For those of you who were still awake when the Los Angeles Lakers sandcastle of a 2021-22 season finally washed away, we had a good time didn’t we? The jokes have been piling up all season with this new roster that improved on none of their weaknesses from last season and also had none of their strengths. Their implosion has been a delight for fans from the Bay Area to Miami, but that goes towards a problem the NBA has with the fans who consume their product. Many NBA fans are more concerned with creating Laker memes than focusing on the excellent basketball that has been played this season.
A perfect example is last night. While we all got our seven chuckles in, by eliminating the Lakers from postseason contention, the Phoenix Suns are assured to finish this season with the best record in franchise history. The best record that Charles Barkley and Steve Nash ever led their respective — and far more fun to watch — teams to was 62-20, and the Suns only won 42 games when they lost to the Boston Celtics in the 1976 NBA Finals. With three games remaining in this season, the Suns have 63 wins.
They might finish with 65 wins, in a quick turnaround season after losing the NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks on July 20 and starting the 2021-22 season exactly three months later. Instead of picking their spots to stay in position for the playoffs to start, they opted for the 2009 Manny Pacquiao approach, attacking until the bell rings. They punched, and punched, and in the process knocked out the entire NBA. And it’s not as if the Suns did all of this winning because the organization is solid from the top down, it’s actually quite the opposite.
This season started with an unhappy Deandre Ayton. He did not receive the max contract extension that he believed that he deserved. On one hand, he has every right to be displeased. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Many of his classmates have received extensions, and that includes Mikal Bridges of the Suns. Maybe a max contract isn’t in the cards for a traditional center who doesn’t average 20 points per game, but let’s be clear, they do not advance to the finals without him in 2021.
Yes he’s a consistent double double, but more importantly, when he was drafted in 2018 he was considered a defensive liability. In last season’s playoffs he was a defensive anchor. He held MVP Nikola Jokić well below his averages in points, assists, and shooting percentages. After not making the playoffs for 10 years, the Suns knocked off a Denver Nuggets team that advanced to the Western Conference Finals the season prior. Ayton had every reason to pout this season, and he has only played in 57 games this season due to injury and COVID, but he is still putting up career highs in points (17.6) and field goal percentage (63.6).
Speaking of issues in the Suns front office, team owner Robert Sarver is under investigation by the NBA for racism and presiding over a generally toxic workplace. A report was released by ESPN in November that detailed accusations, both on the record and off. Through representation Sarver denied all of the allegations except for pantsing a male employee. The most recent news is that the investigation is progressing and a group of civil rights advocates, including Rev. Al Sharpton, are not happy with how long it is taking. Do not forget how much the Donald Sterling controversy weighed on the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2014 playoffs as they collapsed in the second round in a year they were a championship contender.
The Suns have persevered through all of this controversy, and also injuries to Ayton, Chris Paul, Cameron Payne, and recently Cam Johnson. They lost three of their first four games and then went on an 18-game winning streak that set the tone for the rest of the season. They did not lose consecutive games until last week, and in one of those games they rested Ayton, Jae Crowder, and Devin Booker.
Speaking of Booker, the mid-range maniac from Michigan — I know he’s good from three as well but also shoots a lot of 17 footers and I’m not mad at him for it. He’s well on his way to being named to an All-NBA team for the first time in his career, and deserves it for the way he led the offense when the Suns’ point guard situation was in tatters due to injury.
A special shoutout to iron man Mikal Bridges, playing all 79 games so far this season, and well on his way to playing in every single game for his entire NBA career. He does everything for the Suns, and should get all the gifts from Booker and Paul that quarterbacks give their offensive linemen.
And of course, Monty Williams. The coach with probably the highest Q-score in the NBA. He’s so respected that Giannis Antetokounmpo actually invited him into the locker room to speak to the Bucks after defeating the Suns for a championship. Don’t play around voters, give this man the coach of the year trophy.
The Suns have the deepest team in the playoffs that has gotten healthy at the right time. They’re not the most exciting team to watch in the league — I saw them beat the Miami Heat and the thought of that as an NBA Final matchup might make me want to hurl a basketball and my laptop through my television — but they are truly excellent. So enjoy the Lakers’ One Shining Moment social media videos and their Gone Fishin’ video on Thursday night, but take some time to tip your cap to the best team in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns.