Cotton-the first time he coached the Suns. 15 years before leading them  again in 1988.

Fans of the Phoenix Suns expect their team to be competitive and to make the playoffs. That's just the way it is. Anything less is a disaster. After a run of 18 playoff appearances in 20 years (1988-89 to 2007-08), a whole generation of Suns fans had not experienced even one perennially below-average team until this past few years.

Talk about spoiled. And pissed off. Suns fans deserve better than this!

Until this year, the Suns had not missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since a three-season drought from 1985-88 marred by pedestrian talent and drug scandal. Jerry Colangelo, who'd been with the team for 20 years in various roles including General Manager and Head Coach (twice) before buying the team, executed a huge reboot. He engineered the Kevin Johnson/Larry Nance trade, signed the NBA's first ever unrestricted free agent (Tom Chambers) to replace Nance, ushered all-time leading scorer Walter Davis out the door, and went back-to-the-future by installing Cotton Fitzsimmons as Head Coach (Cotton had coached the team 13 years before).

The rest is history. For many Suns fans, the 1988-89 season in which KJ, Chambers, Eddie Johnson, Jeff Hornacek and Dan Majerle burst from the shadows onto the national stage was the most enjoyable season of their lives. Why was 1988-89 more enjoyable, for some, than 1992-93? Or even 2004-05?

Because Suns fans were at the bottom of the barrel, embarrassed on a national level, disenchanted by drug scandals and poor play. And then all of a sudden the sun came out and shone on Phoenix brighter than ever.

What makes the Suns' play fairly astonishing (32-17 as of February 27, 1988) is that at the start of the season the players barely knew one another. In a breathtakingly short span, Phoenix, which finished 34 games out of first place in the Pacific Division last season, has reinvented itself; the only player left from its roster of two seasons ago is guard Jeff Hornacek.

"We thought if this team could play .500 and make the playoffs, it would be a tremendous comeback from adversity," says Sun president Jerry Colangelo at the time.

Imagine being a Suns fan in the mid-80s (I personally don't have to imagine it because I was there, but many of you would have to). The Suns were a disappointment and at the end, a disgrace. The venerable John MacLeod was losing his touch. Throughout this period, the Suns boasted two star talents in sweet-shooting, 6-time All-Star, all-time leading Suns scorer SG Walter Davis (22 ppg and 4.6 assists in 1986-87) and in-his-prime All-Star PF Larry Nance (22.5 ppg, 8.7 reb, 3.4 assists in 1986-87). Young Jeff Hornacek was an underperforming bench warmer and all the other guys were middling.

In the last year of that stretch, the Suns third-best player was Eddie Johnson. At the trade deadline, Colangelo shook it up. Years of disappointment despite the presence of two all-stars just wasn't getting it done.

So he sent the Suns very best player - all-star Larry Nance, still in his prime - to Cleveland for a rookie PG, a couple of role players and swap of draft picks (the Suns getting the short end of that stick, as the worse team). While in hindsight Suns fans call it the Best. Trade. Ever. because it marked the beginning of an era, at the time the Cavaliers thought they had won the day. Nance was now part of a Big Three with Mark Price and Brad Daughtery, hopefully propelling the Cavs to the Finals to combat the mighty Lakers and Celtics.

That end came near the conclusion of the 1986-87 season, when center James Edwards, guard Jay Humphries and guard Grant Gondrezick, as well as former Suns Garfield Heard and Mike Bratz, were indicted by a Maricopa County grand jury on charges of possessing or trafficking in cocaine or marijuana. Walter Davis, the Phoenix guard who had entered a drug rehabilitation clinic once before, in 1985, agreed to testify against his present and former teammates to avoid prosecution. As the accusations grew seamier, Sun fans began derisively referring to the team as Phoenix House and the scandal itself as Waltergate.

That all the charges were either dropped or reduced did not begin to undo the damage. How had things ever gotten so out of control?

"For a number of years we didn't have the personal contact with our players that we needed," says Colangelo. "I think the fans were hurt by the drug charges, and they were ready to point fingers. It hurt to find out that a lot of those fingers were pointed at me."

Colangelo and right-hand man Cotton Fitzsimmons took a lot of heat. As players were being traded left and right, in the wake of the scandal (and oh yeah, don't forget the team was bad), there was a lot of anger in Phoenix.

Columnist Joe Gilmartin of the Phoenix Gazette addressed Fitzsimmons on behalf of many Phoenix fans when he wrote, "There's a train leaving at midnight. Be under it."

While they spent a lot of money on background checks before the 1988 draft - eventually settling on vanilla, never-in-trouble players Tim Perry with the 7th pick and Dan Majerle with the 15th - they didn't follow the script with the signing of Tom Chambers. And fans and players wondered what the plan was.

But when the Suns decided to go out and spend big money on a free agent for the first time in their history, they seemed oblivious to the troublemaking implications of their act: The player they came up with was Tom Chambers, who in his seven seasons with San Diego and Seattle had gotten the reputation of being a selfish malcontent and was despised in practically every arena he played in, including, at times, the Coliseum in Seattle.

"I used to hate watching him play," says Kevin Johnson, and even Colangelo admits that he used to think Chambers was "a little whiny." Nonetheless, Phoenix gave Chambers a five-year, $9 million contract and set about building the team around him.

Chambers remade himself in Phoenix, for sure.

Chambers has often played out of position for the Suns-including at center-and has even thrown his body around diving to the floor for loose balls.

"If I had been with this team the first five years of my career, maybe all those negative things would never have been said about me," says Chambers. "It was always one isolated incident here, one there, and they followed me around the league. It hurts to have people think I'm a jerk. I wish it would all be forgotten, but it never will be, and I understand that."

He grew up and became the symbol of the new Suns. He averaged 25.7 points per game that year and remained their best big man until Sir Charles showed up to join him as he faded into the sunset. To this day, he devotes every day to the Suns franchise as a studio host.

Chambers was just one of the new faces who blossomed on that team. That rookie PG, Kevin Johnson, turned into one heck of a player in his second season, going from 12 and 9 in 28 games after the trade to 20 and 12 in 81 games the next season. Eddie Johnson played a great sixth-man role. Steve Kerr rode the deep bench, while Jeff Hornacek - who'd re-made his entire shooting stroke - emerged into one heck of a player after being an afterthought in two prior seasons. Dan Majerle was a high-energy scrappy kid off the bench, after being booed on draft night.

The point here is that the Suns went from nothing to something overnight. Their front office was maligned and disliked locally and nationally. Jerry Colangelo had been the GM throughout the drug scandal and that three-year drought with a poor roster.

And the two faces of the mid-80s franchise were, at one point, ushered out the door despite giving everything they had to the Suns. Nance and Davis were the best the Suns had to offer, and they epitomized the type of player the Suns wanted to present to the world. Wonderful athletes, great players and great men.

When Davis left the Suns - remember, he was the all-time franchise leader in scoring and a six-time all star - the Suns had reportedly offered him a paltry one-year deal at a 50% pay cut. And didn't even promise him - a six-time all-star, though nearing retirement - a starting position.

But when the team struggled, they had to go. You can't always reboot while keeping your best players and you can't always get great value when they leave either. Between the two all-stars, the Suns got a rookie PG, a worse draft pick and a net gain of one middling role player (and "cap space to sign new guys").

Sometimes, you just have to roll the dice and start over.

That 1988-89 was a gamble. They were not picked to win the West. Heck, they weren't even picked to make the playoffs. Chambers had just merely replaced Nance. Kevin Johnson, while a good player, would be lucky to match the contributions of the departed Walter Davis. The rest of the roster was a hodgepodge.

Who would have guessed, before that season started, these guys would start a run of wild franchise success?

I'm sure some people will look back on that 1988 trade deadline where Nance was shipped to Cleveland and say they saw the bright future right then and there. And some will say that pushing "Sweet D" Walter Davis out the door was the best thing for the franchise. And others will say that the Tom Chambers signing (29 years old at the time) was a sure sign of franchise success going forward.

We all love to look back on those wonderful times and say "I knew it!"

But sometimes, dawn breaks before we even realize it. It's easy to lambast the Suns right now, having ushered Steve Nash and Grant Hill out the door in an attempt to reboot. It's easy to kill the Suns over signing an offensively-talented tweener forward who had worn out his welcome on his prior team. It's easy to ridicule the "safe" but underwhelming picks of Morris and Marshall. And it's easy to wonder what kind of master plan includes the acquisition of a hodgepodge of new players at different stages of their careers.

But maybe, just maybe, the Suns can hit lightning in a bottle. At least they are trying.


Ann Meyers Drysdale Joins Suns Broadcast Booth

As much of a barrier buster as Ann Meyers Drysdale has been in her life, being tabbed as a Suns broadcast analyst for up to 20 games this season is not uncharted NBA territory for a woman.

In fact, she was the first woman to do the job in the NBA 33 years ago.


For the first time in eight seasons, Steve Nash is no longer the face of the Phoenix Suns franchise, nor is he the sun, moon and stars of it either. For my money, that new face is Marcin Gortat,...

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Kendall Marshall let's his frustration out on the court when he fails to achieve 3-stars in Angry Birds.... or something

Last Tuesday Dime Magazine caught up with Phoenix Suns' point guard Kendall Marshall at the NBA rookie photo shoot. It's always fun to learn more about and get to know new players on the team and Marshall to me seems like a really good kid.

A few highlights from the article:

Dime: A lot of turmoil this offseason with the Phoenix point guard situation. How do you feel about how it all turned out?

Kendall Marshall: I feel it's a great situation. Added a lot of youth to our team. Got rid of a couple players that were great assets. I feel like we're going to be good. Obviously a lot of growing pains were gonna go through, but we still want to get back to that elite level. We have full faith in the coaches and we know we gotta work hard.

And some things that should make you smile:

Dime: So are you worried at all about your rating in NBA 2k13?

KM: I am, definitely worried about it. In college I played for Twitter followers. I played well so I could get more followers. In the NBA, I gotta get my rating up. That's all I'm worried about.

***********

Dime: What kind of stuff do you do pregame? Music, rituals, etc.

KM: Music-wise, I listen to a lot of Wale pregame. He gets me hyped. The Eleven One Eleven Theory, mixtapes. And last year in college I played Angry Birds before every game. Right now I'm really feeling Bejeweled.

Catch the full article and Q&A over at dimemag.com.

My impressions shortly after the draft and after an underwhelming Summer League performance still stand. I'm not completely sold on his ability to be a player that I think can carry the Suns back to an elite level over the next few years. Yet I understand he has distinctly unique court vision and passing abilities and I hope he can develop and make me more a believer once actual NBA basketball begins in the coming months.

If Kendall's work ethic is at least the size of his personality - I'm very optimistic that he'll improve his NBA2K rating.

What did you think of the interview?


Go to work Goran! You're our best hope. Time to unleash the Dragon!

On Monday, I introduced SB Nation's NBA3on3 Tournament. In response to the possibility of 3-on-3 basketball being added to the 2016 Olympics, every NBA blog on the network is putting together their own 3-on-3 team made up of players currently on their teams' rosters. Nationality and current injuries are not taken into account, so anybody on the roster is fair game. In the real thing teams also include a sub, but for this event we're going to stick with the top three players.

Once all the rosters are in, they will be seeded and placed in a 32-team bracket. A panel of six SB Nation bloggers will judge each match-up and set the odds. The winners will be determined by a roll of the die, so there is still hope even if a team seems outmatched. Ultimately, we are going to have one team left standing and one blog will earn all the bragging rights.

For this exercise, we are assuming basic FIBA rules will be followed. Games will be played in the halfcourt and shots will be worth 2 and 3 points (rather than the 1 and 2 points currently used for the real FIBA 3-on-3 games). A 12-second shot clock will be used. The winner will be either the team with more points at the end of a ten-minute period or the first team to score 31 points, whichever comes first.

Now that the rules and background information are out of the way, it's time for the fun part. Let's pick our squad!

1) Goran Dragic

  • Measurables: 6-foot-4, 190 pounds
  • 2011-12 Basic Stats (as a starter): 18 PPG, .490 FG%, .379 3FG%, .839 FT%, 3.5 RPG, 8.4 APG, 1.8 SPG
  • 2011-12 Advanced Stats: .567 TS%, .518 eFG%, 111 ORtg, 106 DRtg, .139 WS/48, 1.55 WP48

Dragic is an obvious pick for this team. He's arguably the best player on the entire roster, so he has that going for him. He's also the best shot-creator in the backcourt and somebody on the team will need to handle the ball after all. Dragic isn't a perfect fit for 3-on-3 as he loves to get out in transition, but even without that part of his game he brings a lot to the table.

Versatility is a great thing to have in 3-on-3 ball, and Dragic certainly has that. He has the size and athleticism to match up with both point guards and shooting guards defensively. He's great with the ball in his hands but he can also play off the ball if he needs to. He can shoot from outside, finish in the paint with floaters and runners and can also take it all the way to the rack. He can run the pick-and-roll or create a shot all by himself in isolation. And we all know he can get hot in a hurry. Remember this?


2) Marcin Gortat

  • Measurables: 6-foot-11, 240 pounds
  • 2011-12 Basic Stats: 15.4 PPG, .555 FG%, .649 FT%, 10 RPG, 0.9 APG, 1.5 BPG
  • 2011-12 Advanced Stats: .578 TS%, .555 eFG%, 115 ORtg, 103 DRtg, .172 WS/48, .190 WP48

Luis Scola has a valid claim for this spot as his skill-set would fit in very well on a 3-on-3 team, but in the end Gortat was simply a much better player last year and so I have to go with the Polish Machine.

Gortat is very mobile for a big man and should be able to cover both power forwards and centers pretty well. He is an elite pick-and-roll finisher (1.23 points per possession according to MySynergySports.com) and would play very well with Dragic. Gortat is also solid enough as a cutter, post player, mid-range shooter and offensive rebounder that opponents would have to respect him even when he's not rolling to the basket after setting a pick. Finally, Gortat is pretty decent passer for a big man, an important trait for 3-on-3 basketball.


3) Jared Dudley

  • Measurables: 6-foot-7, 225 pounds
  • 2011-12 Basic Stats: 12.7 PPG, .485 FG%, .383 3FG%, .726 FT%, 4.6 RPG, 1.7 APG
  • 2011-12 Advanced Stats: .575 TS%, .547 eFG%, 115 ORtg, 109 DRtg, .121 WS/48, .162 WP48

Michael Beasley was the runaway winner of Monday's poll with over 50 percent of the vote. However, after looking at all the data and spending a lot of time thinking about it, it is clear that Dudley is simply a much more effective basketball player, despite the gap in athleticism or perceived natural talent.

Beasley is certainly more capable of taking over a game than Dudley is. However, Beasley's dominant games are few and far between, while Dudley's performance is much more consistent. I am not a judge, but if I were I'm not sure I'd be willing to judge this team as if Beasley was locked in and feeling it, since the opposite is true far more often. Therefore, I chose the more reliable Dudley to complete our squad.

Dudley will probably be one of the least athletic wings in this entire tournament, but that hasn't stopped him yet in his NBA career. Dudley again provides versatility, with the ability to defend multiple positions and hold his own in almost any match-up. He is a very smart player that understands what it takes to win and will do anything the team needs him to. Dudley is one of the best spot-up shooters in the NBA (1.21 PPP). The former collegiate power forward can still do work in the post and is very effective on the offensive glass. He is a much-improved ball-handler and has also developed the ability to shoot running off of screens. Basically, he can do a little bit of everything, and with top notch efficiency to boot.


Bringing it All Together

What this team lacks in big names and top-end athleticism it more than makes up for in basketball IQ, hustle and chemistry. All three of my choices are smart players who can complement each other well.

A Dragic-Gortat pick-and-roll could be devastating for their opponents, especially with Dudley in the corner waiting to shoot the open 3-ball should his man collapse on Gortat. With only three defenders on the court, Dragic should have plenty of driving lanes as well.

I can see a lot of give-and-goes and back-door cuts involving Dragic as well. And if the clock starts to run down, Dragic can always put his head down and drive to the basket.

The Suns may not have any individually dominant players, but as a team, Dragic, Gortat and Dudley would be pretty darn tough for any team to slow down.


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