How the Celtics and Suns overcame offseason chaos to lead their conferences

When Devin Booker and his Phoenix Suns teammates were gripped by adversities at times in recent months, he found himself thinking about long road trips during the 2017-18 season.

The Suns went through weeks in an endless slog of losses that season. They had hit rock bottom. At one point, the team went through a soul-crushing 3-32 stretch. Booker was in anguish, about to have his fourth coach in three years.

"We've been at the bottom," Booker said when reflecting upon past obstacles earlier this 2022-23 season. "When you're sitting last in the West and there's 30 games in the season left and you're wondering what's going on."

That perspective and a core of teammates with years invested together has played a crucial role in the Suns' performance early this season as they have been able to move past some of the internal crises.

Suns owner Robert Sarver's decision to put the franchise up for sale following a damaging report released by the NBA, a bitter standoff with veteran forward Jae Crowder, some scar tissue with star center Deandre Ayton after a brutal contract negotiation and key injuries to starters Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson haven't kept Phoenix from fighting its way to the top of the Western Conference standings.

In some ways, the Suns (16-8) could find various forms of solidarity with their opponent Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics (20-5) visit (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).

The Celtics endured a personnel upheaval just before the start of the season when coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the 2022-23 season for an improper relationship with a subordinate and Joe Mazzulla, who had no NBA head-coaching experience before, was thrust into the seat. Then, Robert Williams III, Boston's defensive anchor, was shelved for months following knee surgery.