Dan Majerle sees difference in roster breakup of Suns’ 2021, 1993 Finals teams

Jul 24, 2023, 9:50 AM | Updated: 10:40 am

Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker, Suns...

Deandre Ayton #22 and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns cheer from the bench during the second half of Game Five of the Western Conference Second Round NBA Playoffs at Footprint Center on May 10, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Mavericks 110-80. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Being close to winning an NBA title historically doesn’t lend to more patience.

When the Phoenix Suns fell in a six-game series to the Chicago Bulls in 1992-93, two consecutive losses to the eventual NBA champions the next two seasons coincided with a roster overhaul.

By the 1995-96 season, the Suns still rostered Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, but the role pieces had been completely turned over. Barkley would be off to the Houston Rockets by 1996.

“It was really hard because we were two wins away,” former Suns guard Dan Majerle told Arizona Sports Bickley & Marotta on Monday. “And the next two years we lost to the eventual champions, the Houston Rockets, in seven games.

“I just believe we were so close, our window was still open and they decided to start making changes. Danny Ainge retired, they moved me (in 1995 to the Cleveland Cavaliers) and things were never the same.”

Along with the team’s three best players on that 1993 Finals team in Barkley, Johnson and Majerle, Phoenix saw turnover by losing promising rookie Richard Dumas as he struggled with substance abuse issues. In average minutes per game, Dumas, Ainge (retirement) and Chambers (free agency) were lost from the regular rotation in the two seasons that followed.

It’s similar to the changes for the 2021 Finals team in Phoenix, which three years down the road at present only returns Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton from that club.

The 2021 Suns were similarly two wins away from winning the title over the Milwaukee Bucks and followed that series loss with consecutive playoff defeats against the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets. Those came in the Western Conference Semifinals, like the 1994 and 1995 Phoenix losses to the Rockets.

Of course, the core of the Suns’ more recent Finals squad has mostly been gutted by trades to acquire Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, shipping out Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jae Crowder, among others.

“Just shows you how hard it is to win a championship,” Majerle said. “You can be so close and things have to bounce your way … the Suns are in the same position. The difference from what happened in 92-93 and those two and three years after is (now) I actually think the Suns have made themselves a better team. They’ve added a generational player in KD, and Booker is a rising superstar. Back when we were playing, Charles was aging, Danny retired, I was moving on.”

Things are relatively looking up, especially with Booker’s continued improvement.

But if there’s one question about the 2023-24 team, Majerle knows that pressure remains on Ayton to take the next step.

“For me, when you pay a guy over $100 million, you know, it’s on you. It really is,” Majerle said. “The guy is a grown man … if he wants to change the perception of what he is, that’s what he’s got to do. For him, all he’s got to do is play with a great motor … rebound the basketball, set great picks, roll, finish, play defense and all those things, and if you win those things are going to come.

“All the accolades are going to come your way. He’s out of excuses, he’s got to bucket down and not worry about what everybody thinks about him.”

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