Although the 1982-83 Suns won 53 games, a visible weakness in the playoffs may have been remembered most. Phoenix lacked the toughness of the NBA powers. And while the consensus was that the Suns needed to bolster their front line, fans seemed to balk at the trade that ensued.
The deal - guard Dennis Johnson and the Suns' first-round pick in the 1983 NBA Draft to Boston for forward/center Rick Robey and Boston's two second-round picks - didn't look even. Johnson was a four-time All Star. Robey was a reserve front-line player. Colangelo, then GM of the team, explained that the deal was based on what the Suns needed.
"There is a premium on size in this league," he said. "When you have the opportunity to get size and strength, you do it."
In Robey, the Suns definitely beefed up the front line. Playing alongside forwards Maurice Lucas and Larry Nance, and centers Alvan Adams and James Edwards, the Suns immediately could boast one of the NBA's tallest frontcourts. For a team that desperately sought advancement to the NBA's upper echelon, it may have been a necessary risk.
When Robey played, he played hard. It just didn't happen enough to stem the tide of criticism over the deal. After knee surgery robbed him of part of the season, Robey averaged only 5.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 61 games.
Due to a flood of injuries to other players, such as Edwards and Paul Westphal, Suns Head Coach John MacLeod was forced to juggle his starters. He didn't find any consistency until late in the season. Consequently, the Suns struggled on the road. Only their fine record at home (31-10) kept them in the playoff race until the late stages of the season, when they put together six straight wins - their longest winning streak of the season.
The Suns saved their most remarkable performances for the playoffs, advancing even further than they had in the previous three seasons with Johnson.
They defeated Portland in a hard-fought, five-game first-round series, winning the fifth and deciding game on the Trail Blazers' home court. They then proceeded to upend Midwest Division Champion Utah in six games in the next round, highlighted by a remarkable 111-110 overtime win in Game 4 at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
The Suns then took on the L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. The Suns pushed the talented Lakers to six games, defeating them 135-127 in overtime in Game 3 in Phoenix and staving off elimination with a 126-121 upset win in Los Angeles with a dogged performance in Game 5. The Suns were finally eliminated in Game 6, but only when their final shot didn't connect in a 99-97 nail-biter.
Robey only played in 10 of the team's 17 postseason games, averaging 1.8 points per game. Limited by more injuries, he would play a total of 50 games over the next two seasons with the Suns before his contract expired in 1986.
Highlights for the Suns '83-84 season included Walter Davis' return to the Western Conference All-Star squad, and Larry Nance's victory in the first-ever NBA Slam Dunk Championship in Denver. Nance defeated Michael Cooper, Clyde Drexler, Edgar Jones, Ralph Sampson, Orlando Woolridge, Darrel Griffith, Dominique Wilkins and the crowd favorite, Julius Erving. Nance beat Erving in the final round when Dr. J missed one of his three dunks.