Suns' biggest mistake this century painfully exposed in these playoffs

The Phoenix Suns have yet to win a NBA Championship, and these playoffs are highlighting why that hasn't happened this century.
Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks / Sam Hodde/GettyImages

Every NBA franchise has some fascinating "what ifs?" and terrible draft and trade decision skeletons in their closet, and the Phoenix Suns are no exception. Even today, there are plenty of fans who believe that trading Chris Paul for Bradley Beal last summer - while understandable - will ultimately fall into that second category when all is said and done.

The same can't be said for Kevin Durant - as even though he is 35-years-old and beyond his absolute peak - he is still one of the best 20 players in the league today. Then there is Devin Booker, who is the best player the organization have drafted this century without question. When all is said and done, he could go down as the best player in the history of The Valley.

The Suns have whiffed on plenty of other draft night selections though, and the worst miss of all is currently lighting it up in the playoffs.

It is a well documented story at this point in time, but the Suns had the opportunity to select current Dallas Maverick Luka Doncic back in 2018. Instead they chose to go big, taking a center in Deandre Ayton who had franchise-changing potential. Pairing him with Booker made a ton of sense as well, and the Suns did make it to the 2021 NBA Finals with that duo alongside Paul and Mikal Bridges.

But the decision not to take Doncic - while defensible at the time - was still puzzling for one key reason. That's because at that point in time Igor Kokoskov - one of the worst head coaches the team has had in recent history - was in charge, and was also the head coach of Doncic's native Slovenia in 2017 when he led them to EuroBasket glory.

Of all of the people in the entire world familiar with Doncic, his game and who he is as a person, Kokoskov was near the very top of the list. Six years later, and the decision not to take him has been made worse and brought back into sharper focus for two key reasons.

The first is that Ayton now plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, moved on last summer for the at the time underwhelming package of Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson. Allen had a career year - and was rewarded with a fine new deal - while Nurkic outperformed modest expectations mostly just by staying healthy.

Little is still on the roster and looks an ideal trade candidate down the road, while Johnson is long gone. Given Nurkic's clear deficiencies that were exposed in the postseason, just how good a position would the Suns be in now if they'd never gotten into the Ayton business? Instead taking a player in Doncic who is beginning to get close to his peak.

Which is the second reason not taking him needs revisiting, because of just how fantastic he has been this postseason. Give him a previously troubled co-star in Kyrie Irving, a couple of dilligent big men in Daniel Gafford and Dereck Lively II and a fantastic scoring option in P.J. Washington, and Doncic has already proven by having one foot in the finals that your team can win big.

As of this moment he has the most points, assists and interestingly defensive rebounds in the playoffs, and it is hard to see that changing between now and when a champion is crowned. The prospect of him playing with Booker right now - a player he is better than - would surely have kept the championship window open much, much longer for the Suns.

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They likely would have never traded for Durant, but a core of Booker, Doncic and Bridges is a brilliant place to start. If the organization could have figured out an above average big man to either draft or trade for between 2018 and now, then this hypothetical version of the Suns would be like the Mavericks 2.0 and would surely be among the best in the West.

Instead not taking the Slovenian - who would have even solved their now glaring point guard issues - will continue to haunt a franchise that is in uncertain waters with their current trio. A sweep at the hands of the Timberwolves - who may yet get swept by Luka's Mavericks - highlighting just how far away they truly are. All of this for a big man and his air mattress who are long gone.