In today’s installment of the “Titleless” bracket over at SB Nation, Mike Prada has the 2004-05 Suns fourth overall in the “Robbed” corner of the tournament, a truly apt description of what happened during Steve Nash’s first MVP season.
As we’ve laid out in previous writeups, Prada clearly stated he would only pick one team per era. However, I wrote on Tuesday about how the 2009-10 team should be part of its own distinct era, the post-Mike D’Antoni Suns. By that point, the entire roster apart from Nash and Amare’ Stoudemire was different, and Alvin Gentry was the coach.
The other argument to be had is which of the back-to-back conference finalist Suns teams was better. That will help us determine, as we’re trying to do here, which title hurt worst. When you toss in the 2004-05 team, the 2005-06 team and the 2009-10 team together, the combination of fanbase misery, overall team quality, and playoff pathway will show which robbery hurt the worst.
The misery index
2004-05: Everything was so fresh. Fans were excited to get Steve Nash back after two All-Star appearances in Dallas. They were interested to see how the guy from Italy might coach the team. Stoudemire and Shawn Marion were entering their primes. The team added shooters and a new owner. There was hardly any misery, even if it had been awhile since the Suns fielded a true championship contender, and losing to San Antonio sucked. 4/10.
2005-06: Oh boy. Losing to the Spurs in the 2005 conference finals hurt. The Cinderella Suns were dismantled, then lost Joe Johnson and Stoudemire got hurt in training camp. After the sudden success of the previous season, the way things ended in 2006, with Dallas going on a monster run in Game 6 of the conference finals, was pretty miserable. 7/10.
2009-10: This one is harder. Sweeping San Antonio was glorious, but running into the Lakers again and being beaten by buzzer-beaters from both Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest was agonizing. It was almost as if the high of beating the Spurs made the low of losing to Kobe’s Lakers even worse. That and the fact that it felt, even in the moment, like Nash’s last real shot at a title, was painful. 9/10.
2004-05: To me it’s easily the first one. Not only did you have a healthy Stoudemire, but also Johnson and Quentin Richardson. 9/10.
2005-06: The frontcourt was deeper here, with Boris Diaw and Kurt Thomas. You also had a better Leandro Barbosa by this point. But they were minus three starters from the previous season. Come on. 6/10.
2009-10: Johnson > Jason Richardson. Marion > Grant Hill. However, this was Stoudemire’s best season in Phoenix. 7/10.
The playoff battles
2004-05: The standout here is beating Dallas in six games in the second round during Dirk Nowitzki’s apex. Also doing so after Nash had just left Dallas is pretty impressive. Lasting just five games against San Antonio (yes I know Richardson and Johnson had injuries) is tough, but oh well. 7/10.
2005-06: Gritty, seven-game epics against both L.A. teams are the lasting memory of this squad. Though it was disappointing to lose to Dallas the way they did, they still pushed the Mavericks to six during an incredible Dirk season. It’s the same Dallas team that would go on to nearly beat Dwyane Wade and Shaq in the Finals. Kobe, peak Elton Brand, and Dirk? Doesn’t get much tougher than that. 10/10.
2009-10: The superstar names are pretty incredible here, too. The post-hype Spurs. Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge. Kobe again. I take a little off the top because San Antonio was weakened. 8/10.
First, the totals.
That checks out. The first year may have been the best team (which is why Prada put them highest on his “Titleless” bracket), but the next season had more pressure, and the final season a half-decade later carried the weight of an entire era on its back. From Nash to Stoudemire to Kobe to Dirk, many of the faces remained the same, but the crushing pressure of Father Time made things weightier as Nash’s career moved along.