50 for 50: The History of the Phoenix Suns – 1970-71

NEW YORK - 1970: Dick Van Arsdale
NEW YORK - 1970: Dick Van Arsdale /

Valley of the Suns’ series “50 for 50: The History of the Phoenix Suns” continues with the third season in franchise history: 1970-71.

The Suns entered the ’70-71 season with a new head coach, and future Suns legend, Cotton Fitzsimmons. Cotton was hired from Kansas State University to replace Phoenix General Manager Jerry Colangelo, who had made himself the coach midway thru the previous season.

After the conclusion of the 1969-70 season the Suns traded big man Jim Fox to Chicago for guard Clem Haskins. Haskins would spend four seasons in Phoenix as a starter and major contributor on the court.

The other notable offseason transaction involved one of Phoenix’s best players, Gail Goodrich. Goodrich was sent back to the Los Angeles Lakers (from whom the Suns had selected Goodrich in the ’68 expansion draft) for big man Mel Counts. In hindsight, it was a poor decision for Colangelo and the franchise as Goodrich went on to a storied career with the Lakers, ending with his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. It is arguably the worst trade in Phoenix Suns History.

Counts played two unnoteworthy seasons with the Suns before moving on.

In the 1970 NBA Draft, the Suns selected Greg Howard with the 10th overall pick. Howard played only 44 games for the franchise and didn’t make much of an impact in the league.

Phoenix started off the ’70-71 campaign with a win vs San Diego behind 30 points from Dick Van Arsdale, but then faltered to a 3-6 record though 9 games. The Suns picked it up from there by winning four straight including a 133-115 win over Cincinnati in which Van Arsdale, Haskins and The Hawk all scored 25 points. The Suns went 20-13 in November and December to end 1970 with a 23-19 record.

1971 started off just as well for the Suns as Phoenix racked up a 11-4 record in January. Van Arsdale and Connie Hawkins were both selected as NBA All-Stars for the Western Conference, the third selection for The Original Sun and the second selection for The Hawk.

The Suns ended the ’70-71 season with a 14-11 record in February and March, finishing with an overall record of 48-34. Unfortunately, and amazingly, that wasn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs that year. In that era of the NBA, only the top two teams from each division made the playoffs, regardless of their overall standing in the conference. The Suns finished third in the Midwest Division behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls, excluding them from the playoffs.

Once again, the Suns were lead throughout the season by Hawkins (20.9 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 4.5 apg) and Van Arsdale (21.9 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.9 rpg). Newcomer Clem Haskins chipped in 17.8 ppg and lead the team in assists with 4.7 per game. Second year big, and Lew Alcindor consolation prize, Neal Walk had a solid year with 12.9 ppg and 8.2 rpg. The Suns also got great post play from Paul Silas once again as he finished with 11.9 ppg and 12.5 rpg en-route to a NBA All Defensive Second Team honor.

Next: 50 for 50: The History of the Phoenix Suns – 1969-70

Although Phoenix couldn’t make the playoffs, it was nevertheless a successful season in the Valley of the Sun. The team had managed a winning record in only it’s third season of existence and with Hawkins, Van Arsdale and others, the talent was there to maintain the success in the future.

Season leaders:

Points: Dick Van Arsdale 21.9
Rebounds: Paul Silas 12.5
Assists: Clem Haskins 4.7
Blocks: N/A
Steals: N/A

Regular Season Record: 48-34
All-Time Regular Season Record: 103-145
Playoff Record: 0-0
All-Time Playoff Record: 3-4