Suns Free Agent Signings Through the Years
July 2, 2014
Since unrestricted free agency began in 1988, Phoenix has quietly become a quality landing spot for players in search of a team.
From Tom Chambers being the first unrestricted free agent to sign a contract in 1988 to netting Goran Dragic in 2012, the Suns have proven time and again they're capable of landing players who can change the fortunes of the franchise as well as form bonds and memories with the fan base. Here's a look back at some of the most memorable free agents who brought their respective talents to Phoenix.
Tom Chambers – July 5, 1988
The high-flying forward was the pioneer of unrestricted free agency, and the Suns were subsequently the first team to benefit from the more wide-open process.
Chambers said the joint visions of then-head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons and general manager Jerry Colangelo convinced him Phoenix’s brand of basketball would be the most tailored for his game.
Turns out they were right. Chambers upped his points per game average by 25 percent from 1987-88 (20.4ppg in Seattle) to 1988-89 (25.7) and saw it peak at 27.2 in 1989-90. His move to Phoenix produced three consecutive All-Star appearances, a pair of All-NBA Second Team honors and an NBA Finals appearance in 1993.
Danny Ainge – July 3, 1992
With two NBA championship rings and four Finals appearances under his belt, Ainge was seen as a valuable gun-for-hire in the 1992 offseason. He’d just taken his Celtics success to the Blazers, who had fallen in six games to Chicago the previous month.
Phoenix pounced, hoping his career 38 percent three-point shooting, defensive feistiness and veteran experience would translate in purple-and-orange.
It did. Ainge became the Suns’ first guard off the bench in the hallmark 1992-93 season, averaging 11.8 points while shooting better than 40 percent from downtown (eighth-best in the NBA) and ranking third in the league in three-pointers made that year.
Ainge played an additional two seasons in Phoenix before retiring as a Sun in 1995.
A.C. Green – Sept. 28, 1993
With Chambers having signed with Utah the previous month, Phoenix needed quality depth in the frontcourt behind Charles Barkley. They found it in Green, a one-time All-Star whose early career spanned the peak, twilight and ultimate demise of the Showtime Lakers (1985-1993).
With neighboring Phoenix fresh off their NBA Finals appearance, Green saw a renewed chance for a third ring in the desert. The Suns certainly benefitted from his decision, which produced 10.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 50.3-percent shooting over the following three-and-half seasons in the Valley.
Danny Manning – Sept. 3, 1994
After entering the league as the concensus No. 1 pick in 1988 and overcoming knee surgery his rookie year, Manning was one of the most in-demand free agents in the summer of 1994. He had just concluded an unhappy half-season in Atlanta following a midseason trade from the Clippers, and had winning on his mind.
The latter factor led to Manning signing for an unprecedentedly small sum of $1 million in 1994, enabling Phoenix to bolster an already contending roster. He ended up being a key force behind the Suns’ 33-8 start to the season, averaging 17.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.2 blocks per game before suffering a torn ACL.
Manning stayed in the Valley through the 1999 season, a span which included a Sixth Man of the Year award in the 1997-98 campaign.
Wayman Tisdale – Sept. 16, 1994
When it came to efficient-scoring forwards, few were better than Tisdale in the late eighties and early nineties. The former Oklahoma Sooner averaged better than 20 points per game in 1990 and 1991, but had prioritized winning after subpar results with the Pacers and Kings.
The Suns were fast becoming the destination of choice in the mid-90s behind their rise to championship contention. Tisdale discarded any concerns over playing time and added his own name to Phoenix’s talent-laden frontcourt less than two weeks after Manning committed to the Suns.
Tisdale proved effective despite a significantly smaller role, averaging double-figure scoring in under 20 minutes per contest after logging more than 30 per game in the previous seven seasons.
Rex Chapman – Oct. 11, 1996
Miami appeared set at shooting guard with Dan Majerle, Sasha Danilovic and Voshon Lenard already in tow. Phoenix needed another shooter on the floor besides Wesley Person in order to complement the slashing of Kevin Johnson and Michael Finley and the interior scoring of Tisdale, Manning and Green.
The two sides reached a deal, and it’s a good thing they did. Chapman became one of the Suns’ top scoreres that season, turning in 13.5 points per contest. Many of them came from his patented fall-away jumper, the most extreme of which became part of Suns lore after he sent Game 4 of the 1997 first round into overtime.
As was fast becoming a habit among recent free agent signees, Chapman finished out his final handful of years in the league with the Suns.
Cliff Robinson – Aug. 25, 1997
Phoenix was in severe need of a forward after trading Barkley, Green and Robert Horry the previous season.
Enter Robinson, a 6-10 godfather to the modern-day “stretch four.” The former Blazers All-Star started the vast majority of his four-year stint in the Valley, averaging 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks per game in that span. He earned NBA All-Defensive Second Team Honors with Phoenix in 2000 and logged a 50-point game against Denver that same season.
Tom Gugliotta – Jan. 23, 1999
Coming off a season in which he averaged more than 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game, “Googs” was in high demand in 1999. Phoenix had recently seen forward Antonio McDyess return to Denver via free agency, and they were determined to fill the void left behind at that position.
Gugliotta did so, putting up 17.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per contest in the 1999 campaign. He scored in double figures in all but six games that season and ended up as the team’s leading scorer.
Rodney Rogers – Aug. 3, 1999
Despite the initial success of Gugliotta and Robinson in the frontcourt, Phoenix felt they needed another scoring threat at forward. The versatile Rogers fit the bill with his combination of rugged interior scoring and deceivingly soft outside jumper.
He rode those skills to the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2000, when he averaged career highs of 13.8 points,, 5.5 rebounds and 43.9-percent three-point shooting (fourth-best in the league). His 23-point, 10-rebound, three-block effort helped Phoenix eliminate San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs that year.
Kevin Johnson – March 25, 2000
The news had come. Jason Kidd would need ankle surgery that included screws and a recovery time that would likely span the playoffs.
Phoenix made a call to another point guard, one they knew very, very well. Luckily for them, he said yes.
Johnson’s brief comeback (15 games, including the playoffs) came after initially retiring in 1998 kept Phoenix afloat until Kidd’s sooner-than-expected return in the Spurs series. KJ tallied 10 points and six assists in Game 3 and provided a steady hand to a team full of new characters.
The biggest benefit, of course, was that Suns fans got to see him on the court one last time.
Dan Majerle – July 19, 2001
Another sentimental comeback signing. Majerle provided a veteran presence to a team full of up-and-comers, including Stephon Marbury, Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion.
The former Suns All-Star and eventual Ring of Honor member averaged 4.6 points per contest in the 2001-02 campaign, and managed to add a third era of Suns uniforms to his closet in the process.
Steve Nash – July 14, 2004
Dallas wanted him, but not enough to compete with Phoenix’s offer. That proved to be a lucky break for the Suns, who saw Nash run and pass his way to six more All-Star Games, five All-NBA recognitions (three First team, two Second Team), six assist titles and consecutive MVP awards.
Lost amid the endless videos of alley-oops, bounce passes and no-look dishes is this: Nash is likely the best shooter in franchise history. The future Hall-of-Famer shot 50.4 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from downtown, and 90.7 percent from the free throw line while in a Suns uniform.
Quentin Richardson – July 29, 2004
With Mike D’Antoni recently hired as the head coach, Phoenix knew they’d need shooting to fuel his fast-paced offense. Richardson was coming off a career year with the Clippers in which he’d made nearly two three-pointers per contest.
The Suns didn’t hesitate, snagging what would become a key piece of their breakout 2004-05 season. Richardson averaged 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and led the league in three-pointers made (226) and attempted (631) that year.
Raja Bell – Aug. 3, 2005
Offseason trades necessitated a replenishing of outside shooting. Bell had made great strides in this department after entering the league as primarily a defensive stopper. Phoenix thought he might be able to fill the gaps in both departments.
Their hope turned into reality as Bell would scorch opponents for better than 40 percent from downtown in each of his next three seasons with the team. His defense added an extra dimension to the Suns, including against the rival Lakers in the 2006 playoffs.
As for that shot of his, it came in handy against the Clippers in Game 5 of the 2006 Western Conference semifinals, when his three-pointer sent the game into a second overtime, where the Suns would eventually pull away to win.
Tim Thomas – March 3, 2006
Other than Kevin Johnson’s brief comeback in 2000, Thomas had the shortest careers of anyone with a significant role while in Phoenix.
With big man Kurt Thomas injured, Phoenix needed size. Thomas was under contract but not playing for Chicago, a team intent on developing its younger players. Once the Bulls waved him, the Suns saw an opportunity to add a versatile frontline talent.
It paid off as Thomas proved to be a galvanizing force behind the Suns’ conference finals run that season. He averaged 15.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.4 three-pointers made per game in the postseason. His most memorable moment came in Game 6 of the first round against the Lakers, when his second-chance three-pointer sent the game into overtime. Phoenix, who trailed 3-2 at the time, went on to win the game and, ultimately, the series.
Grant Hill – July 11, 2007
Nash’s rejuvenation in the desert was intriguing the rest of the league, and perhaps no one more than Hill. The former Pistons superstar had struggled to remain healthy in Orlando, and was looking for a fresh start and renewed hope in his NBA career.
Phoenix, meanwhile, was on the lookout for a permanent solution at starting small forward. In Hill, they saw undervalued veteran talent that could make an impact on a contending team.
The union could not have gone better for either side. Hill ended up playing five seasons with thSuns, averaging 12.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field in that time period. His defense single-handedly turned the tide in the 2010 playoffs, when he was asked to check point guards including Andre Miller (Portland) and Tony Parker (San Antonio).
His ultimate highlight, however, came in the 2008-09 season, when he played in every regular season game for the first time in 10 years.
Channing Frye – July 14, 2009
Phoenix was intent on recapturing its run-and-gun identity after a down season that saw them miss the playoffs. In Frye, they saw an up-and-coming big man who had a better shooting touch than anyone realized.
It ended up being the best of homecomings. The former University of Arizona star caught the league by surprise, hitting a torrid 43.9 percent of his three-point tries in 2009-10 (sixth-best in the league). He sank the fourth-most treys that season and the following.
His career appeared in danger after an enlarged heart sidelined him for the entire 2012-13 season, but he returned the following year without missing a beat. Aside from averaging double figure scoring for his fourth consecutive season, Frye was also the only Sun to play in all 82 games in 2013-14.
Goran Dragic – July 19, 2012
With Nash traded earlier that month, Phoenix was in need of the next standout point guard. They turned their attention to one they’d drafted in 2008 and traded 2011, Goran Dragic.
The Slovenian playmaker had already endeared himself to Suns fans with his epic 23-point fourth quarter in Game 3 of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals, and the feeling was mutual. Dragic decided he did indeed want to return to the desert.
Suns fans are grateful for that decision, as “The Dragon” has become one of the league’s best guards. He averaged career highs of 20.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 50.5 percent shooting and 40.8 percent three-point shooting in 2013-14. The breakout season resulted in being named the league’s Most Improved Player.
Other Notable Free Agent Signings
Frank Johnson - Nov. 5, 1992
Horacio Llamas - Feb. 21, 1997
Lou Amundson - Aug. 14, 2008
P.J. Tucker - Aug. 1, 2012