Former Suns fill the top career earners list

So our friends over at Warriors World published a list of the top 100 career earners in NBA history. It should come as no surprise that 18 former Phoenix Suns made the list (I’ve listed them all at the bottom of the page.) This large purple and orange contingent says a great deal about the Suns franchise and the league as a whole. There are four key points to consider.

The average stay in Phoenix is only 3.25 seasons

From Shaq to Jason Kidd to Charles Barkley, the Suns have never had a problem bringing big name talent to the Valley of the Sun. The issue is that most of these big name players don’t stay for very long. The average stint in the desert for all 18 of these players isn’t even four full seasons. Shaq played in Phoenix for only one full season and parts of two others. The same was true for Jason Richardson. Even Barkley, one of the most iconic Suns of all time, only spent four seasons in purple and orange. Granted they were perhaps the best seasons of his career, but most would say his stay was shorter than it should have been.

So why do big names only stay in Phoenix for a short time? First, many of these players were on the downside of their careers, and they simply didn’t have that many years left. Second, some left because ownership refused to pay up. Third, some simply left to chase a championship, which has always eluded the Suns. Phoenix owns the fourth-best franchise winning percentage among all the NBA’s teams, yet the organization has never won a title. I believe the chance of success is what lures many of these players here, but the persistent failure to win a title is what causes most of them to move on.

Most of these players were at the tail end of their career

I touched on this earlier, but it must be said again that Phoenix is a popular destination for aging veterans. These players come for a variety of reasons. Some are looking to extend their career a few years with one final contract. Some are looking to splash around in the fountain of youth that is the Phoenix Suns’ training staff. Some just wanted to play with Steve Nash. Whatever the reason, the Suns’ front office has always been welcoming to big time names who no longer had their big time talent.

Despite the fact that no NBA championship banners hang in US Airways Center, Suns fans are still used to winning. I feel many of these players were brought in to appease the fans to some extent. The front office trotted out a recognizable name in order to cover up a dearth of talent on the team or mask a rebuilding effort. The idea of these signings as intentional ruses is supported by the fact that many of these players only stayed for as long as it took the fans to realize they were washed up.

In many ways, Phoenix has been an NBA retirement home of sorts. Would the team have been better off developing less heralded, young players instead of paying money to guys who had already made nine figures in their career? Probably. But then the fans would have been robbed of the 50 combined games Jalen Rose and Brian Grant played in a Suns uniform.

There are only four Suns draft picks on this list

Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Michael Finley are the only players on this list drafted by the Suns. While it’s clear that the Suns were at their best when Nash, Amar’e and Marion were playing together, it’s also very telling that none of them are still with the team. While there are many former Suns on this list, most of them did not make the bulk of their money in Phoenix. These three are obvious exceptions to that statement, but two of them, Marion and Stoudemire, left the team in part because ownership didn’t want to pay them any more.

Now whether or not those were good moves is a topic that has been argued to death on this site, so I won’t go into it here. But one thing can be inferred from all of this: The Suns want big names, but in most cases aren’t willing to pay top dollar for them. That’s why they allow big money stars to leave and why they target past-their-prime former All-Stars. Steve Nash is an obvious exception to this, but Nash was actually a bargain as back-to-back MVP’s go. During the height of the SSOL era, he made less money than Marion, and when he re-signed, he was not among the highest-paid players in the league. Nash was always a good value to the franchise, that is, until he wanted one final contract.

Damon Stoudemire made more money in the NBA than Michael Jordan

This point isn’t specific to the Suns, it’s more a general thought about the NBA. Since Jordan retired from Chicago, the NBA has had two major lockouts. Ostensibly, the point of both was to curb player salaries. Let’s give a big round of applause to NBA ownership for a job well done. Now I know if we adjusted the salary dollars for inflation, Jordan would rise up this list considerably, much the same way that Gone With The Wind is actually one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

But the point is still valid: NBA player salaries have shot up like a rocket in the 21st century. As teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder are finding out, talent retention in today’s NBA is extremely expensive. And as teams like the Orlando Magic can tell you, one bad contract (or multiple bad contracts in the Magic’s case) can cripple your franchise. Should Rashard Lewis be as high on this list as he is? Should Joe Johnson? It’s not my place to judge these players earning what the market will bare, but it does seem that the big time money does not follow the talent nearly as closely as it should.

Take a good hard look at the list of players. It’s amazing how many of them have come into the league in the last 10 years. Charles Barkley doesn’t rank in the top 100 anymore and in another decade or so, neither will Michael Jordan. But never fear, Stephon Marbury is going to be there for a long, long time.

Here’s the complete list of Suns’ players and their ranks:

1)     Shaquille O’Neal (2nd)

2)     Joe Johnson (6th)

3)     Jason Kidd (7th)

4)     Amar’e Stoudemire (11th)

5)     Jermaine O’Neal (12th)

6)     Vince Carter (14th)

7)     Stephon Marbury (23rd)

8)     Steve Nash (25th)

9)     Grant Hill (27th)

10)   Michael Finley (34th)

11)   Shawn Marion (36th)

12)   Penny Hardaway (41st)

13)   Antonio McDyess (46th)

14)   Brian Grant (51st)

15)   Jalen Rose (64th)

16)   Michael Redd (66th)

17)   Jason Richardson (72nd)

18)   Hedo Turkoglu (91st)

Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire Career Earnings Charles Barkley Phoenix Suns Salaries Steve Nash

  • Scott

    Mmm … the Suns don’t pay top dollar, yet Suns fill the top career earners list?

    There could be a conflict there. Perhaps what the Suns don’t have are stars who are willing to accept less pay in order to build championship teams.

    I think the Suns have been generous with pay. Note that they signed Marbury to the max before trading him. Note that when he left, Marion had to be traded for Shaq because Marion was making Shaq money. Note the high salaries paid to Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, and Josh Childress. Note that Joe Johnson left for a much higher paycheck than he was worth, which the Suns did offer to match.

    If the Suns want to win championships, they need to do it mostly with players added through the draft, with free agent talent brought in to add the final pinch of spice. Their best recent shot was with Nash, Amare, and Marion … all drafted by the Suns.

    IMO, what the record shows is that the Suns have historically paid a high price for veteran talent and what has failed to bring them a championship has been their nearly continual poor drafting.

  • Ryan Weisert

    The Suns paid several of the guys on this list less than $7 million per yer during their time in Phoenix. Several others left Phoenix for more money elsewhere. I’m not saying that universally they aren’t willing to pay for stars, but there is evidence to suggest that they are more interested in big names at affordable prices than retaining their talent and building to a Championship. Even if those big names are on the downward slope of their career.

    As for the contracts of Chilldress, Diaw, and Barbosa, those guys definitely don’t qualify as stars, and I think Phoenix would be much better served giving that money to more proven talent.

    I completely agree that they need add through the draft and retain that talent. I just don’t think they’ve ever done that well. Morris and Marshall are the only two Phoenix draft picks on the team.

  • Scott

    Although Dragic kind of counts as a pick, since he was drafted by the Spurs on behalf of the Suns.

    I think the history of the Suns’ big playoff run in recent years would have been quite different if they’d drafted Iguodala instead of making a pre-draft agreement to give away their pick (on the assumption Iguodala would already be gone).

    IMO, the Suns need to have a good enough draft record for a few years, building up enough cheap talent that they can begin taking chances in the draft, taking the best (potential) player instead of taking a player to fill a position of need.

  • Ty-Sun

    I’d say that they Suns have had an aversion to signing max contract long term deals. They’ve signed a lot of great players – like Barkley – for less in the twilight of their careers and paid a lot for younger players early in their careers – like Stat and Marion. They haven’t always drafted well but they haven’t always drafted poorly either.

    On that note, I’d love to see an article on the Suns’ past draft picks and how the Suns have done overall through the years in the draft… whether the pick stayed with the Suns or not. It would be very interesting to also compare that to the draft history of other teams. It would probably involve a lot of work even if you limited it to the last 10 years but I think it would be very interesting.

  • Andres

    Very interesting article. IMO the Suns have had pretty decent FOs that have kept a good balance between hiring FAs and drafting good talent (for the most part although not in recent years obviously…)
    In the SSOL era the Suns were really a hipcheck away from having a real shot at the championship and had a +50 W team yr after yr
    I think that in order to have a real shot at contention you need to have a good mix of good FA signing plus drafting/developing good talent.
    There were a lot of IFs in the past 10 yrs for this franchise (If DAntoni had used a 8-10 man rotation instead of 7 to avoid the burn out, Marion/Diaw would’ve played key roles during crunch time in the playoffs instead of dissapearing during key stretches, if Robert Horry could’ve avoided being so … well … so Robert Horry… if we could’ve had a Tier 1 coach and the list goes on but for the most part the Suns have had pretty good/fun teams
    It has been very difficult for not only the Suns but for the 27 other franchises (with the exception of the Pistons, Mavs and Heat for 1 yr each) to put together a team capable of beating the Bulls-Lakers-Spurs of recent yrs.
    We fans need to take into account that some owners focus a lot on the business side of the equation and in some cases put money first. They often see players as “stock” and try to buy low – sell high type of stuff. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesnt but thats the way it is.

  • Scott

    @Ty-Sun -

    A good part of an article like that would be to also feature “who the Suns missed” in the draft.

    For example, in the 2003 draft, which featured LeBron, Wade, and so forth, the Suns picked Zarko. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad pick, in that he was a 7′ player with decent fundamentals, but they did take him just ahead of David West and Boris Diaw, and in the 2nd round there were relatively solid picks in Kapono, Steve Blake, Pachulia, Mo Williams, James Jones, and Kyle Korver.

  • Scott

    @Andres -

    If you’re picking well in the draft, you are more easily able to afford buying low and selling high.

  • Dan

    You forgot, the Suns also drafted Finley. He just didn’t spend most of his career here.

  • shazam

    excellent article and i totally agree with ryans take on the stats

  • Serek


    Actually Phx has another pick of their own currently on the roster – Gortat. Picked up by the Suns, and immediately traded away to Orlando (Dragic pick in reverse?).
    That also says something about the way the Suns were drafting.

  • Andres

    @ Scott –

    I totally agree. Also having great scouts that are studying players overseas helps buy low & sell high. Just ask the Spurs… I’ve never been a fan of the way the spurs play but I’ve always been amazed on how they figure out to put together such great teams with “role players”. Having Popp also helps

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Could you elaborate on how the Suns drafted Dragic and Gortat in the first place, cause I’m not familiar with this story?

  • Scott

    @Sillmarillion -

    While the story could be told in more detail, basically Gortat was a late 2nd round pick that the Suns sold to Orlando, and Dragic was a Spurs pick that was bought by the Suns. (Barbosa was also a Spurs pick bought by the Suns, though a few years earlier.)

    Teams that sell their picks select whoever the purchasers want, so the Suns told the Spurs to pick Dragic (and, in 2003, Barbosa) for them, and Orlando told the Suns to pick Gortat for them.

  • B. Cray Z.

    Good article Ryan.

    Fact is that Scott is wrong.

    Dragic wasn’t a sold Spurs draft pick. That was actually a trade of 2nd round picks. Gogi is back here, at least. Same can’t be said for Barbosa, who is still a free agent, even after his impressive show in the Olympics in beating Spain. Suns are supposedly talking with him at this time. Hope they sign him. When the game is on the line, there are few better “go-to” scorers, which Gentry has been saying we need. He will also be glue in the locker room & on the road.

    MUST reunite that killer bench unit. Let’s go SUNS!!!!

  • melon man

    I don’t even think of most of the guys on the list as Suns.

  • JT’s Hoops Blog

    I would not say that Jason Kidd was on the down side of his career when he left the Suns. He led the NJ Nets to two straight NBA Finals appearances and probably played his best years as a pro. If annything he was in decline when he return to Dallas, the team that originally drafted him, but he still ended up winning an NBA title.

  • Scott

    @B. Cray Z. -

    If you want the more detailed version, here’s how I believe it went.

    Goran Dragic was snuck into Phoenix for a private audition for the Suns. He wasn’t on anyone else’s draft radar, so the Suns were going to take him with their 2nd round pick. Then, toward the end of the 2008 draft, Phoenix was getting worried that maybe someone else had found out about Dragic and so made a deal with San Antonio.

    The Suns traded their own late 2nd round pick (48th), a future (2009) 2nd round pick, and cash to the Spurs in exchange for the Spurs taking Dragic for them with their 45th pick.

    Call it a trade, or “buying a pick” … the idea is that the Suns did not use their own pick to take Dragic, but instead worked out a deal with the Spurs; so while they technically did not draft Dragic, they did tell the Spurs to pick him for the Suns.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Ty for the answers. Is this stuff legal, I mean, is it allowed to sell/buy picks? If so, why do they trade them sometimes? The U.S. system of exchanging players really differs from the European one…

  • Scott

    @Sillmarillion -

    My understanding is that every player transaction has to be approved by the NBA league office, whether it is for an active player or a future draft pick.