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)