The Phoenix Suns and Free Agency: A Brief, Freaky History



Reading the posts on here in the last couple days, I was a little surprised at some of the players people have been suggesting that the Suns should bring in. David Lee was lifted to near-immortal status, a Dirk and Nash reunion would have guaranteed success, even a S&T involving Nash to bring in Chris Paul was proposed a few times. Add Monta Ellis, Gerald Wallace, Carmelo Anthony and Andre Iguodala to the list, and apparently every player in the NBA has been desired by Suns fans to wear the purple.

In an attempt to reveal the freaky nature of free agency, I thought it might do some good to chronicle the Suns history since unrestricted free agency began in '88 (with our very own Suns as the catalyst).

Behold and beware, here are some of the most significant free agent signings in Suns history. The good, the bad and the ridonkulous.

(This only entails signings that impacted the team on the court and/or in the budget for an extended period of time, so you won't find Joe Kleine or Matt Barnes in here)

Free Agency Begins, for the Suns as well as the NBA, with Tom Chambers in 1988



The Suns struck gold the first time, signing Tom Chambers as the true pioneer free agent (sorry, Amare). TC was a three-time all star forward, a two-time 2nd team All NBAer and earned a spot in the Ring of Honor.

He also gave us one of the best highlights in Suns history when he did this to Mark Jackson:

Danny Ainge, 1992

The Suns signed Ainge as a free agent to add to their Summer of Charles in '92. Ainge was a solid backup combo guard for a few years.

However, I will always remember him as a Suns player for letting this happen:



Yeah Danny, that was your man. As Chambers jokingly recounted years later, "The funny thing was it was Danny who was yelling 'No 3's, guys!' in the huddle before that play."

Danny Manning, 1994

Initially signed to a bargain basement one year deal, the Suns decided to extend Manning's contract to 6 yrs/$40 mil after he ruined his only good knee left. While the decision had disaster written all over it, Manning recovered to win a Sixth Man award and at the time was the only player to come back from reconstructive knee surgery on both knees. It was a classy move by the Suns organization not to cast him to the scrap heap after his injury, and luckily they even reaped a few benefits from it. A feel-good free agency story, one of the few.

Rex Chapman, 1996

Another bargain basement signing by the Suns, Rex exemplified the small ball Suns of the post-Barkley era. Wily, ballsy, just a little crazy and just good enough to put a little scare in the opposition. He was also the consummate professional. When he hit free agency again, he told the Suns to give him the league average instead of testing the waters. After his shot mysteriously abandoned him and he was relegated to mop-up duty, he didn't sulk or complain. He announced his retirement to a single reporter, no press conference or official farewell, and that kind of selfless attitude is really not appreciated enough.

He will go down in Suns lore for this shot against the Sonics.

The Suns still lost this game, which makes it an appropriate microcosm for the entire history of the Phoenix Suns. Exciting, indescribable, but in the end, just not enough.

Buckle up, people. This is where it starts to get ugly.

Luc Longley (sign and trade w/ Bulls), 1999



Apparently the Suns weren't paying attention when the Sonics essentially ruined their budget and their team chemistry by signing Jim McIlvane to a $35 million deal, as they decided to get involved in the post-Jordan/lockout season free agency by acquiring Luc Longley in a S&T with the Bulls.

The Lost Aussie would give the Suns a total of six double-doubles over the next two seasons, prompt his coach Danny Ainge to exclaim to himself "He's terrible!" well within earshot of the press row, and get stung twice by the same scorpion while in his house. All the while "earning" $28 million from the Suns and Knicks for the next five years.

After retiring he went back home to Australia, where apparently grand larceny isn't a felony.

Tom Gugliotta, 1999



After Antionio McDyess left the Suns high-and-dry, it was time for a good old-fashioned panic signing. Although to be fair, Googs was just coming off of back-to-back seasons in which he averaged 20 ppg. He had a slight drop in his first year with the Suns, but still produced a respectable 17 and 9. Next season however, he dropped off the face of the earth. Matters weren't helped when Randy Livingston (the worst backup PG in Suns history) clumsily wiped out Googs' knee, mercifully ending his season, and for all intents and purposes, his career. The Suns were left with the proverbial albatross of a contract, as they paid $41.8 mil over the next four seasons while their panic replacement to McDyess hobbled along as a reserve, contributing marginally.

Penny Hardaway (sign and trade w/ Orlando), 1999



In an awkward attempt to put a little more excitement on the team besides Jason Kidd, the Suns shelled out $86.4 mil to Penny Hardaway and created the short-lived marketing travesty that was "Backcourt 2000." Despite the oh-so-catchy tagline, many were skeptical of Hardaway's arrival, as he had missed a large number of games in the three seasons prior, clashed with his coach, and was embarrassed in the playoffs the year before by the upstart Philly team that included a young Iverson and Larry Hughes in his rookie year. The Suns were undeterred, for some reason.

In Penny's first season in Phoenix, he put up a decent stat line of 17/5/5, but was injured for a large chunk of the season and got back in to the swing of things just as Kidd went down with an injury of his own. He only played four games the following year. When Kidd and Penny were finally back on the court together, it was apparent that they were never a solid pairing in the first place. Once again, the Knicks took on the last couple years of his contract, because they're awesome.

In the 99/00 season, the Suns paid $23.4 million dollars to Penny Hardaway, Tom Gugliotta and Luc Longley. All were free agents signed in the past two offseasons. Yeesh.

Quentin Richardson, 2004

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Signed as a free agent after averaging 17/6 the year before withthe Clips, Q proved once again that good individual stats on a bad team doesn't warrant a big contract. During his lone season with the Suns, Q chipped in 15 ppg but hoisted a staggering 8 threes a game to get it during the first year of a $46 million contract.

New York once again was there to take the rest of the contract, but it was the Suns that ended up with an egg on their face, as the Q for Kurt Thomas deal with New York enabled the Sonics/Thunder to steal a few draft picks and cash from the Suns just to take on the remainder of the contract. If this wasn't enough, Thomas ended up on the Spurs and helped to knock the Suns out of the playoffs in '08. This has been well documented, but it's commonly forgotten that it was the Richardson free agent signing that started the unfortunate chain of events.

Steve Nash, 2004



In what turned out to be one of the most fruitful free agent signings ever, the Suns struck gold by bringing back the scrappy Canadian that they should've held onto in the first place. We all know the story from here. Viva La Nash.

It's a freaky endeavor

When I started writing this post, I didn't realize how much the history of the team was shaped, lifted and ruined by just a handful of free agent signings. I'm glad the Suns have mostly stayed on the sidelines during this summer's frenzy, because if history is any indicator, most of the teams that went splashing around during the last few days are bound to end up regretting it at some point. And if David Lee, Melo and CP3 look like sure things, remember that people were psyched to have Gugliotta, too.

Happy hunting.

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