redo on their four-year commitment with Landry Shamet. They won’t get one, though, and it’s unlikely they’ll be able to unload him onto another team without adding a sweetener to the deal.
Cameron Payne - $6.0 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 3-Year, $19.0 Million Contract (2022-23: $6.0 Million, 2023-24: $6.5 Million)
As much as I hate Jae Crowder, my feelings do a complete 180 towards Cameron Payne. I know it’s weird, but he’s one of my favorite players in the NBA. I love his herky-jerky style and how he always has a puzzled look on his face mingled with a slight smirk. That’s what made Payne’s 2022 playoff disappearing act so difficult for me to watch. Payne averaged a lousy 4.2 PPG, 1.5 RPG, and 2.1 APG while shooting an even more lousy 29.7% from the field through the Suns’ 13 postseason games. And over the Suns final five games against the Mavs, Payne only managed to produce 1.4 PPG.
Despite Cameron Payne’s playoff struggles, he’s still one of the most talented backup point guards in the league, a player who has proved more than capable of running the Suns’ offense when CP3 is sidelined. Phoenix has Cameron Payne under contract for two more years at a significantly discounted $12.5 million, which will be a boon for Phoenix as CP3’s minutes should rightfully decrease moving forward.
JaVale McGee - Unrestricted Free Agent
JaVale McGee, the NBA’s unofficial one-year contract king, is coming off another (you guessed it) one-year contract with the Suns.
But why doesn’t an organization lock up McGee to an extended deal?
The big advanced numbers from the major websites loved him last season.
Have a look:
Dunks and Threes ranked McGee in the 86th percentile in their Estimated Plus/Minus (+1.8)
NBA.com ranked him 30th in their Player Impact Estimate metric (15.2)
According to Basketball-Reference, McGee had a .201 mark in their Win Shares Per 48 Minutes metric, which would have ranked 13th in the league if he’d played enough to qualify for their leaderboard.
JaVale McGee is the most effective short-burst big man in the league. A player who destroys the opposition across something like 15 minutes per game.
With Deandre Ayton likely in the wind, the Suns should sign JaVale McGee to a two-year, $13 million deal.
Bismack Biyombo - Unrestricted Free Agent
Bismack Biyombo progressed from the 7th overall pick in the 2011 draft, to out of the league, to back in the league with the Suns on a cheap-as-hell prove-it deal. And Biyombo mostly proved himself, providing the Suns with 120% I-really-want-to-stay-in-the-NBA defense.
There will be a substantial market for Biyombo over the summer, with the Lakers and Hawks along with half-a-dozen other squads in desperate need of a defensive energizer at the center position. The Suns should try to lock up Bismack Biyombo to an extended deal at the start of the offseason before another squad scoops in and signs him.
Torrey Craig - $5.1 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 2-Year, $10.0 Million Contract (2022-23: $5.1 Million)
Torrey Craig came to the Suns in a trade deadline swap with the Pacers and proceeded to play 20.8 minutes per game in Phoenix, averaging 6.9 PPG before his court time shrank considerably in the playoffs to 7.6 MPG across only nine contests.
It’s difficult to say why the Suns brought in a 6-7 wing signed through next season when they already had one of the most talented and deepest wing rotations in the league. Anyway, Torrey Craig will likely find a similarly minor role in Phoenix next season.
Elfrid Payton - Unrestricted Free Agent
Elfrid Payton had a difficult time carving out a role for the Suns during the regular season, averaging 11.0 minutes per game across 50 games, and he saw his time cut down to a total of only four garbage time minutes during the playoffs. It’s nearly impossible to see the Suns bringing back Payton next season after head coach Monty Williams planted him firmly at the end of the bench.
Ish Wainright - $1.6 Million (Qualifying Offer)
Ish Wainright is a 27-year-old rookie who spent time playing professionally in Germany and France before the Suns extended him a two-way contract during the 2021-22 season, which they later converted to a guaranteed contract. At 6-6, Wainright is your typical undersized power forward who finds it difficult to stick in the NBA. But, by all accounts, Wainright is a genuinely nice guy, a positive force with positive vibes who affects the entire Suns’ squad with positivity. That type of positivity is priceless during the grind-it-out 82-game season, and the Suns would be wise to extend Wainright his $1.6 million qualifying offer.
Aaron Holiday - $5.8 Million (Qualifying Offer)
The Suns acquired point guard Aaron Holiday from the Wizards at the trade deadline, and he played solid basketball in the desert, averaging 6.8 PPG, 2.5 RP, and 3.4 APG while shooting 44.4% from deep. The Suns could very well bring Holiday back next season as their third-string point guard.
Dario Saric - $9.2 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 3-Year, $27.0 Million Contract (2022-23: $9.2 Million)
Dario Saric missed the entire 2021-22 season with a torn ACL in his right knee. Saric played mainly as the Suns’ backup center during the 2020-21 season, averaging 8.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 1.3 APG while shooting 34.8% from deep. He’ll likely return next year to a similarly minor role with Phoenix.
The Suns’ Will Face A Difficult Road Next Season
The Western Conference will get more difficult next season. The Clippers should be whole and healthy and looking to do damage. The Lakers should find a way to unload Russell Westbrook’s massive personality and even more massive salary in an effort to build a sounder rotation around LBJ and AD. The Nuggets should also have Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the fold, joining forces with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic. The young Grizzlies and Mavs should be better as well with one more year of seasoning. The Warriors aren’t going anywhere either, and the Pelicans and Timberwolves could make mini-leaps.
While the Suns’ foes are expected to improve next season, Phoenix might regress. Deandre Ayton appears to be as good as gone, and he’ll be difficult to replace. Chris Paul finally looked his age during the playoffs and JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo, two critical backup big men, could also look for a bigger payday than Phoenix is willing to give them.
Devin Booker could make the leap toward the league MVP, and Mikal Bridges could increase his playmaking skills, but it’s hard to see the Suns improving upon their 64-win regular season in 2022-23.