Phoenix Suns: The Franchise's All-Time 'What If' Team
“With the (insert high teens to low twenties number) pick in the (insert year) NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns select…”
When David Stern has uttered these words over the last decade or so, chances are that whatever name comes next will merely be a footnote in the team’s record book. Few teams have shown such a recent disdain for the draft process. Of the 11 first round picks the team has made over the last ten years, only two – 2008 pick Robin Lopez and Earl Clark the following year – are currently on the roster.
For every Shawn Marion or Amar’e Stoudemire hit, there are two Zarko Cabarkapa or Alando Tucker misses.
Far more numerous than the polarizing “hit” or “miss” classification is the “dealt” tag. The most common result for the Suns on draft day has been the trading or outright selling of a pick shortly after their selection. Sadly for Suns fans, several of those picks have become impact players in the league.
What follows is the All-Time "What If" team comprised of players who were drafted by Phoenix and then were quickly sent packing without ever suiting up for the Suns.
Center: Marcin Gortat (2005)
The Suns have forever been chasing the big man rainbow to an always empty pot. Whether it was the misguided trade for John "Hot Rod" Williams, signing stiffs like Luc Longley or the more recent Shaq disaster, size has always been an Achilles' heel for the team.
In 2005, the Suns selected Marcin Gortat, a skilled but very raw 6'11" center out of Poland and then promptly sold him to the Orlando Magic.
After a few seasons overseas playing in Germany, Gortat made his debut for the Magic in 2008. After seeing spotty time behind Dwight Howard, he emerged as a contributor during the Magic's playoff run in 2009, including a fantastic start during Game 6 of the first round series against Philadelphia in the place of the suspended Howard.
Despite averaging just 3.8 points and 4.5 rebounds that season, the Magic matched Dallas' 5-year, $34-million offer sheet, a move that didn't please Gortat as he hoped to start for the Mavericks. Nonetheless, he has become a highly regarded post presence in the league and one the rebounding-deficient Suns could utilize.
Forward: Luol Deng (2004)
Now these picks are really starting to hurt.
After just one season at Duke, Luol Deng entered the 2004 NBA Draft where the Suns held the 7th overall selection. However, since the Suns had just given Quentin Richardson a $45-million deal, the Suns could not afford such a high selection. With a pre-arranged deal in place, he was selected by the Suns and then immediately dealt to Chicago for a 2005 first round pick (a selection that appears later in this slideshow) and the eminently forgettable Jackson Vroman.
While Vroman was averaging his 1.6 points in his 10 games of action for the Suns, Deng averaged nearly 12 points a game and made the All-Rookie First Team.
Over the years, he has developed into a top notch second option, averaging 17.1 points over the last four seasons. He's also an above average rebounder and a solid defender.
Deng is exactly the type of athletic player with a versatile skill set that thrives in the Suns' system and very well could have been Shawn Marion-lite.
Forward: Stephen Jackson (1997)
With their only pick in the 1997 draft, the 42nd overall, the Suns took a 6'8" forward who just a year prior was the leading scorer in the McDonald's All-American game that featured, among others, Kobe Bryant.
Four months later, Stephen Jackson was waived by the Suns. He then bounced around all over the basketball globe, making stops in the CBA, Australia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic before finally latching on with the New Jersey Nets in 2000. He then moved to the San Antonio Spurs for two seasons and was a valuable contributor on their 2003 title team.
Jackson came into his own after signing with Atlanta where he averaged 18.1 points in 2003-2004. He was then traded to Indiana where he started for two and a half seasons but was probably best known for his role in the brawl in Detroit.
In January 2007 he was dealt in an eight player trade to Golden State. The next season he began a three year run of averaging over 20 points a game. He also increased his rebounding average to over five a game while providing excellent defense as he continued to evolve into a do-everything guard-forward combo.
He was traded yet again in November 2009, this time to the Charlotte Bobcats where he averaged a career best 21.1 points over his 72 games there.
Guard: Nate Robinson (2005)
With the first round pick that the Suns received from Chicago as part of the Luol Deng trade, Phoenix sat with the 21st overall pick, which they used on diminutive 5'9" guard Nate Robinson.
However, as the team was convinced following their 62-20 season that what they lacked was a tough, defensive minded presence, they shipped Robinson and Quentin Richardson (who was only in the second year of a six-year, $45-million deal) to the New York Knicks for forward Kurt Thomas.
Thomas averaged 6.4 points and 6.6 rebounds during his injury riddled time in Phoenix and never became the interior force the team had hoped. He was then dealt during the 2007 off-season along with the Suns' 2008 and 2010 first round picks for an $8-million trade exception and a conditional second round pick.
Robinson meanwhile developed into a very solid, if unspectacular guard. He raised his output from 9.3 points and 2.0 assists as a rookie to 17.2 and 4.1 by his fourth season. He also put his 44-inch vertical leap on display by winning two Slam Dunk Contests during the 2006 and 2009 All-Star games.
He was traded to the Boston Celtics this February.
Guard: Rajon Rondo (2006)
Once again due to the team's fiscal conservatism, the team was forced to deal the 21st overall pick that ended up being Rondo along with Brian Grant to Boston for the rights to Cleveland's 2007 first round pick. That pick ended up being Sergio Rodriguez who was then sold, along with James Jones, for $3 million to Portland.
All Rondo has done in his time in Boston is blossom into one the elite point guards in the league while being a critical part of the Celtics' 2008 championship team.
He is one of the very best assist men in the league. On November 3rd, he set the NBA record for most assists over the season's first five games with 82 - including a staggering 24 during his triple-double effort on October 29th against the Knicks.
Rondo is also a ferocious defender due to his quickness and long arms and is arguably the top rebounding guard in the league. Plus, he is still only 24 years old.
The blunder is compounded by the fact that the trade of the Rondo pick was made under the guise of avoiding the luxury tax, yet a few weeks later the Suns signed Marcus Banks to a 5-year $24-million deal that ranks among one of the worst signings in team history.
As Bill Simmons so eloquently put in his must-read column, this era for the Suns was a Greek tragedy.
Sixth Man: Steve Kerr (1988)
[OK, this one stretches the rules of the premise, but really, do 26 games and 157 minutes really count in the grand scheme of things? In order to fill out the bench on this fictional team, we'll go with "no".]
After a nice career down at the University of Arizona, Steve Kerr was selected in the second round (50th overall) of the 1988 draft by the Suns.
After his 157-minute debut season, he was shipped off to the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he spent three and a half seasons. It was when he signed with the Chicago Bulls prior to the 1993-'94 season that he hit his stride. His three point prowess was a solid complimentary piece to those great Bulls' championship teams and he would later play that same role with the Spurs during their title runs of the early 2000s.
By the time he hung up his sneakers in 2003, he held both the NBA single season (.524 in 1994-1995) and career record (.454) for three point percentage.