The Phoenix Suns lost the 2021 NBA Finals to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games, ending what was an excellent season in the desert. The Suns were expected to improve after finishing undefeated in the Orlando Bubble, but not many people predicted they would be in the NBA Finals just a year later.
A big reason for the team’s rapid turnaround was the acquisition of Chris Paul. As he has done at all the stops in his career, Paul quickly helped turn around a downtrodden franchise.
After being written off by many following two seasons with the Houston Rockets, Paul had a magnificent 2019-20 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, leading what many thought to be a lottery team into the postseason. Phoenix acquired Paul in the offseason to help them get back into the postseason and he did that and more.
Paul has proven the last two seasons that he still has plenty to offer an NBA team. He had some monster games in the postseason with the Suns, including 37 and 41 point games in the closeout games of the semis and Western Conference Finals.
Locking up Paul long-term is the Suns’ No. 1 priority this offseason. He has a player option for the 2021-22 season but he expected to decline that and land a multi-year offer, presumably a three-year deal so the NBA’s over-38 rule doesn’t kick in.
However, there are numerous teams in the league that will pursue Paul, aggressively, once he is a free agent. Phoenix has to have a contingency plan in place in case he does leave town.
If that happens, here are three replacements the Phoenix Suns could target as replacements for him.
Cameron Payne has been a revelation for the Phoenix Suns. His path back to the NBA was a windy one, as he played in China and the G League before the Suns signed him to play in the Orlando Bubble.
Payne played well in the bubble, and the Suns picked up the second-year option on his deal. He played well again and really stepped up in the postseason when Chris Paul was hampered.
Heading into free agency himself, Phoenix would love to have him back as the backup point guard again, but if Paul leaves, his return would be even more important.
Payne knows the system that Phoenix wants to run, so there wouldn’t be much of a transition period should he take over as the starting point guard. He has chemistry and cohesion built up from his teammates and a lot of the key pieces of the rotation will be coming back next season.
The Murray State product had some big games when he had to fill Paul’s shoes in the postseason. If they were comfortable enough to do that in the postseason, they should be comfortable enough to hand him the reins as a starter should the need arise.