Excuse me if you've heard this one before. The Phoenix Suns have spent 46 years "going small" and plan to continue that trend into the future.
You would think at some point in 46 years, the Suns would have been "going big", but since the team lost the coin flip for Lew Alcindor (later, Kareem Abdul Jabbar), it appears the franchise has determined to be undersized.
Over those five decades, the Suns have gone through three owners, six general managers and 19 head coaches. Actually, when you think about it, having just six general managers in 46 years is not very many. Jerry Colangelo was the GM for the team's first 27 years (1968-1995). He organized a group to buy the team after the drug scandal in the 80s, and installed his son Bryan as GM eight years later. In 2004, Jerry sold the team amid health problems from which he later recovered. Bryan left two years after that to run the Toronto franchise. All tolled, a Colangelo was GM and/or owner for the team's first 38 seasons.
Over those 38 seasons, the team has attempted to acquire outsized big men (6'11" plus), but those acquisitions have been doomed. Lew Alcindor was lost on a coin flip. Neal Walk was servicable. Nick Vanos died in a plan crash. William Bedford had a drug problem. Jake Tsakalidis had talent issues. Robin Lopez had back (and rebounding) issues. Shaquille O'Neal had age issues. Marcin Gortat had rebuilding issues.
In fact, arguably the greatest big men the Suns have employed were 6'9" center Alvan Adams (draft) and power forwards Paul Silas (trade), Larry Nance (draft), Tom Chambers (free agency), Charles Barkley (trade), Shawn Marion (draft) and Amare Stoudemire (draft).
Only Silas, Barkley and Marion averaged more than 10 rebounds per game for their Suns career and none of the three was over 6'8". Other big rebounders made valley cameos for 1-3 seasons but didn't stick, including Maurice Lucas, Truck Robinson, Marcin Gortat. Even Silas and O'Neal fit that short-timer description.
The Colangelos had a penchant for drafting and acquiring players based on skill set rather than size or rebounding. After a slow start, the Suns made the playoffs in 23 of their last 29 seasons running the team. Those playoff seasons included 2 NBA Finals appearances and 8 more Conference Finals appearances.
In the eight seasons since a Colangelo has run the show (2006-2014), the Suns continued to use the core of the last Colangelo-built team for six of them, translating into three playoff appearances including one trip to the Conference Finals.
The Suns did dip a foot into the "going big" pool after the Colangelos left.
They traded Shawn Marion for 7'2" 350-pound Shaquille O'Neal in 2008 to field the biggest and most talented Suns front line in franchise history with 6'10" Amare Stoudemire at his side. But the two never meshed, and the valley never bought into it. Fifteen months later, the Suns said "sorry" by effectively swapping out Shaq for Channing Frye. And the people rejoiced.
Another attempt go at least "normal sized" was to draft 6'10" power forward Markieff Morris in 2011 and trade for 6'11" Marcin Gortat six months later. Morris and Gortat both came to the team with a reputation of being tough and rebound-minded. Gortat lived up to that for at least the first 1.5 seasons, bringing a 15/10 full-season stat line to the center position for the first time in the Suns history.
But the Suns promptly tried to turn Morris into a stretch-four he wasn't ready to play. Morris has been the franchise's most accomplished draft pick in the past decade over his first three seasons, yet the collective fanbase has never totally taken to Keef. Some of that is Keef's personality and performance, but some of it must be attributed to Keef not fitting the traditional Suns mold of player. He's not a stretch four, and neither is he an undersized rebounding demon like Marion. Many Suns fans would rather the team had drafted Kawhi Leonard or Kenneth Faried in 2011, who both profile much more closely to Shawn Marion than Morris does.
The fact that we identify more closely with Faried, Marion and Frye than a sure-fire Hall of Fame player in Shaquille O'Neal is a testament to how ingrained our love for "going small" has become.
The Suns are the winningest NBA franchise not to win an NBA title. "Going small" has become synonymous with "pretty darn good".
Back to the future
So it's no surprise that Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek - who was a player during one of those successful "going small" runs - has no problems going small again this season.
"Sure. But I'd rather do in an outsized situation to see how they do," coach Hornacek said the other night about possibly playing the three point guards at the same time this season.
The 2014-15 Suns have three of the league's best players in point guards Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas but none of the league's best big men.
Following franchise tradition, the Suns have a servicable center (Miles Plumlee) who comes out in smaller lineups and a "could-someday-be-great-if-everything-falls-into-place" center prospect (Alex Len) who better fits the mold of Walk, Tsakalidis and Lopez than anyone named Alcindor.
In fact, the only thing separating this Suns team from the best teams in franchise history is the lack of All-Star power forward more talented on offense than defense. (insert wistful Kevin love here)
This season, the Suns most effective lineup appears to consist of an undersized power forward who can spread the floor (Anthony Tolliver) who "might lead the league in three point attempts and makes" but is otherwise limited in the areas of defense and rebounding.
Markieff Morris will share the power forward minutes, but likely won't get more than 26 minutes a game unless can make 38+% of his three pointers.