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What Will Be Different In Phoenix This Season?

Fresh off a run to the NBA Finals, the Phoenix Suns are giving every outward indication that they intend to return. Comments from Chris Paul in a recent interview suggested that the veteran point guard is extremely determined to get another shot; Paul called himself “addicted” to the experience. Head Coach Monty Williams was so confident the team is heading in the right direction that by all accounts he’s spent the offseason basically recharging in total isolation from the NBA. And most notable of all, the Suns’ roster has remained remarkably stable. They lost Torrey Craig and a small handful of players who did not contribute significantly, and they re-signed bench players Frank Kaminsky, Abdel Nader, and Cameron Payne (as well as Paul himself).

All of this suggests that the Suns’ front office believes in the team and expects another deep run in 2021-22. But no team comes off of a Finals run completely unchanged, and despite the clear intent to establish continuity, there are some things that will change in Phoenix this coming season.

A Backup for Ayton

If you watched the Suns during the 2021 playoffs, you likely noticed (or at least heard about) the fact that the lack of depth at center was a glaring weakness. DeAndre Ayton may have emerged in the early rounds as a growing force among NBA centers. But without a true center backing Ayton up, the Suns were frequently left vulnerable with their young star off the court. For this reason, the signing of JaVale McGee may have actually been one of the subtle strokes of genius this offseason. McGree is no All-Star but he’s a proven veteran, a true center, and someone with championship pedigree. He’ll likely make for the biggest difference on this season’s roster, and he’ll be well worth the $5 million Phoenix is paying him for one season.

A Deeper Guard Rotation

Cameron Payne’s decision to re-sign in Phoenix surprised some fans, particularly given some of the generous contracts other backup guards received on the open market. Nevertheless, the decision ensures that Chris Paul’s primary backup will remain with the Suns. Even beyond Payne though, the Suns did subtle work to improve the depth of their guard rotation. Landry Shamet was acquired via trade, and Elfrid Payton signed as a free agent. Neither player is a star, but together with Payne they give Phoenix quite a lot of strong, veteran guard depth.

Another New Big (?)

We can’t dig into this one too much just yet, because nothing is confirmed. But as of this writing, veteran forward Thaddeus Young is also said to be on the Suns’ radar. Young was traded from Chicago to San Antonio in the DeMar DeRozan deal and has since garnered interest from other teams. Phoenix has come up repeatedly, and would be adding even more veteran depth — and frankly an underrated contributor — if it acquired Thaddeus Young.

New Uniforms

In looking more broadly at what will be different in Phoenix this year, we ought to mention new uniforms as well! The new Suns Aztec-inspired uniforms will pay homage to the “early ancestors of the Valley,” and will do so via the use of really cool ancient symbols. Phoenix already had one of the better uniform rotations in the league last season, and this addition — which is somehow both bold and subtle — only adds to it. That may not be more help for the actual roster, but there’s something fitting about a re-tooling Finals team adding one more awesome jersey as well.

More TV Time

Another important change that doesn’t affect the roster is that the Suns’ 2021-22 schedule includes a lot more TV time. Phoenix will be on national television for a whopping 34 games — a franchise record, and good for fifth most in the NBA (behind Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Golden State, and the Lakers). For perspective, the Suns were on national TV 13 times last season. Not a bad reward for that Finals run!

At a quick glance, Phoenix looks to be returning with a very similar team, and in a very intentional way. The Suns were close, and they’ve decided to stick with what got them there. In 2021-22 though, this team will look like a contender from the beginning. Significant improvements in depth across the board will pay off on the court. And a bit more TV time with some flashy new uniforms won’t hurt the impression that the Suns are increasingly legitimate either!

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