The summer melodrama is just about over... Can we talk about something fun now, please?
Who wants another article about the Phoenix Suns negotiating with Eric Bledsoe or how certain reporters have sources that have things to vaguely say about things? No. Okay.
Let's have some fun and look back at the deep and rich history of the Phoenix Suns which has been one of the most consistently good franchises in the past 40 years. They may not have a Championship banner hanging from the rafters, but some of the greatest players in the history of the game have stalked the halls of U.S. Airways Center and previously the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
There is a Hall of Fame.
There is a Ring of Honor.
Those are great measuring sticks for greatness, but there is another way to measure greatness in the eye of the beholder. Some people like cream and sugar in their coffee and others like their Suns led by Jason Kidd. Others take their coffee black with a dash of Steve Nash. Enough of me talking here and let's get to what matters, the staffs takes on the greatest Suns of all-time.
So, behold, the Bright Side of the Sun Mount Rushmore of the Phoenix Suns:
1. Breaking the Ice: Who is on your Mount Rushmore of the Phoenix Suns? No judgments, limitations, or wrong answers here. All you have to do is count to four...
Kris Habbas: Paul Westphal, Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Steve Nash
Scott Howard: Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Paul Westphal, Walter Davis
Keith Scheessele: Alvan Adams, Steve Nash, Dan Majerle, Kevin Johnson
Eric Bledsoe Dick Van Arsdale, Jerry Colangelo, Charles Barkley, Steve Nash
Jacob Padilla: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amar'e Stoudemire
Dave King: Alvan Adams, Charles Barkley, Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire
Kellan Olson: Steve Nash, Amar'e Stoudemire, Charles Barkley, and Joe Johnson.
2. In no particular order let's justify our picks: Why did you pick the first name on your list?
KH: When thinking of "Mount Rushmore" my first thought was to tip the cap to the older generation that paved the way as that is just how my brain works. Then I thought to filter out guys that did spend their entire careers here. At that point though there would be such a small pool to choose from. So I went with the best overall players that wrote the history of the Suns as a franchise. The first name is Paul Westphal. There is no 1976 Miracle Run to the NBA Finals without Westphal and there is also no 1993 run without him either. He is not a "lifer: here, but the two times the Suns went to the Finals Westphal was either the leading scorer or holding the clipboard. You cannot tell the story of the Phoenix Suns without Paul Westphal.
SH: Charles Barkley may have only been a Phoenix Suns player for 4 seasons but DAMN were they some great seasons. Sir Charles came onto a 53-win basketball team in the 1992-93 season, a team with a new arena, new uniforms, and sky-high expectations - and then basically met every challenge. In that first season he won the NBA MVP, led the Suns to their 2nd NBA Finals berth, and did it without throwing anyone through a plate glass window. If that's not enough for you - I'll show you Game 7 of the 1993 Western Conference Finals when Barkley posted 44 points to go with 24 rebounds and get the Suns into those Finals. In the next two seasons the Suns remained a title contender and if it weren't for a couple of playoff failures to the Rockets and an injury to Danny Manning (in 1995), Barkley may have been able to deliver a title. Considering his impact on the franchise and level of accomplishment it's impossible to have a Mount Rushmore of Phoenix Suns without Chuck.
KS: Adams is a no-brainer. 1976 Rookie of the Year, and were it not for him, the Suns would not have advanced to the NBA Finals that year against the Celtics. Adams is the franchise leader in games played, minutes played, rebounds, and steals; second in field goals made and attempted; third in assists; and fourth in blocks. Major bonus points for playing his entire career in Phoenix, and when Grant Hill joined the Suns in 2007, Adams granted him permission to wear his retired #33 jersey. The guy is a Sun through and through.
JC: I tried to pick the four players that I felt were most involved in telling the story of the Suns franchise and I think my group represents that. Dick Van Arsdale was nicknamed the "Original Sun" based on being the team's first selection in the 1968 expansion draft. He was a very talented player that made three All-Star teams as a Sun and did a little bit of everything. One of those two way guys our current administration claims to love. He made it all the way through the team's NBA Finals appearance against the Boston Celtics in 1976 (although he played a bit part by then). He is still involved with the organization as the team's current vice president of player personnel. He was there from the birth of the franchise through the team's first brush with the grandest of prizes. He also inspired the Suns fascinating obsession with twins, with his brother Tom joining the team for the season after Dick retired. The story of the Suns would not be complete without Van Arsdale.
JP: I'm a young guy who became a fan in the mid-2000s. The other guys have already covered the big names from throughout the franchise's history, so I'll take a different approach with my picks. I recently went through and watched every one of Steve Nash's assists from the 2010 playoffs just because I could. I first started watching during the 2006 playoffs, and instantly became a fan because of Steve Nash. However, it wasn't until the 2010 Western Conference Finals run that I was truly dialed in, and therefore my memories from that period are stronger from the later 7SOL seasons. That team was so much fun to watch, and Nash was the one running the whole show. I don't think I need more justification for this particular pick.
DK: Ok, so I'm not quite old enough to remember much of Alvan as a player. I didn't move to Phoenix until 1983, long after the undersized center helped the Suns to the NBA Finals in 1976. But Alvan has never left the organization, marking five decades with the team now. I see him roaming the halls these days and just think: "THAT guy is the epitome of what I think about when I think about the Phoenix Suns."
KO: I'm a sucker for guys with high basketball IQ and we might as well name that group after Steve Nash. The "midget", which is the play when Nash dribbles down one side of the basket, never picks up his dribble, and comes out the other side is one of the most brilliant consistent plays you would ever see. His passing and shooting ability from anywhere on the court was so good that he could kill a defense whenever they were partially exposed. The combination of his IQ, shooting, and passing with that play was pure joy for me. There's so many other ways to go about Nash, but one of my other favorite things about him was how much he would elevate the play of those around him, which came to be known as the "Nash Effect". It would take up too much space to name all the guys who had their career years around Nash, that's how good he was. There's no need to go any further, because any Suns fan knows why they loved Nash.
3. Why did you pick the second name on your list?
KH: When you start thinking about the most underrated players in NBA history the list varies based the eye of the beholder, but a name that always pops up for me is Kevin Johnson. Only 61 times in NBA history has any player averaged 17.9 points per game and 9 assists per game. Johnson did that for his career, which is a feat only Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, and currently Chris Paul has done for their entire careers. Elite company. The dunk on Hakeem. The run to the Finals. Playing nearly his entire career in Phoenix. Maybe the best player and representative of the franchise the Suns will ever have.
SH: Look, I'm not thrilled about this. As many of you know, despite the bountiful draft picks he's given us - I'm still not over Steve Nash claiming he was "old school" and then finding his way onto the Lakers. But I also love Phoenix Suns history - and there's absolutely no denying that Steve Nash has an enormous place there. While Phoenix drafted Nash and he played two (forgettable) seasons here when he returned in 2004 it was the exact opposite. Nash teamed up with incumbents Shawn Marion, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Joe Johnson to help set the basketball world on fire with Mike D'Antoni's Seven Seconds or Less offense. In year 1, the Suns went from 29 wins to 62 wins, and made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before being knocked out by the Spurs. For his trouble, Nash also claimed the first of two NBA MVP awards. The next season the Suns again made the Conference Finals, Nash again won the MVP, and they did it all without Amar'e Stoudemire. After the D'Antoni era ended Nash was able to lead his third Suns team to the Western Conference Finals when the delightful 2009-2010 bunch nearly knocked off the Lakers. There are a lot of numbers people will throw at you about Nash but I'll leave it at this - in the 8 seasons of his second stint in Phoenix, he was All-NBA 1st team 3 times and All-NBA 2nd team twice. Bad. Ass.
KS: It's easy to say Steve Nash because of the two MVP awards, but I think more importantly, he defined a very specific era of Phoenix Suns basketball, one that most NBA fans are familiar with. "Seven seconds or less" made Phoenix one of, if not the most entertaining teams in the league. Sometimes win, sometimes lose, always watchable. Not many teams can claim that.
JC: Because he has the same initials as me. Colangelo was the team's first GM. He was a head coach. He was team president. He was the owner from 1987-2004. He was the NBA's executive of the year four times. He ushered the team out of the drug scandal. He's in the Hall of Fame and Ring of Honor. He's the single most influential figure in the history of Arizona sports. This was an easy choice.
JP: Jason Richardson was so good in his role on that 2010 team. He was one of Nash's favorite targets, whether he was spotting up on the perimeter for 3-pointers or running to the rim for lobs. He had a huge series against Portland in the first round of the playoffs. That run may have ended poorly, but at his best Richardson was a high-flying, 3-ball firing highlight waiting to happen on every play.
DK: After Alvan (and apologies to his teammates including Paul Westphal), Charles was the only Suns player to lead a team into the Finals. That's enough for me. Unfortunately, Charles' star dimmed after that magical season and since then he's been fighting for relevance (and getting it, occasionally). But that first year in Phoenix still cements him as the #1 man on the Suns Mt. Rushmore.
KO: Amar'e Stoudemire could have been the greatest power forward of all time had he never required knee surgery and stayed relatively healthy. I had the incredible fortune of seeing the Suns at home most of these SSoL years through season tickets with my dad and I'll never forget the first time we saw him post surgery. He threw down his first dunk at home and as soon as he did that, my dad and I exchanged a look and just shook our heads. Amar'e will always have that power to his dunks, but there was this explosion in speaking about both his height and the fact that it felt like a freaking detonation whenever he would dunk the ball. While new Phoenix Sun Anthony Tolliver would disagree, Amar'e never had THAT consistent explosion again. I will never ever forget the type of player he was in that 2004-2005 season. Amar'e would average 29 and 13 against the Mavs in the West semis in a tough six game series. He would then go on to average 37 and 10 against a significantly better Spurs team and then the knee injury happened. Amar'e was somehow near or entering his prime at the age of 22, but we would never see the complete finished result. That was his third season in the NBA and he went on to make first or second team All-NBA every year he was healthy from 2005-2011. He was a pleasure to watch and one of my favorite Suns ever, but I'll always play the "What If?" game with him.
4. Why did you pick the third name on your list?
KH: As important as Westphal and Johnson were to the run in 1993 there is no way they get over the hump to stare Michael Jordan in the eyes without the Round Mound of Rebound, Charles Barkley. In the 1990's you needed a fearless, arrogant, and extremely talented player like Barkley just to get on the court with Jordan and have a chance. Barkley was fearless, dominated the game, and was a truly elite player. He is one of the 50 greatest players of all-time. Sure, he did the waltz with Philly and slow danced with Houston, but his career was defined in Phoenix and in a lot of ways Phoenix was defined by him.
SH: When the Suns acquired Paul Westphal from the Boston Celtics in the summer of 1975 (at the relatively expensive cost of All-Star Charlie Scott) he had just finished his 3rd NBA season and wasn't even playing 20 minutes per game. When the Suns traded Paul Westphal to Seattle in the summer of 1980 he was an NBA superstar. During his 5 seasons in the Valley, Westphal was an All-NBA 1st team pick on 3 occasions, and a 2nd teamer in a 4th season. The only time he didn't make one of those lists was the 1975-76 season but he made up for it by doubling his scoring average (from 9.8 to 20.5) and being arguably the best player on a team that made the NBA Finals. (East Boy Roy covered some of Westphal's contributions in this 3 year old plug). In just 5 years, Westphal managed to finish 8th in Suns franchise history in points, 7th in assists, and 6th in steals. Just for good measure, Westy returned to the Suns in 1984 and helped a .500 team to the Western Conference Finals. He later became a Suns assistant coach, and finally head coach in the 1992-93 season where he took the Suns back to the Finals. This spot on Mount Rushmore has nothing to do with Westphal's coaching career here but if you can watch this video and not get chills then you might be dead.
KS: The next two picks are biased because they come from the time when I started following the NBA, and they are the reasons I became a Suns fan. "Thunder Dan" was the first time I discovered that a player can throw it down with authority while still being deadly from behind the arc. A critical piece in the '93 run, I also loved his defensive intensity. And like Nash, I think he helped define a Suns team in the '80s and '90s that was without an identity. One bonus point for coming from Central Michigan, like Ball State, a Mid-American Conference school.
JC: Barkley is the biggest celebrity in team history and was the cynosure and driving force behind what many consider to be the most exciting and entertaining period of Suns basketball history. He was a Sun for a relatively short period of time compared to the other players that would be considered for this exercise, but while he was here I think his star shined the brightest of any Sun. To this day, he is one of the more notable figures in NBA history.
JP: Grant Hill, or BAMF as he's known by around these parts, was a key part of that 2010 run. The rejuvenated Hill had his second prime with the Suns in his late 30s, though you couldn't tell he was that old by watching him play. Hill's mid-range game was nearly automatic, his PUJsIT the stuff of legend. He also stretched his range to the corner 3 to better fit into the Suns' system. He reinvented himself as a tremendous perimeter defender, taking on the toughest assignment every night. And who can forget this play from the Portland series? That alone is enough to get him on this list.
DK: The Suns languished in mediocrity after Barkley left in the mid 90s, running through "new star" after "new star" until finally lucking into Nash being that big expenditure that paid off in spades. Nash was unwanted in Dallas, signing the Suns offer after giving Cuban one final chance to match. Cuban replaced Nash with Erick Dampier. Yeah, THAT Dampier. Meanwhile, Nash blossomed into a two-time MVP whose best overall season actually occurred in a year he didn't win the MVP (2006-07). With Nash, the Suns set the league on its ear and helped rejuvenate the game in a way that Sacramento never did (maybe that's a homer POV but Sac was Phx before Phx was Phx and no one copied Sac like they copied the Suns). They never made the league Finals, but the Conference Finals were reached in three of seven years, with six of those seven resulting in highly spirited playoff runs.
KO: Charles Barkley is the easiest one to explain. He was really only 6'4" ½ but still went on to put up the numbers he did at the power forward position. However, the main reason he's the only player to make it on here that I didn't see live or in real time is because he's probably the funniest NBA player of all time. If you have had any doubt in that please read Jack McCallum's book on the Dream Team. He's the reason Inside the NBA is must watch TV every week and you only hear over-the-top praise on him in person. He was the best player on the Suns team that was the closest to an NBA title so that is easily enough for him to make my Mount Rushmore.
5. Why did you pick the fourth name on your list?
KH: The last name on the list came down to a pool of 3-4 players and I landed on Steve Nash, not a unanimous selection by the staff by the way, because of my concept of telling the teams history. Nash started here and then came back to become only the second player in franchise history to win an MVP. He won two. Nash came back at the right time, in the right system, and the perfect storm resulted in the most successful five year stretch in the franchises history. Realistically nobody will come near his assist total in today's ever-changing NBA landscape. Nobody is replicating back-to-back MVP awards. Nobody is going to play like Steve Nash in a Suns uniform, ever.
SH: Walter Davis is a bit of a red-headed step child amongst Suns legends due to his extensive role in the mid 1980's drug scandal that rocked the franchise. But when Walter Davis was on - that dude was on. All in all, the guy with some of the best nicknames in Suns history (The Greyhound, Sweet D, The Man With the Velvet Touch) played 11 seasons in Phoenix and is the all-time leading scoring in franchise history. I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that the majority of Nash-era Suns fans had no idea who the Suns all-time leading scorer was. Davis joined the Suns in the 1977-78 season as the 6th pick overall and immediately won Rookie of the Year and became an All-Star. More importantly, he helped spur a rise from 34 to 49 wins and got the Suns back into the playoffs. Phoenix made the playoffs in each of Davis' first 8 seasons and was a legit title contender for the majority of the early 1980s. Checkered past notwithstanding, it's hard to leave the all-time leading scorer off your Mount Rushmore.
KS: KJ's aggressiveness taught me that there's no specific set of rules a point guard must abide by. His dunk on Olajuwon deserves a monument of its own. What I like about both KJ and Thunder Dan is that they existed somewhere between star player and role player in the NBA. There are a handful of All Star Game appearances between them, but I don't think anyone would argue that they were marquee names. Still, they collaborated on helping deliver perhaps the most successful run in Suns history, and turned me into a Suns fan from Evansville, Indiana.
JC: This is basically the final chapter in the story of this vaunted franchise. I'd rather not include the butchery and buffoonery of the last few years. SSOL put the Suns back on the map and Steve Nash was engine that made the system run. He made Phoenix the darling of the league and the most entertaining team to watch while winning two MVP awards in the process. Maybe we can marker on a mustache and some nerd glasses for the whole Lakers snafu..
JP: Last but not least, the man who Stood Tall And Talented. Steve Nash may have been the one who steered the ship, but Amar'e Stoudemire was definitely his co-pilot. The two of them formed one of the most destructive duos in recent NBA history. Their pick-and-roll was as unstoppable a play as there was in the NBA during their time together. Amar'e in particular was a beast when he was healthy. The explosive dunks were nice, but even when he didn't get all the way to the rim he had phenomenal touch and almost always got the ball through the hoop anyway. And when opposing teams finally pack the paint to slow down the freight train that he was, he simply stepped out and knocked down the 18-footer. For all his flaws defensively, Stoudemire was as good as it gets on the offensive end.
DK: My first three picks were guys who carried the Suns to their gloriest days of NBA and Conference Finals since the team's inception. This one is the guy who was quite possibly the most uniquely talented player in Suns history. To this day, four years since he left Phoenix (and two since he left the NBA), the Suns have not filled the PF position in a way that makes anyone happy. In fact, even now, if you imagine the perfect PF for this team, isn't it the 2005 version of Amare Stoudemire? High flying, dunking, incredibly athletic with an innate ability to finish at the rim like no other player in the game. That's why he's on my list.
KO: He wasn't here for that long, but Joe Johnson makes my list. I love long guys that can shoot, understand the floor, and can go get their own shot. That's essentially what Johnson was in Phoenix. It was a bit of an anomaly (Nash), but in his last season in Phoenix JJ shot an incredible 48% from 3. He's never had the proper praise because of the ludicrous contracts that Atlanta gave him, but he's still one of the best scorers in the NBA. His run in the Brooklyn/Miami series where he took over in the fourth quarter showed that is still the case. I'll never get over Sarver refusing to pay the extra money for JJ and then signing Q for slightly less a week later but that's the way it goes I suppose. JJ was a great player and I can't imagine where his career and the Suns could have gone with another 4+ years of a Nash/JJ backcourt.
BONUS: Who deserves an Honorable Mention Ribbon to come visit the Mount Rushmore four on special occasions?
KH: The Gorilla. No explanation required. Eff any other answer.
SH: I'll just declare my Mount Rushmore 2nd team and Mount Rushmore 3rd team. 2nd team: Kevin Johnson, Dick Van Arsdale, Connie Hawkins, Dan Majerle. 3rd team: Shawn Marion, Tom Chambers, Amar'e Stoudemire, Alvan Adams. Clearly there's no way to argue any of this. If anyone says Raja Bell, Grant Hill or Goran Dragic I'm banning them from the site forever.
KS: Noticeably absent from my list will be Walter Davis and Charles Barkley, arguably the two greatest Suns of all time. Mount Rushmore, the greatest Suns, and the most influential Suns are three different lists. "Waltergate" is the reason I can't have Davis on my Mount Rushmore. Can you have your jersey retired, be inducted into a team's, or even the NBA's Hall of Fame with such a public cocaine addiction? Obviously, you can. Does it mean I can be a little apprehensive about chiseling your face into a mountain? Yes it does. Chuckster's at times acrimonious relationship with the Phoenix fan base and community is why I'm hesitant with the Round Mound. I'm not convinced the following exchange wouldn't occur:
Chuck: (Says something unflattering about Phoenix)
Kenny: Chuck they etched your face on a mountain!
Chuck: I don't give a damn.
Would love for him to visit though.
JC: I'll go with Paul Westphal, but forego an explanation as to why since it really gets a lot more nebulous to me after my first four. I kind of like Scott's thoughts on Westy so go back and read that if you like.
JP: Welp, it looks like Scott's about to kick me off the site so I'll be brief here. Jarron Collins is my honorable mention. He accounted for three (3!) of Nash's assists during that playoff run, including hitting a 15-foot jumper. He also stared down Andre Miller after blocking him at one point, which is pretty awesome. That WCF run doesn't happen without Suns Legend Jarron Collins.
DK: Honorable mention? That would have to be Cotton Fitzsimmons. Cotton played lots of different roles for the Suns, but none more important than leading them out of the abyss of the drug scandal in the 80s with an unconventional style of playing two point guards at once. The Suns led the league in scoring and were even highly respectable on defense despite not having a big presence down low. And now 25 years later, one of those point guards (Jeff Hornacek) is leading the Suns out of another abyss with the same exact, and still highly effective, model.
KO: Taylor Griffin, Marcus Morris, Robin Lopez, Luke Zeller, and Jarron Collins. Also, Starbury for this and for this.
Bright Siders, what do you think?