By the end of the 2019-20 season, the Phoenix Suns were an ascending, but middling NBA team. They showed plenty of promise while sweeping their eight games in the bubble, yet finished the year 34-39 with no obvious path towards becoming contenders in a crowded Western Conference.
They hadn't even made the playoffs as a franchise since 2010 - when they had Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire - and needed to make the leap from good to very good or great. That can be difficult in the NBA when free agency is unlikely to make a major difference and the draft can take years before it shows its impact.
So, general manager James Jones took a risk. He traded a first round pick and a collection of players for point guard Chris Paul. Though the move has worked out tremendously in hindsight, they traded for a 35-year-old point guard due to make $86 million over the next two years. It was very much a risk.
They then used their mid-level exception to sign forward Jae Crowder to a three-year contract worth $29 million. That move has also been a success so far.
Now, with the help of those decisions and a collection of young players improving, the Suns are the first team to advance into this year's conference finals. For a comparison, that means they are further than the Wizards have been since 1979.
The Wizards, though, would like to follow a similar path and because of that may be able to view what Phoenix has accomplished as an example to follow. They too will not have big money to spend in free agency this offseason, or a history of success in that realm to bank on. They will also not select high in the draft, as they are set to have the 15th overall pick.
In order to make big improvements, the Wizards will have to explore trades and see what they can do with their mid-level exception. It may require taking a risk, which general manager Tommy Sheppard suggested he's not afraid to do.
Some might point to the Suns' path and question whether it is enough to replicate. They are in the conference finals, sure, but are there with the help of injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis of the Lakers in Round 1 and Jamal Murray of the Nuggets in Round 2.
But the Suns won 51 games this season in a 72-game season, a 58-win pace if it were a normal, 82-game schedule. What they have done is no fluke. And what they have done is exactly what the Wizards would like to do, both given their current roster construction and their history.
Where the situations differ is in the type of player the Wizards need. They already have their point guard signed to a supermax in his 30s in Russell Westbrook. They also already have their All-Star shooting guard in Bradley Beal, not unlike the Suns with Devin Booker. They need a wing, ideally who can defend and shoot.
The Wizards need something entirely different than the Suns acquired with Paul back in November. But the success of that move showed how one trade can make a world of a difference. Maybe the Wizards just need to find their own version of Paul.