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An Appreciation of Shawn Marion's Phoenix Suns Career

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Shawn Marion announced his retirement yesterday - let's look back at those incredible days he spent in a Suns uniform.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We knew this was coming in January when the Cleveland Cavaliers visited Phoenix, and now it's official, Shawn Marion is retiring after 15 seasons in the NBA.

If you asked me to rank the most underappreciated Phoenix Suns stars over the course of franchise history, Shawn Marion would be at or near the top of the list. Lost in the heaps of praise thrown at Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, people tend to forget about the basketball brilliance that was Shawn Marion.

Sure there were a litany of highlight reel plays produced by Marion in a Suns uniform but more than that, you can just take a look at the Suns franchise leaderboard for the impact he made:

  • 6th in games played
  • 2nd in minutes played (Alvan Adams)
  • 3rd in field goals
  • 4th in 3 point field goals (yes, even with that release)
  • 2nd in rebounds (Adams)
  • 2nd in steals (Adams)
  • 3rd in blocks (Larry Nance/ Mark West)
  • 4th in points (Walter Davis, Alvan Adams, Kevin Johnson)

That's basically every relevant category in basketball.  Shawn Marion did it all for the Suns - he gave his all with the Suns - and he's one of the greatest players to ever wear the purple and orange.  So join me in taking a look back at his wonderful Suns career:

Early Suns Days

Many of you remember Shawn Marion as a devastating Swiss army knife of a player who filled lanes for Steve Nash and guarded every position on the floor during the Seven Seconds or Less era.  But Marion started his "Tigger on Speed" aerial assault with the Phoenix Suns years before that.

In June of 1998, the Suns traded Steve Nash to the Dallas Mavericks for Pat Garrity, Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells and a 1999 1st round pick.  That 1999 1st round pick wound up being Shawn Marion.

Phoenix made Marion the 9th pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, just ahead of Jason Terry, in a pick acknowledged by clueless people (like a teenage Scott Howard) as a bit of a reach.  Smarter people like the 1999-2000 NBA season preview of the NY Times predicted Marion may be the steal of the draft. 

You may not recall Marion's rookie season as its more well known for being the birth of Backcourt 2000, but the rookie out of UNLV made a sudden impact with the Suns.  His brand of basketball was so exciting that he didn't even make it to the regular season without picking up a nickname - as TNT's Kenny Smith dubbed Marion "The Matrix" during a preseason game in 1999.

As a rookie, Marion was a day one starter, started a total of 38 regular season games, and started all 9 of the Suns playoff games (culminating in a 2nd round elimination at the hands of the Lakers).  He missed 31 games with injury and played a supporting role to Backcourt 2000 but still managed to average 10.2 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while nabbing 2nd Team All-Rookie honors.

His sophomore season would see Marion breakout in a big way.

With Penny Hardaway missing all but 4 games, Marion was thrust into the role of Jason Kidd's primary sidekick and the numbers reflected that.  Even without Hardaway, the Suns still managed to win 51 games (just two less than the season before) and a big part of that was Marion's 17.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game during his 22 year-old season.

If you're wondering how common that is - here's a list.  I think you'll recognize a lot of the guys as Hall of Fame big men.  I guess Shaq, Hakeem, Barkley, Duncan, Garnett, Mourning, and Bosh are OK company.  That Anthony Davis fella seems to be working out decent too.

I know it's been too long without a highlight video - so here look at this:

Before the 2001-02 season the Suns shook up their roster by trading perennial All-NBA 1st teamer Jason Kidd to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Stephon Marbury.  Now if you're a player just coming into your prime and your point guard goes from "basketball savant" to "guy who ate lip balm" that's like going from something excellent to.....Stephon Marbury.   The Suns dropped off to 36 wins in Marbury's debut season but Marion's production stayed consistent.

That offseason, Marion signed a six-year max contract with the Suns which would run until the conclusion of the 2008-09 NBA season.  He also played for the United States in the 2002 World Championships but that, well, didn't go well for America so we block it out.

The next season saw rookie Amar'e Stoudemire join Marion and the Suns rebounded to 44 wins with a return to the playoffs.  Marion was a primary reason.

In his 4th year, the Matrix's production rose to 21.2 points, 2.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks with a healthy 9.5 rebounds per game.  If you thought the last list was inclusive, check out Marion's company on the list of people who've matched that production:

If you can get on a list where the only other names are David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon - well I'm not a basketball expert but that seems good.

For his trouble, Marion was named a 2002-03 NBA All-Star - yes that's right - Shawn Marion was an All-Star player BEFORE Steve Nash.  A fact he reminded Bruce Bowen of earlier this year (if you can forgive my grammar issues, you can forgive his):

The bottom fell out on the 2003-04 Suns, as the team fired Frank Johnson early in the season, appointed Mike D'Antoni head coach, traded Marbury to the Knicks in a salary dump (thanks Isiah!), and went on to win a whopping 29 games.  Marion remained relatively consistent amongst the turmoil which is an accomplishment in itself.

Seven Seconds or Less

This is the part you know.  This is the part anyone who knows about the history of the NBA knows.

Phoenix was able to wrest Steve Nash from the Mavericks that offseason by paying a salary seen as inconsistent with what Mark Cuban was willing to pay him.  As detailed in Paul Coro's fantastic retrospective on the 2004-2005 Suns () - the expectations weren't terribly high:

"We put all our eggs in Steve's basket, knowing if we had him as a point guard that maybe we could slip into the playoffs," D'Antoni said. "We got really lucky with Steve."

Right around the time that team started 31-4 that was all out the window.

Marion was shifted to basically playing power forward alongside defensive sieve Amar'e Stoudemire and while the Suns blitzed the league on offense (1st in offensive rating, duh) they were able to finish 17th in defensive rating.  They were not able to finish 17th because of the defensive stylings of Stoudemire and Steve Nash.  So any time someone wants to say "well Mike D'Antoni isn't a bad defensive coach, his Seven Seconds or Less Suns were middle of the pack on defense" you can just scream SHAWN MARION at them.

While anchoring the Suns defense, Marion produced excellent offensive numbers (19.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1.5 blocks) and was named an All-Star for the 2nd time and 3rd Team All-NBA.

2nd video break - from a dominant 2004-2005 performance against the New Orleans Hornets:

For my money, the 2005-06 season was the greatest performance of Shawn Marion's career.  Amar'e Stoudemire suffered a knee injury in training camp that required microfracture surgery and would rob him of all but 3 games during the season and the outlook for the Suns was gloomy.

But nobody told Shawn Marion.

Listen, I know Steve Nash won the 2005-06 NBA MVP for leading the Suns to 54 wins despite the absence of Stoudemire but discounting the vital nature of Marion's contributions would be foolish and I simply won't permit it.  With a bigger load to carry, Marion's numbers jumped to 21.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1.5 blocks while raising his field goal percentage from 47.6% to 52.5% (eFG% from 52% to 56%).

The company on the list of people who did that?  You guessed it, ridiculous (with bonus self serving Twitter plug because I really need 800 followers).

Despite the Stoudemire being on the sidelines, the Suns made the Western Conference Finals for a second consecutive year before falling to the Mavericks.  Marion was named 3rd Team All-NBA for a second straight year as well.

Amar'e returned to the Suns the following season and while Marion's production cooled a bit, he was still an All-Star for the 4th time in 5 seasons and the Suns won 61 games.  The Suns lost to the Spurs in the 2nd round of 2007 playoffs in a series I've tried to block from my mind on hundreds of occasions.

Messy Divorce

Trade rumors and contract questions were never foreign to Shawn Marion in the late part of his career with the Suns but they reached a boil in the 2007 offseason.  The six-year extension he signed in 2002 had a player option for the 2008-09 season and Marion was quite clear about his desire for a costly extension prior to that option year.

When it became clear the Suns weren't willing to meet his contract demands, Marion formally requested a trade in September of 2007.

Phoenix had been shopping Marion all over the league - there were theoretical Lamar Odom packages and a 3-way Kevin Garnett trade with Boston and Minnesota that seemed to be on 3rd base prior to being vetoed by Marion (unwilling to extend his contract in Boston).

Yet Marion remained on the Suns during a 38-10 start that had them sitting with the best record in the Western Conference - then fun died.

On February 6, 2008, the Suns traded Marion (along with Marcus Banks) to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O'Neal.

Marion wound up picking up his 2008-2009 player option but was traded by the Heat to the Raptors (bet you forgot about that) at the 2009 trade deadline.

Following 27 forgettable games in Toronto, Marion was a free agent.  There were some rumors of a Phoenix reunion - I even wrote about them in fairly stupid fashion on my old blog but in the end Marion wound as part of a bizarre 4-team trade that put him in Dallas on a sign-and-trade and future Suns star Hedo Turkoglu in Toronto.

Dallas was a great fit as Marion spent 5 years with the Mavericks - winning an NBA championship in 2010-11.  He wasn't the same Matrix we were used to in Phoenix but he served as a valuable role player on several playoff teams and wound up carving out a nice Mavericks legacy for himself.

In his final season, Marion signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Although he started 27 games for the Eastern Conference Champions, by the end of the season he was used sparingly at best - not even appearing in the 2015 NBA Finals.

It wasn't always perfect but the Shawn Marion era in Phoenix was incredibly fun.  As a player, Marion was unique, electric, and versatile.  Matrix is a stone cold lock for the Suns Ring of Honor - and if you try to argue against this I will defeat your argument with ease -  and in my mind a Basketball Hall of Famer.

Thanks for the memories Matrix.