The season that should've been

1976-77

IT COULD HAVE BEEN, SHOULD HAVE BEEN, the best of times. With the addition of first round draft pick Ron Lee and Tom and Dick Van Arsdale playing together for the first time as pros, the Suns seemed certain to make another strong playoff run. Indeed, the Suns entered the year with the highest of expectations, but had to watch helplessly as injuries eventually claimed the entire starting front line.

Gar Heard and Curtis Perry each missed nearly half the season and Alvan Adams, who was injured in the fourth game of the year, didn't regain top form until February. The Suns had all players healthy and available for duty for only six games the entire campaign and finished 34-48, fifth in the Pacific Division.

In spite of all the injuries, the Suns made a valiant effort to stay in the playoff picture. In fact, after a Feb. 8 home win over Atlanta, they stood at 25-26. That was as close as they would get to .500, however, losing 15 of their next 16.

Although it was a frustrating season, there were some noteworthy happenings during the year...

Paul Westphal led the club in scoring (21.3) for the second straight season and was named to the All-NBA team for the first time in his career. Also voted to the starting unit of the West squad at the All-Star Game in Milwaukee, Westy scored 20 points and nearly captured the game's MVP award. Ron Lee was named to the All-Rookie team.

The Suns set a new home attendance mark, averaging over 10,000 fans per game. Season tickets sales jumped from 3,500 to just over 5,000. The benefits of the Suns' appearance in the '76 Finals were clear, and the loyalty of Suns fans was equally evident - attendance remained strong during the season, despite the team's struggles.

At the conclusion of the season, both Van Arsdales retired from the NBA. On Nov. 19, 1976, future Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins became the first Suns player to have his uniform number retired (42).

And finally, despite the disappointment in not returning to the playoffs, the Suns ended up with the sixth overall pick in the 1977 NBA Draft, which brought them North Carolina guard Walter Davis. Added to a roster that simply HAD to be healthier the following season, the prospects for the Suns proved very bright.

Record: 34-48

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