The Rise of the Phoenix Suns

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Phoenix Suns logo

In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. The phoenix typically dies by fire and decomposes before being born again.

That seems to be the process the Phoenix Suns ensue during their NBA history.  They have seasons where they advance deep into the postseason, then their record would drop to the bottom of the Western Conference only to rise a couple of years later.  In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Suns enjoyed several successful seasons, making the playoffs eight seasons in a row and the NBA Finals in 1976 where they lost to the Boston Celtics.  In 1987, three team members (James Edwards, Jay Humphries and Grant Gondrezick) were indicted on drug-related charges. With a drug scandal and the loss of promising young center Nick Vanos (killed in a plane crash), the franchise reached turmoil both on and off the court.

In 1988, the Suns acquired point guard Kevin Johnson from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Mark West, and Tyrone Corbin in exchange for All-Star power forward Larry Nance. This was the beginning of a franchise-record 13 consecutive playoff appearances. In 2003, when all the star players on the Suns roster either retired, became free agents or were traded, the Suns dropped to a 29-53 record.

The Suns were mostly successful during the Charles Barkley and Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire eras where they celebrated winning seasons and playoff runs. The Suns appeared in the NBA Finals in 1993 where Charles Barkley and company lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. From 2010 to 2013 the Suns’ winning percentage gradually dropped each season and they ended the 2013 season with a 25–57 win-loss record. It was the second-worst record in franchise history, behind only their inaugural season.

Drastic changes were made in the offseason last year. The Suns fired general manager Lance Blanks and hired former Celtics assistant GM Ryan McDonough as their new GM. In May, the organization hired former player Jeff Hornacek as their head coach to replace interim head coach Lindsey Hunter. A day later, the Suns hired Washington Wizards director of player personnel Pat Connelly and former Lakers assistant general manager Ronnie Lester as new master talent evaluators for the Suns.

With the major moves made in the front office, signs of drastic movements in the team roster began to surface.  The Suns drafted center Alex Len from the University of Maryland with their fifth pick and power forward Alex Oriakhi from the University of Missouri with their 57th pick.  They agreed to trade Jared Dudley to the Los Angeles Clippers and a 2014 second-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward Caron Butler. The Suns also agreed to trade Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a 2014 lottery protected first round pick. The Suns would later trade Butler to the Bucks in exchange for center Viacheslav Kravtsov and point guard Ish Smith. In addition, the team also waived one of their biggest signings from last season, Michael Beasley.  Finally, before the 2013-14 NBA season, the Suns traded center Marcin Gortat, guards Shannon Brown, Kendall Marshall, and Malcolm Lee to the Washington Wizards for veteran forward/center Emeka Okafor and a top-12 protected 2014 first-round draft pick.

Despite many predictions from sports analysts from ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and USA Today indicating the team would be worst in the league, the Suns started out the new year with a 19–11 record — including a 10–3 record in December.  Their success deserves thanks not only to the improved performances from players that were with the team last season, but also from some of their newest players such as Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green.  The Phoenix Suns currently sit in eighth position in the Western Conference playoffs race.  Their record is 43-29 with a 24-13 home record.  If the Suns reach the postseason, it would most likely be as a lower seed, making them an underdog going in, which is a positive feeling for the Suns, who weren’t expected to reach such success this season.

Courtesy of Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Courtesy of Christian Petersen/Getty Images

One of the reasons the Phoenix have been such a threat to opponents is the depth they have in their roster. Coach Hornacek has a lot of different options to choose from, meaning he can piece together different lineups in the event of injury or undesirable player performance.

One huge positive for the Sun is that their starters have been performing great this season. “They’ve all done something more than they’ve done last year,” Coach Hornacek said about his crew.  In the backcourt is Goran Dragic and Bledsoe. They are the two leaders offensively, but when Bledsoe was out because of his knee surgery, shooting guard Gerald Green performed amazingly.

In their 128-122 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 6, Green had a career high 41 points. So far this season, he is shooting lights out from beyond the arc and has been a constant momentum changer with his big-time highlight dunking skills.  They have proven time and time again that they can compete against the best teams in the league.  The only teams the Suns have had difficulty with are the two 2013 NBA Finals teams –  the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs; they have also struggled against the Memphis Grizzlies (the Suns are a combined 1-7 against the three teams).

Also shooting hot from beyond the arc is veteran big man Channing Frye. With his height, it’s a plus for him to have the ability to shoot from long distance. He’s making 42.9 percent of his threes from the top of the key and 43.2 percent from the right wing of the court. Frye helps in spreading the floor and opening the lane to the basket. Since he can bring the taller guys outside of the paint, it allows players like Green and Dragic to hit an open lane to the hoop.

The Suns’ bench is also performing very well. The Morris brothers, Markieff and Marcus, have done a great job coming off the bench. Markieff has been a big name in the discussion for Sixth Man of the Year this season. Statistically, when Markieff scores at least 20 points, the Suns are 10-4. When younger brother Marcus scores 15 or more points, they are even better at 12-3. Both players do a great job of knocking down mid-range jumpers, shooting threes, and rebounding effectively.  This team has a lot of talent on the offensive end, but they wouldn’t be as successful if they didn’t have a lock-down defender in small forward P.J. Tucker.  He has shut down superstars time and time again; from Houston’s James Harden, OKC’s Kevin Durant and Pacers’ Paul George – Tucker has stepped up and answered the bell this season.

Phoenix Suns on the Rise 2

Courtesy of

Can the Phoenix Suns make a great run in the playoff this season and shock the NBA community?  They surely can, but they have to make it into the playoffs first.  The Suns are currently tied with the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth spot and it will be a dogfight as the last ten games draw to a close. No matter how this season ends for the Suns, they have been reborn and looking forward to great heights, just like the mythical phoenix that dons their uniform and logo.



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  • Joe Kidd

    Actually, in the four seasons prior to Barkley’s arrival (1989-1992), the Suns were the only NBA team to win at least 53 regular season games each year. They reached more Western Conference Finals during that span (two) than they would in four years with Barkley (one). In the four years prior to Barkley’s arrival, Phoenix won 217 regular season games and qualified for nine rounds of the playoffs. In the subsequent four years with Barkley, the Suns won 218 regular season games and qualified for nine rounds of the playoffs.

    So the Suns’ greatest eras of success indeed proved contingent upon two players, but rather than Charles Barkley and Steve Nash, those two players were Kevin Johnson and Steve Nash. In K.J.’s first seven full seasons in Phoenix, 1989-1995, the Suns won the most regular season games in the NBA (394) and the second-most playoff games (46), trailing only Chicago. Unfortunately, K.J. is possibly the most underrated player in NBA history.