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The ’05-’06 Suns: Our Guardians of the Galaxy

A year after surprising the league, the Suns roster looked shockingly different. Following a series of trades and plagued by injuries, a team full of misfits made it to the Western Conference Finals and nearly saved the day.

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Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

SB Nation’s Marvel Theme Week has come to Bright Side of the Sun! Queue that Avengers theme music, put on your Target-purchased Hulk hands, and dive head first into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with us.

Thanks to Disney+, access to everything Marvel is a simple as a couple clicks on your PS4, Smart TV, or XBox One. I have spent to past couple of evenings re-watching some of my favorite MCU flicks (my top 3 is discussed on the Suns JAM Session: MCU Meets PHX podcast) and enjoying the rich stories and action-packed sequences. The fictional universe that Stan Lee pioneered is filled with mutants, celestials, and rich dudes with killer budgets (à la Iron Man). You can’t help but fall in love with different characters, whether it be their attitude, their powers, their physique, or their abilities.

We all have our favorites.

Although I initially thought the movie was a filler that would be horrible, Guardians of the Galaxy tops my list. A tree? A raccoon with a gun? The guy from Parks and Rec?! I never thought that this movie had a chance. I was clearly wrong. The dry humor, the classic soundtrack, the action; this movie quickly topped my list.

And then Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 dropped. That film is more than one of my top 3 MCU movies, it is one of my favorite movies ever. The scene where Yondu Udonta whistles his arrow through a countless number of his mutinous cohorts to the sound of Jay and the Americans’ “Come a Little Bit Closer” is a cinematic masterpiece:

Star-Lord knows I am no expert on the MCU. I enjoy the movies, read some of the comics when I was younger, and look forward to dressing as the Avengers: Endgame version of Thor for Halloween. That is the extent of my knowledge. But let’s have some fun, shall we?

The Guardians of the Galaxy are a ragtag group of misfits who, despite their differences, gel together. They might not always get along, but they battle as a team and learn to win together. Hmmm. That kind of reminds me of the ‘05-’06 Phoenix Suns! #NiceTransition

The year prior to ’05-’06, the Suns took the NBA by storm, marching to the Western Conference Finals, and ultimately losing to the San Antonio Spurs in 5 games. The Suns had created something special. They were changing how the game was played. They were imposing their will on other teams.

And then the band broke up.

The 2005-2006 Phoenix Suns’ squad faced challenge after challenge. Joe Johnson was dealt to Atlanta for Boris Diaw (plus assets). Quentin Richardson was shipped to the Knicks for Kurt Thomas (plus assets). Amare Stoudemire had off-season microfracture surgery on his left knee and would play a mere 3 games.

On Opening Day 2005, only Steve Nash and Shawn Marion remained from the previous seasons’ starting five. The season felt as if it would lost. But you count out the power of a group of oddballs coming together.

Let’s compare the Guardians roster to the Suns roster:

Steve Nash as Peter Quill

How are these two similar? Besides the obvious fact that Peter Quill was the leader of the Guardians and Steve Nash was the leader of the Suns, they are some other shared traits:

  • Super-human strength. Quill is the son of a human woman and a god. He gets knocked down, but he gets up again, because you’re never gonna keep him down. Steve Nash played more minutes in the ’05-’06 season than ever before (35.4). Nash carried the Suns on his back, scoring 18.8 ppg (career high), 10.5 apg (best in the NBA), 92.1% from the line (best in the NBA), All-NBA 1st Team, and won the league MVP. His effort was most definitely super-human.
  • Master strategist and problem solver. It might not always feel like it, but that is one of Quill’s superhero abilities per Wikipedia. And he does hatch a couple of good plans in the films. As for Nash, he had master-level court vision and the ability to create wide open jump shots for his teammates. He could navigate opposing defenses, dancing and dishing his way to success.
  • Cool Nicknames. Quill proclaimed himself to be ‘Star-Lord’. Pretty cool, pretty cool. Nash was dubbed ‘Nashty’ and ‘M-V-Steve’.

Raja Bell as Rocket Raccoon

Every team needs their junkyard dog; the guy who might have a wire or two crossed. The Guardians had Rocket. The Suns had Raja.

  • You never heard of him. Had you ever heard of Rocket Raccoon prior to the Guardians movies? If you had, congrats, here is your prize. I know I hadn’t. Just like Raja Bell. Bell, a free agent signing that off-season, had started a total of 80 games in 5 NBA seasons prior to joining Phoenix. He would start 79 games in ’05-’06.
  • Just a little bit crazy. Why did Rocket steal the Anulax batteries? Probably the same reason Bell clotheslined Kobe. No one knows.

Boris Diaw as Gamora

This one might be a stretch, but there were five Guardians and five primary starters for the Suns in ’05-’06. So someone had to be Gamora, right?

  • They’re both green. Gamora, physically, was green. Diaw, from an experience level, was green as well. Diaw came over in the Joe Johnson trade and actually turned out to be a pleasant surprise. He had averaged 4.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, and 2.3 apg in his 22 minutes-per-game in Atlanta. Those numbers would balloon to 13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and 6.2 apg in 35.5 mpg in ’05-’06.
  • Connection. Gamora’s connection to Thanos made her an extremely vital character to the MCU. She tied the Guadians to the Avengers, which is how Avengers: Infinity War came about. Diaw created connections with his play, ensuring everyone felt apart of the Suns Universe. I can’t tell you how many wide open lay-ups Diaw gave up in an attempt to provide his teammate the ball.

Shawn Marion as Drax the Destoyer

Drax is the muscle, they guy who you don’t want to mess with. The ’05-’06 Suns were without Amare. A new hero had to step up and be the muscle. That was the Matrix.

  • Revenge as a motive. Drax lost his wife and daughter at the hands of Ronan the Accuser, thus fueling his revengeful desire. Marion, being the only other starter from the year prior, felt revenge as well, as he thought the ’05-’06 Suns was the best chance to win the ‘chip. He assaulted the stat book that year, with 21.8 ppg (career high), 11.8 rpg (career high), 2.0 spg (5th in the NBA), and an All-NBA 3rd Team selection.
  • BAMF status. Drax the Destroyer...that alone is a BAMF name. He backed it up with his physical domination of his opponents. I’m a known Marion supporter. I believe that he should be in the Suns Ring of Honor, and one day he should make the Hall of Fame. In ’05-’06, he was a BAMF, and may have been the MVP on the team. His tenacious efforts on the boards, defensive intensity, and ability to run the pick and roll with Nash were needed more than ever that season. And he delivered the goods.
  • Gone with a snap. Drax disappeared when Thanos snapped his finger, Marion disappeared when Kerr snapped his finger on the Shaq trade in 2008.

Kurt Thomas as Groot

Groot is long, tall, and would get a ton of fouls if he played in the NBA. Just like Kurt Thomas!

  • Colossal plants. Groot is classified as a ‘Flora colossus’, a plant-like organisms from the Planet X. Thomas, who the Suns brought in to add size and match up against Tim Duncan, would plant himself in the lane. The 11th year center added 8.6 ppg and 7.8 rpg. Oh, and 3.6 fouls-per-game.
  • Sacrificial. Groot gave his life to save the Guardians on the Battle of Xandar. Thankfully, he would be planted, and would come back! Thomas sacrificed his ankle, playing his last game of the ’05-’06 season on February 22, 2006.

Some how, some way, this group of misfits still won 54 games and finished 1st in the Pacific Division. They would match up against Kobe (who had 35.4 ppg that year...the 9th best scoring season in NBA history) and the Lakers in the First Round of the 2006 Playoffs.

The Suns would go down 3-1 to Los Angeles, and it felt like all hope was lost. Yet, in true superhero fashion, they battled back to win the series in seven games. This was in large part to another Guardians-esque misfit, Tim Thomas (we’ll allow him to be Yondu in this scenario):

The Suns would play another seven game series against the Los Angeles Clippers, clawing and battling in a memorable back-and-forth series. Sam Cassell pump-faked his way through the series and was a pain in the Suns side. He was Ronan-esque, dare I say? Why? Because he was annoying to watch.

Raja Bell (a.k.a. Rocket) hit a massive three-pointer in Game 5:

The Suns would defeat the Clippers in seven games and it appeared that a clash with #1 seed San Antonio was in the cards. The Dallas Mavericks had other plans, however, and upset the Spurs in seven games. The result was a match up between the Suns and the Mavs for the right to play in the NBA Finals.

Ultimately the magic ran out and the team fell in the Western Conference Finals to the Dallas Mavericks.

Perhaps it was because Bell sustained a slight left calf tear in Game 1 and we lost our raccoon. Perhaps it is because D’Antoni ran the team into the ground, piling on so many minutes that by the WCF the team was exhausted. Perhaps it is because Dallas had Dirk Nowitzki, their version of Thanos, and his goal was to banish the Phoenix ’05-’06 season from existence. The team lost in six games.

The team made a valiant effort against all odds. Management traded away two vital pieces and their All-Star center was sidelined all year. No one expected the team to make much of a splash.

They came together, despite not playing many minutes together (or at all) in years past, and put together win streaks of 9 games and 11 games. They produced two All-Stars, two All-NBA players, and a league MVP.

They might not have won it all, but they kept Suns fans excited and engaged. They guarded the Suns galaxy, and prepared us for the next year, the ’06-’07 Suns.

But that, my friends, is another story.

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