The Phoenix Suns joined the NBA for the 1968-69 season and spent 20 years as the lone major professional sports franchise in Arizona. The Suns were one of two teams to join the league that season, along with the Milwaukee Bucks.
The first general manager of the team was a 28-year-old scout hired from the Chicago Bulls, Jerry Colangelo, and he brought coach Red Kerr with him from the Bulls.
The expansion draft yielded a future Hall of Famer in Gail Goodrich from the Los Angeles Lakers and a future All-Star in Dick Van Arsdale from the New York Knicks, but it was a rough first season—the 16-66 record from that inaugural season is still the worst in franchise history. The team’s first draft pick was South Carolina forward Gary Gregor, who averaged 11.1 points per game in his one season in Phoenix before he was dealt to the Atlanta Hawks for Paul Silas.
But the Suns rose rapidly, making the playoffs for the first time in their second season and breaking the .500 mark in their third.
The made the NBA Finals for the first time in 1976, losing in six games to the Boston Celtics, and have been back to the Finals one other time. In 1993, the Suns lost in six games to the Chicago Bulls.
But for all of that, Phoenix has been competitive for most of its history, making the postseason 29 times in their 45 seasons. John MacLeod coached the team for parts of 14 seasons from 1973-74 through 1986-87 and is the franchise’s winningest coach at 579-543, while Cotton Fitzsimmons won 341 games in three stints with the team (1970-72, 1988-92, 1995-96).
Phoenix reached the playoffs for 13 straight seasons from 1988-89 through 2000-01, but its last postseason berth was in 2009-10. The team has won 60 games in a season three times, topped by 62-20 records in both 1992-93 and 2004-05.
Colangelo eventually took on a bigger role with the franchise, buying the team from the original ownership group led by Karl Eller in 1987. Colangelo sold the team to Robert Sarver in 2004.
Phoenix was actually a controversial choice for an expansion team; NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy said Phoenix was “too hot, too small and too far away” to be considered a viable NBA market. But the Phoenix metropolitan area was at the time (and still is) one of the fastest growing areas in the country. The Suns played their first 24 seasons at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum and moved into US Airways Center (formerly known as America West Arena) in 1992.
So who are the best players by position in the history of the Phoenix Suns?
NOTE: Players must have appeared in 250 regular-season games with the franchise to be considered for this list.
Small Forward: Shawn Marion (1999-2008)
The Suns took Shawn Marion out of UNLV with the ninth overall pick in 1999 and landed one of the most versatile players in franchise history.
Marion became a four-time All-Star with the Suns and was a two-time All-NBA pick who established a reputation as a dogged perimeter defender, twice leading the NBA in total steals while in Phoenix.
In parts of nine seasons, Marion averaged 18.4 points, 10 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocked shots per game while shooting 48.1 percent from the floor and 82.4 percent from the free-throw line. He also became a credible long-distance threat despite having one of the more unorthodox shooting forms in the NBA.
Marion is second on the Suns’ all-time list in rebounds (6,616) and steals (1,245) and is also third with 894 blocks, fourth with 652 3-pointers and sixth with 660 games. He is third in franchise history with 10 rebounds per game and is also fourth with 1.9 steals per game, fifth with 37.8 minutes per game and ninth with 1.4 blocks per game. In advanced metrics, Marion is the franchise’s all-time leader with 93.2 win shares.
He holds single-season club records with 6.4 defensive win shares in 2000-01 and 710 defensive rebounds in 2005-06.
Here is one of Marion’s finest games as a Sun, a 44-point, 15-rebound performance against the Boston Celtics in 2006:
In February 2008, Marion was traded with Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O’Neal. He has also played for the Toronto Raptors and is currently a member of the Dallas Mavericks.
Power Forward: Charles Barkley (1992-96)
It’s possible no Sun burned more brightly than Charles Barkley did for the four years he was in Phoenix after he was acquired in a June 1992 trade from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry.
Barkley went on to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in his first season in Phoenix, 1992-93, while leading the Suns back to the NBA Finals for the first time in 17 years. He was an All-Star in each of his four seasons in Phoenix as well as making the All-NBA team each year, including a first-team nod in 1992-93.
He averaged 23.2 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix, while shooting 50.1 percent from the floor.
He is seventh on the Suns’ all-time list with 3,232 rebounds. Barkley’s 23.4 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game are both the second-highest in team history and he is also seventh with 1.6 steals per game and 10th with 36.3 minutes per game. His 24.7 player efficiency rating is the highest in team history, as is his 18.0 total rebound percentage and .210 win shares per 48 minutes.
Barkley’s signature game as a Sun game in the 1993 Western Conference Finals against the Seattle SuperSonics, when he put up 44 points and 24 rebounds in a decisive Game 7 victory:
Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets in August 1996 along with a 1999 second-round pick in exchange for Chucky Brown, Mark Bryant, Sam Cassell and Robert Horry and he retired from the Rockets after the 1999-2000 season. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006 and is currently an analyst with TNT’s “Inside the NBA.” Always outspoken and often controversial, Barkley has also written a pair of books.
Center: Alvan Adams (1975-88)
Alvan Adams was the fourth overall pick out of Oklahoma in 1975 and the Phoenix Suns never regretted the choice.
Adams went on to be picked as an All-Star as a rookie and was the 1975-76 Rookie of the Year. He led the NBA in defensive rating in 1980-81 and although he never made an All-NBA team, Adams was a solid contributor for the Suns for more than a decade and was one of the best passing big men in the game.
Adams averaged 14.1 points, seven rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game over his 13 seasons with Phoenix and shot 49.8 percent from the floor.
He is the franchise’s all-time leader with 6,937 rebounds, 1,289 steals and 988 games and is also second with 13,910 points, third with 4,012 assists and fourth with 808 blocks.
Adams retired in April 1988 and is currently the vice president of facility management for the Suns. His No. 33 was retired, but he granted permission to Grant Hill to wear the number while Hill was in Phoenix.
Shooting Guard: Paul Westphal (1975-80, 1983-84)
The Phoenix Suns took a gamble in May 1975 when they traded All-Star Charlie Scott to the Boston Celtics for a young guard named Paul Westphal and a couple of second-round draft picks. Westphal worked out just fine, thanks.
Westphal became a four-time All-Star in his own right in Phoenix and was named to four All-NBA teams, including three first-team berths, while helping the Suns to their first NBA Finals in his first season with the club in 1975-76.
In six seasons with Phoenix, Westphal averaged 20.6 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 51.6 percent from the floor and 83.2 percent from the line.
Westphal is sixth in franchise history with 753 steals and is also seventh with 2,429 assists and eighth with 9,564 points. His 1.6 steals per game is sixth on the team’s all-time list while he is also seventh with 20.6 points per game and ninth with 5.2 assists per game.
Westphal is the single-season club record-holder in usage percentage with a 30.9 percent mark in 1977-78.
Here are some of Westphal’s career highlights:
In June 1980, Westphal was dealt to the Seattle SuperSonics for Dennis Johnson and later played with the New York Knicks before returning to Phoenix as a free agent in September 1983. He retired at the end of the 1983-84 season and got into coaching.
Spending a year as head coach at Southwestern Baptist Bible College in Phoenix and two years at Grand Canyon College, leading them to a NAIA national title in 1988. He joined Cotton Fitzsimmons’ staff with the Suns as an assistant in 1988 and eventually replaced him as head coach in 1992, leading the team to the NBA Finals in his first season. He was fired during the 1995-96 season and went on to coach the Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings, as well as returning to the college ranks at Pepperdine for five seasons. He was fired as coach of the Kings in January 2012.
Point Guard: Kevin Johnson (1988-98, 2000)
The Cleveland Cavaliers were looking to add a big man at the trading deadline in 1988 and they got one, but it cost them one of the best point guards in the game for the better part of a decade. Rookie Kevin Johnson was the player Cleveland sent to the Suns along with Tyrone Corbin, Mark West, a 1988 first-round pick and second-round picks in 1988 and 1989 in exchange for Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and a 1988 first-rounder.
Johnson was a three-time All-Star for the Suns and the Most Improved Player in 1988-89 while also being named to five All-NBA teams and helping Phoenix to the NBA Finals in 1993.
In parts of 12 seasons in Phoenix, Johnson averaged 18.7 points, 9.5 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 84.1 percent from the free-throw line.
Johnson is second on the Suns’ all-time list with 6,518 assists and is also third with 12,747 points and fourth with 1,022 steals. He is also seventh with his 84.1 free-throw percentage. His 9.5 assists per game is second in team history and he is also eighth with 1.5 steals per game and 10th with 18.7 points per game.
Here are some of Johnson’s career highlights:
Johnson retired in October 1999, but tried to make a comeback late in the 1999-2000 season, ending it after six games and retiring in August 2000. Johnson later started the Kevin Johnson Corporation, specializing in real estate development and management, sports management and business acquisition and in 2008 he was elected mayor of Sacramento, Calif., winning re-election in 2012.