MILWAUKEE – Devin Booker can admit it.

Teams aren’t supposed to go from having six consecutive losing seasons to reaching the NBA Finals, but that’s exactly what the Phoenix Suns did in their second year under coach Monty Williams.

Most squads go through playoff heartbreak multiple times before playing for an NBA championship, but now the Suns have experienced postseason pain in the worst way.

They came so close to winning it all before watching it erode in a season-worst, four-game skid in the finals.

“Our goal was to skip a lot of steps as a team,” Booker said. “With our first time in the playoffs and making a finals run. So, I would say we skipped a few steps, but we didn’t get to the ultimate goal.”

That’s why Williams and Booker are hurting.

That’s why Chris Paul is upset and ready to get back to work.

That’s why Jae Crowder is disappointed, and Deandre Ayton is optimistic.

That’s why Suns managing partner Robert Sarver wrote a thank you letter to Suns fans.

Losing at this level brings out a variety of emotions that can be difficult to explain even for the classy Williams.

“I think it’s going to take me a minute” said an emotional Williams, who visited the Bucks locker room to congratulate the 2021 NBA champions.

“I just don’t take it for granted. It’s hard to get here and I wanted it so bad, you know. It’s hard to process right now. It’s hard. That’s all.”

Through the what ifs and disappointment may emerge a stronger, hungrier Suns team even more determined to get back to this point and finish the journey with an NBA title.

“We sort of saw what it takes to get there and hopefully we see what it takes to get past that,” Suns All-Star point guard Chris Paul said.

Before looking ahead to the offseason, let’s look back at the final game of Phoenix’s unprecedented 2020-21 season.

Player of the Tuesday’s Game 6 loss: Chris Paul

He’s not looking to retire anytime soon.

Paul has plenty left to lead the Suns back to this same spot next year.

The 36-year-old shook criticism for his Game 4 performance and questions about his right hand with the partially torn ligaments with back-to-back 20-point games as he capped his 16th NBA season with 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting.

The rest of the team wasn’t nearly as accurate going 27-of-67.

Now his legacy is in question once again after he was being praised for being the difference maker in the Suns making it all the way to the finals.

“It’s laughable when you talk about guys like Chris who have had these unreal careers and yet they get penalized because they haven’t won a title,” Williams said.

He’s also faced questions about his future with the Suns.

Paul has a player option of $44.2 million he can opt in next season or opt out and test the free agency market where some team would be willing to sign him to say a three-year, $100-million deal.

Minutes after a loss to end the season, Paul didn’t elaborate when asked about his future, but he’s confident in how this will all unfold.

“Right now we’re going to process this and figure this out,” he said. “I think everything else will take care of itself.”

Since much is always read into when it comes to Paul, he did say “we” twice when talking about the Suns’ future.

‘Not 51, not 49’

Paul may return to the Suns and they may experience playoff heartbreak again next year – and the year after that.

That’s what the Milwaukee Bucks endured before winning it all this season.

That’s why Giannis Antetokounmpo took the NBA championship trophy and finals MVP trophy to a Chick-fil-A drive thru and chanted “Bucks in 6” with fans.

He can now order a 50-piece Chick-n-Minis to match the the playoff career-high 50 points he scored in the Game 6 clincher.

“Not 51, not 49,” Antetokounmpo said.

That’s why 65,000-plus people were in sheer pandemonium cheering them to victory in the Deer District.

That’s why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson are somewhere smiling as they were on the last Bucks team that won an NBA title 50 years ago in 1971.

That’s why Bobby Portis can have fans chanting “Bob-bee, Bob-bee” even though he’s a reserve.

‘They wanted to die’

The Bucks went through the playoff fire with their fans and they can all celebrate winning the franchise’s second NBA title as one.

“To be able to do it and win it and be able to call ourselves world champions in front of our home fans, however many, 17,000, 18,000 in the arena,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “Whoever knows how many were outside the arena, I saw people climbing up on poles and everything.”

The Suns can have the same scene in downtown Phoenix.

As Booker said, the foundation has been set.

As Crowder said, the Suns are back on the right path.

As Sarver wrote, it’s time for the Suns to get back to work.

As Ayton said, the Bucks showed them they must lay it all on the line to win it all.

“They wanted to die on that court, and that’s what I felt,” Ayton said. “That’s what it takes. Everybody got to give it their all when it comes to this, especially when it’s last game.”

After this season, the Suns, through the hurt, should also believe their time will come.

It may be sooner than later. They already skipped steps to reach the finals.

The Suns might as well do it again next season and win it all.

“Their players, amazing players led by Devin Booker, Chris Paul,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Their whole roster. Amazing coach, Monty Williams. The entire organization. So much respect for them as competitors.”

Next steps

What can the Suns do this summer to improve their chances of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next summer?

First, address the Paul situation.

The Suns can find another point guard who can average 16.4 points and come close to the 8.9 assists, but not all the leadership and intangibles. They can build even more off what Paul brings to the table in a second season together with him.

Unleashing Deandre Ayton’s offensive arsenal is high on the list, too.

His foundation is set. Rebound. Defend. Score in the paint.

It’s time to expand that within the team concept, but he also must realize there’s another level in him.

As Booker once said about Ayton, “you’re 30 and 20.”

That’s 30 points and 20 rebounds. That’s not going to happen next season, but 22 and 12 will do.

Next, find an athletic backup big and point guard.

The Suns may already have it in rookie Jalen Smith and Cameron Payne, but Payne is now an unrestricted free agent. Teams are going to want his services at the one.

They missed Dario Saric after he suffered a torn right ACL in Game 1 of the finals. Playing small ball works until the opponent can do the same, but with bigger players like the Bucks did.

The Suns must address those areas to help improve their chances to be the last team standing in 2022.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at [email protected] or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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