Welcome to edition I of a series featuring the best Phoenix Suns players per position, and best head coaches. We here at BSotS will give you our choices, and ask you to give yours.
Over the last few weeks, we've had great conversation around former Suns head coach John MacLeod and current coach Alvin Gentry, two men who have coached conference finalist Suns teams, and MacLeod a conference champion.
The Suns franchise has a proud history of winning despite the lack of an NBA championship, with a .559 all-time regular season winning %, 29 playoff appearances and only 14 losing seasons out of 43. What places the Suns as the premier sports franchise in Phoenix is that they are the original major sports team to call Phoenix home. Now the 6th most populous city in the US, when the Suns came to Phoenix in 1968, the city was seen as more of a remote desert outpost, home only to cowboys sweating in the sweltering heat. The Suns helped put the city on the map, and were a source of pride for sports fans deprived of pro football and baseball.
OK, enough of the preamble. I've selected five Suns head coaches for us to discuss. Who was/is the best? Do you go old school with MacLeod or Cotton? Or do you still pine for the "7 Seconds or Less" Mike D'Antoni Suns? As always, feel free to share your memories in the comments. Jump it for more Suns coaching goodness.
My choices, presented in chronological order. I expect you'll agree that the likes of Danny Ainge, Terry Porter and Scott Skiles aren't in contention.
Suns coach from: 1973-1987
9 playoff appearances, 1 NBA Finals appearance, 2 conference finals appearances.
Why isn't MacLeod in the Suns Ring of Honor? None of us can figure that out.
Cotton's second stint as Suns coach, starting in 1988, was one of the most successful stretches in franchise history, with 4 consecutive 50 win seasons behind Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Dan Majerle, Jeff Hornacek and Cedric Ceballos. Making this even more impressive is that the 1987 Suns won only 28 games and were rocked by a drug scandal that brought the team to one of its lowest points.
After rebuilding the team to be a contender, Cotton stepped aside to allow Paul Westphal to take over and lead the next generation of Suns, with Charles Barkley and Danny Ainge now in the fold. After a coaching comeback of mixed success in '95, Cotton went on to provide color commentary next to Al McCoy , where his folksy demeanor was a perfect fit.
Personally, I have a soft spot for Cotton and those late-80s Suns teams. They never really disappointed me because I never expected them to win a championship. But they won a lot of games, scored a lot of points, and kept me entertained. That's Suns basketball to me.
Westphal was in the right place at the right time, that's for sure. He assumed an exceptionally talented Suns team featuring newly added superstar Charles Barkley, in addition to Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle, Cedric Ceballos, Danny Ainge and Tom Chambers.
While it seems like a dream head coaching job to have all of those guys, it also took a lot of ego management. That's a lot of type A personalities right there, and Westphal kept them all on the same page. He led what was probably the best Suns team ever, the 62-win 92-93 squad that made the NBA Finals. Only Michael Jordan's dynastic Bulls team was able to bring them down. He had a lot to work with, but winning 68% of his games and losing only to the eventual league champion in 3 of his 4 complete seasons? Yes, please, and I want more of that. Only, could you have beaten the eventual champion and made us one in just one of those chances you had?
Regular season record with Suns: 253-136, .650%
4 playoff appearances, 2 conference finals appearances.
For most of the younger Suns fans here, D'Antoni was the gold standard. He took over a stumbling Suns team in mid-2003 and went only 21-40 in that partial season. The Suns added Steve Nash to the core of Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson and, POOF!, the team won 62 games and made the conference finals the next year.
Mike D'Antoni and Steve Nash were the perfect marriage of coaching style and player ability. And, what a spectacular Suns team that was. The D'Antoni teams were a brilliant contrast to the boring, isolation-play teams of the era and brought a new excitement to NBA basketball, but could never get over the hump and win a championship. You can blame D'Antoni's lack of focus on defense and developing his bench, or Suns' owner Robert Sarver's frugal ways demanding that draft picks be sold off, but the D'Antoni era never fully delivered on its promise. It sure was a hell of a lot of fun to watch though, wasn't it?
Frankly, I'm not sure Gentry belongs on this list. He's only coached the Suns for two full seasons, and the team only made the playoffs one of those seasons. But that was quite a fun run last year when he led a team most had left for dead to the conference finals, sweeping longtime nemesis San Antonio along the way. Gentry wasn't just along for the ride there. His steady hand was what the team needed, with an almost-traded Amare Stoudemire, young players like Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez, and veterans in need of opportunity like Jared Dudley and Lou Amundson. Gentry got the most from them all.
A theme I noticed when writing this is restoration. The coaches on this list were mostly builders or rebuilders, bringing the team back from dire straits. Gentry did that once, in 2009-2010, when it looked like the Suns' window to contend had closed. The question now is: can he do it again?
Which of these Suns' head coaches do you think was the greatest ever?
Can you believe that it's only been around five months since the Phoenix Suns last played a game? Can you believe that Grant Hill will soon be 39? Can you believe that Lou Amundson is no longer a Sun? Can you believe that Vince Carter is still a Sun? Can you believe that Steve Nash has yet to be traded? Can you believe that we are over a year removed from our WCF's appearance?
Too be honest, much of that is hard for me to believe. I miss Lou Amundson, I hate the lock-out, I hated last season, and these past 5 months have felt much longer. I need some actual Suns news!
It's gotten to the point to where I've unintentionally started dreaming about them. It's like my mind is trying to compensate for the lack of Sun in my life!
Seriously, I had a dream where the lock-out was canceled and the regular season was like only 1 game. Q was back on the team and Corey Maggette was starting at SG. It was weird, but they were both in their prime and playing very well. The team was running again and it was really fun to watch. I didn't understand any of it, but it was really cool! We made the playoffs too. Then I woke up to reality, the worst game ever....
But enough about dreams! Due to the lack of any news, I've had much time to look back and reflect on the past history of our Phoenix Suns. The 07 series for example, it was the most dramatic series of my life, and that is what this post is about.
But first, you have to watch this tribute.
Phoenix Suns Tribute (2006-2007) (via CUnit622)
Now, there was already a lot of drama heading into the 2007 NBA Playoffs. This was the year Nash was at his peak. This was the "Eyes On The Prize" year. It was the year when Coach Mike D'Antoni dubbed his offense, "Organized Chaos". It was according to Nash, the year he had his best team. It was their year.
If I remember correctly, Dallas was the favorite. They won 67 games. Yet I didn't believe they were the best team. I believed the two best teams in the NBA in no order were, San Antonio and Phoenix. One of them was going to win the Championship. It was unfortunate that they had to meet a round earlier, so I knew that going into this series, it was practically the NBA Finals.
I was pretty confident that Phoenix could beat anyone. That's including Detroit, Dallas and Utah. However, I didn't feel that way with the Spurs. They were the one team I had doubts against. They were the one team that could make us play their game and if not they were also one of the few teams capable of beating us at our own game. At worst, I thought we could make it go 6 and at best, we might just beat them.
This was a game I knew the Suns had to win because if they could take it, they'd have the psychological edge. Plus, you know how they say 90% of the game is mental right? Well, it's true. The Suns were the more talented team, but I questioned how they would fare against the Spurs in the mental battle.
We all know how it went down. The pace was in our favor and Nash dominated. With 2:53 to go, down 100-99, Steve collided with Parker and the picture tells the rest of the story.
At the post game conference in response to a question about what they could have done better; Nash replied, "We didn't play with enough heart".
The Phoenix Suns responded with a 101-81 beat down on SA. After the game, Amar'e called the Spurs "dirty". He was referring to a play in which Bruce Bowen kicked him on the back of his leg, right above the shoe while he was going for a dunk.
I thought Amar'e was being a little ridiculous, like he was trying to start something... that is until Bowen kneed Nash in the groin the very next game.
Nash played his worst basketball ever in the first half, however the Suns were never out of it and he picked up his play in the 2nd. Amar'e Stoudemire saw only 24 minutes of action due to questionable calls. Overall, the refs did a crappy job and today, it remains as the 2nd most controversial playoff game in Suns history behind only game 7 of the Suns and Sonics series in 93.
I told my brother that whoever wins this game would win the series, barring any injuries. If the Spurs won, it was pretty much over. For the Suns, it was a must win. I wasn't really sure they could pull it off. It wouldn't be easy, but if they did win, they would go home with the series tied two apiece while having the momentum and psychological edge.
Of course, things didn't work out so well. The pace was never in our favor and it looked as if the Spurs would win. This is where the Suns finally proved to me that they could beat the Spurs at their own game. They stepped up their defense, got stops which created fast break opportunities and took the lead 100-97 after being down 75-85 earlier in the 4rth. At this moment, I knew we had won.
I knew the Spurs were frustrated and so the Suns had won the mental battle. For the first time, I thought they looked like Champions. Now I was confident we could beat SA. Unfortunately, that moment only lasted 5 seconds.
I came home from school, took a nap, woke up and realized that I was missing this game. I turned on the TV just in time to see Bell hit a mid-range jumper to put us up by 12, midway through the 3rd quarter.
I couldn't believe it. I thought to myself, "Are we really going to pull this off, are we really going to win the Championship?". That is the only time I have ever thought that in the Nash era, and when you think about it; it's actually the closest we've ever been. We all know how it ended.
The Suns put up a fight in game 6 until the Spurs managed to pull away and gain a 20 point lead half way through the 3rd quarter. Nash sparked a comeback and they managed to get it within 5 near the end of the 4rth, but it was too late....
The Suns just couldn't catch a break in this series. They didn't get a fair shot, so It's easy to look back and ask what could have been. For all we know, we probably would have won the Championship, or we may not have won at all. But now that I do look back, the most memorable thing that stands out to me isn't the suspensions or game 3 or what could have been, but the bloody nose. It was just the way that Steve Nash carried his team. People who question his leadership, need to watch this series. I can't really find the words to explain it and I'm not trying to sound flowery, so I'll just put it in simple terms; Steve Nash Is Awesome.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the most dramatic playoff series I have ever seen.
Now, what was the most dramatic playoff series you've ever seen? Feel free to share your experiences and memories.