Phoenix Suns

The Suns used the ninth pick in the 2002 Draft on future All-Star Amare Stoudemire.
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE/Getty Images
No. 21 (from Chi.), No. 57 (from Dal. via N.O.)
Steven Hunter (player option)
Joe Johnson (restricted)
Walter McCarty (unrestricted)
Bo Outlaw (unrestricted)
Paul Shirley (team option)
Jake Voskuhl (player option)
2004: 7. Luol Deng, Duke
2003: 17. Zarko Cabarkapa, Serbia & Montenegro
2002: 9. Amare Stoudemire, Cypress Creek HS
22. Casey Jacobsen, Stanford
2001: 51. Alton Ford, Houston
2000: 25. Jake Tsakalidis, Greece
By Bill Evans

When the 2004-05 season began: The Suns were coming off their worst season in 16 years after winning only 29 games with a roster that included Stephon Marbury, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire in 2003-04.

The mid-season trade of Marbury for the expiring contract of Antonio McDyess created a job opening at point guard and enough available cap room to sign Steve Nash. The Suns also picked up Quentin Richardson. Nevertheless, a popular magazine known for it’s sports illustrations predicted the Suns would finish 10th in the West.

What happened? The Suns matched their 2003-04 win total on January, improving to 29-4 in their 33rd game and cruising to an NBA-best 62-20 record. The 33-game turnaround was the third best in NBA history.

Nash was outer-worldly, justifying the Suns muli-year commitment by doing exactly what he was paid to do – distribute the basketball to a talented group of teammates who knew what to do with it.

Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni took advantage of the Suns athleticism, employing an up-tempo offense that managed 110.4 points, the most by an NBA team in 10 years. Nash’s passing was contagious. The Suns averaged 23.5 assists, led by Nash’s NBA-best 11.5 apg, and frequently ended the possession with the ball in the hands of an open three-point shooter.

The Suns decimated the NBA record for three-pointers made (735), draining 796 treys. Richardson led the NBA with 226 treys. Johnson (47.8 percent) and Nash (43.1 percent) were among the percentage leaders. For good measure, the Suns acquired Jim Jackson, who chipped in 45.9 percent after he was acquired by New Orleans.

There were two big reasons Suns gunners found themselves with wide open looks from the perimeter. Their names are Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, and the both joined Nash on the All-Star team.

At only 22 years old, Stoudemire finished fifth in the NBA in scoring (26.0 ppg), second in FG percentage (.559) and first in free throw attempts. He had six games of 40 points or more in the regular season and three more in the postseason. Marion had 53 double-doubles. He scored 19.4 ppg and finished as the NBA’s third leading rebounder (11.3 rpg) and was fourth in steals (2.01 spg).

What now? The Suns offseason is all about rewarding existing players. Look for Stoudemire to get a maximum extension, and for the Suns to match any offer to restricted free agent Joe Johnson. Nash, Richardson and Marion are all locked up for at least the next four years.

The Suns have no first-round pick, and have no major needs provided they indeed match any offer to Johnson. They would like to retain Steven Hunter, who can opt out of his existing deal.

Hunter provides some insurance against an injury to Stoudemire. They need to find more, since big men Jake Voskuhl and Bo Outlaw aren’t likely to return. Phoenix starters missed only 14 games because of injury last year, so their depth wasn’t tested.