Bordow: Four Burning Questions — and Answers — As Suns Head Into Offseason

It’s hard to think of what’s next when the pain of what just happened still is so raw.

But here we are with the Phoenix Suns. Their season is over, thanks to an epic collapse against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Forget about a delicious match-up against the Golden State Warriors. Forget about a return trip to the NBA Finals.

There’s only regret now. And questions.

What to do about Chris Paul? Should Phoenix give Deandre Ayton a max contract? What improvements need to be made to the roster? Can Devin Booker be the centerpiece of a championship team? 

You want answers? We’ve got them.

Chris Paul

First things first. Paul isn’t going anywhere. He just finished the first year of a four-year $120 million contract. For better or worse, he’s going to be the Suns’ starting point guard.

But it’s clear that Phoenix can’t count on Paul being healthy come May and June. He’s 37 years old and his body can’t handle the wear and tear of a long season.

That’s why it’s incumbent on coach Monty Williams to put a games and minutes restriction on Paul next season. Paul should be limited to 55 games and no more than 32 minutes a game. If that means the Suns drop a seed or two in the Western Conference, so be it. It’s more important Paul is as healthy as possible come the postseason.

That said, Phoenix needs to protect itself if — or should that be when? — Paul gets hurt again. The Suns have to hit the market for a proven point guard, and if you think Cam Payne is that guy, well, he shot just 30 percent in the postseason, 16.7 percent from 3-point range and was so ineffective he was removed from the rotation the last three games of the Mavericks series.

Phoenix can’t go into next season hoping Payne’s game will evolve. It needs certainty at the position.

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Deandre Ayton

The Ayton situation is tricky. 

He’s a former No. 1 pick who averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game this season while proving to be the rare center who can effectively defend in pick-and-roll coverage. If the Suns let him walk as a restricted free agent, who plays center?

And from a perception standpoint, imagine the backlash if the Suns let Ayton go for nothing when they could have drafted Luka Doncic with the first overall pick in 2018.

Perhaps Phoenix could find a relatively inexpensive pick-and-pop big man in free agency or via a sign-and-trade involving Ayton, but ask yourself this: Are the Suns a better team with or without Ayton?

On the other hand, should Phoenix reward Ayton with a max contract if they’re not going to feature him in the offense? Ayton had just one field goal attempt in the first quarter of Game 7 against Dallas and then, of course, had words with Williams on the bench, resulting in him playing just 17 minutes.

If Ayton is going to be the third or fourth option offensively, it might make sense for Phoenix to let him go rather than pay him a four-year contract worth $173 million.

If I was sitting in general manager James Jones’ office,  I’d show Ayton the money. Yes, he’s immature. Yes, he sometimes loafs through games. But he’s just 23 years old and already one of the best centers in the game. Sign him, and then make sure he’s more involved in the offensive scheme. You know, like actually throwing him the ball in the post.

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Roster needs

In addition to a new backup point guard, the Suns have to find one, if not two, consistent 3-point threats. Phoenix was able to win 64 games in the regular season because teams don’t make major defensive adjustments when they’re playing the Lakers one night and the Suns the next.

But Dallas made those adjustments in the series, blitzing Booker with extra defenders because they weren’t worried Paul, Jae Crowder or Mikal Bridges could significantly hurt them from 3-point range.

The Suns ranked 20th in the league in 3-pointers during the regular season, and in the playoff series against the Mavericks they made 76 3-pointers to Dallas’ 109.

Whether the help comes from a backup point guard or a wing, Phoenix needs players who can space the floor, especially when you consider the fact Paul attempted just 3.1 3-pointers per game.

Phoenix can also address this internally by starting Cam Johnson over Crowder. Johnson shot 42.5 percent from beyond the arc this season, Crowder 34.8 percent.

Just how good is Devin Booker?

Booker had a superb regular season but that all went out the window when he went 3 for 14 from the field in Game 7. That’s led to questions about whether Booker truly can be the No. 1 player on a championship team.

Let’s not forget, though, that Booker is still just 25 years old, has improved every year he’s been in the league and so worried the Mavericks that their entire defense was built around stopping him.

Booker isn’t the issue. Once the Suns surround him with shooters, as the Mavericks did with Doncic, he’ll be able to elevate his game. Will he be a top-five player in the league? Maybe not. Will he be good enough to lead a team to a title?

I’m sure of that.

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