DAN BICKLEY

Chris Paul’s impact on Phoenix Suns can’t be overstated

Apr 22, 2021, 7:04 AM
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MARCH 30: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the NBA game...
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - MARCH 30: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the NBA game against the Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns Arena on March 30, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Hawks 117-110. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Basketball players aren’t soft. They’re selfish. They’re insulated. They listen to the wrong people. They wrongly believe they owe nothing to their sport. They follow the money and their own self-interests, not the good of the game.

The Suns don’t have this problem. They have flaws and weak spots, but character and competitive drive are not among their liabilities. They have Chris Paul, a 35-year-old point guard who has played nearly 1,100 regular season games in his career and simply refuses to take a night off.

His approach is exhilarating, especially considering the landscape, where load management has run amok in the NBA. It is no longer a radical concept employed by a few isolated players who are blissfully unaware or callously uncaring of the mockery they make of professional basketball.

Load management is more than a public relations crisis. Load management has become two of the most hated words in sports, alongside defensive shifts, transfer portals and Daniel Snyder.

It’s also one of many reasons why the Suns will be sentimental favorites when the postseason begins. They are hardcore and old-school, at a time when too many marquee stars are found in the trainer’s room or in street clothes at the end of the bench. The Suns clearly believe in the sanctity of full play for full pay, adhering to the quaint, dying belief that every game matters.

Granted, the Suns don’t always come prepared with proper focus or discipline, especially against inferior opponents. But they always show up in uniform. That counts for something.

Paul is the ringleader, and his attitude is both rare and special. It’s partly why I believe the Suns point guard will make a late surge toward the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award.

At the moment, Denver’s Nikola Jokic is a clear favorite while Joel Embiid and Steph Curry merit serious consideration. But the frontrunner is a European player without sizzle or a household name. He is the perfect victim. Vote for someone other than Jokic and there won’t be the kind of backlash that came with giving Steve Nash the MVP award over Shaquille O’Neal.

In many ways, this is the perfect year for voters to give Paul a career achievement award, a player who has never won the MVP or played in the NBA Finals.

Paul’s impact can’t be overstated. His two-year, $85 million contract looks like a bargain. He has lifted a young team to unexpected heights, just like he did with Oklahoma City. He is the player most responsible for the maturity in Deandre Ayton, a relentless voice tutoring, mentoring and badgering his teammate every step of the way.

Paul has embraced all the new-age developments in the NBA, investing in nutritionists and trainers and recovery methods that keep him in his prime at an advanced age. He puts far more into his craft than you see on television.

Except he will not take a night off. He does not believe in load management. He does not believe in cheating fans, teammates, employers or a game that has made him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.

His approach is noble and rare. But is it smart?

Time will tell.

Before Wednesday’s game, Suns broadcaster Eddie Johnson reiterated his disgust for load management, and how he would’ve never missed a big game against a rival opponent. How he just can’t reconcile or understand the competitive temperament of today’s players. He’s not alone.

At some point, the Suns might have to consider resting Paul to keep pace with their well-rested playoff competition down the road. But that concession feels slimy and stupid, even with the risks of ill-timed injuries before the playoffs begin.

That’s because the Suns are more than a team that will break a 10-year playoff drought in the Valley. They are what professional basketball is supposed to look like, the antidote to a problem permeating the NBA.

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