Phoenix Suns: Remembering the “Dark Days” Before NBA Finals

Oddly enough, the most influential factor turning the Phoenix Suns into such a loveable and already legendary team this year seems to deal with their lackluster past—rather than actual play.

Obviously, Devin Booker’s emergence as a top NBA player has played a significant role, as has Chris Paul’s long-awaited ascension to the NBA Finals, inspiring the countless basketball fans who watched him painfully come up short for 16 years. But still, Phoenix’s quick transition from a team once difficult watch, into a dazzling show which nobody wants to miss puts them over the top as the NBA’s most tremendous story perhaps since the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors.

Last year, the Suns scrapped together a 34-39 record, offering fans a tase of what was soon to come with their eight straight victories during the NBA’s bubble restart. But just one season before that, the Suns finished out their campaign with an abysmal 19-63 record.

The years even further down the line were equally unkind.

For a five-year period starting out in 2014, the Suns owned a combined 107-221 record. Across this torturous period, Suns fans witnessed four of the worst five seasons in Phoenix history. Only the team’s 1968-69 squad won less games, with it coming as their inaugural NBA season.

Needless to say, rebuilding after Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire’s departures took some time.

The Suns coasted for a bit, with Goran Dragic still dangling from that former Phoenix regime helping the team to stay relevant. But the Suns eventually cut him loose as well, trading Dragic to the Miami Heat in 2015, fully committing themselves to a rebuild. Even with the Suns having already traded Dragic once before, the move caused some heart ache, especially with Nash’s sign-and-trade to the Los Angeles Lakers still stinging like a fresh wound even three-years removed from it.

The following offseason though, the Suns drafted Devin Booker, a promising and talented scoring guard from Kentucky. You know…the guy whose jersey everyone is wearing around the Valley right now.

But although Booker played well as a rookie, the Suns still found themselves drudging through the Western Conference for yet another year. Then-head coach Jeff Hornaceck was fired halfway through the season, while Marcus Morris consistently drew negative attention toward team the with his off-court antics.

But although Phoenix’s pitiful season awarded them the fourth overall pick, they spent it on Dragan Bender—an absolute bust, who know finds himself playing overseas. Booker delivered his historic 70-point performance against the Boston Celtics the following year, but the Suns somehow still lost the game, perfectly symbolizing Phoenix’s disappointing 2016-17 season, which saw them win only 24 contests.

A few months later, the Suns once again swung and missed with the fourth overall pick, this time drafting former Kansas Jayhawk Josh Jackson, who they shipped off to Memphis just two seasons later. Having seen enough, Eric Bledsoe forced his way out via a trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Suns once again stumbled over the NBA’s finish line, this time with just 21 wins.

With Booker’s talents continuing to go wasted as the front office kept making questionable decisions, you can certainly argue things felt more hopeless after Phoenix’s 2017-18 season than ever before.

Consequently earning the first overall pick, the Suns next drafted Deandre Ayton, and later Mikal Bridges. With both players starting for this year’s team, we can thankfully look back on this moment as a turning point for the Suns.

But at the time, things still looked bleak. With Trae Young and Luka Doncic drafted shortly after Ayton, and emerging as immediate stars, many thought the Suns once again missed on an early draft pick, as Ayton took a bit more time to develop.

Despite the noise, the Suns never lost confidence in their newly acquired big man. That came as the real turning point for Phoenix though. They stood behind Ayton, allowing him to grow into arguably a top five NBA center, and alongside Devin Booker—turn Phoenix into a promising young team and attractive destination for Chris Paul.

From that point on, it’s been all fun for the Phoenix. It takes the rainy days to appreciate the sunny ones, and this franchise essentially got rocked by a never-ending thunderstorm. But no more—the Suns now find themselves with a chance to capture their first ever NBA title, and their fans could not be more proud.

The NBA Finals tip off in Phoenix tonight at 6:00 p.m. PT, with the Suns listed as series favorites over the Milwaukee Bucks at -200.