The Phoenix Suns won’t win the NBA Championship because…
First, let me say that I really, REALLY hope that they do. I’ve been a Suns fan ever since I came to Arizona to play college basketball in the mid-1970s. The Suns, featuring Paul Westphal, actually made the NBA Finals my first year here. That series had one of the craziest NBA playoff games ever, but it would take half of this column space to explain what happened. Just Google “Gar Heard Shot” to get the story.
I so wanted the Suns to win back in the ’90s with Charles Barkley, but they lost to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in a bizarre series where both teams had losing records on their respective home court during the series. Then, after Jordan retired for the first time, the Suns lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Houston Rockets in back-to-back years, with the Rockets going on to win the NBA title both years. In 1994, the Suns led two games to none, but lost in seven. Even worse, the next year, the Suns led three games to one (!) but again lost in seven, a 115-114 soul-crusher…in Phoenix!
We all wanted the Steve Nash teams to win one, but the NBA Commissioner had other ideas, so he applied suspensions unevenly, allowing the San Antonio Sterns to advance. And last year, we were all rooting for the upstart Suns, but we weren’t all that bummed out when good-guy Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to the title.
This could be the year. The Suns have led the NBA all season and they clinched the top spot in the league a couple weeks ago. They play great, solid basketball, flashy enough for the casual fan, but smart enough to get the hard-core hoops people drooling. I love the way this teams plays. They are led by Devin Booker, who should be the league’s MVP, although that award will almost certainly go to one of the guys who are a foot taller than the Suns guard—Nikola Jokic, the aforementioned Giannis, or Joel Embiid.
While I’m wishin’ and hopin’, the odds are against the Suns. (Obviously, the odds are against all of the teams, but somewhat less so against the Suns.) Every team has flaws and drawbacks. Let’s look at them.
As I said, the Phoenix Suns won’t win the NBA championship because:
• They never have. That means something in sports; it always has. Even last year’s champions, the Milwaukee Bucks, had won a championship before, even though it was back in the 1970s.
• The team that finishes with the best regular-season record in the NBA goes on to win the championship less than half the time. In the 75 years of the NBA, 82 teams have finished with the league’s best records (there have been a few ties). Of those 82, only 36 went on the win the playoffs. That’s a not-too-encouraging 44%.
• Weird stuff happens. While people remember the Suns being in the Finals last year, many forget that they trailed the Lakers, two games to one, before Anthony Davis got hurt, then struggled to get past the Clippers, even though All-Star Kawhi Leonard got hurt.
The Los Angeles Lakers won’t win the NBA Championship because…they didn’t make the playoffs! That’s just two seasons after they won it all.
I am amazed at how NBA general managers, who get paid six-or seven-figure salaries, are unable to distinguish between great players and winners. Carmelo Anthony was a great player; Tim Duncan was a winner. Allen Iverson was a great player; Dwyane Wade was a winner.
Russell Westbrook is a great player, but he is not a winner. When the Lakers signed him before this season, it was a monstrous Uh-oh! moment and it turned out to be even worse than anyone could imagine.
The Milwaukee Bucks won’t win the NBA Championship because…they won it last year. By no means is it impossible to repeat as champions (both Miami and Golden State have won back-to-back titles in the past decade), but a champion is more likely not to repeat than two win it twice in a row.
The Philadelphia 76ers won’t win the NBA Championship because…they’ll have trouble getting past the first round. James Harden, for who the 76ers gave up way too much to acquire, is playing like a bad version of himself. Perhaps more importantly, the 76ers will probably face the Toronto Raptors in the first round and unvaccinated players (of which the 76ers have at least one) will not be allowed into Canada.
Finally, the Brooklyn Nets won’t win the NBA Championship because… the Gods of Basketball won’t let it happen. The mayor of New York might have sold out his city just to let Kyrie Irving play in Brooklyn but the Gods have higher standards.