clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Should the Suns make a trade or not? Let’s take a walk down memory lane

A good window into whether the Suns should make a big trade in the next week could be looking back at that 2005-2010 playoff run

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

We are about a week away from the NBA trade deadline, and you are wondering if the Suns are going to make that one BIG trade that will put them over the top in the West.

As of today, your Suns are 26-12 with the second-best record in the West and third-best in the whole league. But that’s not good enough for you. You want to make them even better, more impervious, able to blow out every team by 20 every single night and not fear any matchup on any team.

But before we try to trade regular rotation players, let’s take a walk down memory lane to see how trade deadlines worked out for the Suns during their six-year playoff run in the SSOL days. That was the last time the Suns were strong playoff participants, so it’s relevant to today’s conversation.

Walk with me...

The year was 2005

  • Big roster moves: Small deals for Jim Jackson and Walter McCarty
  • Swing for the fence? No

The surprise of the NBA season was a miraculously fun Phoenix Suns, exploding from a 29-win season to a 62-win season with a couple of off-season moves to acquire an All-Star point guard (Steve Nash) and a starting-caliber wing (Quentin Richardson). Those vets supplemented a young core of budding stars who just needed the right leader. Sound familiar to 2021 at all?

That team was not deep though. Their starting lineup was fire — Nash, Q, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion — but the bench was highly suspect. Leandro Barbosa was getting better, but there really wasn’t anyone else of consequence coming off the bench that year. Casey Jacobsen, Steven Hunter and Jake Voskuhl tried hard, but the drop off from the starters was steep.

They could have made but a big trade, but instead made a couple of small ones to acquire playable vets off the bench in Jim Jackson (on his last NBA legs) and spindly big man Walter McCarty. Each move only cost a second round pick.

Neither Jackson nor McCarty were world beaters, but Jackson did play a big role (25 minutes per night, 46% on 3.7 threes) and filled in when Joe Johnson suffered a fractured eye socket in the playoffs.

They made it all the way to West Finals before hitting the roadblock called the Spurs.

Grade for their mid-season moves: B

The year was 2006

  • Big roster move: adding the bought-out Tim Thomas
  • Swing for the fence? No

Despite losing budding superstar Stoudemire for the whole season (knee) and then defensive anchor Kurt Thomas (knee) in January, the Suns still had the West’s 3rd-best record at the trade deadline.

They were missing HUGE pieces in their rotation in a literal sense, often playing no real center and risking a beating on the boards each night. They could have made a trade to acquire a big presence in the middle, or at least a functional power forward with size and rebounding abilities. With the West’s second-best seed, they still had a chance to go all the way if they would just make a big trade to get a little better.

But they declined to make any trades, deciding to ride out their feel-good little engine that could while keeping all their young assets.

After the trade deadline passed, they DID sign Tim Thomas on March 3 who’d been bought out by the Bulls after a falling-out with coaches and management. Thomas was a flawed player (big dude who couldn’t rebound), but he was a no-hesitation three-point shooter who could pull the opponent’s big man out of the paint to increase the Suns spacing.

The Suns kept their chemistry intact, and kept the second-best-in-West standing the rest of the season partially by just adding to their rotation with a buy-out player.

They even had a good chance at the Finals before suffering yet another injury (Raja Bell) and falling to the top-seeded Mavericks in the West Finals.

Grade for their mid-season moves: A

The year was 2007

  • Big roster move: Nothing
  • Swing for the fence? No

With Amare Stoudemire back, the Suns were loaded and ready to go all the way this time after coming up short in the last two West Finals due to untimely injuries right in the heat of the playoffs (Johnson in 2005, Bell in 2006).

By trade deadline time, the Suns had the second-best record in the West at 41-13 and clear path to face the Mavericks or Spurs in the West Finals. The Suns held onto that second seed the rest of the year and were confident entering the playoffs. Then the Spurs happened. First, a bloody nose ruined Game 1. Then the suspensions ruined Game 5. And for the third year in a row, a depleted team fell short of a title.

The didn’t need to make changes at the deadline because they were so sure that THIS roster was their best chance at a title. Coach Mike D’Antoni famously said he had six starters, plus James Jones (yes THAT James Jones) and Kurt Thomas playing 18 minutes each off the bench. The rotation rarely went beyond those eight players each night.

Would a trade to add more depth have helped that year? Doubt it. They picked up Jalen Rose but never played him, with D’Antoni determined to play his best players the most minutes.

Interesting note: that 2006-07 Suns team boasts two leading contenders for 2021 Executive of the Year (Sean Marks / Nets, James Jones / Suns) and a contender for 2021 Coach of the Year (Steve Nash). Supporting Nash in his Finals quest as part of his coaching staff are his former head coach Mike D and former pick-and-roll teammate Amare.

Grade for their mid-season moves: A (for not doing anything at all)

The year was 2008

  • Big roster move: Acquired Shaquille O’Neal for Shawn Marion
  • Swing for the fence? Yes

The Phoenix Suns were 34-15 with the best record in the Western Conference and 3rd best in the league. But after three years of coming up short in the playoffs, the Suns were worried they’d lost their edge and needed to make a change.

On February 6, a few days before the annual trade deadline, they shocked the world by trading All-Star Shawn Marion (and the disappointing Marcus Banks) for All-Star Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal, a 14-time All-Star by then, had recently won an NBA title with Dwyane Wade in Miami and was a contender for league MVP in 2005 and 2006. He knew how to carry a team to the title.

Having come short of the Finals for three straight years, this first place Suns team felt like they could get even better with an earth-shaking trade to fill a hole they thought they were missing.

The deal failed to deliver, of course. After the trade, the Suns never regained their footing in the second half, dropped all the way to 6th in the West, and fell to the 3rd place Spurs in the first round.

Grade for their mid-season moves: F

The year was 2009

  • Big roster move: Traded Boris Diaw and Raja Bell for Jared Dudley and Jason Richardson
  • Swing for the fence? Yes, but was a pop-up on the infield

This trade actually happened in December 2008 after the new-look Terry Porter-led Shaq-centered Suns stumbled out of the gate and both Boris and Raja became frustrated at the change in direction to slow-down post-up team.

Within two months, GM Steve Kerr offed the detractors, sending out Bell and Diaw for big-time scoring guard Jason Richardson and little-known scrapper Jared Dudley. But the Suns continued to stumble amid the roster changes and the circus was in full swing by February.

Remember that time? Phoenix was HOSTING All-Star Weekend and had two All-Stars in the game (no, not Steve Nash this time). And yet the Suns were in complete disarray. Amare trade rumors were running RAMPANT a year ahead of his impending free agency, and Nash was being marginalized in Porter’s offense.

But Kerr eventually came to his senses, firing Porter, elevating Alvin Gentry and restoring the SSOL gameplan. Unleashed, the Nash-led Suns scored 140+ in consecutive games and everyone was smiling again.

But then... disaster. Amare Stoudemire suffered a detached retina from an errant elbow in the Clippers game and missed the rest of the year, killing the Suns playoff hopes.

The Suns just weren’t good enough with the SSOL roster under a slow-down coach in Terry Porter. And they weren’t good enough with a SSOL coach in Gentry running a suddenly slow-down roster centered around the Big Shaqtus. This season was ruined by rookie GM Steve Kerr long before the shocking Amare injury.

Grade for their mid-season moves: F

The year was 2010

  • Big roster move: Nothing
  • Swing for the fence? No.

Kerr got smart when he cut bait on Porter mid-season, and got even smarter when he cut bait on the Big Shaqtus that summer. He replaced Shaq’s roster spot with the unexpected signing of disappointing big man Channing Frye, and the even-more unexpected declaration that Frye would become a lethal three-point shooter as a Sun.

The Suns burst out of the gates hotter than the summer sun, starting 14-3, then scuffled their way to the 5th-6th seed in the West by the trade deadline. But probably snake bitten from his prior mid-season trades, and seeing the Suns were still 10+ games over .500 with a developing deep roster, Kerr declined to make any moves.

And he was right. The Suns, with that 5th-6th seeded pre-deadline roster, went on a whopping 28-7 run with a suddenly 10-deep rotation that sometimes finished big wins with their bench leading the way and Nash and Amare waving towels from the sidelines. They blasted their way to the West Finals — including big bench contributions from Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Goran Dragic and even Lou Amundson — for the 3rd time in 6 years before falling in tear-filled, heart-breaking fashion to the Lakers.

Grade for their mid-season moves: A (for not doing anything at all)

Notice any kind of pattern here, from when the Suns were good?

The best trade deadlines were the quiet trade deadlines.

When you’ve got a feel-good, streaking, talented roster (2005, 2006, 2007, 2010) you just don’t want to mess with the core of it mid-season.

When you decide to mess with a playoff team’s core (2008, 2009), that’s when you get in trouble. Big trouble.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun