Remembering Leandro Barbosa as a Phoenix Sun

Leandro Barbosa's fearsome forays to the hoop will be missed.

Besides Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, only one member of the Phoenix Suns had been along for the ride from the start of this era with Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson to the end of it with Jason Richardson and a 10-man rotation.

But while Amare Stoudemire’s departure was a franchise-changing event, the end of Leandro Barbosa’s seven-year tenure in Phoenix barely registered a blip on the radar with Hedo Turkoglu coming back in return for LB and Josh Childress acquired at the same time.

As weird as it was to watch LB draining threes (and bricking a whole lot more) for Brazil against Team USA on Monday in green and yellow, it’s going to be even stranger the first time the Raptors and Suns get together and LB is wearing the wrong shade of purple.

A Barbosa trade was almost inevitable. He was making too much money ($14.7 million over the next two years if he exercises his player option) for a guy who had fallen to the very back of Phoenix’s rotation. It didn’t make fiscal sense to keep him, especially with Goran Dragic expected to take on a bigger role and even more especially once the Suns found out they could acquire Childress.

Barbosa told Dime Magazine that he asked for a trade when the season ended and the Suns found him a suitable home.

“It’s a better situation for me, because I know that I will play more minutes than I used to in Phoenix,” Barbosa said. “I’m a little bit sad because I loved Phoenix and I love the friends that I made in the organization. I will miss that. But I think everybody knows the NBA is a business, and we’re all involved in that business. Any day it can happen, and this time it happened to me.

His final season in Phoenix was rough for Barbosa. He injured his wrist during the summer playing for Brazil and then suffered a sprained ankle a month into the season. He returned in late December but the wrist was never right and he ended up getting it operated on a month later. When he finally returned in mid-March, Dragic had asserted himself and LB never could find the rhythm he possessed in Phoenix in prior years.

Barbosa shot a career-low 32.4 percent from three (he shot 44.4 and 43.4 from long range in consecutive years earlier this decade), and the former incredible finisher at the rim all too often missed layups he’s converted his entire career in scoring just 9.5 points per game. He has admitted that the sporadic playing time was tough on him, and he was the worst player on the Suns in terms of Wins Produced in the playoffs.

Sometimes a player just needs a change of scenery. I fully believe that Leandro Barbosa can be a dynamic bench player once again if given the requisite time and offensive freedom, but that wasn’t going to happen in Phoenix.

In the FIBA World Championship, Barbosa has thus far led Brazil to the No. 3 seed in Group B, which means the Brazilians will face Argentina in a round of 16 South American showdown on Tuesday at 11 a.m. MST. Through pool play Barbosa is tied for 10th in the tournament in scoring, leading Brazil with an average of 15.4 points per game to go with 3.6 boards and a paltry 1.4 assists per game (he’s not a playmaker even on his own national team). LB is shooting 54.3 percent on twos but just 23.8 percent from deep.

Barbosa is now an established star for the Brazilian national team, but he once was a second-year NBA player clanking shots off the side of the backboard in the West Finals before a few years later morphing into the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, becoming a scoring machine who produced the majority of the offense off Phoenix’s anemic benches under Mike D’Antoni.

LB possesses a kind soul, and he was a perfect fit offensively next to Steve Nash in the Seven Seconds or Less system.

According to Basketball Reference, Barbosa would have rated as the player who has played for the best offenses in NBA history if he had qualified for the minimum requirement of 15,000 minutes played (Nash and Amare are first and second), a striking endorsement to his offensive prowess.

LB was a lightning quick player who could put up 10-point quarters seemingly at will. He was the Suns’ microwave and he turned countless games with his scoring and speed off the bench.

Barbosa was a model player off the floor, and a big reason for the Suns’ dynamic offenses during the height of his run in Phoenix.

But sometimes it’s just not working out anymore. The Suns are concentrating more on building their team around length and defense, and they have enough offense elsewhere that LB just didn’t fit anymore.

He will always be associated with the prior era of Suns basketball and should be remembered as a dynamic scorer, genuinely good guy and one of the most prototypical players of that style of ball.

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