The Phoenix Suns are stocked with young, budding talent. So much so that they resemble another team in franchise history, a roster built on young talent that ended up being only one veteran star away from championship contention.
Phoenix Suns fans are sick of the losing. All of us. Eight years of non-playoff misery that is eight years too long.
Yet there is hope for the near future that the franchise will begin to compete soon, just as soon as the young talent develops and becomes better acclimated with competing against NBA talent.
Acknowledging that, even if the core of this Phoenix Suns team were to stay intact and develop together over the next two or three seasons, no matter how great Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton become, it still seems that they would be another star player away, somebody with a winning pedigree, a player who can guide the (still) young Suns and push the team over the top.
Thinking about this recently, and comparing the current roster with another in franchise history, I came to a realization:
The 2017-18 Phoenix Suns are the 2003-04 Suns, a young roster with a few years of developing together that was only one veteran star away from championship contention. While the two teams are not entirely identical, in regards to the core, the many similarities are striking:
The core of the 2003-04 Phoenix Suns were: Shawn Marion (that season was his 5th in the NBA), Joe Johnson (3), Amar’e Stoudemire (2), and Leandro Barbosa (R).
As you recall, the season opened with Tom Gugliotta, Anfernee Hardaway, and Stephon Marbury all on the roster, and concluded with the acquisition of Antonio McDyess mid-season, part of the return package when Penny and Steph were traded to the New York Knicks.
*I do need to note that the 2002-03 Suns did make the playoffs on the backs of those veterans (sans McDyess), surprising the San Antonio Spurs in game one of the first round of the playoffs only to lose the series in four games. Marion too made an additional playoff run in his rookie season with Jason Kidd and a younger Penny, not to mention he was a Western Conference All-Star in ’03.
However, the four future core players at that time had a combined total of seven years of NBA experience heading into the season, each very talented, but none of them able to carry the team on their own, the group needing an additional star to help make the team run at max capacity.
That group was well-balanced with Stoudemire as the team’s best big, Marion as a slashing and high-flying wing, Johnson a sharp-shooting shooting guard, and lightning fast Barbosa as a combo point guard/shooting guard. As you may recall, he began the season as a two guard, but with the trade of Marbury – which I will re-visit in a moment – Barbosa was forced to play point guard under interim head coach Mike D’Antoni.
The current Phoenix Suns are in an intriguingly similar situation.