Like every team in the league, the Phoenix Suns have had their share of ups and downs on the trade market. Historically, Phoenix’s biggest problem hasn’t been making poor trades, but rather making awful decisions with their draft picks. By that, I mean trading away most of the good draft selections and keeping all of the crappy ones. As a Suns fan, the phrase “cash considerations” still makes me sick to my stomach. With that in mind, here are the best and worst trades in Phoenix Suns team history.
Best 5 Trades:
Despite having to give up a quality point guard in Sam Cassell and a future All-Star in Michael Finley, Suns fans got a late Christmas present by trading for Jason Kidd. J-Kidd led Phoenix to the playoffs in each of his five seasons with the Suns and they won 16 more games in Kidd’s first full season there than the year before. He was a three-time All-Star and led the league in assists for three consecutive seasons. Although his stay in the Valley of the Sun only lasted five years and ended on a bad note due to his publicized domestic violence case, Kidd was a top-five point guard and made the Phoenix Suns a much better team than they were before.
When the Suns gave up Charlie Scott, they were sending away a guy who averaged 25 points per game over his three full seasons in Phoenix. But what they got back was a future member of the Suns’ Ring of Honor, a guy who is Phoenix’s fifth all-time leading scorer (9,564) and an All-NBA Second Team member in 1978. Westphal averaged 20.6 points per game in his six total seasons with the Suns and considering that Scott’s scoring kind of fell off the map once he left for Boston, this trade was a win for Phoenix.
3. Suns trade Stephon Marbury, Anfernee Hardaway and Cezary Trybanski to the New York Knicks for Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward, Marciej Lampe, the rights to Milos Vujanic and two first-round draft picks, Jan. 5, 2004.
In a salary-dump effort, the Phoenix Suns bamboozled the Knicks into taking the infamous Stephon Marbury and a former star who was just a shadow of himself thanks to injury problems in Penny Hardaway. On paper, this was a terrible trade. But with the money the Suns freed up, they were able to sign Steve Nash to a six-year, $63 million contract just a few months later. Had the Suns not had that extra money, the Dallas Mavericks might have been able to match Phoenix’s offer. As for losing Starbury, the Suns didn’t exactly regret that decision. Marbury constantly clashed with New York coach Larry Brown, his popularity in the Big Apple rapidly declined and the most prevalent memory from his time with the Knicks was his refusal to play and eventual banishment from the team.
2. Suns trade Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a first-round draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kevin Johnson, Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, and first- and second-round picks in the 1988 NBA Draft, Feb. 25, 1988.
In Cleveland, Kevin Johnson didn’t see many minutes playing behind starting point guard Mark Price. But once he found more playing time in Phoenix, he grew into a terrific player. He averaged at least 20 points and 10 assists for three straight seasons with the Suns, was a three-time All-Star, won the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award in 1989 and made the All-NBA Second Team four times. He was a key figure in the Suns’ playoff run to the 1993 NBA Finals and averaged 17.8 points and 7.9 assists per game in six games against Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls. The Suns did have to give up Larry Nance, a popular and consistent post player who, in his best season in 1986-87, averaged 22.5 points per game. But with the draft pick they got from the deal, the Suns selected Dan Majerle, another critical member of Phoenix’s almost-championship team.
Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle were nice acquisitions, but Phoenix’s status as a legitimate title contender wasn’t official until the Suns acquired Charles Barkley in a trade with Philly. Hornacek was an All-Star at that point and the third-best player on the roster when the Suns traded him, but in return Phoenix got a future MVP, a rebounding and scoring machine and the final piece that elevated them to the top of the Western Conference. Phoenix posted a league-best regular season record at 62-20 when they went to the NBA Finals. He averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game while shooting 52 percent from the field in his MVP season and averaged 27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game during the championship series. Barkley has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Suns Ring of Honor. Not a bad deal for a one-time All-Star who ended up coming back to coach the Suns anyway.
Worst 5 Trades:
Okay, so maybe bringing Shaquille O’Neal to the Suns didn’t quite pay off. Shaq was an All-Star that season and provided basketball fans with a terrific moment in the form of his All-Star game dance, but clogging the paint with a hunker-down-in-the-paint-and-feed-him-the-rock post player wasn’t a great addition to the “Run-and-Gun” Suns. But he was still Shaquille O’Neal for crying out loud. Trading him for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic isn’t exactly a premium return, even if Shaq was in his twilight years at that point. Getting Wallace out of the deal would have been fine and brought Phoenix some much-needed defense in the paint … but he never played a single game in the Valley of the Sun. The Suns bought out his contract and essentially saved themselves $8 million in the process. It was an addition by subtraction, but a defensive player like Wallace would have helped make up for the fact that Phoenix didn’t get a great return for one of the greatest centers of all time.
Thunder Dan was a fan favorite for his powerful dunks, perimeter shooting and had the sympathy of the entire nation after trying to guard Michael Jordan in the Finals. But that didn’t stop the Suns from shipping him to Cleveland in exchange for a guy whose nickname was “Hot Rod.” Just for reference, trading hot shooting for Hot Rod is never a good thing. Phoenix needed a center who could protect the rim and block some shots and you have to think that losing to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in back-to-back Western Conference Finals in 1994 and 1995 played a huge role in this decision. But Williams didn’t ever end up filling that need and the Suns ended up missing Thunder Dan.
3. Suns trade Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers for two first-round draft picks, July 4, 2012.
Ahh, yes. And now we’re here: The day that ruined my Fourth of July last year. It’s not just because the Suns traded Steve Nash to the one team Phoenix fans would have hated to see him play for the most. It wasn’t because they got two draft picks (neither of which are in 2014, the most loaded draft in years) in exchange for a loyal and humble franchise player. And it wasn’t because it plummeted the Suns to the very bottom of the Western Conference last year and most likely, for the next two to three years. It was because the Suns did the “right” thing and never traded him when it became clear Phoenix couldn’t compete at the top of the West anymore.
Not long after Amar’e Stoudemire left, it became pretty clear that it was time to start over. But instead, Suns management absolutely dragged out the rebuilding process and clung to Nash as a ticket-seller. It sounds ruthless and cold considering Steve Nash gave Phoenix the prime of his career and it was ultimately wasted on a team that never advanced to the Finals. But the Suns probably should have traded him before his twilight years and maybe gotten a better return than Archie Goodwin and a 2015 draft pick. Getting two picks for an aging point guard in his late 30s looks good on paper, but this trade gives any Suns fan nothing but bad feelings all the way around.
2. Suns trade Jason Kidd to the New Jersey Nets for Stephon Marbury, July 18, 2001.
The Suns have a very bad habit of hijacking Hall of Fame point guards from the Dallas Mavericks and then shipping them off to another team, only to watch as that team turns into a contender. Just like Steve Nash went to a contender (read: “contender”) in Los Angeles, Phoenix shipped off a top-five point guard in Jason Kidd to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Stephon Marbury. As you can already tell from both of these lists, I don’t think highly of Starbury or any other overrated and overpaid NBA head case with poor leadership skills.
It’s completely understandable that the Suns wanted to distance the team and the organization from that nasty domestic violence case involving Kidd and his wife. But panic trading a top-five point guard and future Hall of Famer in his prime from Stephon Marbury? Come on.
Until Steve Nash, Charles Barkley was absolutely the face of the Phoenix Suns franchise for its entire history. Connie Hawkins, Alvan Adams, Walter Davis and Tom Chambers were all great and Kevin Johnson ultimately became another Suns all-time great, but Charles Barkley made Phoenix title contenders. Charles Barkley became one of the most interesting public figures in the country after the 1992 Summer Olympics with the Dream Team. And Charles Barkley brought an MVP award to Phoenix (although Michael Jordan should’ve won it).
So after trading away Thunder Dan and realizing the title window was probably closing, it’s no surprise that Jerry Colangelo decided to move on. It probably didn’t help that Barkley and Coangelo had a bad relationship and publicly spurned each other. But sending the best player in franchise history away to Houston for Big Shot Rob and Sam Cassell is not a good trade, especially since Barkley led the Suns in scoring, rebounding and steals while also shooting 50 percent from the floor and a career-high 77 percent from the free-throw line.