clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Throwback Thursday: My Kingdom for a Big Man!

New, comments

The Phoenix Suns maintain a proud tradition rooted in strong guard play, and exciting, uptempo basketball, from Paul Westphal and Walter Davis to Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek to Steve Nash, and now to Goran Dragic. Frontcourt play hasn't always been up to those same standards. Let's enjoy some gallows humor in profiling 10 of the most disappointing big men in Suns history.

Christian Petersen

As with any list of this type, it's important we first define our terms. To make this roll call of basketball craptitude, a player had to have the following, uh, "qualities":

  1. "Big man" is a player who played primarily either C or PF.
  2. Must have been acquired by the Suns either through a 1st round draft pick, or a significant trade or free agency signing. To disappoint requires some initial investment and expectations. Sorry, Horacio Llamas and Garret Siler. You don't qualify.
  3. "Disappoint" is a subjective term, but I'll define it as a poor performer who never justified his initial investment due to his play. Injuries don't count. Danny Manning's 1995 knee injury was one of the most disappointing moments in my life as a Suns fan, but it wasn't Manning's fault. He was a great player who only disappointed because his body refused to cooperate. As such, he doesn't deserve to be roasted like Luc Longley.
  4. Bonus disappointment points go to players who cost the Suns a great player in trade (glaring in your direction, Hot Rod Williams!) or who were suspects in violent crimes (rhymes with Bustaf).
Buckle in if you want go on here, because my usual pithiness is unavailable for this task.

Without further ado, my list of horrible, awful, not very good Suns big men through the years, in alphabetical order:

William Bedford - It's appropriate to begin this list with a player who was both bad at basketball after being drafted #6 overall by the Suns in the 1986 NBA Draft, and then also went on to do time in prison. It's as if Bedford focused his energies to make a list like this one. Bravo, William.

The 7'0" Bedford starred in college at Memphis State, scoring 17.3PPG and snagging 8.5RPG as a junior in 85-86. Selecting him at #6 seemed to be a smart choice for a Suns team coming off a 32-50 season featuring the center quartet of an aging Alvan Adams, James Edwards, Rick Robey and raw, unknown Nick Vanos.

Unfortunately, Bedford sucked like a Dyson in his one Suns season, posting only 6.7PPG and 4.9RPG on 39.7% shooting as the Suns limped to a 36-46 record and long-time coach John MacLeod was fired. Then, the Suns shipped him out to Detroit, where even Dennis Rodman thought he was immature.

Rodman was right, and Bedford ended up in prison on drug trafficking charges. If only Bedford were able to demonstrate the emotional intelligence and self-control of Dennis Rodman...

Tom Gugliotta - One could say Googs doesn't qualify because he disappointed due to injury, but I disagree. Googs disappointed me because he was the "Is Pepsi OK?" of Suns players. You know how it is when you're in a restaurant and order a Coke. Then the waitress asks, "Is Pepsi OK?" And you reply, "Yeah, I guess so." Antonio McDyess was Coke, and Googs was Pepsi. And no, it's not OK. I wanted McDyess, dammit!

Luc Longley - I don't know why anyone ever thought Longley was good at basketball, but Godfather of Phoenix professional basketball Jerry Colangelo apparently did. Coming off a season in which they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, the Suns seemed primed to make a splashy acquisition in the tradition of Charles Barkley, Danny Manning and Jason Kidd after the lockout ended in early 1999.

Kidd, Gugliotta and Cliff Robinson clearly needed another piece. My hopes were high, and then...a sign and trade for Luc F-ing Longley, the least integral member of Jordan's Bulls? The Suns traded filler (Mark Bryant, Martin Muursepp and Bubba Wells) and a first round pick (later used for Ron Artest. Wha...?). The Suns also agreed to pay Longley 5 years/$30M.

Let's hear what John Paxson-leaving-open-er and then-Suns head coach Danny Ainge had to say:
"Everybody thought he rode the coattails of Michael (Jordan) and Scottie (Pippen)," Suns coach Danny Ainge said, "and obviously he doesn't have all those rings if Michael and Scottie aren't on his team. But at the same time, I think he would have been a lot more effective without Scottie and Michael on the court."
Um, no? Actually, Longley could coast because he was surrounded by great players on a championship team in Chicago. He played two seasons with the Suns, and was just sorta...there, not making any difference at all. He didn't exceed 9 PPG or 6 RPG in his Suns career.

Had this blog been around at the time, I have no doubt fans would have called for Longley to be bitten by a shark. Longley even joked about it. While he was never actually bitten by a shark, Longley was stung by a scorpion while sorting his CDs at home as a member of the Suns.

As far as I can tell, I'd probably like Luc Longley as a person. I'd enjoy body surfing with him, then going through his CDs to find just the right music to listen to as we discussed said body surfing session. But, Longley as a Suns player? I take the side of the scorpion.

In this 3:45 career highlight video, about 0:15 are dedicated to his time in Phoenix. I have nothing to add to that.


Oliver Miller - As part of the 1992-93 NBA Western Conference Champion Suns team, who was only the 22nd overall pick in the draft and made great contributions as a rookie on that team, Miller almost doesn't belong on this list. Miller averaged an impressive 12.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.2 blocks/36 minutes in the 1993 playoffs, followed that up with a great 1993-94 regular season, but then his weight problems started catching up to him.

The Suns let Miller leave as a free agent in the summer of 1994, and the mid-90s Suns continued to be plagued by poor center play. This led to the awful trade of Dan Majerle for Hot Rod Williams, which in part led to Charles Barkley's dissatisfaction and trade demand.

Had the Really, Really Big O been able to control his weight, uber-athletic forward Richard Dumas beaten his drug addiction, and each lived up to potential, there's no doubt in my mind the Suns would have brought home a title.

Jerrod Mustaf - The only player on this list to be suspected in a murder investigation, Mustaf should win a prize for a special type of disappointment. A #17 pick of the New York Knicks acquired by the Suns when they dealt Xavier McDaniel, the 6'10", 240 lb PF allegedly had decent upside as a player. He had been an 18.5PPG, 7.7 RPG player as a sophomore at Maryland, but Mustaf never accomplished anything of note in a Suns uniform.

But forget all that. Mustaf was a suspect after his pregnant girlfriend was shot in the back of the head. As the theory went, Mustaf had another man kill her after she refused to have an abortion.

It did not take investigators long, according to Maricopa County court records, to develop a theory. They alleged that Mustaf had Hayes killed because she refused to have an abortion. Court records say the victim, who was three months pregnant, contacted a lawyer about seeking child support from Mustaf.

The victim's family and friends told authorities that Hayes, 27, said Mustaf was the father and that the former University of Maryland star offered her $5,000 to get an abortion.

When she refused, police allege Mustaf flew his cousin LeVonnie Wooten from Maryland to Arizona to kill her. Afterward, Wooten's girlfriend, who had accompanied him to Arizona, testified that while driving Wooten to California, she saw him dismantle and discard a gun piece by piece in the boundless desert.

Authorities were never able to gather enough evidence to charge Mustaf, so maybe he was innocent. Or maybe he got away with murder. In any case, snorting coke or eating one's way off the team don't sound so bad in comparison, do they?

Ed Pinckney - Pinckney was a decent player selected by the Suns from the surprising NCAA Champion Villanova Wildcats (they defeated Patrick Ewing's Georgetown team in one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history) with the 10th pick of the 1985 draft. He fit the Suns profile perfectly as a smart player and solid citizen. After playing two OK seasons in Phoenix, he was traded for the quality yield of Eddie Johnson, then went on to play another 10 seasons as an NBA role player.

It's hard to dislike Ed Pinckney, and I don't. However, there was just one problem. The Suns selected him at #10 in that draft as a PF, passing on another PF who ended up being one of the greatest of all-time at the position: Karl Malone. On his own, Pinckney was a fine pick. Not great, not terrible. When figuring into the equation what was missed, sorry, EZ-Ed. I'm let down.

Rick Robey - Two of our final four disappointing former Suns big men were acquired in exchange for great players. In Robey's case, the Suns inexplicably traded 4-time NBA All-Star, 1-time Finals MVP, and 5-time NBA All-Defensive Team member Dennis Johnson to the Boston Celtics for career backup center Robey. The Suns also managed to surrender a first round pick in this 1983 deal.

There really wasn't much reason to expect a lot out of Robey. He had been a solid backup, but nothing more. What was Jerry Colangelo thinking? That the Suns needed to bolster their front line after a first round exit in the previous season's playoffs. Unfortunately, minus DJ and plus Robey, the Suns declined from a 53 win team to a 41 game winner.

They were able to surprise in the playoffs, and make it all the way to the WCF. It would be hard to give Robey, with his Jarron Collins-ian 1.8 points and 1.0 rebounds per game in the postseason much credit for that, however. Robey went on to play 50 more games for the Suns before being released in 1986.

DJ's Celtics career? He went on to play 7 seasons for them, make another All-Star game, win two more NBA Championships, and make four more NBA All-Defensive teams. I give the Celtics the slight edge in that trade.

Leonard "Truck" Robinson - Truck was another who was a pretty good player, just never quite lived up to expectations. He even made an All-Star team for the Suns in 1981, after being acquired from the New Orleans Jazz for two bit players (Ron Lee and Marty Byrnes) and two first round picks in early 1979. As you might expect for a player with the nickname "Truck," Robinson was a stout, low post PF.

He produced well on a 50-win Phoenix team, averging 16.0PPG. and 8.7RPG on 51% FG shooting. While the Suns went on to appear in the 1979 Western Conference Finals, losing in 7 games to the eventual champion Seattle SuperSonics, Robinson saw his playoff production decline across the board. Soon, Truck found himself labeled a playoff choker. The 48% career shooter put up averages of only 40%, 38% and 35% shooting from the field in his first three postseasons in Phoenix.

Again, not a bad player, and had moments of real greatness, but Truck disappointed as the supposedly final piece to put a contending, talented Suns team (Walter Davis, Paul Westphal, Alvan Adams) over the top. He was finally traded to the Knicks for PF Maurice Lucas in the summer of 1982. Lucas nearly qualified for this list himself.

John "Hot Rod" Williams - Dennis Johnson and Dan Majerle were roughly equivalent players, so trading Majerle for Hot Rod seems about on par as trading DJ for Robey. When you include that Hot Rod had actually been an effective starting NBA center while Robey hadn't, one would say the DJ/Robey deal was worse for the Suns.

But Suns fans had such a deeper affinity for Majerle. He was a star personality with his own restaurant, clothing line (for a bit) and awesome nickname of "Thunder Dan." For the Suns to give up Majerle before the 1995-96 season felt like the spectacular Suns era, which had started with the trade for KJ, emergence of Hornacek, free agent signing of Chambers, and draft of Majerle in 1988, had ended.

Of course, the Suns' intent was that adding a legitimate center to replace the infamous Joe Kleine/Danny Schayes "Schleine" combo would help finally put the Suns over the top, after two heartbreaking playoff series losses to Hakeem Olajuwon's Rockets. Olajuwon had his way with the Suns big men in both the 1994 and 1995 playoff series between the teams.

It worked out nothing like that. In trying to deal a strength to improve a weakness, the Suns weakened their entire team. Williams suffered through injury problems, coach Paul Westphal was fired, Charles Barkley publicly groused about the direction of the team, and the team dropped by 28 wins from the previous season.

Hot Rod managed to start 58 games through his injuries, and the 33-year old averaged a paltry 7.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Disappointment, your name is "Hot Rod." He played two more bleh seasons in Phoenix before being released in the summer of 1998.

Iakovos "Big Jake" Tsakalidis - Big Jake was only the 25th overall pick of the 2000 Draft, so it's not as if expectations should have been terribly high. Maybe it was the international intrigue. Few, if any of us, had seen him play, and there was the big question of whether the Suns could get him out of his Greek league contract. Suns' brass also piqued our interest with statements such as:
"He has a tremendous upside because he hasn't played basketball very long. He's very mobile for a big man and can play some defense. We didn't think he'd be around (at No. 25 overall). The only reason he dropped was because of the contract situation."
"Very mobile," eh? Jake was huge at 7'2", 285, and seemed to be making progress at first, after the Suns legal wrangling extricated him from his overseas contract. But "very mobile" was never an accurate term to use for the lumbering center. From my memory, he was as slow and methodical in his movements as possible.

In his three Phoenix seasons, Big Jake never shot better than .475 from the field, scored more than 7.3PPG or snagged more than 5.6RPG. All the contract haggling with his Greek team for that?

Those of you still left, thanks for reading! Feel free to share your memories in the comments.