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Would You Rather: Penny Hardaway or Richard Dumas reached their potential with the Phoenix Suns?

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One was the victim of an ailing body, the other a victim of substance abuse. Both left us wondering what might have been.

Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

I’m back with another painstaking look into the history of the Phoenix Suns, and posing the simple question, “would you rather?”. It is an interesting game to play, especially given the potholes that line the highway in Suns lore. Phoenix hasn’t had speed bumps; they’ve had construction, detours, and closures as they navigated the road to a championship.

For my next edition of ‘Would You Rather’ I chose to venture down the alley of career potential. There have been a number of devastating injuries that have derailed Suns’ seasons, from Alvan Adams’ sprained ankle in the 1979 Western Conference Finals to Joe Johnson’s fractured orbital bone in the 2005 semis. Like every franchise in sports, we could play “what if” on countless injuries.

I chose to go the route of established free-agent star vs. young potential star for this one. One was the victim of an aging body, the other a victim of substance abuse. Both, however, displayed promise and potential that created buzz and excitement. They were going to bestow success upon the franchise and lead us to glory. Until then didn’t.

Would you rather Anfernee Hardaway avoided the knee injuries or Richard Dumas stayed off the drugs?


The Case for Penny:

I remember vividly how I felt when I heard the news that the Phoenix Suns acquired Anfernee Hardaway from the Orlando Magic in August of 1999. I was beyond excited. I was damn near jubilant.

I knew that he had a history of injuries, including arthroscopic left knee surgery in 1997. The injury caused him to play in only 19 games that season. He returned in 1998 and played in all 50 games of a strike-shortened season, so he appeared to be healthy. Yes, he was slower and less explosive, but this was Penny! He was a four-time NBA All-Star, two-time All NBA 1st Team recipient (’94-’95 and ’95’-96), one-time All NBA 3rd Team recipient (’96-’97), and finished third in MVP voting in ’95’-96 (behind David Robinson and winner Michael Jordan).

Penny, after being selected #3 overall in the 1993 NBA Draft, had taken the league by storm as he joined forces with dominant center Shaquille O’Neal. His ability to play the point as well as the two guard, coupled with his explosive 6’7” frame, efficient scoring ability, and Magic Johnson-esque court vision, made him a league favorite to watch. He could shoot, he could dunk, he could pass, and he could play D.

He was a young phenom on the Orlando Magic and mesmerizing to watch:

The Suns gave up a pretty penny (oh snap, you knew a bad pun would surface in here somewhere) to get the shooting guard entering his 7th year. They bid adieu to Pat Garrity, Danny Manning, and two first-rounders for Hardaway. Okay, it wasn’t that much to get someone with Penny’s potential. Pat Garrity was a second-year forward and Danny Manning was on the back end of an injury plagued career.

The Suns, who had acquired Jason Kidd in 1996, had visions of a Kidd-Hardaway backcourt that would provide them playoff success (they had not won a playoff series since 1995). This became the infamous Backcourt 2000. They both had the ability to create a fun, fast-paced, ball movement based style of basketball. They had size, defensive intensity, scoring, and a cerebral approach to the game. The duo was destined for greatness.

Potentially.

The injury bug savaged the teammates, and then ended up only played a total of 55 games together in their careers. The Suns record in those games? 37-18.

In ’99-’00 Penny had plantar fasciitis (missed 22 games), Kidd had ankle issues (missed 15 games, including some in the playoffs), and the Suns lost to Shaq and the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. There was promise, however, as Penny had displayed signs of life in the playoffs, leading the team with 20.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 3.9 rpg.

Hopes were high entering the ’00-’01 campaign. Shawn Marion was entering his second year, Clifford Robinson was playing well, and Rodney Rodgers (who won the Sixth Man of the Year the previous year) was ready to fortify the lineup. Penny was entering his 8th year, which for many is considered their prime.

Those hopes were dashed when Penny had off season microfracture surgery on his troubled left knee. He would try to come back that season, but played in a mere 4 games. Kidd would be traded the following year and Backcourt 2000 was dead.

Penny would continue to produce, albeit at an average pace. The knee surgeries had robbed him of his fluidity and athleticism and his game became a shell of his former greatness. He played in 80 games in ’01-’02 (starting 55) and 58 in ’02-’03 (starting 51).

The budding superstar would be relegated to a role-player prior to being traded to the Knicks in 2004, and eventually retired in 2008.

Prior to the injuries, many have stated that Penny was bound for the Hall of Fame. His unique skill set, his pop-culture prowess (remember ‘Lil Penny?), his appearance in ‘Blue Chips’, his Air Penny shoes...Hardaway was something different. Sadly, we’ll never know the heights he could have reached and how it could have changed Suns history.


The Case for Richard Dumas:

Oh, Richard Dumas, one of the saddest stories in Suns history. He too is a heart breaking tale of a 6’7” NBA player who was robbed of his NBA glory. Unfortunately for Dumas, it was self-inflicted.

Dumas was drafted by the Suns in 1991 with the 46th overall pick out of Oklahoma State. He played only two seasons for the Cowboys due to drug issues. The Suns were wary bringing in someone with substance abuse issues, especially considering the turmoil the 80’s brought upon the franchise. Cotton Fitzsimmons stated, “We talked about Dumas and thought if we could surround him with good people . . . if we could get him some help . . . there were a lot of ifs, but we decided to draft him because there wasn’t much risk.”

He would not play in his rookie campaign, however, as he was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Right off the bat it felt that he was a lost cause, and no one would ever write an article about his promise 30 years later. He would not be allowed to join the Suns until December of 1992.

But then ’92-’93 happened.

Richard burst on to the scene with his long arms and even longer legs, displaying basketball gifts GM’s dream of. San Antonio head coach John Lucas described him as, “Dr. J with a jump shot, a lock for the 1996 Dream Team”. Charles Barkley called him “unstoppable” and “amazing”, and in a recent interview, stated that Dumas, “could jump over America West Arena...It would have been interesting to see if he could have kept clean, how great a player he could have become.”

His debut game would come in Los Angeles against the Lakers on December 18, 1992, and he would not disappoint. He went 8-for-10 from off the bench, scored 16 points in 17 minutes, and helped Phoenix start the year off right. By January 5, 1993, he was starting. He would split time starting at small forward with Cedric Ceballos (who is linked to everyone in NBA history apparently) the remainder of the season.

And a great season it was. His efforts earned him All Rookie 2nd Team honors. He scored 15.8 ppg, snagged 4.6 rpg, 1.8 steals per game, and was 16th in the NBA in FG%. The Suns went 23-9 on games in which Dumas was starting. As Gina Mizell described it, “his blend of natural athleticism and smooth shooting to become a breakout player on the star-studded 1992-93 Suns.”

His electric play and affinity for finishing around the rim was fun to watch as well:

By the time the 1993 Playoffs rolled around, Cedric Ceballos was watching from the bench. Of the 24 games played by the Phoenix Suns during the playoffs that season, Dumas started 20. Ceballos did sustain an injury in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, which opened the door for Dumas. And he slammed it shut.

He was a rookie.

He started all 6 of the Suns NBA Finals games that season. Think about that. The last time the Phoenix Suns played a game in the Finals, Richard Dumas was the starting small forward. The apex of his career came in Game 5 of the 1993 NBA Finals. Dumas scored 25 points on 12-for-14 shooting against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Who was guarding him that game? Just a mixture of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.

Just as his star was starting to shine, it went and burned out. Dumas was suspended again for the ’93-’94 season after he once again violated the NBA’s substance abuse policy. Following one final stint with Phoenix and 39 games playing for John Lucas in Philadelphia, it was all over for Richard Dumas.

For those who know people with addiction, it is sad, painful, and heart wrenching. If they are part of your family, it is even worse. To see someone struggle with their demons, to burn all of their bridges twice, and to suffer the consequences of their actions makes your soul ache. You know who they were, who they could have been, and you watch them disintegrate into their sickness.

Richard Dumas is another sad story of unrivaled potential ravished by addiction and shattered by dependence. Bleacher Report named him the starting small forward on the ‘NBA All Drug Team’.


The Verdict:

That is for you to decide!

Poll

Who would you rather seen reach their potential with the Phoenix Suns?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Anfernee Hardaway
    (103 votes)
  • 66%
    Richard Dumas
    (200 votes)
303 votes total Vote Now

I’m going with Dumas on this one. On a team full of All-Stars, Dumas held his ground. He was bursting with talent, and perhaps could have assisted in beating the Rockets in the 1994 and 1995 Playoffs. The theories are endless to what he could contributed to the franchise.

I know that Penny and Kidd would have been special. Their size, their passing ability, their defense...thinking of it can make you salivate. Add Shawn Marion to that mix and that is a team that could shut the opposition down. But they would have to try to beat Shaq, Kobe, and the Lakers.

Dumas could have helped the Suns in a time when Jordan wasn’t around. The Suns were good during those two years. If Dumas was around, they could have been great. A championship banner quite possibly would be hanging in the rafters if he didn’t fall prey to his demons.

We will never know.


John Voita will be providing ‘Would You Rather’ articles for the next few weeks in an effort to talk about Suns history and spark some Suns debate. We hope you enjoy!

You can hear John talk about some of the topics on the ‘Would You Rather’ episode of the Suns JAM Session podcast.