Chris Paul’s return about more than 1 window of contention for Suns

Aug 2, 2021, 5:15 PM | Updated: 8:57 pm

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) reacts after forcing a turnover and a 24-second clock violation i...

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) reacts after forcing a turnover and a 24-second clock violation in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers in the fourth quarter at the Staples Center on Sunday, May 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Game four of the NBA Western Conference first-round playoff series. Lakers lost 100-92. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Back to work, indeed.

The Phoenix Suns have reportedly agreed to a four-year deal with point guard Chris Paul to return to Phoenix, a deal that can be worth up to $120 million, per Yahoo Sports! Chris Haynes.

The return of Paul immediately cements the Suns as contenders again, and arguably the favorites in the Western Conference. Paul is coming off back-to-back Second Team-All NBA and All-Star honors, joining Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry as the undisputed three best point guards on the planet.

It’s a no-brainer in the short term.

But the other part of it is why the retention of Paul for general manager James Jones and the Suns is so important in the long term.

Phoenix is the only team in the hunt for the title that is getting better at a rapid rate, by default. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson make up four of the Suns’ six most important players, and all of them are the age of 25 or under. Every other team is primarily built around seasoned players in their prime or exiting it, and there are clear examples of significant growth for Phoenix’s young core in the past season.

Booker has learned how to be even more of a winning player, functioning as an important cog in one of the league’s best defenses. Ditto for Ayton, who took a while to adjust to a reduced role but thrived in it for the majority of the Suns’ playoff run. Bridges turned his flashes of a midrange game into a legitimate source of offense, and Johnson in his second season just played the basketball of his life in the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals.

As details emerge on the guarantees in Paul’s contract, if the Point God is even around for the back-half of his contract, they will prove even more capable of assisting him as he regresses.

The amount that those four learned from just two months of postseason basketball is invaluable, and a lot of it is because of Paul leading them there. And the hope is that when Paul kicks up his feet and calls it a career, the Suns’ young core won’t need him to guide them anymore.

After Phoenix was eliminated in Milwaukee, Jae Crowder talked about what a taste of the NBA Finals could mean to the Suns’ younger players.

“Well I think for our younger players we can definitely just — they’re tasting that feeling of this stage and playing for, what you say in training camp, is for it all, you can build off of it,” he said. “Obviously, you can use this as a stepping stone, especially for our organization to get back on the right path, our players to experience this early in their careers, it’s great for them, obviously, and I’m happy for them.

“That motivation will continue to be with them as they train, just to chase this moment again. If you channel it the right way it can be beneficial.”

That whiff will be the primary source of motivation for those four going forward. Ayton told Booker in the locker room after the Finals loss that the expectations will now be nothing less than that stage, and that they’ll hold each other accountable, now knowing what it takes.

At points through last season, Suns head coach Monty Williams saw Ayton doing work in the weight room he’d never seen his 22-year-old center do before. Most of the time, that new addition was something Paul had been doing for years.

That’s an example of the lasting impact that Paul as a leader and competitor had after just one year, so imagine what he can do for the Suns’ present and future with a few more.

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