For a team that always seems to be around at playoff time, the Phoenix Suns have precious little to show for it. Despite being one of the NBA’s most successful regular-season teams (and one of the most entertaining to watch), the Suns have yet to win an NBA title.
The Suns, who play their home games at the US Airways Center, enter the 2008-09 season with a new coach (Terry Porter) and renewed hopes for that ever-elusive championship ring.
The Phoenix Suns were born in 1968 as an NBA expansion franchise. They only won 16 games in their first season, but expansion teams are expected to struggle, and fans of new teams tend to be patient with them — as long as they show steady improvement.
In their second season, led by coach Cotton Fitzsimmons,they made their first playoff appearance by posting a 39-43 record. The Suns lost to the L.A. Lakers in seven games.
The next few years were up and down for the Suns; they didn’t make the playoffs again until the 1975-76 season. That year, they made a spectacular run.
NBA Finals Appearances
Although they were only two games above .500 in the 1975-76 season, the Phoenix Suns hit the ground running in the playoffs. They beat the Seattle Supersonics and the defending champion Golden State Warriors before losing to the Boston Celtics in six games.
In spite of their perennial playoff status, the Finals would elude the Suns until 1993 — the season of Charles Barkley.
Barkley was in his prime at the time of his trade from the Philadelphia 76ers. He had arguably the best season of his career, garnering his first and only Most Valuable Player Award.
Guided by Barkley, the Suns won 62 regular-season games before beating the Lakers, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Supersonics to win the Western Conference title. But they ran into Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, who beat the Suns, four games to two.
The 2007-08 season was marked by blockbuster midseason trades in the Western Conference, starting with the Lakers’ acquisition of Pau Gasol. The Gasol trade immediately made the Lakers title contenders, and other teams made trades in an attempt to put themselves back on the map. This is how the Suns ended up trading forward Shawn Marion to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O’Neal.
In his prime, O’Neal was the most unstoppable big man in the league and one of the most dominant in NBA history. At 36, though, Shaq is far from his “Superman” incarnation. Still, general manager Steve Kerr was convinced that Shaq made them title contenders.
While trying to work Shaq into the team framework, the Suns went 55-27 and drew the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. The Spurs beat the Suns handily, four games to one.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni left the Suns after the season, signing with the New York Knicks. Terry Porter was named the Suns’ head coach in June.
2008-09 Season Outlook
The Phoenix Suns are built to win now. Their best player — point guard Steve Nash — is 34 years old. Shaq is 36. Grant Hill, too, is 36. The Suns look ready to win, but their window is closing rapidly. In fact, by trading away their best defender in Marion, the window may be shut. But if Nash and Shaq can remain healthy, and the team can play cohesively under new coach Porter, the Suns should be around at playoff time, as usual.
Charles Barkley, Tom Chambers, Connie Hawkins, Dennis Johnson, Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd, Dan Majerle, Shawn Marion, Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Westphal
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