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Outlook in Phoenix still sunny with Chris Paul returning to Suns

Suns star Chris Paul

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 16: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns during practice and media availability as part of the 2021 NBA Finals on July 16, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Chris Paul elevated the Suns from a borderline playoff qualifier to a team two wins from a championship. He reinvigorated Phoenix and, breaking its decade-long postseason drought with a trip to the NBA Finals, transformed the franchise’s reputation within the NBA.

What if he demanded a max contract: four years, $194,551,861, fully guaranteed?

How could the Suns say no? How could they break all their positive momentum? How could they sell the decision to fans and other players wary of thriftiness?

Thankfully for Phoenix, making that choice was unnecessary. The Suns re-signed Paul for a bargain $120 million over four years with just $75 million guaranteed.

That’s still expensive for a 36-year-old who, just a couple years ago, appeared to be declining. Players his age can’t be counted on to maintain their productivity.

But losing Paul would have been catastrophic. It’s worth paying him for the chance of staying in title contention. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are probably ready to lead a winner and might soon be capable of even more. But Paul puts this group over the top right now.

Beyond the ultra-important Paul re-signing, Phoenix tinkered with the backend of its rotation.

The Suns re-signed Cameron Payne for just three years, $19 million ($14.5 million guaranteed). I’m surprised he came so cheap. Though he received the most attention for stepping up with Paul sidelined in the playoffs, the 27-year-old has been thriving since the bubble. That’s a large enough sample to erase plenty of doubt that emerged from his early-career struggles.

Payne will have a new backup-backcourt running mate in Landry Shamet, acquired from the Nets for Jevon Carter and the No. 29 pick. A 3-point-shooting specialist, Shamet should be an upgrade over E’Twaun Moore (Magic) and Langston Galloway (unsigned).

Phoenix used its mid-level exception on JaVale McGee (one year, $5 million). If he can still play, McGee fits as a backup center – the primary option while Dario Saric is sidelined then as a bigger alternative if Saric returns. But it’s concerning the 33-year-old McGee didn’t crack the Nuggets playoff rotation last season.

Frank Kaminsky (re-signed on a one-year minimum) also factors into the backup-center rotation. Abdel Nader (re-signed for two years, $4.16 million) brings versatility to the wing. Elfrid Payton (signed on a one-year minimum) is appropriately cast as third point guard after spending last season as the Knicks’ starter.

Everything is falling into place for the Suns to have nice depth.

Because they got the top of the roster right by re-signing Paul.

Coming off a Western Conference crown, Phoenix didn’t need major upgrades. The Suns’ young core should continue to improve. They just needed to keep Paul, and they did.

Offseason grade: B-