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Deep dive: Is Mikal Bridges already the best player the Suns have ever traded?

Quick answer: not at all. Better answer: Maybe someday.

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

When Mikal Bridges scored 26 points per game last spring after being traded by the Phoenix Suns, I began to contemplate whether he is already the best player the franchise has ever traded away.

Of course, I immediately dismissed the thought. The Suns have made more than 100 trades over the last 55 years, almost two dozen of them involving All-Stars going out to other teams. Surely Mikal Bridges isn’t the best player the Suns have ever traded!?

The Suns have made a lot of other teams better over the years while rarely doing the same for themselves. The best players brought in on trade include Barkley (1993), Paul Westphal (1975), Kevin Johnson (1988), Jason Kidd (1996) and Chris Paul (2020). We want to include Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal on the list, but they still have to prove themselves.

Now let’s break down the best players the Suns have ever traded away to other teams. I went through every transaction in Suns history via and ranked the players the Suns sent out in trade.

My criteria here was pretty simple: what did they accomplish after leaving the Suns? Your ranking might be different, but that’s the criteria I used.

  1. Paul Silas to Boston (1972) — 1x All-Star (AS) with PHX, 1x AS with BOS, 4 Finals/3 rings (Bos/Sea)
  2. Dennis Johnson to Celtics (1983) — 2x AS w/PHX, 1x AS with BOS, 4 Finals/2 rings
  3. Jason Kidd to Nets (2001) — 3x AS w/PHX, 6x AS + 3 Finals/1 ring with Nets/Mavericks
  4. Steve Nash to Mavericks (1998) — became 8x AS w/Mavs/Suns, including 2 league MVPs
  5. Joe Johnson to Hawks (2005) — became 7x AS w/Hawks/Nets
  6. Shawn Marion to Heat (2008) — 4x AS w/Suns, no more AS but won ring w/Mavs (and Kidd)
  7. Jeff Hornacek to Sixers (1992) — 1x AS w/PHX, no more AS but made 2 Finals with Jazz
  8. Larry Nance to Cavaliers (1988) — 1x AS w/PHX, 2x AS with CLE
  9. Charles Barkley to Rockets (1996) — 4x AS w/PHX, 1x AS after that
  10. Amare Stoudemire to Knicks (2010) — 6x AS w/PHX, 1x AS w/NYK

Honorable Mention: Steve Nash to Lakers (2012) — barely played for the Lakers (but we can probably credit him for ruining the hopes of Lakers title hopes with Dwight Howard and Nash joining Kobe Bryant)

The list goes on and on. Almost two dozen players made at least one All-Star game after being traded away from the Suns, but that’s my take on the best of the best.

I had fun reading through all the transactions the Suns have made, especially being reminded of midseason ‘reboots’.

  • In the middle of the 1987-88 season, the Suns traded all of Larry Nance, James Edwards and Jay Humphries, while winning just 28 games and finishing the season with just kids in the lineup. That offseason, they signed Tom Chambers and went on to three Conference Finals (1 Finals) in next five seasons.
  • In the middle of the 2003-04 season, the Suns traded all of Anfernee Hardaway, Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta, while winning just 29 games and finishing the season with just kids in the lineup. That offseason, they signed Steve Nash and went on to three Conference Finals in next six seasons.
  • In the middle of the 2015 season, the Suns traded Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at the deadline, then Marcus Morris that summer, in an attempt to... well, we still don’t really know do we? That wasn’t a housecleaning as much as it was a house-messing, as the Suns spent the next half-decade in abject tank mode.

The 18-year Robert Sarver tenure certainly had its highs and lows.

Sarver’s highs included two of the best iterations of Phoenix Suns teams in franchise history: one Finals appearance, four Western Conference Finals, a two-time Most Valuable Player, and a handful of All-NBA players.

Sarver’s lows included no playoffs for 10 straight years, no All-Stars for 7 straight years, not drafting a single All-Star out of 4 top-five draft picks, and sending out three times as many starting-level NBA players as they brought in via trade. Blechhhhh.

Let’s just narrow it down to the last 10 years, otherwise known as the Post-Nash era. In these last 10 years, which do include 3 playoff runs, 1 Finals appearance and 1 new deep-pocketed owner, the Suns have traded away 18 starting-level players (including 2 future All-Stars) while only bringing back only 6 starting-level players.

I asked my fellow Bright Side writers (me, John V, Brandon, Cole, Matthew, Justin, Holden and Stephen) to help me create a Top 10 list of players traded away in the last decade, and guess who went #1 with a bullet?

This is where our story works its way all the way back to the opening paragraph of this article: Is Mikal Bridges already the best player the franchise has ever traded away?

Our writers say he’s at least the best player traded in the last decade, but I’m skeptical. I know the bar is low, but Goran Dragic made both an All-Star game and an All-NBA team after being traded by the Suns. Isaiah Thomas made an All-Star game after being traded and probably would have made another next to LeBron James in Cleveland if his hip hadn’t given out. Eric Bledsoe made an All-Defensive team. They all contributed to winning at least one playoff series.

Mikal, Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson all being ranked in the top five screams whispers of recency bias, to me.

Yes, they were all in purple and orange in the 2021 NBA Finals just two years ago, but they haven’t proven anything post-Suns quite yet. It’s quite probable that none of them will make an All-Star team again.

Mikal looked great in half a season after joining the Nets, but will need to do more to top a list of recently-traded players in my opinion, let alone all-time. My hesitance will dissipate if Mikal leads Team USA to the Gold this summer, makes the All-Star team and/or leads the Nets on a solid playoff run next spring.

Let’s say he does that. Let’s say he makes a couple of All-Star appearances, wins FIBA and Olympic Gold Medals the next two summers, and leads the Nets on perennial playoff appearances. That would surely place him in the 6-10 range of all-time best traded players by the franchise right?

Mikal already matches Marion (6th on my list) and Hornacek (7th) Finals appearances as starters with his own role on the 2021 Suns before being traded away. He only needs a couple All-Star appearances to top 8th-10th, but cracking 6th or 7th will be tough.

He could be this generation’s Larry Nance or Antonio McDyess — one All-Star appearance, no Finals amid a decade of post-Suns years. He’ll need a title, or at least a Finals appearance in a new uniform to climb the ranks.

Time will tell just how good Bridges, Johnson and the 38-year old Paul are in their post-Suns careers. Best case for Paul, in my opinion, is joining Nash on the All-Time Honorable Mention list by choking out the Warriors’ last championship gasp (the similarities of the 2012 Nash and 2023 Paul trades are an article for another day!).

In the case of Bridges, Johnson and Paul, you need to consider the circumstances. While our ‘best players ever traded’ list barely netted any value back to the Suns, this time the Suns flipped the script. This time, they won the trades by acquiring a pair of perennial All-Stars in Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.

Thanks for changing the narrative, Mat Ishbia!

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