If you're anything like me it's difficult for you to muster too much excitement about the upcoming 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns season. Sure there's a Top 5 pick about to make his debut and the unveiling of the NBA's next great superstar in Archie Goodwin but expectations for the next 82 games are about as low as it gets.
Given I typically write about things that have already happened and things that suck, I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to marry those dual pursuits into a column running down the least anticipated seasons in Suns history.
A lot goes into making a season one of the least anticipated. You have to factor in the performance in the previous year, coaching changes, personnel changes and really any other aspect that would make a season either worth looking forward to or not. This only considers the pre-season hype around a team - so take the 1973-74 Suns who traded Connie Hawkins 8 games into the season as an example. The expectations of the fans were likely that Hawk would be with the team for the season. Think of it like that.
Let's use the 1992-93 Suns as an example case study of my evaluation method. Say you're a normal Suns fan in September of 1992, what do you see? You had a 53-win team with three returning All-Star level talents (KJ, Majerle, Chambers) and added a front-line superstar in his prime (Barkley), along with a three point gunner to replace the departed Jeff Hornacek (Ainge). Not only that you had the team moving into palatial America West Arena and they were going to be coached by franchise legend and coaching heir apparent Paul Westphal.
That's a ton of stuff to be excited about.
So take all of those things and think of what happened if they were completely the opposite - that's this list.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not personally old enough to have experienced the 1970's seasons first hand so there's a bit of assumption and guess work in those. I figure you'll let it slide. If not I look forward to your well-researched response in the comments.
I put it in Top 10 order because listing things can be fun.
(10) 1975-76: Yes I Know They Made the Finals
Reasons To Be Excited: The team drafted big man Alvan Adams with the 4th pick in the 1975 draft. They also added one-time NBA champion Paul Westphal from Boston and still had the Original Sun Dick Van Arsdale. That's a large chunk of the Ring of Honor right there.
Reasons For Apathy: These Suns were coming off back to back seasons where they won 30 and 32 games respectively and to acquire Westphal they traded their leading scorer -a 26 year old Charlie Scott who was coming off of back to back 24+ point per game seasons - to Boston. Not to mention, to that point Westphal was a reserve for Boston and a guy who'd failed to average more than 9.8 points per game in his first 3 NBA seasons. As for Van Arsdale, he was already in his 30s and 4 seasons removed from his last All-Star berth. The high flying days of Connie Hawkins were well in the rear view mirror.
How It Went: Well the gamble that a young reserve on a contender could step in and be a major player paid off handsomely as Westphal blossomed into a 20 point a game scorer (I tried to phrase that to sound as much like Eric Bledsoe as possible). Not only that but Alvan Adams won Rookie of the Year and though the Suns won just 42 games they caught fire at the right time - beating defending champion Golden State and advancing to the Finals where they fell to old friend Charlie Scott and the Celtics. So it went well.
(9) 2013-14: Archie? Archie!
Reasons To Be Excited: This website has been near expert in finding reasons to be excited about this season so I'll keep it brief. Alex Len was the 5th pick, Archie Goodwin was good in summer league, Goran Dragic was All-Eurobasket, and Eric Bledsoe is a Sun. Channing Frye is back which is pretty sweet and Michael Beasley is gone which is sweeter. Also they are coached by former Suns star Jeff Hornacek which is basically the equivalent of shaking a set of keys in front of an infant in an effort to distract them from anything else going on (but I'm cool with that).
Reasons For Apathy: Alex Len wasn't even selected one of the best 15 players in the ACC (he was Honorable Mention All-ACC) and has already had stress fractures in both feet, Archie Goodwin is a project guard (I know...blasphemy), nobody has a clue how Eric Bledsoe will do with major minutes, and Dragic making All-Eurobasket means about as much as Hedo Turkoglu making All-FIBA World Championships in 2010. The team has also jettisoned pretty much every veteran player - including Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, and Caron Butler - leaving Frye (a guy who hasn't played in a game since April of 2012) as the elder statesmen.
How It Went: It hasn't happened yet but I'm guessing it goes bad. On the plus side we have lots of draft picks coming!
(8) 2002-2003: Realizing Starbury Is Not J-Kidd
Reasons To Be Excited: Stephon Marbury was entering his second season in Phoenix and was a 25 year-old former All-Star. Shawn Marion had turned into a double-double threat (19/9 the previous year) in just his third season in the league and the Suns picked up Amar'e Stoudemire with the 9th pick in the 2002 draft to add to Joe Johnson who they traded for the previous year. Plus Penny Hardaway and Tom Gugliotta were still on the roster. Because names, right?
Reasons For Apathy: During Jason Kidd's 4 full seasons in Phoenix, the Suns won 50 games 3 times - the 4th season being the 50-game lockout year. In the summer of 2001 the Suns swapped Kidd for Stephon Marbury who was a young and dynamic scoring point guard. In Marbury's first season in Phoenix the Suns win total was lopped off by 15 (from 51 to 36) and Scott Skiles lost his job half way through the year. Because as Suns fans would quickly learn - Stephon Marbury isn't quite as good at point guarding as Jason Kidd. Marion was certainly something to be excited about but in 2002, Stoudemire and Johnson were just a raw high school power forward and a 20 year old guard the Celtics gave up on after half a season. There was upside on the roster but it was pretty clear Marbury wasn't leading these guys back to 50 wins.
How It Went: Despite Marbury's high volume gunning (43.9% shooting, 30.1% from three, and 22.3 points per game on nearly 19 shots), Marion made an All-Star team, Stoudemire had the best rookie year of anyone coming straight out of high school (to that point, LeBron was better the next season), and the Suns won 44 games and returned to the playoffs. In the playoffs they managed to steal 2 games from eventual champion San Antonio and provided Suns fans with one of the most famous shots in franchise history.
(7) 2012-2013: Cobbling Together Veterans and Underachievers? What Can Go Wrong
Reasons To Be Excited: Goran Dragic was returning to town with a flashy new contract earned on the back of a 28 game starting stint in which he posted 18/8 with 49% shooting and 38% from three. Dragic came in with the underachieving yet (thought to be) talented Michael Beasley and amnesty waiver pickup Luis Scola to represent a glimmer of hope that success might be sort of possible.
Reasons For Apathy: Dragic had effectively proved nothing about his ability as a starter beyond a small sample size, even in his prime Scola's game carried the excitement value of drying paint, and Beasley was what one would call "troubled". Additionally, prior to the season Channing Frye was ruled gone for the year with a heart issue and the Suns acquired Wesley Johnson with the expectation that he'd actually get minutes. Oh and the team's lottery pick was a third string point guard who couldn't shoot or play defense and they were general managed by Lance Blanks.
How It Went: You remember. Dragic was decent, Beasley was a train wreck and Scola just kind of was. The team started PJ Tucker 45 times and won 25 games. If you don't think those are at all correlated then I'm pretty sure you have Thanksgiving dinner with the Tucker's.
(6) 1985-86: Teetering On The Edge
Reasons To Be Excited: Larry Nance was coming off of an All-Star campaign, Alvan Adams was still around, and Walter Davis was returning from a season that saw him play just 23 games. In addition the team made the playoffs the year before and added Final Four hero Ed Pinckney from Villanova with the 10th pick in the draft.
Reasons For Apathy: Nance was a cool toy but pretty much everything else was easy to blow holes in. After his awesome rookie year Adams effectively plateaued, never making another All-Star team - he was good, just more the above-average type. As for Davis, his shortened season was a combination of knee problems and drug problems. And that playoff berth? Well the West was a joke that season as the Suns won all of 36 games to get their berth and were dispatched by the Lakers with ease - losing each game of their 3 game playoff series by at least 16 points. From a roster standpoint, starting point guard Kyle Macy signed with the Bulls and double-digit scoring forward Maurice Lucas was dealt to the Lakers for 2 second round picks.
How It Went: The team won just 32 games and although Davis played in 70, he was placed on the suspended list by the Suns in December as he admitted himself to a 30 day drug rehabilitation program. A season in which you won 32 games and your best player put himself in rehab is bad, yes?
(5) 2011-2012: Steve Nash In The Land Of Mediocrity
Reasons To Be Excited: Steve Nash was still around and coming off a season during which he played at a pretty high level. There was a full season of Marcin Gortat to look forward to or something I guess. Also Shannon Brown was signed! At least there was basketball - although it was going to appear in 66 game form. I personally hated this season before it started.
Reasons For Apathy: The team effectively made no significant roster moves off a team that won 40 games the season before. In addition the star of the team was 37 (Nash) and his wingman was 39 (Grant Hill). Maybe I'm a little biased because going to all the games this season made me want to gouge my eyes out but it was impossible to be excited about a team that added only Shannon Brown, Markieff Morris and Sebastian Telfair (Michael Redd was added after the season's 2nd game) to a roster filled with old guys and role players being asked to start (Dudley, Frye).
How It Went: Pretty much exactly the same as the previous season which is pretty much exactly what anyone could have expected. The Suns went 33-33 and weren't eliminated from playoff contention until the 2nd to last game of the season where Utah physically punished Marcin Gortat like he was Rocky Balboa in his first fight with Clubber Lang. A statistic I'd really like to see for this season is time I spent looking at my phone during home games which I attended.
(4) 1996-97: The Post-Barkley Reality
Reasons To Be Excited: For three straight seasons in the mid 90's the Suns were bonafide title contenders and they were just a year removed from that period. In fact, Kevin Johnson, Danny Manning, AC Green, and Wayman Tisdale were still around from those teams. And now they were flanked by young talent like Sam Cassell and Robert Horry - those dudes were NBA Champions twice over you guys. Plus Michael Finley was All-Rookie team his first season and the Suns were adding exciting shooting guard Rex Chapman!
Reasons For Apathy: That "year removed" from title contention was one which saw the Suns trade All-Star Dan Majerle for "professional basketball player" Hot Rod Williams, go from 59 wins to 41, saw Paul Westphal lose his job, and saw Charles Barkley force his way out of town. Barkley's 35 cents on the dollar trade brought Cassell and Horry as the young prospects and Chucky Brown and Mark Bryant as the career backups. This roster was a uninspiring combination of players who were either too old to be the man or just plain not good enough - and sometimes both. Barkley's trade truly signaled the end of an era.
How It Went: The team started 0-8 which caused Cotton Fitzsimmons to resign his post and turn the reigns over to Danny Ainge. The high point of the season was in December when Cassell, Finley, and Green were shipped off to Dallas in a deal which brought Jason Kidd to Phoenix. The low point of the season was probably a few weeks later when Horry - a guy who is basically a cartoon super villain for Suns fans - threw a towel in Ainge's face in a huddle in Boston. He was gleefully given a ticket out of town days later in a deal which put him on the Lakers, setting him up to wound us all for years to come.
(3) 1974-75: Flightless
Reasons To Be Excited: Charlie Scott averaged 25 points per game as a 25 year old, Dick Van Arsdale was still around and scoring, and the team drafted All-American big man John Shumate out of Notre Dame with the 4th pick in the draft. And...how about they traded for Dennis Awtrey's perm?
Reasons For Apathy: Future Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins had been dealt to the Lakers 8 games into the previous season and Neal Walk - who had just posted back to back double-double seasons and was 25 years old - was traded to the Jazz for Awtrey, Nate Hawthorne, and Curtis Perry who combined were right around Walk's production (seriously...Walk was 16.8/10.2 and the other three were 14.9/12.3 combined). Not to mention double digit scorer Clem Haskins was traded for Dave Stallworth - a guy who ended up on this list. All that rostery goodness plus the Suns were coming off a 30-win season which was their worst since the expansion season.
How It Went: The team rocketed up the standings by winning 32 games instead of 30 and missed the playoffs by roughly forever (11 games). Shumate missed the entire season while suffering from blood clots.
(2) 1986-87: William Bedford Will Save Us
Reasons To Be Excited: Walter Davis had returned to 20 point per game form the previous year, Nance was officially a consistent 20/8 guy, and James Edwards was a reliable big man. Phoenix snagged 7 footer William Bedford with the 6th pick in the draft. Also Alvan Adams was still around which people seemed to really like.
Reasons For Apathy: The team won just 32 games which was their worst performance in more than a decade and although Davis was quite the scorer again, as previously mentioned he was coming off of a season during which he went to drug rehab for cocaine use. So the best player was constantly a threat to relapse and outside of Bedford this was basically the same roster that just won 32 games. Expectations were not at an all-time high.
How It Went: They won 36 games basically because Davis played at an All-Star level again and Nance was really good still. Bedford stunk out loud and John Macleod lost his job. See #1 on this list for what happened to this team with three games left in its season.
(1) 1987-88: Disaster
Reasons To Be Excited: Walter Davis was an All-Star the previous season and the team added prolific scorer Eddie Johnson to flank him. They were also rolling out the 2nd pick in the 1987 draft in UNLV power forward Armen Gilliam, and still had Larry Nance around.
Reasons For Apathy: Sure the team had won just 36 games the previous season, fired long-time head man John MacLeod in-season, and dealt the 6th overall pick from 1986 (William Bedford) because he was such a train wreck but yeah....it was just this:
On April 18, 1987 the Maricopa County Attorney's Office indicted 13 people including three members of the Suns on charges of possessing and trafficking in cocaine or marijuana. The two month investigation showed the players were frequenting a local establishment and obtaining cocaine.
That scenario had begun to trouble the partnership that owned the Suns. Colangelo sensed this-and worried that the team might soon be bought from under him and perhaps moved to another city. "I felt pressure, subtle or whatever, that there were some people in this league not so anxious to see this thing resolved so that Phoenix lived happily ever after," he says. "Maybe they felt it was best if this franchise wasn't even here." When asked who gave him this feeling, Colangelo shrugs. A moment later he blurts, "Might have been the league office."
Phoenix Suns center Nick Vanos, a crowd favorite and a candidate to start next season, was among those killed Sunday in the crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 near Detroit, a team spokesperson said Monday.
So as far as I'm concerned it really can't get any worse than your team facing a drug scandal in the offseason - a drug scandal so bad that your owner was concerned the team would be ripped away from him and moved out of town, followed by an active player and fan favorite dying tragically in a plane crash. Until there's an offseason that bad, you win 1987-88. And I hope you win forever.
How It Went: The team won only 28 games but Jerry Colangelo overhauled the roster in-season, trading Nance for Kevin Johnson, Mark West, and Tyrone Corbin and dealing Jay Humphries and James Edwards out of town. The next summer they drafted Dan Majerle, signed Tom Chambers, cut ties with Walter Davis, and moved on completely from the darkest era in franchise history.
Discuss away. I'd imagine 2010-2011 warrants some consideration but I think a lot of us had talked ourselves into something to the effect of "Who needs Amar'e, we've got Steve and he can do anything with whatever crap we give him."