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Richard Jefferson: ‘The Suns’ best team won’t be this season. It will be next season.’

ESPN NBA analyst Richard Jefferson was on NBA Today talking about the Phoenix Suns and if they should be the favorites in the western conference.

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“I don’t think it’s their year,” said Jefferson, “Great teams can take a full year to meld and they are much better in their second year.”

The former New Jersey Net went on to give examples of great teams that won in their second year together. He used the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers, 2010-11 Miami Heat, 2007-08 Los Angeles Lakers, and the 2004-05 Miami Heat as his examples.

2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers

This was Lebron James’ first year back with the Cavaliers after he spent four years in Miami. Cleveland finished the regular season with a record of 53-29 which was good enough for the second seed in the eastern conference playoffs.

In the playoffs, they swept the Boston Celtics. In the second round they beat the Chicago Bulls in six games. The conference finals were one sided as they swept the 60-win Atlanta Hawks.

The third best player on the team, Kevin Love, separated his shoulder against the Celtics and missed the rest of the playoffs. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland’s second best player, hurt his knee in the first game of the NBA finals and couldn’t come back. The Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals in six games.

The key injuries that happened to Cleveland have to be mentioned. There is no guarantee that they win with a healthy Irving and Love but their chances are much better.

2010-11 Miami Heat

This was LeBron James’ first year with the Miami Heat, he joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. This was the most hyped “big 3” ever until Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Going into that year it was expected that the Heat would walk into a championship.

The season got off to a rocky start as the Heat were 9-8 after 17 games. There were rumors of the players asking for head coach Erik Spoelstra to be fired. There was a video of James going to the bench where he appeared to purposely bump Spoelstra. This video was talked about non-stop on the big sports networks.

After the rocky start they were able to get the train back on the tracks and finish the regular season with a record of 58-24. This was good enough for the second best record in the eastern conference.

In the playoffs, the Heat won all three of their eastern conference series in five games. It looked like they were destined to be the champions. In the finals the Dallas Mavericks shocked the world beating Miami in six games.

LeBron James had the worse playoff series of his career. The moment seemed to be big for him as he averaged 17.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game. This would be an amazing stat line for any player not on the imaginary Mount Rushmore of NBA players. James is on that mountain but did not perform like it in that series.

The Mavericks deserve all of the credit for outplaying and out coaching the Miami Heat. While giving credit to Dallas, the fact that LeBron James shrunk in the moment also has to be acknowledged as well.

2007-08 Los Angeles Lakers

This was the first year that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol played together. They seemed to gel right away. The Lakers finished the regular season with a record of 57-25. Which landed them the one seed in the western conference playoffs.

The Lakers walked through the western conference playoffs. They only lost a total of three games in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

In the NBA Finals, the Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in six games. The only issue with this example is that the Lakers lost to a first year “super team”. This was the first year that Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett played together for the Celtics.

The Suns can use the 2007-08 Celtics as an example of what can happen in the first year a “big 3” is together.

2004-05 Miami Heat

This was the first year that Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade played together. The team played very well during the regular season. The Heat finished the season with a record of 59-23. This was good enough for the first seed in the eastern conference playoffs.

Miami walked through the first two rounds of the playoffs sweeping the New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards. In the conference finals the Heat lost a classic seven game series to one of the greatest defensive teams of all-time. The Detroit Pistons were the defending NBA champions who were very close to going back to back.

Does Richard Jefferson have a point?

The common denominator between all of these teams is that they went on to win the championship the year after Jefferson named. Winning a NBA championship is very hard to do without having great chemistry. It can take years to build championship quality chemistry.

There are exceptions to this rule like the 2007-08 Boston Celtics, 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers, or 2016-17 Golden State Warriors. Those teams added very big pieces that changed the make-up of their team but went on to win the championship in their first year together.

The 2023-24 Phoenix Suns could be the next exception to the rule. They have an exceptional amount of talent that is surrounded by veteran role players. Suns’ head coach Frank Vogel has been around for a long time and has championship experience. It may not take long at all for a team like this build chemistry.

If the Suns are healthy they may be the most talented team in the league with one of the best head coaches. A team with that combination always has a great chance to win a championship.

 

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