In his 16th season, Chris Paul took a risk in deciding that an untested young Phoenix Suns team was worth joining in his pursuit of his first NBA championship.
To the surprise of just about everyone outside the locker room, it almost worked.
Now the biggest immediate question for the Suns is, will Paul be back to try again?
“I’m not retiring, if that’s what you’re asking for,” Paul said. “It’s over. So back to work.”
The injury was fresh for the Suns on Tuesday night after the Milwaukee Bucks won their first championship in 50 years, beating Phoenix 105-98 to win the NBA Finals in six games. The Suns won the first two games of the series, before losing the next four. The franchise never won a title, losing in the finals in 1976, 1993 and 2021.
But in retrospect, it was still a remarkable season for the Suns, who were one of the worst teams in the league in recent years.
The Suns not only made the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, they also made it to the NBA Finals. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges became a formidable nucleus around Paul, who, at 36, generally performed like a man ten years younger.
Phoenix is expected to resume most of its rotation next season. One of the few question marks is Paul, who can opt out of his 2021-22 contract and become a free agent. He looked like a man who wanted to return to the Suns on Tuesday night. He brushed off a question about his future, saying “everything else will take care of itself.”
“Everyone in this locker room knows we’ve had enough, but it wasn’t enough,” said Paul. “So we have to find out. I think for me I’m looking at myself and wondering how I can improve, what more I could have done and make sure I come back next season ready to do it. again. “
But nothing is certain. The business side of the game could interfere with the Suns, who have long-term roster decisions to make. Ayton and Bridges are entering the final year of their rookie contract. Alternate playmaker Cameron Payne is a free agent.
Plus, there’s the realization that Paul will push 37 years old. The list of NBA leaders still playing at this age – let alone playing well – is very short. The championship window for Booker, Ayton and Bridges may have just opened, but there’s not much time for Paul.
The Suns know they missed a great opportunity.
“I don’t take it for granted,” Suns coach Monty Williams said, his voice broken. “It’s hard to get here and I wanted it so badly, you know. It’s hard to deal with right now. It’s hard. That’s all.”
With or without Paul, the Suns have grown a lot this summer. Booker will only be 25 next season and gain more experience playing for the United States at the Tokyo Olympics. There will also be 25 bridges. Ayton will be 23 in a few days. There is a lot of hope for the future, although the present does not necessarily look like this.
“I think we learned a lot just being there,” Booker said. “It was a lot of our first times in the playoffs, not to mention the finals. But it was a great experience for us. I think we’ve established a foundation and a base for our team, and we all have things that we can do. work and we understand that.
“So we’re going to take this hurt and bring it back to the summer and keep getting better.”