DAN BICKLEY

Chris Paul’s All-Star form has Suns back as top dog in Valley sports

Feb 23, 2021, 8:55 PM | Updated: 9:10 pm
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the second half of the NBA game against t...
Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the second half of the NBA game against the Toronto Raptors at Phoenix Suns Arena on January 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Raptors 123-115. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald painted the Valley red. Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer added another coat for reinforcement. For more than a decade, the Cardinals were the most compelling, ambitious sports franchise in Arizona.

Not anymore.

The Suns are reclaiming their turf. With Chris Paul at the helm, they have won 20 of 30 games in 2021. They are a chemistry experiment gone right. Our best memories are yet to come. Remember that when you think of Devin Booker.

Booker’s omission from the Western Conference All-Star team feels like a tremendous injustice in the Valley. Even LeBron James chimed on Twitter, using three exclamation points to underscore his disappointment.

But sometimes, it’s better to be a martyr than a NBA All-Star. Especially when Booker will likely end up on the team as an injury replacement if/when Lakers star Anthony Davis opts out of the game.

Because this is also the truth:

The story of the resurgent Suns features many elements, but it ultimately traces back to the arrival of Paul, a world-class point guard. Same with the acquisition of Steve Nash in 2004, and the glorious seasons that ensued.

Paul hasn’t stopped talking since he arrived in Phoenix. He hasn’t stopped working. His commitment to new causes is breathtaking. He’s pushing Deandre Ayton to new heights. He’s sharpened the culture of a young team almost overnight, like the arrival of Tom Brady in Tampa. He’s given Booker a true running mate for the first time in his NBA career.

Grateful? Head coach Monty Williams still gushes about the privilege he feels coaching a player of Paul’s pedigree. This team is another tribute to Paul’s team-building skills, just like his previous season in Oklahoma City. He is a jewel of a player.

To those who never knew how good he was: Please enjoy him while he’s here.

The Suns already possessed a dangerous confluence of assets entering this season: the pairing of Paul and Booker; a deep team full of good shooters and passionate defenders; a respected, trusted voice at head coach; the confidence of an 8-0 finish in the Orlando bubble; a culture where no one wants to miss a minute nursing injuries in a trainer’s room.

And after coughing up an embarrassing loss to Brooklyn, the Suns have shown even more growth.

They are playing with a different tone and fury. They outscored the Pelicans 41-12 in the fourth quarter. They led the Grizzlies 65-34 at halftime. They outscored the Blazers 37-17 in a decisive third quarter. They are showing a new ability to blow up teams and blow up games with a cavalcade of open shots on one end and defensive stops on the other. It’s everything we’ve been waiting for.

In a perfect world, Booker and Paul would both be All-Stars. If I had my choice, Booker would get the nod and Paul would get the rest. Booker would get the affirmation of his peers, the kind that Paul received years and years ago. But don’t forget:

Paul also deserves this special accomplishment, a second consecutive All-Star berth with a brand new team. Booker is free to use this moment as fuel moving forward. He is free to own the second half of the NBA season, when the games actually matter.

Maybe even lead this team where it’s never been.

Penguin Air

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