Roundtable: Was the Phoenix Suns’ season a success or failure?
On one hand, the Phoenix Suns weren’t a trendy pick to make the NBA Finals, let alone to go ahead 2-0 in the series.
On the other, they had the Milwaukee Bucks on their heels but couldn’t patch together another win over the next four games to fall in the series as their previously shining stars flickered.
So where does the whole of a season — the franchise’s first winning season since 2013-14 and first playoff appearance since 2010 — fall in terms of success or failure?
We asked the Arizona Sports hosts, editors and reporters how to judge the 2020-21 Suns season as a whole.
On a scale of 1-10 (1 being a failure, 10 being a success), how would you rate the Suns’ season as a whole and why?
Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley & Marotta: A resounding 10. I can’t believe that there are fans in the Valley that feel falling short of a title means this season was a failure. Maybe that’s a reaction to the emotion of the loss or the fact that the Suns were up 2-0. The Suns built on what they started in 2020 in the Orlando Bubble and EXCEEDED all expectations this season despite being bridesmaids when it’s all said and done.
John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Has to be a 10. Even without winning it all. Coming from a perennial draft lottery team to the NBA Finals. Winning 14 playoff games. The No. 2 seed in the West. Taking down the Lakers, Nuggets and Clippers in the playoffs. Re-establishing their fans’s love for this team. A 9 would leave room for improvement, but come on, this season was a 10 – one of the most memorable in Suns history
Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo: Doug & Wolf asked me a similar question when I was on with them following the Game 6 loss. The question was about how I felt about the season vs. how I felt about the series. So if the question is about the season the answer is a 10 out of 10. Nightly thrills, sensational wins, frustrating losses, high drama at the end trying to figure out who they would play in the first round and a dominating playoff run were the hallmarks of this team. On my all-time list of favorite Phoenix Suns teams, I have this crop as No. 3 behind the 1993 squad in Charles Barkley’s first year and the 2004-2005 team, the first year of the Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni mashup. People forget but that team went from 29 wins the year before to 62 in their first season. This is my third favorite team of all time behind those two.
Doug Franz, co-host of Doug & Wolf: Nine. Only beating the Bucks gets a 10, but being up 2-0 in the NBA Finals means you got as close as you can to a 10 so you deserve it. Never forget, though, this can go two ways. Every playoff loss built a championship team in Milwaukee. I’m sure after last year, the Miami Heat were saying the same thing and they got swept by the Bucks.
The Suns are only building toward a championship if they accept nothing is given and they’ve earned nothing for next year.
Ron Wolfley, co-host of Doug & Wolf: You have to give them a nine. 10 would include winning a world championship and 8 would put them into the company of more pedestrian teams. The Suns exceeded every expectation I had. They played as well as you could play and advanced as far as you could go WITHOUT winning a title. The answer is 9.
Kevin Zimmerman, editor of ArizonaSports.com and co-host of the Empire of the Suns podcast: I’ll give it a hard eight. And here’s where we can be a little grim: It’s less about blowing a 2-0 Finals lead to lose four games in a row and more about how Phoenix did so.
Some might point to Devin Booker getting a little tunnel vision, but I equate that trying to do too much to knowing he had to. Chris Paul wasn’t healthy-looking. More painfully, Deandre Ayton’s and Mikal Bridges’ strong playoff performances over the stretch of the playoffs didn’t hold up consistently enough in six Finals games. Seeing as those guys are up for contract extensions, that’s a concerning thing when it comes down to feeling good about paying each of them.
All that aside, the successes span far greater. Until the last series, it sure looked like Bridges and Ayton would be commanding a Brink’s truck’s worth of cash on their next deals. Chris Paul looked like a fringe MVP candidate, even though Booker arguably is the most important piece of the team, the superstar that had every team prior to the Bucks sending hard doubles at him to the Suns’ benefit.
The Suns have their young star, their franchise coach and a GM with a plan that played out pretty darn well and pretty damn quickly. For the first time in awhile, it’s good to be the Phoenix Suns.
Luke Lapinski, host of The Rundown with Luke Lapinski: It has to be a nine. Look, it hurts right now, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture here. This team missed the playoffs for a decade. And for a good stretch of that decade, the Suns were at the very bottom of the standings, pinning their hopes on draft lottery luck and sleepwalking through the final months of each season.
They were essentially forgotten by the rest of the league, and that’s a tough label to shake. But they’ve shaken it. Quickly and completely. This team captivated our state and brought us together at a time when we needed to be captivated and brought together, and they commanded respect from the rest of the NBA.
The best part is this isn’t temporary. If this was just a one-year flash, it would still be a memorable moment to hold on to. But the culture has changed and the foundation has been laid for future success. Instead of trying to convince ourselves a jump from 20 to 25 wins is something to get excited about, we have a legitimate title contender in the Valley now. Devin Booker has a taste for the playoffs, and we know without a doubt it’s an arena he thrives in. Deandre Ayton took so many steps over the last two months that I’ve lost count. And as a team, they now have that playoff experience – both with successes and failures – that seemed to be what pushed Milwaukee over the top in the final moments of the season.
The only reason I’m not going with a 10 is the title was right there for the taking. Even if the Suns were suddenly way ahead of schedule, watching someone else hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy when you were up 2-0 in the Finals is going to take a while to get over. Granted, that “someone else” was a two-time MVP on a mission taking his game to another level, so it’s understandable to a certain extent. But it still stings. Even within that context though, this was still one of the most successful seasons in Arizona sports history.
Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter, co-host of Empire of the Suns podcast: 10. I understand expectations change and develop throughout a season, because at one point it looked like the Suns were the favorites to win the championship, but I’m not choosing to let that affect my score. It cannot be understated how much extra development Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson went through by making it to the Finals this early in their career as a substantial part of a team’s run.
I know from a fan perspective with zero titles it’s difficult to get past the missed opportunity. With that in mind, though, this is going to benefit the team so much in the next five years and set them up for even more success down the line. In the future, that foursome could have an even better chance at a ring than this year’s team, a declaration I don’t see as possible before this playoff run. The Bucks are a tremendous team and Giannis Antetokounmpo had a top-10 Finals MVP performance. It happens.