Phoenix Suns: Mount Rushmore

Even without a single championship to their credit, the Phoenix Suns have given the NBA some of their most memorable moments and personalities. In the Valley of the Sun they are immortal.

Phoenix joined the association as the single addition of 1968. A single addition in the middle of a 4-year period of rapid expansion, which saw the NBA double in size. Going from the historically 8 team league to 15 team league. This was the great expansion before the merger.

Like any fledgling, Phoenix struggled at first. Clinging to life as they competed with their environment, learning to survive and surging forward into the world.

When the merger took place on Cape Cod in 1976 the Suns were coming off their first finals appearance, a loss to the Celtics. The Suns were on the rise.

The next 40 years were as affluent a time a franchise can experience without winning a title. Playoff appearances and exciting runs were not in short supply and neither were the great players supplying them.

The offseason is where we chisel the best of them into the mountains side.

Honorable Mentions

Shawn Marion:

“The Matrix” was one of the best wing defenders of a generation. In nine seasons in Phoenix, he averaged a defensive rating under a 100. Never a great shooter, Marion was able to average 18 points per game during his time with the Suns.

Marion was an integral part of Mike D’Antoni’s high tempo offense. Amazingly athletic, he was the beneficiary of many dimes from point guard Steve Nash. A 4-time All-Star, 2-time All-NBA recipient he scored 17,700 career points. It is very possible we could see him in Springfield some day, and it would be a well deserved honor.

Amar’e Stoudemire:

Amar’e Stoudemire took the NBA by storm his rookie year. “STAT” as he was known, got started early. Averaging 14 points per game as a rookie, on his way to Rookie of the Year honors.

Amar’e averaged 21 points per game in his eight years in the desert, racking up six All-Star appearances and five All-NBA honors. Another freak athlete, crucial for running D’Antoni’s offense, Amar’e was most well known for his work with Steve Nash in the pick and roll and his ruthless dunks.

Kevin Johnson:

A three time All-Star, four time All-NBA second team point guard, Kevin Johnson was one of the faces of the Suns’ most successful team. His first full season with the team, he broke out, scored 20 points per game and guided the team to the Western Conference Finals, where they would lose to the Lakers.

Phoenix lost the Western Conference Finals again the next year, this time to the Blazers. KJ wouldn’t break through until he got some help from a bald headed All-Star with a big mouth. To wit, aided by newly acquired Charles Barkley, “KJ” helped take the 1992–93 Suns to the precipice of a championship, only to be thwarted in heartbreaking fashion by a Horace Grant block in the final second of game 6.

Being the third best player in one of the best finals in NBA history is nothing to sneeze at. A bonafide 20 point per game guy, his career was cut somewhat short by injuries.

Larry Nance:

A high scoring, even higher flying 6'10" forward, Larry Nance, (with the help of Tom Chambers and Walter Davis amongst others) helped lead the Suns to the playoffs, each of his first 4 seasons. Unfortunately he ran into the Showtime Lakers, three of those four years.

Nance was able to make it to the conference finals during the 1984 season, before falling to the Lakers in their furthest push in pursuit of Larry O’Brien. Super athletic, Nance was probably best known for his iconic dunks, specifically during the first annual NBA Dunk Contest, where he held off Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take the trophy home to Phoenix.

RUSHMORE

Walter Davis:

Walter Davis was drafted with the 5th pick in the 1977 NBA draft. From the moment he hit the street, the former Tar Heel turned it immediately to eleven. He rocked a 24.2 point, 3.4 assists and 6.0 rebound line as a rookie as he took down ROY honors for 1977–78 season. That year was his first trip to the playoffs. He made the playoffs each of his first eight years, making it as far as the Western Conference finals twice, losing to both the SuperSonics and Lakers respectively.

He is the Phoenix Suns All-Time leading scorer, finishing just under 500 points shy of 20,000. He has the third most points by any player not in the Hall of Fame. He was a 6-time All-Star and 2-time All-NBA player.

The man was too fast. Named “the Greyhound” by “the Voice of the Phoenix Suns” long time Suns broadcaster Al McCoy. He truly resembled a modern day wing. A combo guard if ever there was one, at 6’6" he could run the break, distribute, attack the lane and shoot.

Spanning Generations, Davis played with greats like Tom Chambers and Larry Nance, Dennis Johnson and Paul Westphal. He took the Suns to the edge of greatness and eventually handed the reigns over to the next generation in Kevin Johnson.

Mike D’Antoni

A journeyman player who found his way overseas, Mike D’Antoni decided to stay and coach. After several Italian league titles, Euro League titles and a stint with the Nuggets via Milan, Bryan Colangelo brought D’Antoni back to the NBA to stay. Hired as an assistant, in the middle of the 2003–04 campaign, D’Antoni was in charge. That off-season, the team acquired point guard Steve Nash and it was on. Armed with a stable of athletic wings, skilled big men and a future HOF point guard, D’Antoni launched his revolution.

The results of the “7 seconds or less” offense are still being felt today. Initially laughed off for “not waiting for a good enough shot” D’Antoni knew to apply basic mathematics to what was once thought a complicated problem, simplifying it. The more possessions you have in a game, the more points you are likely to score. Hallelujah!

D’Antoni lead the Suns to the Western Conference Finals in both of his first two years. Losing to the Spurs and Mavericks in succession. This run and gun offense gave us some of the greatest playoff series of the decade. Unfortunately, D’Antoni was living in the age of the Spurs. Gregg Popovich and the Spurs bested D’Antoni and the Suns in four of their five playoffs D’Antoni appeared in as head coach for the Suns. Their 07’ Western Conference Semifinals gave NBA fans, if not the best, the most hotly contested and highly controversial playoff round of that generation.

Charles Barkley

“Sir Charles” hit the desert in 1992. Already a 6-time All-Star with as many All-NBA credits to his name, Barkley had one job, to knock off Michael Jordan. Jordan had won the last two titles and Barkley fresh off some disappointing exits in the Eastern Conference Semifinals (at the hands of Michael and the Bulls), was looking for a fresh path.

Wasting no time and with the help of Kevin Johnson and company, Barkley led the team to 62 wins and the number one overall seed in the Western Conference. On the way Barkley was able to drop a casual 25.6 point, 5.1 assist and 12.2 rebound line on his way to winning league MVP. The Suns raced through the playoffs, finally confronting Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

What came next was one of the greatest finals in NBA history. A punch for punch slug-fest, that if not for an amazing three pointer from John Paxson or an incredible block from Horace Grant could have landed the Suns their first NBA championship.

While that was not the case, the Suns did make the Western Conference finals the next two years, falling to the next juggernaut and eventual back-to-back champion Houston Rockets.

Charles Barkley’s foray into the desert did not end with his ultimate goal achieved, but it did not diminish it completely. This game is all about moments. A team wins the title every year, but they aren’t necessarily what you remember. It’s the moments that you remember. And the Chuckster gave us one of the best we’ll ever get.

Steve Nash

Steve Nash returned to the desert via free agency in 2004. He was drafted by Phoenix in 1996 and played behind Kevin Johnson, Sam Cassell and Jason Kidd. He blossomed in Dallas as they traded for him in 1998, sending future teammate Shawn Marion back to Phoenix in the deal.

Once linked with D’Antoni, Nash realized his full potential almost immediately, those first 2 years in Phoenix. He won back to back MVP’s while leading the league in assists 6 out of the next 7 years. He produced a 16 points, 12 assists and 3 rebounds per game line, while leading his team to 62 wins and the first seed in the Western conference.

Unable to best the Spurs and Lakers, Nash and the Suns would have to settle for three Western Conference Finals attempts as their best marks. But, make no mistake, those Suns team were the class of the era. With Steve Nash at PG the Suns made the playoffs 5 out of his first 6 years, of course reaching the Western Conference finals in 3 of those runs.

[All stats provided by basketball-refernce.com]

[All team record data provided by realgm.com]