Over the past six seasons, the Phoenix Suns have seen plenty of change. Three head coaches, a revolving door of general managers until Steve Kerr stuck for three years and draft picks coming and going, booming and busting.
More than anything though, the Suns have seen a great change in the core that made the Suns the Suns. The high-energy atmosphere remains in Phoenix, but the personnel that made up the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns has nearly vanished.
Only Steve Nash remains from the Suns teams from 2004-07, an era that saw some of the most successful Suns teams in franchise history (I say some, because, obviously, 1993 was the most successful).
The departure of the Suns that made up the pillars of a perennial Western Conference contender happened slowly. A player here and a player there or a few all at once. And it wasn’t just the stars and starters, but also the role players. Let’s take a look at how the Suns of old made their way out of the Valley, leaving Captain Canada the lone survivor of the Mike D’Antoni era.
Q-Rich’s Phoenix stint was short but sweet, as the guard helped the Suns get past the first round for the first time since the 1999-00 season. He averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, but the Suns fell to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Less than a year after signing with the Suns, Q-Rich was dealt to the New York Knicks with the draft rights to Nate Robinson for Kurt Thomas.
You may have heard about this guy in the news recently — he hauled in more money in 2010 free agency than any other player. Johnson spent four seasons in Phoenix, improving statistically every season and becoming a deadly three-point shooter. When Johnson became a restricted free agent after the 2005 Western Conference Finals, he felt low-balled by the Suns, who eventually agreed to sign-and trade him to the Hawks for Boris Diaw and two first-round draft picks to avoid bad blood in the Phoenix locker room.
Thomas’ Suns stint was limited somewhat by injuries, but the big man managed to play an important role off the bench at the tail end of the D’Antoni era. In a baffling move, the Suns dealt Thomas to the Seattle SuperSonics along with two first round picks (eventually Serge Ibaka in ’08 and Quincy Pondexter in ’10) in exchange for a 2009 second-round draft pick, which ended up being Emir Preldzic, whose rights are now owned by the Washington Wizards.
A fan favorite in his eight seasons in Phoenix, the Matrix was a key piece of the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns teams. Marion excelled in his time with the Suns, earning four trips to the All-Star Game and two third-team All-NBA honors. Things got ugly over a contract extension (shocking!) in 2007 and less than a year later Marion was dealt to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O’Neal as the Suns tried to get tougher to win in the West.
Possibly the last great defender to suit up for the Suns, Bell made taking on the likes of Kobe Bryant more manageable. Bell never put up gaudy stats for the Suns, but earned All-Defensive first-team honors in 2006-07 and second team in 2007-08. On top of that, he was a very efficient shooter, particularly from deep. The Suns traded Bell to Charlotte at the start of the Terry Porter era in the deal that brought Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley to Phoenix.
The Frenchman always kept things interesting in Phoenix and did play an important role for the Suns in his three-plus seasons. Making an impact on the offensive end and little on the defensive end (as was typical at the time), Diaw showed flashes of star power, but possessed questionable motivation. Diaw benefited from Amare Stoudemire’s lost season and tended to step up in the playoffs, but was ultimately dealt to Charlotte with Bell.
Suns fans know all too well how Stoudemire made his exit from the Valley, as the wound is still fresh. Though Stoudemire left the purple and orange behind with class, his absence will be felt more than any other Sun from the D’Antoni era. STAT was the subject of trade rumors nearly every year and in his last Suns season (maybe) nearly brought Andre Igoudala or J.J. Hickson to Phoenix. In the end, Stoudemire exited via sign-and-trade to the Knicks for $16.5 million in trade exception that allowed the Suns to land Josh Childress and Hedo Turkoglu.
The Brazilian Blur’s exit nearly closes the book on the 2004-07 Suns, which led to the following tweet from Steve Nash:
Today’s the end of an era. My close friend Leandrinho leaves the Suns making me the last player from 04-07. Great memories. Boa sorte irmao!
Barbosa went from hero off the bench to a misplaced shell of his former self. After missing much of the 2009-10 season due to injury, Barbosa never seemed the same when he returned. That coupled with the fact that Goran Dragic and Dudley excelled off the bench, Barbosa became expendable and was sent to Toronto for Turkoglu.
There were countless others that played lesser roles, but the players that made the Suns a perennial power in the West slowly changed who the Suns are. The Suns are a much different team now and only Nash can recall what it was like to run and gun with the Suns of the past.