10. Truck Robinson for Maurice Lucas 1982
When General Manager Jerry Colangelo traded for Len “Truck” Robinson in 1978, he believed he was receiving a power forward that could be the low-post presence who would lead the Suns to a championship. The expectations were heaped on Truck in his first season, and when the Suns got closer to their title realization quicker than they even probably expected, those expectations grew even greater.
In 1978-79 the Suns set a franchise record with 50 wins, their best regular season total in their eleven year history. Earning the third spot in the Western Conference, the Suns made a run to the Western Conference Finals falling two minutes and four points short of the NBA Finals. Phoenix reloaded that offseason and after a 55-win regular season they unfortunately faced the buzzsaw Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, falling in five games. In 80-81 the Suns set another franchise record in wins with 57, winning a first round bye, only to be knocked out in seven by Kansas City in the Semifinals.
The huge expectations and lack of Championship opportunities began to irradiate Robinson’s relationship with the fans, and the fans’ relationship with him. By 1981-82 the Suns had several unfortunate setbacks due to injuries and chemistry issues arose as Head Coach John McLeod tried to find a consistent and successful lineup. The team limped to the end of the season winning only 46 regular season games, sneaking into the playoffs. The Suns defeated Denver in three games before losing in a sweep to the Lakers.
For four seasons Truck Robinson led the Suns and was the face of the franchise. But not only was their an unfair burden of success placed on his shoulders, in the scramble to find rotational continuity in 81-82, Robinson’s playing time had become somewhat limited, much to his chagrin. Although Robinson improved his scoring and rebounding each year of his four-year tenure, for those reasons, the relationship between all parties had finally dissolved beyond repair.
Requesting a trade, Jerry Colangelo sought a return that would provide the Suns with at least similar production and value at the position.
In New York, they found their partner. New Knicks Head Coach Hubie Brown was excited at the opportunity to have and coach Robinson as Truck played under Brown in 1977 with the Atlanta Hawks.
In return the Suns received Maurice Lucas, an established power forward, and although not quite as high-scoring as Robinson, he was a better rebounder. For Colangelo, who wanted to replace a power forward with a power forward, Lucas would be the optimum successor.
Both players were 30-years old at the time of the trade and on the backslide of their careers. However, Lucas proved to be a more stable piece for the subsequent three seasons with the Suns than Robinson would be with New York. Though his numbers diminished slightly each season in the Valley, Maurice Lucas was a Phoenix Suns representative in the 1981 NBA All-Star Game, his first season in Phoenix, and a solid power forward during his tenure. In 1981-82 he helped lead the Suns to another surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, and a two-point loss to the Lakers in game six at home, that would have brought the series back to a deciding game seven in L.A.
In the meantime, Truck’s career fell off quickly, and in two full seasons with the Knicks he never came close to the statistics that he enjoyed with the Suns. Finally, in 1984-85 a toe-injury forced his retirement only two games into the season.