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.
We've got a treat for you in today's edition of 'What the Suns!?".
Now first off - I don't get paid, nor does Wilfredo or Alex or EBR or any of the staff writers here at Bright Side of the Sun to do what we do here. It's a labor of love and during a lockout it's a trial of creativity and of sanity at times... but what happened in the making of this article was awesome and brightens the dark cloud of the lockout in a small way.
Ladies and Gentlemen - Josh Childress was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to give us here at the Bright Side of the Sun an inside scoop as to what he's been up to this summer. Let's get it on!
FOR BASKETBALL - Since Josh is a Suns team representative for the NBPA and because of his experience abroad playing with Olympiakos, he recently made an appearance on the Jim Rome show in a segment called 'Alone with Rome' where he talked about the Lockout and about Playing overseas. The ESPN chumps won't let me embed the video so if you'd like to watch it here's a link. When asked about how far apart the two sides (NBA and NBPA) were, Childress told Rome,
"Oh man, as far as the East is from the West - it's pretty bad brother... I wouldn't say the season is in jeopardy, I mean I think the players are prepared for that but I'm hoping that we get something done and have some sort of season, but you never know."
He continues on to mention that players have been advised to prepare for a missed season and that he believes that the players will stay unified during the process of negotiation. When asked if he'd consider heading overseas again for this season should the lockout last that long, Josh told the show,
"Would I? Probably this year.. uh - no I wouldn't. I was over there the past two years and it's not because I didn't enjoy it, it was two of the best years of my life - I just think that I'm going to use this opportunity to maybe take some classes and try to finish my degree up."
I'm glad to hear he's going to stay stateside - Josh broke his finger at the start of last season, I don't know if I want him risking a blown-off finger for this or next year if he heads back to the M-80 throwing crowds of Europe. Let's give Josh a full season with healthy fingers from the start please?
Anyways - Like I mentioned above, JCHill was kind enough to respond when I asked him for some input for his Episode of this series and this is what he wrote about his basketball endeavors this off-season so far.
I have been spending most of the summer traveling back and forth from Phoenix and Orange County, CA and doing my training in both spots. Working hard and trying to get better everyday.
FOR CHARITY - Childress has been busy helping out those in need both her in Phoenix and in California this summer. Off the top of my head I remember Josh participating in a canned food drive at the Scottsdale Majerle's Grill, I've seen him give gear and shoes away on Twitter, I know he's visited Boys and Girls clubs around the state because I peeked and found this -
And when asked directly he mentioned that he held his 2nd annual JChill camp in California.
I had the 2nd annual JChill Basketball Camp at the park I grew up playing at in Compton, CA. I allow kids with a 3.0 GPA or better to attend and it's an all around great event. The kids get new shoes, shorts, and at the end of the camp I give out prizes for camper of the week in each age group and also highest GPA in each age group. This year's prizes included Nintendo DSi's, iPod's, XBOX 360's, and an iPad. It was great to reward the kids for a job well done.
FOR FUN - Now for the fun. Josh told BSotS,
Fun wise -- I have been spending time with my family and friends. Thats the most fun thing for me to do in the world. Playing some video games, doing a little bowling, and just hanging out. I have gone to a few of those indoor trampoline spots and they are pretty cool. I remember watching SlamBall back in the day and always wanted to try that stuff. Its been pretty hot out here in Phoenix this summer so I spent a ton of time inside.
Josh has also been flexing his spiritual muscles this summer as he regularly tweets about uplifting Bible Study sessions. Just think about that for a minute... we are lucky to have the high-character players that we do on our Suns roster. Besides being charitable and overall good guys - the grand majority (the exception being Robin Lopez on days that aren't immediately followed by a full moon) have awesome humor. Peep this latest tweet from @JChillin -
Funny stuff. :) And again - thanks to Josh Childress for giving us at Bright Side some love.
Now once again this is the part where you as the faithful reader and blog creeper evaluate this Josh Childress summer-report and leave at least
10 comments (can we settle for 5? maybe? PLEASE? ... I'm not desperate though..) about it. Also let the Bright Side know what you've did for your summer break? Anything as sweet as indoor trampoline jumping?
Stay tuned for our next episode of "What the Suns!?"