LOS ANGELES – Just before the Phoenix Suns dissected game footage, their leader had an important message to make.
All-Star point guard Chris Paul gave what Suns coach Monty Williams described as a “really short, but profound talk we needed to have.” And the subject matter involved something more important than analyzing the team’s pick-and-roll coverages. It entailed the coronavirus pandemic, and the increased cases stemmed from the Omicron variant.
“The overall message is it is a tough situation and there is no correct answer,” Suns guard Cam Johnson said following Phoenix’s 108-90 win over the L.A. Lakers on Tuesday at Staples Center. “Right now, we’re trying to push through. We don’t know what the future holds. Nobody knows what the future holds.”
The NBA has been firm on its own future. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appeared on ESPN on Tuesday and stressed that the league has no plans to pause the season. Silver said those words despite the NBA postponing seven games amid teams lacking at least eight players needed to field a roster because of players entering the league’s health and safety protocols.
The NBA has maintained that positions for reasons beyond wanting to maximize its revenue and showcase five nationally televised games on Christmas Day. It remained bullish that its 30 teams can navigate such issues because of the players’ high vaccination rate (97%), the increased booster rate for those eligible for it (67%) and enhanced testing and mask-wearing protocols.
In the Suns’ case, they are only one of eight NBA teams that don’t have a player sidelined because of Health and Safety Protocols. Phoenix also has Paul, the former president of the National Basketball Players Association for eight years before opting not to run before the 2021-22 season. Portland Trail Blazers guard. C.J. McCollum took over those duties, but Paul still remains plugged in to fluid conversations between the NBPA and the league office.
Paul did not speak to reporters before or after Phoenix’s win over the Lakers, but the Suns spoke plenty about him.
“That man doesn’t lie. He tries to give us information to know what’s ahead,” Suns center Deandre Ayton said. “He’s leading the best way he can in talking to us and hearing everybody’s perspective. People have the floor to themselves on how they feel about certain things the league has thrown at us. And just finding a way to get information for us to make sure we focus on basketball and not the other things. We all trust the league. We just have to make sure we have to keep this thing going.”
Not everything has gone according to plan. Paul entered the Health and Safety Protocols to open the Western Conference finals after experiencing a breakthrough case. Suns guard Devin Booker missed the beginning of training camp this season after entering the league’s protocols.
Since then? The Suns (25-5) have cemented the NBA’s best record for reasons beyond having a veteran point guard (Paul), two young stars (Booker, Ayton), a steady coach (Monty Williams) and a strong supporting cast (Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges, JaVale McGee, Cameron Payne, Landry Shamet, Johnson). They have absorbed both early injuries to Ayton and Booker, while navigating through the pandemic this season relatively unscathed.
“I don’t sense fear. I sense this human side of our team,” Williams said. “We want to do what we can to keep the business going and also keep our families safe and do our part. It doesn’t seem like the virus is going anywhere, so we may as well do what we can to keep each other safe.”
To do that, Paul has stressed the need to prioritize two things. The first? Stay vigilant about following the protocols. The second? Don’t complain about them.
“Just mainly preparing for what the league has got for us coming and whatever decisions they make,” Ayton said. “Don’t be blown away by it. It’s a decision they have to make. Just finish playing until we stop, basically. Ain’t nothing changing. We’re still coming in and working out. Just not doing all the extracurricular with going out and stuff like that.”
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