In hopeful anticipation of the NBA lockout coming to an end, let’s revisit one of last season’s major themes: super teams. LeBron made his “Decision” and formed the Heat’s version of the Big Three (or Big Two and a Half for those of you who aren’t Chris Bosh fans.) Before them, the Celtics trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen formed a Big Three of their own. Much has been made about Chris Paul joining the Knicks or Dwight Howard going west to join Kobe. All these current and potential super powers have one thing in common. They pale in comparison to one team: the Former Suns All-Stars.
In the long and storied history of the Phoenix Suns, many a great player has passed through. While some players, like Kevin Johnson, played all their meaningful years and retired with the Suns, others have moved on to greener pastures while still in their primes. This has become all too common during the tenure of Robert Sarver. So when the conversation turns to NBA super teams, the Former Suns must be mentioned. Let’s look at the roster:
Point Guard – Jason Kidd
Played in Phoenix: 1996-2001
2011 Salary: $9.6 million
All Star Appearances: 10
The recently crowned NBA champion has shown incredible career longevity. He may not have the quickness and defensive acumen he had when he played in Phoenix, or be the triple-double threat he was when he led the Nets to two straight NBA Finals, but he is still an incredible leader and floor general. His lack of ego and ability to facilitate serves the Former Suns All Stars (FSAS) well.
Shooting Guard – Joe Johnson
Played in Phoenix: 2001-2005
2011 Salary: $18 million
All Star Appearances: 5
The first true casualty of the Sarver era. After leading the league in three-point shooting and averaging 17 points per game during the ’04-05 season, the Suns low balled Johnson in contract negotiations, ultimately leading him to sign with Atlanta. Since leaving Phoenix, Johnson has been a consistent 20 point per game scorer. His ability to stretch the floor, penetrate, and create his own shot is a great asset to the FSAS.
Small Forward – Shawn Marion
Played in Phoenix: 1999-2008
2011 Salary: $8.2 million
All Star Appearances: 4
In his heyday, Marion was one of the most explosive players in the NBA. His nickname, The Matrix, was well earned as his rebounding ability, vertical leap, and highlight reel dunks were unparalleled across the NBA during his Phoenix tenure. In the 2011 playoffs, Shawn showed us all he can still contribute by helping the Mavericks win a ring with his solid defense, rebounding, and offense around the basket. Trading him to the Heat for Shaq was the first true sign that the “Seven Seconds or Less” era was dying in Phoenix. Marion is a key player for the FSAS as he can do it all and fill in the gaps.
Power Forward – Amar’e Stoudemire
Played in Phoenix: 2002-2010
2011 Salary: $18.2 million
All Star Appearances: 6
As one half of the second best pick-and-roll combo in NBA history (John Stockton and Karl Malone get the first spot solely on longevity), Stoudemire became one of the most potent scorers and ferocious dunkers in the league during his time in Phoenix. His sign-and-trade to the Knicks was driven by the Suns’ unwillingness to give him a max deal because of his injury history and lack of defensive presence. Despite the fact he missed almost all of the ’05-06 season and 30 games in two others, the Suns miss his skill set and personality dearly. If Amar’e is able to earn himself another contract at the end of his deal with the Knicks, the Suns will look quite foolish for letting him get away. His presence in the lane, ability to shoot from 15-18 feet, and intimidating style are a huge asset to the FSAS both on and off the court.
Other Small Forward – Jason Richardson
Played in Phoenix: 2008-2010
2011 Salary: $14.4 million
All Star Appearances: 0 (2x slam dunk champion)
This may be a slightly controversial pick for a few reasons. First, we’re eschewing a traditional center in favor of another small forward. This is done for two reasons: 1) Amar’e can easily play center with Marion beside him as the power forward. 2) The Suns are at their best when they go small and get out in transition. The FSAS obviously play an up-tempo style and this lineup reflects that. Second, Richardson only played in Phoenix for a total of two whole seasons. While this is true, he’s included because of the way he helped propel the team to the Western Conference Finals in ’09-10, and the way he carried the scoring load after Amar’e left in 2010. His midseason trade to Orlando was a benefit to the Suns in that it rid the team of the abysmal Hedo Turkoglu, but too bad in that they traded a great scorer with the ability to shoot from deep and get to the rim for the artist formerly known as Vince Carter. Watching Nash, Amar’e, and Richardson on the floor together in the 2010 playoffs was a lot like watching the team if Joe Johnson had never left. With Richardson on the wing opposite Johnson, the FSAS are an unstoppable scoring force.
This spot could be filled with previous bench standouts like Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Goran Dragic, or Louis Amundson. These were all hard working guys who though they’d never make an All-Star team, worked their butts off and knew their roles. They could also fill this spot with draft picks the Suns gave away to save money. Here’s the short list:
2004 7th pick: Luol Deng (Traded to Chicago for future first rounder and Jackson Vroman)
2005 21st pick: Nate Robinson (Traded to New York with Quentin Richardson for Kurt Thomas and Dijon Thompson)
2006 21st pick: Rajon Rondo (Traded to Boston for Brian Grant, ’07 first round pick, and cash)
2007 24th pick: Rudy Fernandez (Traded to Portland with James Jones for cash)
The common thread in this list is talented players being traded away for cash and players past their prime (if you believe Briant Grant and Kurt Thomas had primes.) As a Suns fan, I shudder to think of how well Deng would have played next to Steve Nash, how Fernandez could have stretched the floor with his range, how Nate Robinson would have been an instant crowd favorite and change of pace backup point guard, or what the Suns could have gotten for Rondo after a year or two.
All this aside, the Former Suns All-Stars’ roster is stacked no matter how you put it together. If one or two of these players had been retained instead of taking their talents to another city, it stands to reason the Phoenix Suns, who are perhaps the greatest “almost” team in the history of professional sports, could have won an NBA title somewhere along the way. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. All Suns fans can do, is sit back and dream about the team that never was.