Our short three month wait was finally over on Wednesday night as the Suns opened up their Western Conference title defense by playing like it had been a short three months.
Everyone seemed to agree that it felt like the Suns previous season had just ended: the crowd was not a sell out, Devin Booker played like he still had jet lag from Tokoyo or the after effects of COVID or both and the Nuggets played like their playoff humiliation was still fresh in their mind because it was. The Suns season basically ended two weeks ago when the Phoenix summer unofficially ended.
Was that all it was? Was the only explanation necessary for the Suns sluggish performance because players barely had enough time to settle into their summer home or beach locale before being called back to action in the triple digits of a Phoenix training camp?
But there were a few helpful reminders for a Suns team still new to this whole "being good" thing.
One is the Suns success last year created a lot of great new memories locally but a lot of tough new enemies across the NBA. The Nuggets, Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, Hawks, Mavericks, Warriors and a few other teams aren't going to slap the Suns back because they rose from the NBA dead last year and nearly won the title; they're going to try to prove the Suns success was only a by product of their own failures.
Two is Devin Booker needs to bring it every night. Last year, Booker finally accomplished the previously unthinkable: he entered the chat. THE chat. The NBA chat that drives every narrative, every headline and every story. But you don't get a lifetime membership to THE chat, you can be asked to leave just as quickly as you get invited. Just ask Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Ben Simmons and others. Booker played like a role player on Wednesday night. Rarely in attack mode, he was content to float around the three point line and take (and mostly miss) open three's. The Suns needs even more from Booker than they got last year. They need more offense, more passing and more leadership.
Its hard when you accomplish something so significant to you personally as Booker did last year to then confront the reality that it wasn't enough and you are now going to be asked to sacrifice even more than what got you there in the first place. But that's what it takes.
Superstardom in the NBA isn't driven by one playoff success or a few All Star teams or social media clout - its driven by an inarguable combination of talent and consistency. Booker has the former now he has to prove the latter.
Third, the Suns realized that they still have everything they need to win. In the wake of Deandre Ayton's contractual drama, many worried about the Suns superpower chemistry that fueled last year's unbelievable run. What those who shared that concern failed to realize is that chemistry starts with one specific question: Do you like the people you are spending all of your time around? If you do, things get worked out. If you don't, things fester. The Suns clearly do; as made clear by how much time they spent together at the Summer League and WNBA Finals and again on the court Wednesday night.
There was no iso ball. There was no "I've got this" from the Suns younger players hungrier for more. There were moments of pure Suns basketball. Ayton did his thing; Mikal Bridges did his, Landry Shamet showed his value and Cam Payne found his magic. The shots simply didn't fall.
The Suns are fine. The hoop might feel smaller, the pressure greater and the scrutiny more intense but the reality is the Suns are still one of the best teams in the NBA.
That's a lesson that they will get to teach themselves over the next 81 games.