Phoenix Suns: A Trip Through the Steve Nash Era

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IApril 22, 2011

Phoenix Suns: A Trip Through the Steve Nash Era

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    After the most unsuccessful season in the Phoenix Suns' history under Steve Nash, in which the Suns went 40-42, many questions are waiting to be answered.

    The most glaring one, will Steve Nash be back in the desert next season?

    As a cloud of mediocrity and regret looms over U.S. Airways Center in downtown Phoenix, let us remember the good times. The playoff series, the MVP's, and the teams that made us smile, even if they couldn't win it all.

    Join B/R as we travel through the past 15 years of Phoenix Suns basketball and their most beloved floor general, Steve Nash.

Summer of 1996: Suns Draft Nash 15th Overall

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    Steve Nash was drafted 15th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 1996 NBA Draft, which took place in East Rutherford, New Jersey on June 26.

    The senior point guard out of Santa Clara was passed on for the likes of Todd Fuller, Erick Dampier, Vitaly Potapenko, Samaki Walker and Kerry Kittles.

    The announcement of Phoenix's selection was met with plenty of boos considering Nash was relatively unknown at the time.

    Fact: Steve Nash is one of only three players drafted in 1996 to win the league's MVP award (Kobe Bryant & Allen Iverson).

    Photo: Courtesy of NBA.com

1996-1997: Nash Struggles for Minutes

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    In his first season with Phoenix, Nash was a rare sight at Suns games. The 22-year-old managed only 10.5 minutes per game and just 2 starts all season.

    Still, Nash proved to head coach Danny Ainge that he had potential, finishing the regular season with 3.3 PPG, 2.1 APG and a solid 41.8 3PT%.

    The Suns would squeak into the Western Conference's no. 7 spot before bowing out in the first round to the Seattle Supersonics in five games, 3-2.

    Fact: Steve Nash did not record a single blocked shot in his first season with the Suns.

1997-1998: Nash Proves He Belongs

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    Steve Nash and the Suns played their way to the top of the Western Conference in 1997-1998.

    Phoenix, under their first full season with head coach Danny Ainge, finished 30 games above .500 (56-26), claiming the conference's no. 4 seed.

    Nash would double his minutes and triple his point production during his second season with the Suns, finishing the regular season with 9.1 PPG, 3.4 APG and 45.9 FG% in just 22 minutes per night.

    The future MVP would claim 9 starts that season and prove an excellent trade piece for the franchise in the offseason.

    Unfortunately for Nash and the Suns, Phoenix would fall to San Antonio in the first round, 3-1.

    Fact: Steve Nash's NBA Rating jumped from 6.97 to 16.87 in his second season with the Suns.

Summer of 1998: Suns Trade Nash to Dallas Mavericks

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    The often under-utilized point guard was traded to Dallas shortly after the 1998 NBA Draft.

    Mavericks head coach Don Nelson was urged by his son, Donnie Nelson, to pursue Nash after meeting him years before at Santa Clara.

    Phoenix traded Nash to Dallas for Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, the draft rights to Pat Garrity, and a first-round draft pick.

    Fact: The draft pick Phoenix received in exchange for Nash would turn out to become future teammate Shawn Marion.

1998-1999: Nash Becomes a Starter in a Shortened Season

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    The 1998-1999 NBA regular season was shortened to just 50 games following a lockout.

    The Mavericks and their recently-acquired point guard struggled mightily however, missing the playoffs with a 19-31 record.

    Still, Nash started all 40 of the games he played in that season, averaging 31.7 minutes per game. His assist numbers would increase but his scoring was down from his second season with the Suns.

    Nash shot a career-low 36.3 percent from the field in his third NBA season.

    The Suns would finish 27-23, only to be swept out of the postseason's first round by the Portland Trail Blazers, 3-0.

    Fact: 1998-1999 was also Dirk Nowitzki's first season in Dallas.

1999-2000: Nash and the Mavs Improve, but Suns Do Better

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    The Mavericks, in their second season as Nash at point guard, would finish with a mark of 40-42.

    1999-2000 also marked the 10th consecutive season that Dallas had missed the playoffs. Phoenix on the other hand, was one of the 16 playoff teams in 2000, clinching a postseason spot for the 12th consecutive season.

    The Suns would finish 53-29, 4th in the Western Conference. Jason Kidd would lead Phoenix to a first round win over the Spurs, 3-1, but the Suns would fall in the conference semi-finals, 4-1, to the L.A. Lakers.

    Nowitzki, playing alongside Nash, would improve his scoring production by 9.3 points per game in 1999-2000.

    Fact: Steve Nash's field goal percentage increased 11% from the 1998-1999 to the 1999-2000 season.

2000-2001: Nash and the Mavs Finally Taste the Postseason

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    The trade for Nash finally payed off for the Mavericks in 2001, when Dallas reached the NBA playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

    Nash and Nowitzki became a dynamic duo that season, averaging 15.6 and 21.8 PPG respectively.

    The Mavericks would defeat no. 4 seeded-Utah in the first round in what was an electric series, capped off by three-straight Dallas wins after being down 0-2 (including a 84-83 Game 5 win at Utah).

    Dallas would fall short of the top prize however, losing to San Antonio in five games in the next round. Phoenix would bow out even earlier though, losing to the Kings in the first round, 3-1.

    Fact: Steve Nash played for Canada in the 2000 Olympics prior to the 2000-2001 NBA season.

2001-2002: Dallas Rises While Phoenix Falls

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The 2001-2002 NBA season saw Nash and the Mavericks improve even more from the previous year, while the Suns dropped below .500 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1988.

    Nash, Nowitzki, and Michael Finley were becoming household names as the three combined to score over 60 points per game, Dallas would finish 57-25 in 2002, good enough for the West's no. 4 seed.

    The Mavericks would sweep Minnesota in the first round, 3-0, before being roughed up by the Sacramento Kings in the conference semi-finals, 4-1.

    Fact: Dirk Nowitzki posted a career-high average of 10.0 rebounds per game in 2001-2002.

2002-2003: Nash and the Mavs Win 60 Games, Fall Short in Conference Finals

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Dallas would finish 2003 tied with the Spurs for the West's best record at 60-22.

    The Big Three of Nash, Nowitzki and Finley was finally in position to bring the franchise it's first title.

    Dallas squeezed by Portland and Sacramento in the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning each series 4-3.

    However it was division-rival San Antonio crushing the hearts of Dallas fans everywhere with a decisive Game 6 win in Dallas to clinch a trip to the NBA Finals, sending the Mavericks home early.

    The Suns would become the Spurs first victims in their 2003 postseason title run, losing in the first round 4-2.

    Fact: 2002-2003 was the second-straight season that Nash started all 82 games for the Mavericks.

2003-2004: Mavs Start to Slip and Nash Gets Overlooked

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    Nash and the Mavericks failed to reignite the fire they had started a season before after winning 60 games.

    In 2003-2004 Dallas won only 52 games, earning them a no. 5 seed out west. The playoffs were short-lived however as the Mavericks flamed out in five games against the Sacramento Kings.

    Nash's point production dropped reasonably in 2004, as did Nowitzki's and Finley's. It was arguably Nowitzki's worst season since his rookie year.

    Phoenix would experience one of it's worst seasons in franchise history, winning just 29 games in 2003-2004.

    In Dallas, Nash's 14.5 PPG and 8.8 APG (a career-high at that point) were not enough to impress owner Mark Cuban, and the offseason would prove it.

    Fact: Steve Nash's 91.6 percent free throw shooting percentage was the highest of his career to that point.

     

     

Summer of 2004: Nash Signs with Suns and Returns to Phoenix

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    After the 2003-2004 season, Nash became a free agent. He attempted to resign with Dallas but owner Mark Cuban was hesitant to give a long-term deal to a 30 year-old point guard.

    Dallas offered Nash a four-year deal worth an estimated $9 million annually with a fifth year partially guaranteed, however Phoenix was offering Nash a six-year, $63 million deal.

    Nash went with the Suns offer and opted to return to the desert in hopes of resurrecting the young and retooled Phoenix Suns.

    Fact: Nash won back-to-back MVP's in his first two seasons with the Suns the second time around.

2004-2005: Nash and the Suns Burn the Rest of the League

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    The Suns would run their way to the NBA's best record in 2004-2005, winning 62 games in all.

    Nash would claim the league's MVP award over Shaquille O'Neal, and Amar'e Stoudemire would become a household name, but the season would still belong to San Antonio, who won their third title in a span of six seasons.

    Nash's career high 11.5 assists per game would be credited to head coach Mike D'Antoni's offensive style, built on uptempo play and quick shots in transition.

    However Nash's offseason workouts and training are more to blame for the increase in the 31-year-old's play that season.

    Fact: Nash averaged career highs, 23.9 PPG and 52 percent field percentage, in the 2005 playoffs.

2005-2006: Another MVP but Still No Ring

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    Nash and the Suns would surprise the league in 2005-2006, snatching the Western Conference's no. 2 seed despite not having Amar'e Stoudemire, who missed all but 3 regular season games due to knee surgery.

    Nash would keep Phoenix afloat with another MVP-caliber season, but again the Western Conference Finals would prove fatal to Nash.

    His former team, the Dallas Mavericks, would end Phoenix's cinderella run in six hard-fought games.

    The highlight of the season came during the Suns' first round defeat of their division-rival Lakers. Phoenix battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Lakers in 7 games. One of only 8 teams in history to pull off the feat.

    Fact: With Amar'e Stoudemire and Joe Johnson out of the picture, Nash averaged a career high 35.4 minutes per game in 2005-2006.

2006-2007: Nash and Suns Miss out on Best Chance at a Title

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    The Suns surpassed the 60-win plateau in 2006-2007, claiming the West's no. 2 seed in the process.

    Nash missed out on a third-consecutive MVP that season; his buddy Dirk Nowitzki won it.

    Phoenix came into the postseason hot, knocking off the Lakers in five games after needing seven a year ago.

    The stars were aligning for the Suns, who then watched no. 8 seeded-Golden State beat the top-seeded Mavericks in six games, meaning the Western Conference went through Phoenix.

    Phoenix suffered a devastating Game 1 loss at home to San Antonio in the conference semi-finals, but gutted out a win on the road in Game 4 to even the series and reclaim home-court advantage in the series.

    However a late game court-side altercation would cost the Suns two of their best players in Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for Game 5.

    Phoenix fought hard with a rotation of roughly six players, but fell short in the fourth quarter, losing 88-85 on it's home court to surrender the series lead.

    Game 6 was close until the third quarter when the Spurs blew it open and never looked back. The Suns would lose the series and their season, 4-2.

    Fact: Tim Donaghy's crew officiated Game 3 of the Suns-Spurs series in San Antonio, the Spurs won the game and TV commentary questioned some flawed calls throughout the game.

     

2007-2008: New Faces and Lack of Identity Fail Suns

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    The Suns were in control of the Western Conference throughout much of the 2007-2008 regular season.

    Phoenix held the conference's top spot in February before GM Steve Kerr traded Shawn Marion for Miami's Shaquille O'Neal.

    Kerr's reasoning was that the Suns needed a change defensively to beat a team like the Spurs in a 7-game series.

    The change stalled Phoenix though, they sputtered to the end of the season, finishing with the no. 6 seed at 55-27, two games behind the no. 1 seeded-L.A. Lakers.

    The Suns would surrender a quick 3-0 series lead to the Spurs in the first round, eventually losing in five games and entering an offseason full of uncertainty.

    Fact: The Suns lost a heart-breaking Game 1 to the Spurs in the 2008 first round, losing 117-115 in 2 overtimes.

2008-2009: Suns Miss Playoffs for the First Time with Nash on the Roster

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    2008-2009 was an unusual season to say the least. The Suns entered the year under new head coach Terry Porter, after Mike D'Antoni stepped down in the offseason.

    Phoenix would struggle the first half of the season under Porter, playing .500 basketball up until the All-Star break, when assistant coach Alvin Gentry took over for the fired Porter.

    Phoenix finished the regular season strong, winning 18 of their 31 final games and just missing the West's no. 8 seed by two games.

    The Suns would finish 46-36, ninth in the Western Conference, and in the lottery for the first time with Nash in uniform.

    Gentry had reason to be optimistic however as the Suns had finished the year with a winning record despite not having All-Star forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who missed the remainder of the season due to an eye injury.

    Fact: The Suns scored at least 140 points in Alvin Gentry's first three games as head coach.

     

2009-2010: Suns Are Reborn and Nash Slays a Texas-Sized Dragon

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    Phoenix seemed poised for a collapse after starting the 2009-2010 season 14-3.

    A rough patch of basketball soon followed and the Suns found themselves just 26-21 nearing the All-Star break.

    However the Suns would lose just seven more games by season's end and head into the postseason as the West's no. 3 seed.

    Phoenix dropped their opening playoff game against Portland, but then went 8-1 in its next 9 playoff games to find itself in the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2006.

    In the process of making the WCF, Steve Nash and the Suns would quash their biggest nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs via a 4-0 sweep.

    The team that ended Nash's title hopes 6 times in 11 postseason tries had finally been defeated.

    The Suns would go on to lose to the top seeded-Lakers in six games, surprising many experts and basketball fans along the way.

    Fact: Steve Nash scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter of Phoenix's series-deciding Game 4 win over San Antonio, with his right eye swollen shut after taking a Tim Duncan elbow to the head earlier in the game.

2010-2011: Nash Struggles to Keep the Suns' Ship Afloat Without Amar'e

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    The loss of Amar'e Stoudemire during the 2010 offseason would prove fatal to the Suns' 2011 postseason chances.

    GM Steve Kerr also resigned in the offseason prior to the 2010-2011 season to return to his TV job with TNT.

    Nash was left with an aging veteran in Grant Hill and a group of role players.

    Jason Richardson was traded in December along with Hedo Turkoglu in hopes of waking up the team.

    Phoenix showed life shortly after the All-Star break, putting together a few win streaks, but would eventually accept it's inevitable lottery spot, and pack it in down the stretch.

    Nash was and has been the subject of plenty of trade rumors then and since the Suns season ended on April 13.

    No one knows for sure what the future hold for Nash and the Phoenix Suns franchise, but the following is certain.

    Nash is a fan favorite in Phoenix, just as he was in Dallas. His game keeps us guessing, even though we know it will end the same way every time.

    Whatever happens to Nash next, it's been a great run, and even better to watch.

    Fact: Steve Nash has played a record 118 playoff games without ever making the NBA Finals.

    Patrick Clarke is a Featured Columnist for the Phoenix Suns and a student at Towson University.