To put it mildly it’s been a tough season for the Phoenix Suns faithful. The team recently ended a 13-game losing streak. They went 35-days between victories, January 23rd until February 27, but from this bad season there are some positives notions that the we can take away from this campaign.
- The Suns are better than the Lakers
- Cheap tickets to Suns home games are plentiful on the Stubhub
- The development of Devin Booker
Terrible seasons are tough to stomach, Sixers fans know this too well, but from adversity comes strength. Or in the NBA, bad seasons lead to high draft picks and the opportunity to give young players a lot of playing time to mature.
Where does this season fit among the worst in franchise history? Probably near the top but let’s wait until after the plug is pulled on this campaign to figure that one out.
Until then, my take on the worst seasons in franchise history that ultimately had positive outcomes:
7th in the Western Division
The Inaugural Season for the Suns. Like many brand new team it was a trying time, but from the ashes of too many losses rose a pair of All Stars the team nabbed in the Expansion Draft. Phoenix picked Gail Goodrich from the Los Angeles Lakers and the guard averaged 23.8 ppg and 6.4 apg, both team highs, on his way to his first All Star selection.
Dick Van Arsdale was picked from the New York Knicks in the Expansion Draft and averaged 21 ppg and 6.9 rpg. In 1968, Van Arsdale nabbed his first of three NBA All Star selections in his 12-season career. His jersey number 5 was retired by the Suns and he will always be knows as the “Original Sun”.
The fruits of a bad season are top draft picks and the ultimate prize in the 1969 NBA Draft was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The first pick in the that NBA Draft would be decided by a coin toss between the Suns and their fellow expansion team the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Suns lost the coin toss and the rights to a future Hall of Fame center. Phoenix picked second and took Neal Walk, a center from the University of Florida. In five-seasons with the Suns Walk averaged a solid 14.7 ppg and 8.9 rpg. Those numbers were good enough to get him Hall of Famer status.
Not in Springfield with Abdul-Jabbar but Walk is a member of the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. Unfortunately a big part of his NBA legacy is being the guy taken after an icon.
But the transaction with possibly the greatest impact on the franchise was appointing Jerry Colangelo as General Manager in 1968. During his tenure in Phoenix he would win four NBA Executive of the Year awards and in 2004 he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Suns took a risk on a 28-year old GM but that choice worked out pretty well.
4th in the Pacific Division and 8th in the Western Conference
A very difficult season with limited bright spots. With a 32-50 record the Suns finished 8th in the Western Conference, out of nine-teams, and 15th overall among the 18 NBA teams in the final regular season standings.
Guard Charlie Scott led the team with 24.3 ppg, 4.5 apg and was selected for the NBA All Star Game. Curtis Perry, a fourth year forward acquired from the Bucks, had a career season with 13.4 ppg and 11.9 rpg.
The regular season was tough but in the offseason the front office made a pair of key transactions that helped get the team to the NBA Finals in 1976.
In May 1975 the Suns traded their leading scoring, and lone All Star, to the Boston Celtics for second round picks in 1975 and 1976. Included in the deal was Paul Westphal.
In six-seasons with Phoenix, Westphal averaged 20.6 ppg and was a four time All Star Team selection. His jersey number 44 was retired by the Suns and was their head coach from 1992-1995. At the helm of the Suns they made 1993 NBA Finals, losing to Chicago in six-games,
With the fourth pick in the 1975 NBA Draft they selected power forward Alvan Adams. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year and spent his entire 13-year career in Phoenix. His jersey number 33 was retired by the Suns and he is the franchise leader in rebounds, steals and games played.
4th in the Pacific Division and 9th in the Western Conference
Before the season started the franchise was dealt a tragic blow when center Nick Vanos died in a plane crash on August 16, 1987. In honor of their fallen brother the Suns wore a black patch on their jerseys with Vanos’ number 30 throughout the season.
A midseason transaction helped lead the team back to prosperity. On February 25, 1988 the Suns dealt All Star forward Larry Nance, a 1988 first round draft pick and Mike Sanders to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, 1988 first and second round draft picks, 1989 second round draft pick and Kevin Johnson.
The trade ended up being highway robbery for the Suns. Johnson was five time All NBA selection and a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finalist this year. The Suns used the 1988 first round pick on Dan Majerle. ‘Thunder Dan’ was a three-time All Star and two-time All NBA Defensive Team selection.
A group led by Jerry Colangelo purchased the franchise on October 14, 1987 for $44.5 million. Colangelo’s front office guidance with KJ and Majerle leadership on the hardwood made the Suns a prominent NBA franchise.
6th in the Pacific Division and 13th in the Western Conference
To put a positive spin on a bad campaign, it’s best to view the 2003-04 as a transition season.
Head Coach Frank Sanders was fired after 21-games, the Suns were 8-13 at the time, and replaced by Mike D’Antoni. The Suns dealt Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the Knicks on January 5, 2004.
On the same day as the blockbuster trade Leandro Barbosa made his debut with the Suns, he acquired the day before from the San Antonio Spurs, and scored 27-points. Joe Johnson continued to develop and averaged 16.7 ppg and 4.7 rpg.
By unloading Starbury and Hardaway on the Knicks, the Suns had enough salary cap space in the subsequent offseason to sign free agents Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson.
2003-04 was a lean year for Suns fans but the following season they won the Pacific Division and made it to the Western Conference finals.
Will 2016-2017 be better for the Suns faithful? Possibly. As the aforementioned campaigns have shown a team can go from famine to feast in short time span if the front office makes the right personnel decisions.
If Eric Bledsoe can stay on the court. If Booker and Knight can keep on improving. If the Suns can get lucky in the Draft Lottery. Well that’s a lot of ifs but maybe history will view this season as a springboard to prosperity.
[editors note: Final paragraph updated to say Knight, not Wright as it did originally – Sorry for the confusion from this error]