With the 2020-21 NBA season coming to an end, one should reflect on the Phoenix Suns. The Suns had about as perfect a season as they could’ve, even though they fell short of the NBA Championship. Following a 51-21 regular season (the second-best record in the league), the Suns were able to get past some of the strongest competition in the Western Conference. They were able to eliminate the 2020 Champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round in six games. In the second round, the Suns were able to sweep the Denver Nuggets who had the 2020-21 NBA MVP in Nikola Jokić, but missing star guard Jamal Murray. In the Western Conference Finals, the team took out a Kawhi-less Los Angeles Clippers in six games. While the team was able to find unexpected success this season, the key to the Suns’ success started years before.
Following their last NBA Playoffs appearance in 2010, the Suns struggled for years. Being a small-market team, they had been unable to convince a superstar to join the organization. In the 2015 NBA Draft, the Suns were able to draft Devin Booker with the 13th overall pick. The team would continue to struggle but would have the first overall pick in the 2018 Draft. The organization would select Deandre Ayton. Although the team continued to struggle, they would start to see success in the shortened 2019-2020 season. Led by new head coach Monty Williams, the Suns would see their first 30-win season since the 2014-15 season. In the bubble, the Suns would go 8-0, but fail to make the playoffs. In the offseason, the Suns were able to make a deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder that would give the team Chris Paul, a superstar guard that previously played under head coach Monty Williams. Following a tremendous season, the Suns found themselves in the NBA finals. With the league constantly changing, it is possible that another team could follow a blueprint similar to the Phoenix Suns.
Let’s take a look at some of those teams that have that possibility.
While last year may have felt like a decade ago, some may have forgotten that the Miami Heat were in the 2020 NBA Finals and took the Los Angeles Lakers to six games. Miami has a superstar in Jimmy Butler and a promising star in Bam Adebayo. This offseason, it is expected that Victor Oladipo will no longer be a part of the team as he seeks a bigger contract. While the team has several important role players going into free agency and still signed, the team will have some cap space. One superstar that could be available for the Miami Heat (and several other teams) is Bradley Beal. Beal had a tremendous season, finishing second overall in scoring, but unfortunately was eliminated along with the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs. With fellow Wizards guard Russell Westbrook potentially being a trade target for several teams, the Wizards may be heading towards a rebuild. To acquire Beal in a trade, the Heat would most likely need to move an important piece like Tyler Herro that a team could build around. Another option for the Heat would be Kyle Lowry. Many thought Lowry would be moved during the season, but that did not happen. Lowry would not only provide scoring for the Heat but provide defense against some of the league’s best guards. While the Heat would face Eastern Conference competition such as the 2021 Champion Milwaukee Bucks and the Brooklyn Nets, it is possible that they could avoid one or potentially both teams in the playoffs (depending on how the playoffs went).
The Philadelphia 76ers finished as the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The team eliminated the Washington Wizards in five games but lost to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games. One factor that played a role in the 76ers elimination was Ben Simmons, who struggled throughout the series. After his postseason performance, Simmons has been the subject of many trade rumors, and it is likely that he played his last game in Philadelphia. In addition to Simmons, there are several players and free agents that may not be with the team next season. Dwight Howard and Danny Green are just two of the players. With the Sixers ultimately wanting a superstar back for Simmons, there is one superstar in specific that would fit well with the team: Damian Lillard. For his entire league tenure, Lillard has been playing for a Portland Trailblazers team stuck in the middle tier of the Western Conference. While they made it to the Western Conference Finals in the 2018-19 season, they have not had much success with a similar team they’ve brought back for several years. With drama and stress coming from the signing of new head coach Chauncey Billups, along with years of postseason eliminations, it is possible that Dame may want to look for a change of scenery. Swapping Simmons and Lillard would address issues for both teams. Portland would see more defense with Simmons while also avoiding a total rebuild. The 76ers would not only find more offense and scoring but the scoring loads of Lillard and Joel Embiid would be eased tremendously. This trade would keep the Sixers towards the top of the Eastern Conference as well as Championship contenders.
With the Dallas Mavericks, Luka Dončić is the key. Luka is already seen as s superstar after his third year in the league. He is easily a future MVP and one of the most exciting players to watch in the league. If Luka had consistent help in the first round, it is possible the Mavericks could’ve made it past the Clippers. While he dominated in the postseason, Kristaps Porzingis was inconsistent. The Mavericks also have to worry about Tim Hardaway Jr. being a free agent this offseason. For the Mavs to be contenders, they need to add another superstar. It is possible that Porzingis would be moved as a part of a potential trade to find another superstar to pair with Dončić. One superstar that has been in trade rumors for Dallas during the season is Bradley Beal. Similar to Miami’s situation, the team needs more scoring. A backcourt of Dončić and Beal would be tough competition in the Western Conference and ease the scoring load Luka has faced. Another option that could help the Mavs would be DeMar DeRozan. The veteran guard is a reliable scorer that would not only be able to take some stress off Luka but be able to distribute the ball to other shooters as well.
The Atlanta Hawks had a season that not many expected them to have. The Hawks started the season 14-20, which led to head coach Lloyd Pierce being fired in March. Nate McMillan took over as interim coach leading the team to a 27-11 record for the rest of the season (finishing as the 5th seed) and then to the Eastern Conference Finals. On the court, the team was led by Trae Young, who was the key to taking out the New York Knicks and surprising the 76ers. With free agency looming, there are several players that could be staying or leaving Atlanta. The biggest free agent is John Collins, who, at a time, was looking to leave Atlanta. It is very likely that Collins will be leaning towards a max contract. It is also likely that he may not get that, but Atlanta would lose an important piece if Collins signs somewhere else. Lou Williams is another free agent that may not be with the team next season. An important key off the bench, Williams would be an important piece to any team he signed with. While the Hawks may not have the cap room (depending on how free agency goes), there are still some players that could help the Hawks. In addition to John Collin’s free agency, the team has trouble when it comes to a backup guard. With Lou Williams potentially leaving in the offseason, the Hawks could use another veteran guard to back up Young. A guard like Derrick Rose would provide reliable offense off the bench, and could even be paired with Young on the court.
During the 2020-2021 NBA Season, there were spells of the Chicago Bulls looking like they would make the playoffs. At the same time, there were plenty of times the Bulls looked like one of the worst teams in the league. Countless times during the season, the Bulls fell apart in the fourth quarter, losing many games they led after three quarters. The Bulls have a young star in Zach Lavine and added an All-Star in Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline. The team had the potential to make the play-in tournament, but with health and safety protocols keeping Lavine out for two weeks, as well as fourth-quarter breakdowns, the Bulls failed to make the play-in. This offseason, the Bulls could have over $30 million in cap space with players such as Denzel Valentine, Lauri Markkanen, and Thaddeus Young all being gone. A dream for the organization would be to lure a superstar point guard such as Chris Paul, hoping the pair would have the same success as the Suns this season. Paul is more than likely to resign with the Suns, hoping to find the same success as this season. The Bulls could pursue a superstar guard such as Kyle Lowry who could provide scoring and defense while bringing a championship pedigree to the team. Chicago has also been rumored to be targeting Lonzo Ball, as well as potentially bringing back Derrick Rose. Similar to all potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference, Chicago would want to avoid Brooklyn or Milwaukee, but anything is possible in the NBA playoffs.