Making Some Noise

1982-83

A PHOENIX SUMMER IS GENERALLY CONSIDERED "QUIET TIME" for Suns fans. During the summer of 1982-83, however, there was plenty of noise. And it was the noise that usually comes from a team retooling for a championship run.

The big move came on July 7. With the 1982 NBA Draft having occurred two weeks earlier, trade talks were seemingly quieted. But around noon that day, a story moved on the Associated Press wire, tagged as "urgent."

Phoenix had traded forward "Truck" Robinson to New York for forward Maurice Lucas. It seemed like a straight-up swap of power forwards. But it ran a little deeper.

When Robinson, who had just completed his third full season with Phoenix, was acquired in January of 1979, fans hailed him as the missing ingredient in the Suns' mix. But while Robinson provided Phoenix with scoring and rebounding, the "power" in power forward still seemed to be missing.

Yes, the Suns enjoyed success with Robinson, making four consecutive playoff appearances, including a Pacific Division title in 1981 and an appearance in the 1979 Western Conference Finals. But in each of those four seasons, elimination left fans bitter, and left Robinson as the scapegoat.

With expectations of being a franchise savior still hanging on Robinson in 1982, he left little doubt in the minds of reporters that he wanted to be traded after the Suns were eliminated from the playoffs in four straight games by the Los Angeles Lakers that year.

After talking with several teams, Suns General Manager Jerry Colangelo finally hit pay dirt on July 7, acquiring Lucas from the Knicks.

"Maurice Lucas plays a true, power inside game," Colangelo said. "I'm only dealing in reality, not speculation. The reality is that we now have a strong, inside player."

Lucas averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds through the first half of the season and was voted by the fans as the starting power forward for the Western Conference All-Star team.

The Suns, with a record of 29-20 at the break, trailed the Lakers by eight games. Having installed 6-10 second-year man Larry Nance at the small forward slot and welcomed back a healthy Walter Davis at guard, the Suns had only two holdovers in the starting lineup from 1981-82. They were center Alvan Adams and guard Dennis Johnson.

As the season progressed, so did Nance. He finished the year by leading the Suns in field goal percentage (.550) and set a new franchise record for blocked shots in a season with 217.

In spite of their success, the Suns had a glaring weakness at back-up center, where they juggled Jeff Cook, Joel Kramer and Lucas. With starting center Adams undersized at 6-9, the Suns needed help in the middle. So, Colangelo traded Cook, cash, a third round draft pick and other considerations to Cleveland in exchange for 7-1 center James Edwards, who was coming back after early-season knee surgery. To finish the season, Phoenix won six games in a row, 14 of its final 16, and 23 of its last 30 after the All-Star break. In the process, the Suns matched their best-ever single-season road record at 21-20.

Whereas Robinson had avoided the spotlight of being a team leader, Lucas flourished in it. The mean-spirited enforcer of Portland's 1977 NBA Championship team was clearly enjoying his status as the rallying force behind the Suns' drive to the 1983 NBA Playoffs.

The Suns qualified for postseason play for the sixth straight year and the seventh time in eight seasons. However, during Game 2 of the opening miniseries at Denver, Lucas suffered ligament damage in his left foot. The Suns lost that game, and went on to lose Game 3 at the Coliseum in overtime.

Record: 53-29

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