Ranking the Five Best Free Agency Signings in Phoenix Suns History
The Phoenix Suns are under five years removed from a trip to the Western Conference Finals, but Arizona's basketball franchise remains an under-the-radar landing spot for NBA free agents. After finishing a Pacific Division-worst 25-57, the Suns are meddled in a rebuild, and the process is going to take some time.
While we're waiting for general manager Ryan McDonough's project to come to life, we have a little time to stroll down memory lane and pay respect to some of the best Suns to don the uniform. Today's distinction: the following individuals had to have signed with Phoenix via free agency.
Unfortunately that means we have to exclude Charles Barkley, Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Johnson and Connie Hawkins from the list, as they arrived either as rookies from the draft of as a result of a trade. If you're looking for a ranking of top 10 Suns of all time, I agree with Hoops Manifesto's Jeff Fox's 2010 rendition, linked here.
The Suns have been a winning franchise since conception, posting a .552 winning percentage and reaching the Finals twice. They still haven't brought home the coveted Larry O'Brien trophy. New GM McDonough is looking to change all of that, but knows not to get ahead of himself. His plans will not fully develop for at least two more seasons.
That's about as much future speculation as I'm willing to get into at this point. For now, let me show you who gave the Suns the best value in free agency.
Clifford "Cliff" Robinson signed with the Phoenix Suns in 1997 and turned in four quality years at the power forward position. He never averaged less than 14.2 points per game while wearing a Suns uniform, and peaked during 2000 when he averaged 18.5 points.
Although never a prolific rebounder, Robinson helped the Suns win at least 50 games every season he was a part of of the squad (with the exception of a lockout shortened '98-'99 season). Beyond regular season accolades, the Suns were never able to get past the Conference Semifinals with Robinson on the roster.
Phoenix was only a stop on the big man's 18-year NBA journey, but he made a clear impact on Phoenix when he left the Portland Trailblazers to sign with the Suns.
I most remember Raja Bell for his stingy defense against the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant during the mid-2000's. However, Bell started every game he played for the Phoenix Suns between 2005 and 2009 and averaged well over 30 minutes per game in all four seasons.
Bell was never a dynamic scorer, but chipped in mightily once joining the Suns by pouring in over 14 points per game his first two seasons, good enough to lead Phoenix to the Conference Finals and Conference Semifinals respectively. Bell could get a bit hot-headed, but also knew how to come through in the clutch.
His Game 5-tying three-pointer in the 2006 Conference Semis against the Los Angeles Clippers was one of the most clutch shots in Suns history, which he followed up by leading the league in threes the next season with 205 makes.
Grant Hill signed with the Phoenix Suns at age 35, but turned in five quality seasons and was a big part in the Western Conference Finals run that the Suns made in 2010. The Duke University graduate set a good example as a leader and was a great complementary piece to Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Even at an advanced age, Hill chipped in a double-digit scoring average in all five of his seasons with Phoenix, was a consummate professional and three-time winner of the NBA Sportsmanship award. He battled injury throughout much of his long career, but played in over 65 games each year that he was with the Suns except his final season.
Sure, Hill didn't display quite the level of dominance at 35 that he did when winning titles at Duke or during his early career with the Detroit Pistons, but the veteran small forward still proved to be a well-rounded leader and was a crucial cog in a 2010 Suns team that almost went the distance.
Big Tom Chambers signed with the Phoenix Suns in 1988 and played five effective seasons before heading to the Utah Jazz for the 1993-94 season. Although his scoring, rebound and assist numbers declined steadily from the first two seasons in Phoenix, he did set the bar pretty high.
In 1988, Chambers averaged 25.7 points, a career-high and a mark only eclipsed by his '99 effort when he poured in 27.2 points per game. In both of his first two seasons, the Suns made it to the Western Conference Finals.
Chambers had the Suns in the postseason all five years he was with the franchise, and took part in one of the two Suns Finals appearances in 1993. Although Phoenix eventually lost that year to Michael Jordan and the all-time great Chicago Bulls, the Suns were 62-20 on the year and finished first in the Pacific Division.
Without the help of their 6'10" power forward Chambers, who signed on as a free agent, the Suns likely would not have had such perennial success.
Yes, Steve Nash was drafted by the Phoenix Suns at No. 15 overall in 1996. Here's why I get to include him on this list: after being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 1998, where he played six seasons, Nash returned to his original NBA home as a free agent in 2004.
In total, Nash played 10 seasons for Phoenix, during which he racked up accolades and was the engine behind any serious success the Suns had in the 2000s. Nash has dished out over 10,000 career assists, won the NBA MVP Award twice and was the foundation for Phoenix's prolific run-and-gun offense that lit up most of the league in the late 2000s.
When the Suns reached the Conference Finals in 2010, Nash had started all 81 regular-season games he played in and averaged 14.7 points and 11.4 assists per game. All that at age 37. His toughness was never a question; one image permanently branded in my mind is Nash attempting to reset his own broken nose and just continuing to play.
Nash's reputation as a winner was always hampered by the presence of the Los Angeles Lakers, and he ended up joining the ranks of his nemesis after all. Even though he now gets exposed on defense by more athletic guards and can't seem to permanently keep away the injury bug, Nash is one of the greatest point guards ever.
The Phoenix Suns were lucky to be able to re-sign him in 2004.