EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Here’s how Suns fans can balance Phoenix’s massive expectations with reality

Jul 2, 2024, 10:55 AM | Updated: 9:50 pm

Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Devin Booker...

Kevin Durant #35, Bradley Beal #3 and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns watch from the bench during the second half of the NBA game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Footprint Center on November 15, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Timberwolves 133-115.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The 2024-25 Phoenix Suns will cast a shadow larger than their stature.

Expectations from their front office and owner remain focused on titles. Realistically, that optimism appears bloated.

As a Suns fan, I bet that will cause some conflict. Do you drink the Kool-Aid and believe? Do you protect yourself from being disappointed?

Stick with me and I’ll try to explain how you can consume this complicated team with some optimism and a lot of curiosity while protecting your heart from being broken.

First, let’s set ourselves in reality and let’s take a run through the oddsmakers view prior to the start of the offseason and combine that with a brief explanation of how each of those teams attacked the offseason:

The Boston Celtics (+300) can run it back after winning the championship, and the Denver Nuggets (+800) have a pretty good foursome even if they have lost Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Philadelphia 76ers (+850) have won free agency in a landslide by signing Paul George among other additions while retaining Tyrese Maxey.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (+850) only got better in adding Isaiah Hartenstein, the New York Knicks (+950) killed the draft and traded for Mikal Bridges to add to their core, while the Minnesota Timberwolves (+950) held steady and added two potential instant-impact rookies.

The Dallas Mavericks (+1000) found a winning formula and will add Klay Thompson — even though they lost Derrick Jones Jr. and Josh Green. The Milwaukee Bucks (+1500) still have two really good stars. And the Los Angeles Lakers (+3000) … will be fun to watch for the father-son duo at least.

We’re finally at the Phoenix Suns (+3500), who are knotted with the slowly disintegrating dynasty of the Golden State Warriors at 10th in championship odds. Again, those were the odds before the offseason. And arguably, the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers are ahead or not far behind them.

We’re a few surprise teams away from the Suns being in a spot that in this sport is in some ways worse than bad: mid.

The big moves in the offseason may or may not be done, but what’s clear is the Suns aren’t among the first five or possibly not even the first 10 teams you’d list as a title contender.

Still, the roster at this moment looks mildly improved.

Phoenix added reliability and smart basketball players with draft picks Ryan Dunn and Oso Ighodaro. Ditto with signing Mason Plumlee to back up Jusuf Nurkic. The Suns lost scoring juice with Eric Gordon leaving for the 76ers and are expected to bring back Royce O’Neale and Bol Bol, maybe Josh Okogie and Damion Lee, too.

Let’s say they add a proven former starting point guard — Editor’s note: They signed Monte Morris after publication — to fill a hole and add a little shooting oomph. How much better does it make them? A bit.

So how should we evaluate, criticize and talk about these Suns, who made a head-coaching change after they won 49 games last year? Again, it was quite a few wins considering the apparent dysfunction.

The quick answer that most fans probably agree with: Take the Suns front office leaders for their word.

If they misjudged the talent of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal working together, that is a complex failure they whiffed on.

Consuming the Suns in the 2024-25 season is pretty clear-cut, even if last year’s consumption made basketball watchers nauseous.

If two head coaches with championship rings cannot develop chemistry on the court or an edge of competitiveness off of it, then it is a massive failure by the players themselves.

But therein lies why this season will be fascinating. Here’s where I sell you why this year as a Suns fan can be a good one if you rewire your mind.

It will bring excitement or bring truth.

That Durant and Booker are misunderstood — or the Suns are lacking in leadership.

That the problem was Vogel — or Budenholzer finds the same troubles inciting competitiveness or building cohesion with this group of basketball players.

That an NBA team needs to have the right players to make up for a lack of a true floor general, which is harder to find than most fans believe — or the point guard position matters still.

If the Suns end up answering with the second choice of those last three sentences, then it will provide you proof that this was all a giant mistake. The first two years of Mat Ishbia’s ownership will be viewed as a series of look-at-me moves by a new owner willing to spend. His bank account will reflect that a college walk-on and savvy business leader is not immune from thinking he gets NBA team-building by being around winners all his life.

Sometimes, losing can teach you the most valuable lessons. The Suns might be about to find that out.

Or if all goes well, Phoenix runs it back with tanked expectations that provide bulletin board material for the players, turning 2024-25 into a revenge tour thanks to an elite offensive team that last year’s squad didn’t hold a candle to. There’s your optimistic outlook, which to be honest, seems like a pretty fun watch.

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