Tonight’s visit by the Brooklyn Nets will tug on long-time Suns fans heart strings when they see Steve Nash, Mike D’Antoni and Amare Stoudemire trying to lead a team to victory.
Those three last wore Suns gear as a trio in the 2007-08 season — yes, that’s 13 years ago now. The Suns started 18-8 but had a rocky transition from Shawn Marion as the third star to Shaquille O’Neal, thanks to a mid-season trade approved by all the interested parties. They still won 55 games, but lost to the Spurs for the third time in four seasons. And that year’s loss was the worst of all, so demoralizing that D’Antoni and President/GM Steve Kerr fell victim to emotions and Mike D quit within days of the Suns’ elimination.
Now, a baker’s dozen years later...
This time they are in Brooklyn Nets gear. Steve Nash is their head coach — his first sideline coaching job at any level — and he brought in two of his most important influences from the Suns ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ days. He named Mike D’Antoni an assistant coach, and brought in Amare Stoudemire to the player development staff.
The Nets (17-12, 3rd in East) are a Finals favorite that plays the way Nash/MikeD/Amare teams always played: unstoppable offense combined with unstopping defense. And for the first time in a decade, the Suns (17-9, 4th in West) are starting to dream about the Finals like sugarplums dancing in their heads while they sleep at night.
What happened since 2008
A long and winding road for all of these parties, actually.
Steve Nash: Nash stayed in the Valley for four more seasons, including one playoff appearance in 2010 where the upstart Suns pushed Kobe’s Lakers to six games before succumbing in another Conference Finals. That would be Nash’s 3rd WCF in six seasons since his return in 2004.
After that, the Suns front office bumbled Nash’s last two years here by surrounding him with significantly less talent. Nash was traded in 2012 to the hated Lakers for a series of draft picks that eventually became Archie Goodwin (2013), Isaiah Thomas (2014) and, in a very roundabout way involving multiple deals, Mikal Bridges (2018)*.
*Thomas was acquired for Alex Oriahki in summer 2014; the best Lakers pick was traded by the Suns, then traded again a couple of times before eventually being re-acquired for the Bridges pick in 2018.
Nash’s time in LA was so injury-prone I eventually decided he went to LA specifically to sabotage the Laker franchise with his salary/DNP combination. Thanks Steve.
Nash retired, then floated around the periphery of basketball for years — including a stint as a part time shooting consultant for Kerr’s Warriors — before suddenly re-appearing in November to take the head coaching position for the Nets. He and assistant D’Antoni get to lead a Finals contender molded not too different from his SSOL Suns teams.
Amare Stoudemire: Amare stayed in the Valley two more seasons, through the end of his second max contract. He and Nash, with Alvin Gentry as coach, led the Suns to one more WCF appearance. He played all 82 games, led the Suns in scoring (23.1), was second in rebounds (8.9), made his 5th All-Star team and got his 4th All-NBA nod as well.
But the Suns did not want to give Amare another five-year max in 2010 because his knees did not look like they could hold up for five more seasons. They offered a playing-time-based max that could range from $60 million over five years in case of disaster to up to $100 million if he stayed healthy. Instead, Amare took a full $100 million guaranteed from the Knicks and walked away.
In NY, Amare had another All-Star and All-NBA season, but after that never played more than 65 game or averaged more than 17.5 points per game. His knees really didn’t hold up after all. He went unsigned / retired from the NBA in 2016, played a bit of pro ball in Israel, bathed in lots of red wine, and finally has resurfaced with Nash in Brooklyn.
Mike D’Antoni: One of the best coaches in Suns history may never truly prove he doesn’t need an at-his-peak Hall of Fame point guard to make his system work great. After leaving the Suns, he struggled without one in New York and lasted only two seasons in LA. Amare joined Mike in NY from 2010-2012 and Steve joined him in LA in 2013, but by then the magic was gone.
Mike re-surfaced in Houston with prime HoF PG James Harden, even adding HoF PG Chris Paul to the mix too, and nearly found a way to topple the Warriors. But when they couldn’t get over the Steph/Kerr hump, the grapes soured on the vine and Mike was once again looking for his next job.
What’s happening now
Now, there’s actually a snowball’s chance in July in Phoenix that the Suns and Nets could meet up in an NBA Finals this year!
The Suns are off to their best record since the Mike/Steve/Amare years with a 17-9 record and a play style that definitely looks dangerous in the playoffs.
And the Nets are looking to ride three in-their-prime Hall of Famers — James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — to the Finals as well.
Now wouldn’t THAT be interesting...