Does Steve Nash Prove Leaving the Phoenix Suns Is Surest Path to Bad Karma?

Sam CooperCorrespondent IIIMarch 3, 2013

Does Steve Nash Prove Leaving the Phoenix Suns Is Surest Path to Bad Karma?

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    Steve Nash is currently having a fairly disastrous season with the Los Angeles Lakers, and his team is still struggling to secure a playoff spot in the West.

    However, Nash is not the only star player to struggle after leaving the Phoenix Suns.

    Over the past two decades, something of a curse has plagued great players who leave the Suns, whether through free agency or a forced trade. Most star players who leave the team struggle to duplicate their success in Phoenix elsewhere.

    Of course, there have been a few exceptions to the rule. Jason Kidd had several extremely productive seasons with the New Jersey Nets, and Joe Johnson became an All-Star in Atlanta after being traded by Phoenix.

    But the vast majority of players who left Phoenix have experienced bad karma, though not always immediately. There is probably a perfectly rational and logical reason for each individual case, but after so many former Suns have fallen from grace, you might just be able to call this a curse.

    Here is a time line charting the downfall of several great former Suns who left the team within the past 20 years. 

Charles Barkley

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    Charles Barkley only spent four seasons with the Suns, but in that time he became known as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He won one MVP award and made one Finals appearance and four All-Star appearances in that time.

    But in 1996, a 33-year-old Barkley was traded to the Houston Rockets, where he would team up with Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon.

    In the next few seasons, Chuck was still unable to win a ring, and his production decreased as well. In his first season with the Rockets, he scored 19.2 points per game, which was his lowest since his rookie season. In the next season, his scoring dropped again, this time to just 15.2 points per game.

    Barkley also had some injury problems in those last few years with the Rockets. Over the final four seasons of his career, Chuck missed 113 games, and he only played more than 55 games in a season once during that time.

    Much like Nash in Los Angeles, Barkley tried to chase a ring in Houston. But he was just the first of a handful of stars who would struggle outside of Phoenix. 

Stephon Marbury

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    Stephon Marbury never received a very warm welcome in Phoenix, mostly because most many preferred the talents of Jason Kidd. But Marbury was a solid player in the first half of his career, and his performance earned him an All-Star appearance in one of his two-and-a-half seasons with the Suns.

    In his last full season in Phoenix, Marbury put up 22.3 points and 8.1 assists per game. He was 25 at the time and looked like a player who could possibly be an elite point guard for years to come.

    But of course, his personality got in his own way. Marbury was traded to the New York Knicks in 2004, and that's when the real fun began.

    Marbury's production declined with the Knicks, but he also was a huge part of what was the most dysfunctional locker room in the league. He earned a reputation as a ball hog on the court and a team chemistry killer in the locker room, and Knicks fans couldn't wait to get rid of him. 

    The last time Marbury played in the NBA was with the Boston Celtics in 2009. He played 23 games in Boston, posting just 3.8 points and 3.3 assists per game. He was only 31 at that point, but natural aging was never the problem for Marbury. He was his own problem in his own way.

Shawn Marion

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    Shawn Marion was never a superstar, but he was part of the Steve Nash/Amar'e Stoudemire/Marion trio that made it to the playoffs so many times. Marion made four All-Star appearances with the Suns, and he was special because he could shoot, rebound and defend at a great level.

    However, Marion was traded to the Miami Heat in 2008, when the Suns wanted veteran center Shaquille O'Neal to improve the team's defense. From there, Marion has never been the same player.

    The Matrix has seen some success in the past several years. He has been able to stay healthy, and he also won a championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.

    But in terms of production, Marion has struggled. Since leaving the Suns, Marion has not had a season averaging more than 13 points per game. He also shot about 35 percent from behind the arc for several seasons in Phoenix, but he's now shooting just 24 percent from three-point range in his last five seasons.

    Why is Marion's production down? He is 34 now, so age is certainly a factor. He also left Steve Nash, one of the greatest passing point guards of all time in Phoenix, and perhaps that contributes to his downfall. Still, Marion's rapid regression is a bit of a mystery. 

Shaquille O'Neal

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    When Shaquille O'Neal was traded to the Suns in 2008, the veteran center seemed washed up. He averaged just 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in the first half of the season with the Heat, and it was clear that O'Neal was aging and was no longer an elite center.

    But then, the Phoenix Suns training staff worked their magic again.

    O'Neal only spent one full season with Phoenix, but he looked rejuvenated. O'Neal averaged 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds a game, led the league in field-goal percentage and returned to the NBA All-Star Game. In fact, his 17 points even earned him the All-Star MVP award.

    But after one-and-a-half seasons with the Suns, the "Shaqtus" was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers. There, it became apparent just how quickly he was aging. He played 53 games that season and put up 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

    Shaq spent his last season with the Boston Celtics, but he was unable to stay healthy and played just 37 games.

    At the end of his career, Shaq had a great shot at another championship. He was on three contending teams, the Suns, Cavaliers and Celtics, but he never won a fifth ring. And the fact that he was so dominant in Phoenix but became injury prone immediately after is a huge testament to this team's training staff. 

Jason Richardson

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    Calling Jason Richardson a star is a bit of a stretch. After all, Richardson has never made an All-Star appearance, and the best seasons of his career were in Golden State, many years before he ever joined the Suns.

    However, Richardson played a major role for the Suns, and he was one of the team's best scorers in his two years in Phoenix.

    In his only full season with the Suns, Richardson averaged 15.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. He also shot an impressive 47 percent from the field and 39 percent from behind the arc. He wasn't a superstar, but the Suns wouldn't have been a contending team without J-Rich on the court.

    But in 2010, Richardson was traded to the Orlando Magic. At that point, he was 30 years old. And although it has only been two years since Richardson was traded, his career has taken a turn for the worse.

    First of all, Richardson was never a great fit with the Magic. He spent a lot of time fighting for minutes with players like Quentin Richardson, J.J Redick, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu. Last season, Richardson averaged 11.6 points per game and shot 41 percent from the field, which was a career worst at the time.

    And this year, things have gotten worse. Richardson started 33 games for the Philadelphia 76ers, but he is now out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

    Richardson is only 32, and although he often relied on athleticism, it seems strange that he peaked so early in his career. Now he will have to recover from a season-ending injury, and it looks like Richardson will never again amount to what he was in Phoenix, Charlotte or Golden State again. 

Amar'e Stoudemire

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    For years, Amar'e Stoudemire and Steve Nash ran the pick-and-roll and became known as one of the greatest combos in NBA history. For years, they led Phoenix to title contention. And year after year, Stoudemire was an athletic, explosive scorer who was recognized as one of the greatest power forwards in the league.

    So when Stoudemire signed as a free agent with the Knicks, that era of Suns basketball died. Sure, Nash would try to lead the Suns to the eighth seed for the next couple of seasons, but Stoudemire's departure was the move that officially removed the Suns from being a threat in the Western Conference.

    In his first season with the Knicks, Stoudemire was fantastic. He put up 25.3 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, and Stoudemire received MVP chants from ecstatic Knicks fans in the crowd.

    Since then, things have changed.

    As soon as Carmelo Anthony arrived in New York, Stoudemire struggled. Last season, Stoudemire put up 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, and he had his worst season since his rookie year.

    And now, the Knicks have stopped trying to get the two superstars to co-exist together on the court. Stoudemire has lost his starting job, and while averaging 13.6 points in just 23 minutes per game is impressive, Stoudemire may never again know what it's like to be on an All-Star or All-NBA team. 

    Also, Stoudemire has struggled with injuries in New York. He played just 47 games last year, and an injury kept him out until January this season. 

    Stoudemire is only 30 years old, and technically he should still be in his prime. But Stoudemire has fallen from grace since leaving Phoenix, and he may never achieve the same success.  

Grant Hill

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    Grant Hill was not a star for the Suns, but his stellar defense combined with a solid offensive game made him a major contributor to the team's success.

    When Hill came to Phoenix, his career looked like a lost cause. He had just played 200 games in six whole seasons with the Orlando Magic, and he was already 35 when he went to the Suns. At such an old age and with such an awful history of injury issues, Hill looked like he would probably retire within a couple of seasons.

    But Hill spent the next five seasons as a member of the Suns, and he was fantastic. He was never a spectacular scorer, but Hill was able to stay healthy and play 70 games in each of his first four seasons with the team. Even at the age of 39, Hill still played 49 of 66 possible games, an incredible statistic for someone with his injury history. 

    But last offseason, Hill signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Clippers. Now, he looks like he is on his last legs. 

    Hill has played just 19 games this season, and his production has taken a major hit as well. He is shooting 39 percent from the field and 17 percent from three-point range, and he averages just 3.6 points per game.

    Hill is just another success story for the Phoenix training staff. They prolonged his career, but now that he's with another team, he's having the worst season of his career. Congrats to Grant Hill for staying in the NBA at the age of 40, but he will most likely retire at the end of this season without a championship ring to his name. 

Steve Nash

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    By now, I think most people would agree that Steve Nash is the greatest Phoenix Sun in franchise history. He never won a ring but always tried to lead the Suns to the Finals no matter how many nosebleeds or bruises he had to suffer. His unselfish play and fantastic work ethic should serve as an example to every NBA player.

    The fact that Nash now plays for divisional rival Los Angeles Lakers is not his fault. He was traded because the team had to go in a new direction and rebuild, but Nash did not abandon the team.

    And yet, now he is feeling the effects of the curse.

    This season, Nash has played just 35 games. A left leg injury kept him out for much of the first half of the season, and this season will be the first time Nash misses more than 20 games of the regular season since 2000. 

    In addition, Nash's production has decreased. He is still shooting the ball well, and 12 points and 7.1 assists per game is pretty good for a 38-year-old, but he is no longer an All-Star who can lead his team to victory. Nash may not necessarily retire at the end of this season, but he won't be in the league much longer.

    Of course, this would be acceptable for a 38-year-old player if the Lakers were actually winning games. But the Lakers are just 29-30 this season, and although they have been playing much better recently, it will take a very strong finish for them to sneak into the playoffs. Even then, their chances of winning a championship are slim to none. 

    Many people wanted to see Nash chase a championship ring this season, but you could say Nash is experiencing some bad karma.

    Of course, there are more rational explanations. Nash is very close to retiring, he just left a team with a world-renowned training staff, the Lakers have been plagued by injuries all season and their team chemistry is disastrous.

    But the idea of a curse? Well, that's still an interesting coincidence.