'Get this thing rolling' — Phoenix Suns ready to return to NBA Finals and finish job

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

No matter how they look back at last season and how successful it was, the Suns can't duck the reality of how abruptly it ended in the NBA Finals.

"Let's call it what it is, we were up 2-0," Suns coach Monty Williams said. "We were in a a great place and then to lose like that, that hurts and it wasn't for a lack of trying. It wasn't for a lack of being competitive. They beat us."

The Suns appeared to have the Milwaukee Bucks on the ropes, only to drop four consecutive games in losing out on winning the franchise's first NBA title.

As heartbreaking and disappointing as that was, Phoenix enters this season with an even greater drive and focus to do everything necessary to return to the finals and finish the job.

"When you've been in the league for any period of time, when you lose, you want to get back at it and if you don't know how to control that, you can be hard to live with," Williams said. "You try to bring that energy and that determination to the gym, whether it's film study or looking at what we do in our program. Weight room, on the floor, how do you take that hurt and pain and turn it into something positive."  

Having that mindset doesn't guarantee a return trip to the finals, but the Suns have a mix of hurt and motivation going into the 2021-22 season, which begins Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center.

"We're ready to get this thing rolling, to be honest," Suns center Deandre Ayton said.

Within a year's time, the Suns have gone from being a team hadn't made the playoffs since 2010 to being a championship contender.

That alone will make the attempt to win a title even more challenging.

"It's not going to be easy getting back," Suns All-Star Devin Booker said. "Like Coach Monty says, we're not sneaking up on anybody this year. So we have to expect everybody's best." 

 Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams talks to Deandre Anton (22) while Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis (3) looks on during the first half of their game at Footprint Center Oct, 6, 2021 in Phoenix.

The Suns certainly aren't cowering away from the challenge.

With most of their core unit back from last season, including their starting five of Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder,  Ayton and Booker, Phoenix has even stronger chemistry to go with talent, depth, coaching and a winning culture.

"We've just got a lot of great pros on our team," said Paul, who signed a four-year, $120-million contract to stay with Suns after one season in Phoenix. "Guys that understand what the job entails and then the guys that we added, they fit right in." 

The Suns lost Torrey Craig to free agency as he signed with Indiana Pacers, traded away fan favorite and defensive stud Jevon Carter to Brooklyn, and no longer have veterans E'Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway.

In return they added Landry Shamet, JaVale McGee and Elfrid Payton to give the Suns necessary depth.

"It's fun basketball," Shamet said. "Play with a ton of unselfish guys. A 'we score' mentality. Empower each other, trust each other to make the right play. To be able to create and do what we do. It's fun, man. It's awesome. I'm loving it so far and excited to continue to grow." 

Oct 13, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) talks to forward Jae Crowder (99) during preseason NBA action against the Portland Trail Blazers at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

Shamet can score and facilitate. McGee is a 7-footer with three NBA titles, athleticism and knowledge of the game. Payton gives the Suns another proven point guard behind Paul and Cameron Payne.

"The talent is something that's really stuck out to me," said Payton, who is making his second run with the Suns. He played 19 games (all starts) for the franchise in the 2017-18 season. He helped the Knicks make the playoffs last season.

"I didn't realize that from last year. It was a team that I thought had a lot of talent, but being up close and seeing these guys every day. Cam can play. (Abdel Nader) can play. You just go down the line, everybody complements each other. They share the ball and everybody works. Everybody is in the gym whether it's before practice or after practice. They really want to win."

The Suns won their last three preseason games each by double figures. They led by as many as 31 points in consecutive wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and obliterated Portland, 119-74, in their preseason finale.

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker greets guard Cameron Payne (15) during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix.

Granted, it's the preseason.

The victories don't count in the standings and won't erase the hurt from losing the finals, but the Suns achieved their goals for training camp.

"We talked about high level of communication, relationship building, continuity, all that stuff and you could see it," Williams said. "Each game, we progressed on the floor, but I thought it was a great indicator how the camp had gone."

The Suns look to carry that momentum into the regular season believing they're good enough to get back to the finals and win a championship this time.

"We have to respect the fact that we are potentially a really good team, but we've got to work and maintain where we are and continue to improve," Williams said. 

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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