Debate: Best All-Time Suns Lineup for $18 Million
by Matt Petersen

The Internet was recently besieged by a visual debate that asked readers to pick an all-time starting lineup using dollar values and an overall spending cap. We’ve given the idea  a purple-and-orange flavor and taken it to Suns studio host Tom Leander and the crew. Each member of the group was given an $18 million salary cap with which to spend on the best players in franchise history, all of whom were given dollar values under their various positions: point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center and sixth man.

Who picked the best lineup? Read on to find out and leave your own in the comments field below!

MATT: Making my first pick came down to scarcity. What skill set was in smallest supply?

Painful memories made this a short thought process. Rim protection. That’s what I needed.

On this list, it doesn’t get much better than Mark West. The swatted two shots or better for three consecutive seasons and was secretly the biggest reason Phoenix eviscerated the Lakers in the 1990 playoffs (the only year in a five-years span L.A. didn’t make the Finals).

At $2 million, West is a double-bonus of affordability and need that ensures I can splurge on a superstar at another position.

ESPO: First pick? I couldn’t even look at this like a typical draft. There was too much math involved. It was all about busting out the calculator and figuring out what combination added up to $18M without making me look completely inept (I do that perfectly well without math).

All I knew was that $5M was automatically was gone because Sir Charles was on my roster no matter what. Not only is he the biggest superstar to come through the Valley, but he’s the reason I became a basketball fan. It would have been blasphemous for me to go in any direction not involving him.

SHAWN: Kudos to you Matt, in looking back on the top talent from one of the greatest scoring franchises in NBA history you went defense first. I do agree with Espo. Barkley is arguably the biggest name in Arizona sports history and an undeniable superstar, but fresh off Espo’s man crush I’ll come out and say Sir Charles is not on my roster, nor is any player in the $5 million category.  

I’m going on a pure team concept here, and keeping true to our Suns history I looked to fill the needs for the patented fast break offense.  The most essential piece to said offense? The point guard. I’m going with the triple double king himself, Jason Kidd. Great value at only $3 million and the perfect guy to have the ball is his hands pushing the fast break. 

ESPO: Shawn, you do realize that you don’t get to keep whatever money you save. Like Monopoly, this is all fictional cash. Best part of your first purchase? He can coach your team and do it while not wearing a tie.

SHAWN: I'm definitely aware, but smart spending equals a better quality of team overall not just a couple big names, you were probably the guy who went bankrupt spending all your money on railroads and waterworks. But thanks for pointing out even more value in my Kidd pick, the way he's going he may be the biggest steal of all. 

BEN: If I’m building a roster, the first player I go with is a point guard. That is to say, someone who does a little bit of everything and can make everyone around him better. Having that player as the “rock” of my team gives us a chance against any opponent on any given night.

Kevin Johnson owns career averages of 18 points and nine assists per game, while also being a solid defender. So, long story long, my first pick of Kevin Johnson should surprise a total of zero people. In my humble opinion, KJ is a major bargain at $4M and the pick gives me flexibility at other positions both for scoring and defense.

On my team, we build around a point guard and someone who anchors the middle of the paint. Taking KJ with the first pick was a no-brainer and I’m shocked more people did not make the same selection.

TOM: First, I would like to thank the boys of for allowing me to enter this “All-Time Suns Line-Up Debate” complete with salary cap considerations.

It was a fun and frustrating, exhilerating and excruciating exercise!  But I truly believe my line-up will trump all others.

And here is where I commend the shrewdest of the staff at, Shawn Deloney, though he left out some critical information as to who is the “real steal” of the draft.

Shawn, I truly believe you watered down your rationale for selecting this player.

Those play on words will make sense as you read on.

Sure, I could have gone for the glamour pick of Sir Charles at $5mil or followed my heart with MVSteve(also $5mil) and then built my line-up from there.

But I went for the ultimate bargain to begin this process. In the spirit of Suns tradition, my line-up would be a high-octane unit that put a premium on scoring with a hint of defense.

Hey, isn’t that what fans have come to expect in Phoenix??(although, Coach Longabardi is beginning to alter that perception!)

So why not grab a (future) Hall of Fame, pass-first point guard who actually has hands like a vise grip and can play some stellar defense while pushing the ball up-court unlike any other guard in Suns history.

He could trigger a fast-break without even a dribble...catching an outlet pass and using his Popeye-like forearm strength to fire a missile to a streaking teammate. With those freakish talons for hands, he could also strip the most competent ball-handlers to ignite a fast-break with live turnovers. Jason Kidd (rated the 3rd best point guard on the Salary Scale) is the man to build around.  It is at this time that I admit JKidd no longer possesses those great hands. Heck, he can’t even hold onto a cup of water!   But as a former ballboy, I would have jumped at the chance to run over there with a mop in hand to clean-up after the bumbling Brooklyn coach.

Yet, I stand by my decision to start my team with Captain Kidd. Just wait until you see who his teammates will be on my All-Time Team.  Can you say “unstoppable”???

MATT: So through an impressively snarky round of opening picks and statements, here’s where we stand:

PG N/A N/A Kidd Kidd KJ
PF N/A Barkley N/A N/A N/A
C West N/A N/A N/A N/A
6th N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Cap Spent $2M $5M $3M $3M $4M
Cap Remaining $16M $13M $15M $15M $14M

Very 1990s start to this. That’s an indicator of our collective age as well as that era being a treasure trove of awesomeness for the franchise.

I made sure to address a need in short supply with my first pick. With that done, I feel I can splurge on a franchise-changing talent.

It came down to three guys who changed the Suns for real as soon as they came to Phoenix: Nash, Hawkins and Barkley. I know Nash/Hawkins in the open court would work. I’m not sure about Nash/Barkley pick-and-rolls, especially since Sir Charles preferred operating from the low block than running out to the top of the key to set a screen.

Whatever my train of thought, it always included Nash, who offers both speed and (the real edge vs. his competition) outside shooting. I’m taking the two-time MVP and, eventually, building the rest of the roster around his skill set.

BEN: Reading this email chain and the reasons behind everyone’s decisions has only affirmed how awesome and unstoppable my team will be. With $14M left to spend after selecting KJ for $4M (need I remind you all, one of the greatest point guards the world has ever seen), my immediate thought was whom to pair him with in the backcourt. And even though he is listed as a sixth man in this All-Time Suns Lineup Debate, when I saw Penny Hardaway was a mere $2M, my decision was another no-brainer.

I assume everyone remembers how amazing Penny was during the 1999-2000 season (and postseason)? Hardaway played in 60 games for the team that season and averaged 16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.6 steals with the Suns winning 42 of those games (a 53-29 record overall). Furthermore, in spite of an injury to Jason Kidd, Hardaway and the Suns took care of the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs in just four games – including a 17-point, 13-assist, 12-rebound triple-double performance by Hardaway in a Game 3 win.

KJ and Penny in my backcourt? Um, yes, please. 

SHAWN: With all the brewing confidence in this e-mail chain, it’s amazing how we’re all only relegated to a discussion about building a team instead of sitting in a real NBA GM office, but I digress. I’m just going to build from the backcourt and continue my team with the shooting guard.

My bargain shopping continues with the acquisition of one Eddie Johnson. A huge steal at only $1 million, and yet a crucial asset as a lights-out shooter to space the floor on the break, and knock down the open looks off penetration. Picking EJ not only gives me a solid scoring option at the two, but also maintains flexibility for the bigger names down the road. 

ESPO: First off, Matt, it was very kind of you to lump Leander in with those of us who grew up in the 90s. I’m sure that will make him feel particularly special.

Secondly, Shawn, there is no doubt why you’re all discussing lineups on the internet rather than putting together actual NBA teams after reading these first few picks.

Now onto the important stuff, my team. If the league has taught us anything lately it’s that Big Three groups are the en vogue thing. With that in mind I figured it only made sense to pair the biggest personality in Barkley with the biggest body on the list. No, not Oprah. I’m talking about Shaq. When you put them at the four and five you have one of the most dominant big man pairings in NBA history, even if you’re getting Suns Shaq and not championship O’Neal.  Oh and I got him at the bargain basement price of $3M. Like the Big Shaqtus once said, tell me how second place tastes… or something like that.

MATT: Greg realizes how this is going to end in practice at least twice a week, right? Like this, this and this.

GREG: Nothing wrong with a little rivalry and enthusiasm. Just take the motley crew involved in this debate as an example.

TOM: ESPO!! Seriously?? Two big behemoths down low. You would need a Dunn-Edwards warehouse to have enough room in the paint for Shaq and Chuck together.

Meanwhile the rest of us—like the league and its fans—are pushing for more wide-open, exciting basketball.

Heck, even Chuck’s previous owner got sick of isolation basketball, formed a committee that met at The Biltmore in 2001, and changed the rules to spike scoring and interest.

And Ben, you went with Penny?? Did you have to dredge up Backcourt 2000?  There was no way I would put that pair together again unless it was the 1995 version of Anfernee(see, I can’t even say Penny).

He did a decent job...on one leg. But it was like watching Ed Norton team with Ben Stiller in “Keeping the Faith.” Just not Ed’s best work or a good pairing.

That’s why with my second choice to complement the passing skills of Kidd(and here again, Shawn Deloney shows his savvy basketball chops), I went with the ultimate shooter. Just ask him. EJ.

The Big Fella(no, not Shaq but the guy upstairs) knows how badly I wanted to put Sweet D on my team.  But EJ can fill it up with the same kind of sweet stroke.

The guy scored 43 in a half WHILE having to share the basketball with Tom Chambers!

And EJ’s cheap!  Insert obvious joke here about having dinner with him.

So now I have a $4 million dollar backcourt and loads of cash to spend on my front court.  Ryan McDonough is free to call me whenever he wants some advice.

GREG: Leander, I’ll have you know that “Keeping the Faith” was a delightfully underrated comedy that let Norton shine in a light many hadn’t seen him in before. Much like Shaq in the Suns offense. If I’m building a franchise around two delightful skilled and funny individuals I couldn’t go wrong with Barkley and Shaq or Stiller and Norton. This isn’t “Death to Smoochie” we’re talking about here. And, I’ll have you know, my next cast member is a much more attractive selection than Jenna Elfman.

TOM: You keep putting together a "delightful" team. The rest of us will build dynasties.

MATT: This was a mistake. There’s no chair to sit between you two. I’m calling a truce for just enough time to recap where we stand:

PG Nash N/A Kidd Kidd KJ
SG N/A N/A E. Johnson E. Johnson N/A
PF N/A Barkley N/A N/A N/A
C West Shaq N/A N/A N/A
6th N/A N/A N/A N/A Hardaway
Cap Spent $7M $8M $4M $4M $6M
Cap Remaining $11M $10M $14M $14M $12M

It’s now obvious that Tom and Shawn are giggling somewhere while making this a group project. If their third pick is identical, I vote we combine their teams and call them TomShawn.

Speaking of which, I’m on the clock. Nash needs a pick-and-roll partner and threat on offense, as well as someone who can cover ground defensively when the same thing happens on the other end. The only big man who fits that bill: Larry Nance.

True story: Nance and Mark Price were one of the sneaky-best pick-and-roll duos in the league in the late 80s and early 90s. He simply never had a chance to show it playing with the Suns point guards of the early/mid-80s. With Nash, whether he was finishing above the rim (Suns fans know all about that) or sinking the mid-range J, Nance provides the perfect yang to MVSteve’s yin in basketball’s most essential play.

If you need proof, check out this awesome old-school video of the Nance and Price teaching it!

Also semi-forgotten: Nance was an elite shot-blocker. His average over his entire career: 2.2 swats per contest (eight top-10 finishes). He’ll be the athletic help defender to pair up with West’s straight-up post D.

That and he’ll absolutely destroy you with dunks in transition.

BEN: Fellas, fellas, fellas…you continue to slay me. In what universe is a KJ/Penny Hardaway pairing a bad thing? Am I crazy here? (Don’t answer that.) I made my picks with the assumption we are taking the healthy, most effective and successful version of these players for the All-Time Suns Lineup; a KJ/Penny backcourt is sick. Filthy, even.

Thus, my next pick not only provides athleticism but lock-down defense: Shawn Marion. The Matrix is the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of the hardwood. Easy pick, and a major value at $3M.

SHAWN: It’s too bad that Greg isn’t nearly as good at putting a team together as he is with his snarky comments or keen knowledge of romantic comedies. You’ve virtually turned the great Sir Charles into Chris Bosh’s predecessor with all the 18 footers he’ll have to take with Shaq clogging up the paint.

As for Tom I can only say it’s refreshing to see someone else in this discussion knows what they’re doing. But again, I digress.

My SF position mirrors one Ben York with Shawn Marion. Arguably the most versatile player to don the purple and orange. He’s a perfect fit on the wing for the fast break offense, while also providing me with a solid defender on the other end of the floor. The flexibility and value of Marion at $3 million is one of the easier decisions yet.

GREG: Ben,  first instinct here is to honor your love of N’Sync because when I see you putting together this 90s lineup I’m thinking Bye, Bye, Bye but I won’t until I see your front line (that and my next pick is one of those guys.) I will however refer to the backcourt as the “triage unit” moving forward.  

Matt, good luck with Nance against Barkley and West against Shaq.

Oh, and I can’t wait to see what pick Shawn/Tom make next. Their teams are so close to each other at this point they could play the Greg Kinear and Matt Damon roles in a remake of “Stuck on You.”

But now onto my next pick. With Barkley and Shaq you need an all-everything guard who can get them the ball, hit jumpers and slash to the bucket. KJ fits that bill. That’s one hall-of famer and-two guys who should be inducted soon on my roster.  

MATT: I can’t decide if KJ (a slashing, score-in-the-paint point guard) trying to find room to drive around The Round Mound and The Big [Insert Nickname Here] is hilarious or depressing. It might be both.

GREG: Much like the great painters, my work here likely obviously won’t be appreciated until much later. 

BEN: If loving N’Sync is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

MATT: Ben's team so far:

TOM: So you really think I could survive another season on-the-air with TC if I didn’t have him on my team??

It will be difficult enough in The Al McCoy Press Lounge when EJ needles TC about being drafted ahead of him.

Then again, TC can tell EJ he is only worth $1mil while Chambers was valued at three times that amount.

So for broadcast chemistry reasons and the fact Chambers could flat-out hoop, I will take his 60 point game and Suns record for points per game in a season!

MATT: In fairness to Tom, we should’ve seen the All-Announcer Team coming. He’s ensuring a friendly workplace with his picks.

He’s also ensuring he’s got money left to spend for the remaining three rounds, something Greg and I didn’t bother worrying about…

PG Nash KJ Kidd Kidd KJ
SG N/A N/A E. Johnson E. Johnson N/A
SF N/A N/A N/A Marion Marion
PF Nance Barkley Chambers N/A N/A
C West Shaq N/A N/A N/A
6th N/A N/A N/A N/A Hardaway
Cap Spent $11M $12M $7M $7M $9M
Cap Remaining $7M $6M $11M $11M $9M

I’ve got my pick-and-roll tandem and an enforcer down low. I need a shooter. I’m going with the guy Al McCoy dubbed “the best shooter to ever put on a uniform for the Suns”, Walter Davis. If you help on the pick-and-roll, he will torch you from the perimeter (51.1 percent career shooter). I can also run plays specifically for him, knowing he’s not just a catch-and-shoot type.

He’s not just a scorer, either. 24.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game his rookie season: all reasons he graces the cover of Sports Illustrated and my roster (both of which are equally high honors).

GREG: I’m very interested in seeing how Tom works Steve Albert and Bob Adlhoch into his lineup and at what positions to keep the peace with the rest of the broadcast guys. I do think Ann Meyers-Drysdale could make a great shooter off the bench though, so that will be valuable.

Speaking of Tom and Shawn, it’s tough not to take EJ at the $1M range. With Barkley and Shaq down low and KJ passing the rock, Eddie is going to be free to make it rain from beyond the arch. Which means I can put my Twitter rivalry with him aside and embrace the chance to add him to my squad.

SHAWN: Regardless of Tom’s broadcaster allegiance, his GM skills continue to prove to be impeccable.

With what I viewed as the ultimate steal in this entire process, it’s a no-brainer for me to take Tom Chambers at my PF position. Another asset for the fast break offense with the ability to create his own shot. TC at only $3 million is almost an insult ( And I’m sure he’ll be the first to tell you) Adding one of the greatest scorers in Suns history, only fuels my high-powered squad.

BEN: With $9M remaining on my already-amazing roster, I need someone to solidify the paint. And that someone is none other than The Big Shaqtus himself. When he was a Sun, Shaq did a little bit of everything – he could score, played solid defense and still made opponents think twice about taking a shot inside the paint.

Shaq was a member of the latter stages of the SSOL era, but if you put him on the roster I have constructed (KJ, Penny, Marion), Shaq, at $3M, is a huge (pun intended) addition. There’s really no way anyone can convince me that a lineup of KJ, Penny, Marion and Shaq (during their prime years with the Suns) isn’t unstoppable – and I still have cap room to add one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history (hint, hint)… 

TOM: My next selection has to be Shawn Marion since only a guy called The Matrix could cover three guys at once(his man along with the guys Chambers and Eddie are supposed to be covering).

GREG: Why don’t we just let Shawn roll out the picks for Tom? They obviously used each other’s cheat sheets to make their picks.

MATT: Normally my opinions avoid concurring with Greg’s, but the updated lineups make it really hard to not consider TomShawn a group project:

PG Nash KJ Kidd Kidd KJ
SG Davis E. Johnson E. Johnson E. Johnson N/A
SF N/A N/A Marion Marion Marion
PF Nance Barkley Chambers N/A N/A
C West Shaq N/A N/A Shaq
6th N/A N/A N/A N/A Hardaway
Cap Spent $15M $13M $10M $10M $12M
Cap Remaining $3M $5M $8M $8M $6M

Not going to lie, I feel like you guys are overlooking the past with your picks. EJ and Chambers are as historic as you’re willing to get? Davis and Nance will make you pay for your disrespect.

Thanks to the remaining cap, the second-to-last picks will pre-determine the final selections, so we’re going to roll out both at once in this final round.

I’m going Sixth Man first, since I deemed this guy essential for my frontcourt’s versatility. There will be times I need an extra shooter, but one who can more than hold his own as a post defender. He can (and did) go off for 50 points (shouldn’t be surprising…he was one of the most underrated scorers of the early 90s). MOVE ASIDE FOR UNCLE CLIFF ROBINSON.

Cliffy played center the majority of his time here in Phoenix, and he routinely held his own on the block despite giving up several inches and dozens of pounds to opposing centers. He made those lumbering big men pay on the other end, where he could post up or shoot the three with equal proficiency. When I want to add a sixth gear to my running game, he can fill in for Mark West at the five.

That left a measly $1 million for me to spend, which I used on anything-but-measly Cedric Ceballos. Let me be clear: IF CED IS HEALTHY FOR THE ’93 FINALS, THE SUNS WIN. He was that good. True story: he led the NBA in field goal percentage that year as the Suns’ starting small forward. He moved off the ball and found seams in the defense. Nash’s dimes to his backdoor cuts alone will produce at least six points a game. Between his efficiency, speed, above-average rebounding (six-plus boards per game four straight seasons) and solid perimeter defense, he’s the perfect slasher to complement Davis’ outside shooting on the wing.

In short: Nash/Nance pick-and-roll, Davis’ “best” shot in the history of the franchise, Ceballos’ elite athleticism and intangibles, West’s strong-man dirt work and Uncle Cliff’s versatility is my formula to owning you.

BEN: If I’m honest, I would’ve taken Charles Barkley at any amount. So with only $6M left to spend, $5M of that will be spent on The Chuckster at power forward. Barkley playing alongside KJ, Marion, Shaq and Hardaway in their prime years as Suns? Please. Easy choice. 

GREG: I'm going to expedite this process and give you my final two roster spots to avoid any insinuations that I copied another person’s lineup. My final two spots go to Shawn Marion and Eddie Johnson. Marion’s athleticism and ability to get out on the break, rebound and just wreak havoc on opponents in his time in Phoenix is why he makes my roster. He adds the freakish ability that you all cried my lineup lacked with Shaq and Barkley. And EJ at $1M is a no brainer. He’s going to have so many wide open threes on this team that he’s likely to drop 43 in a half. (Which he did in his career. Just ask him and you’ll get a complete play by play.)  

All I have to say is, CHAMPIONSHIP. Or at least a tie with Ben when he reveals we have identical teams. #GreatMinds

SHAWN: Taunt all you want, but while Matt basks in his Suns-Nerd glory and Greg….well I still not sure what Greg is doing, the identical line-up shows just how great of a team this is. With that said, I will also finish up my squad with my final two.

At center I’m going with the most athletic big man in Suns history, Amar'e Stoudemire. Solidifying my run and gun team with his ability to finish above the rim on the break, while also adding his the mid-range jumper & pick n roll ability in the half-court.

And as my Sixth Man, I would be foolish to leave off the one and only Dragon, aka Goran Dragic. A star combo guard, able to push the break at the point or score the ball at the 2. Goran is sneakily fast in the open court and his ability to finish at the rim unparalleled. With weapons at each position, good-luck keeping up with this squad.

Thus solidifying a DYNASTY. And easily the BEST team on the  board.

SD out.

TOM: I will follow that selection up with the man who gave me numerous opportunities to say "Elevate and Detonate", Amare Stoudemire.  In my mind, Amare is the Suns’ greatest draft pick and he made Suns basketball Must See TV.  Yes, Steve Nash was the orchestrator during those entertaining years, but Stat was the ultimate finisher. He then polished-up his game with a lethal mid-range jumper.

And finally, I saved $4 million for the end to ensure that I had Scorin’ and Soarin’ Goran Dragic, fresh off his selection as The NBA’s Most Improved Player and also being named to the All-NBA Team.

I was there at the “secret” workout before the Suns were able to draft Dragic(with help from the Spurs, by the way), so I feel a deep connection with my 6th Man! What a perfect way to put the finishing touch on my squad.

MATT: Since Greg had already picked Eddie Johnson the previous round and cloning is not allowed in this edition of lineup selections, I’m going to assume his remaining $2 million is going to Penny Hardaway at the still-empty 6th man spot. Meanwhile Ben’s remaining $1 million + open shooting guard spot = Eddie Johnson.

I’m giving myself kudos for having the only unique lineup in this thing. Your guys’ pairing-off strategy is obvious in the final results:

PG Nash KJ Kidd Kidd KJ
SG Davis E. Johnson E. Johnson E. Johnson E. Johnson
SF Ceballos Marion Marion Marion Marion
PF Nance Barkley Chambers Chambers Barkley
C West Shaq Stoudemire Stoudemire Shaq
6th C. Robinson Hardaway Dragic Dragic Hardaway

Some quick thoughts to wrap up:

  • Eddie Johnson got picked four out of five? What does this mean? More importantly, what will happen when he finds out I was the only guy who didn’t pick him?
  • Marion was just as popular as Eddie, also getting four out of five nods at the small forward spot. That’s a good pairing on the wings. Marion’s cutting/defense/rebounding complements EJ’s shooting really well.
  • Conversely, some guys that weren’t picked at all deserve apologies. The five that jumped out to me: Paul Westphal (best guard in the NBA from 1976-1980. It’s true), Connie Hawkins (iconic do-it-all forward and the Suns’ first superstar), Dick Van Arsdale (Original Sun and a ruthless attacker on offense), Dan Majerle (the third defining All-Star of the 90s golden age) and Alvan Adams (franchise-changing big man who passed like a point guard). All of these guys were All-Stars at various points in their careers, but that quintet’s particular talent and history with the team deserves a collective tip of the hat.
  • Best strengths from the three different lineups: Perimeter offense and overall balance (mine), running, dunking and perimeter defense (Tom/Shawn) and interior scoring on the drive or in the post (Greg/Ben).
  • Glaring weaknesses from the three different lineups: low post scoring (mine), fast perimeter coupled with slower post players (Greg/Ben) and interior defense (Tom/Shawn)

Think you can make an even better Suns lineup under the same cap and price settings? Comment below!