I'd like to take some time to remember the last five years. The Suns, while always an entertaining team, were in the midst of a funk, and interest in the team was beginning to dwindle. Then came a man by the name of Steve Nash. But before I get into that, I'd like to start off with a bit of history about myself.
Born in 1987, I consider myself one of the younger Suns fans that patrol this site. I am still old enough to vaguely remember watching the 1993 Finals year, led by none other than Charles Barkley. I remember wanting to go to Suns games, but never having had the opportunity. Kevin Johnson was my favorite player growing up, and all throughout elementary school, I was that kid that would run around the playground basketball court, counting myself down from three ("3...2...1...") and hucking up a prayer of a shot while making a fake buzzer sound.
They always missed.
Even though I would consider myself a Suns fan from an early age, there has been one reason why I have become an "avid" fan. I follow statistics. I read player news and trade rumors religiously. I have lengthy conversations about the playoff aspirations of the Suns, what their chances are against teams A, B, or C, and what their future plans are. All of this, however, is due to one man. One man who has changed my views on the game of basketball forever. One man named Steve Nash.
The Beginning of an Era
Prior to the Nash years, my interest in the Phoenix Suns peaked when my uncle (head coach of the Westminster Griffins) held a basketball camp and invited me to it. That sparked my interest in the game itself. Then, maybe a year later, I then attended another basketball camp...and guess who was running it? None other than Suns phenom point guard, Jason Kidd. I had interaction with one of the greatest players in the game, and I was beaming. However, after Kidd left the team, the Suns had brought in NBA star Stephon Marbury. While he was good (when he was with us), the team just didn't gel the same way, and it showed. The Suns missed the playoffs for the first time since 1988, were wiped by eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs the next, and missed the playoffs again the year after.
Needless to say, the Suns needed a shakeup. The Suns engaged in talks with many free agents, but none proved successful. The Suns, whether by destiny or stroke of luck, were able to outbid the Mavericks for Canadian point guard (whom they had drafted several years prior) Steve Nash. I could stop here, as you probably know the rest of the story, but I will continue.
The Suns, coached by Mike D'Antoni, then mounted one of the most monumental turnarounds in the history of the NBA. They transformed from a 29-win, playoff missing bottom dweller into a 62-win, NBA championship-contending powerhouse. They transformed an offense that was muddled by injuries and misdirection into a thing of beauty, like watching a ballet. The Phoenix Suns were the basketball version of the flying "V", and Steve Nash was at the helm.
The Reign of "Seven Seconds or Less"
Though ultimately falling short of the elusive Larry O'Brien trophy, the Phoenix Suns made it to the 2005 Western Conference Finals, losing only to eventual NBA champion San Antonio Spurs (see a pattern here?), and posted a 62-20 record. Point guard and team leader Steve Nash won the NBA Most Valuable Player award for leading such a miraculous comeback. And though many teams can be good for a year and have a sharp dropoff the next, that wasn't the case for the Suns. The success didn't just stop there.
The very next year, however, the Suns suffered a major scare: former Rookie of the Year and All-NBA First Teamer Amare Stoudemire went down for the season, undergoing one of the worst surgeries any NBA player can go through. He went under the knife for microfracture surgery to repair his ailing knees. The Suns, however, again found themselves atop the Western Conference, winning 54 games with major help from big man Boris Diaw. Amidst speculation from sportscasters and "experts" everywhere that the Suns couldn't continue winning with their run and gun style, the Suns came out to disprove the doubters and once again won the Pacific conference. Though once again making it to the Western Conference Finals, the Suns again lost to the first seed Dallas Mavericks. The year wasn't a total disappointment, as the Suns saw Steve Nash honored for his second (and back-to-back) MVP trophy.
From there, while remaining a perennial championship threat, the Suns saw something change. Teams around the league began to realize how to key in on the high flying, ball moving offense. Steve Nash, while still just as amazing as ever, found his once unstoppable offense being slowed down. That's not to say that the Suns as a team slowed down, mind you. The Suns still topped the league in pace, offensive efficiency, and basically every other offensive number, but something had changed.
The Suns made the playoffs in 2007, but suffered a brutal and bloody defeat to the San Antonio Spurs. Nash had a nasty nose injury after colliding with Tony Parker, and I think we all remember the infamous hip check from Robert Horry.
Cue Steve Kerr.
Kerr, frustrated with his team's inability to make it past the juggernaut San Antonio Spurs, decided to jettison Shawn Marion, a huge part of the Seven Seconds or Less team, for an aging Shaquille O'Neal. The move was made to bring in a "low post presence" to battle with the Spurs. He was also on the clock when head coach Mike D'Antoni left the team, which seemed more like a "you can leave, or we can fire you" situation. He hired the defensive minded Terry Porter to coach the team.
The Journey Back to Relevance
While the Suns never lost relevance completely, the message was clear: the Phoenix Suns' "window of opportunity" for an NBA Championship had been slammed shut. The remained competitive, but had all but lost the spirit and beauty that made them one of the most exciting teams in the league. After a middling record for the first half of the Terry Porter campaign, he was fired and assistant coach Alvin Gentry.
A weight had been lifted.
The Phoenix Suns were unleashed to return back to their running ways, and for the first three games under the Alvin Gentry tenure, the Suns averaged 141 points per game. No, that wasn't a typo. One hundred and forty one points per game. The Suns missed the playoffs that year, but no matter. The team was back to what it knew best, and though expectations were low, the Suns came out firing for the next year.
And here we are now. It's been a fun ride this season, hasn't it? We've been one of the biggest surprises to "I told you they weren't as good as they started", and we've clawed our way back to being a "Wait a minute...what if?" team. All in all, the Suns are exceeding expectations on nearly every level. The boys in purple and orange have even started playing a little defense.
To Infinity...and Beyond
A large part of this success can be accredited to Steve Nash, defying all laws of age and playing at a level we haven't seen since his MVP years. We can also give a huge round of applause to Amare Stoudemire, who, after playing uninspired ball, has come back and truly shown us what kind of player he can be. And it would be ignorant of me to not recognize the amazing improvements of the bench players, especially Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, and resident big man (and door smasher) Robin Lopez.
But what's next?
Are the Suns geared to remain relevant in the next couple years? How about the next five? Does Steve Kerr deserve to remain GM after this year? What happens when Steve Nash inevitable retires? There are a ton of question marks in the Suns' future...but what do you think?