NBA - PACIFIC
Arena: Footprint Center
Coach: Monty Williams
2021-2022 TEAM LEADERS
Phoenix Suns Summary
The Phoenix Suns have been among the top teams in the NBA at various times since their inception as an expansion team in 1968. The Suns are still looking for their first NBA title, but they’re in a good position to contend for it over the next few years, as they come off an NBA Finals appearance in 2021 and return most of the same cast for the 2021-22 campaign.
Head coach Monty Williams has one of the top backcourts in the league in point guard Chris Paul and shooting guard Devin Booker, and center Deandre Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft just a few years ago. Phoenix came within two wins of its first title in 2021, and it’s hoping to take that last step very soon.
Phoenix Suns History
The Suns joined the NBA for the 1968-69 season and finished with just 16 wins in their first season, putting them in a coin flip for the top pick in the NBA Draft and the prize that came along with it: Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Phoenix lost the coin toss but made the playoffs in its second season, the only postseason trip in the franchise’s first seven seasons.
The 1975-76 season was a breakthrough campaign for the team, as Rookie of the Year center Alvan Adams teamed with forwards Garfield Heard and Curtis Perry and guards Ricky Sobers, Dick Van Arsdale, and Paul Westphal to not just get into the playoffs but advance all the way to the NBA Finals. Phoenix lost in six games to the Boston Celtics in a classic series that featured a three-overtime contest in Game 5 won by Boston.
The team fell off a bit the next year, but guard Walter Davis joined the team in 1977 and won Rookie of the Year honors, and the team started an eight-year playoff run. Phoenix advanced to the conference finals twice in that span, falling to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979 and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1984.
The team struggled a bit in the middle of the decade, missing the postseason for three straight seasons, but a makeover in 1988-89 saw the team return to the playoffs. Guard Kevin Johnson earned Most Improved Player honors while coach Cotton Fitzsimmons was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year. The team also had award winners in Sixth Man of the Year Eddie Johnson and Executive of the Year Jerry Colangelo, with Johnson and Tom Chambers both earning All-NBA honors.
The team lost in the conference finals in two straight seasons in 1989 and 1990, then struggled just to get to the second round of the postseason. That prompted a major move in the summer of 1992, with the team trading three players to the Philadelphia 76ers for All-Star forward Charles Barkley.
The acquisition of Barkley and hiring of Westphal as the head coach made an immediate impact, as Barkley earned the NBA MVP award and the Suns won a team-record 62 games in the regular season and made it through the Western Conference playoffs for a second NBA Finals appearance. Facing the two-time defending champion Chicago Bulls, Phoenix put up a fight but ended up losing the series in six games.
The team continued to be a perennial playoff participant but could only get as far as the conference semifinals in 1994, 1995, and 2000, with Barkley getting traded away in 1996 and Johnson dealing with injuries over his final few years in the league. A 13-year postseason streak ended when the Suns missed the playoffs in 2002, but the draft brought big man Amare Stoudemire to the team, as he won Rookie of the Year honors in 2002-03.
Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Joe Johnson formed a young core of the team, but things really turned around for the team with the re-acquisition of point guard Steve Nash in 2004. Nash had been a Suns draftee in 1996 but was playing behind Johnson and Sam Cassell in his first two NBA seasons and was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 1998.
Nash was the catalyst behind the team’s 33-win improvement from the previous season in 2004-05, earning league MVP honors. Mike D’Antoni was named the league’s Coach of the Year, and the Suns reached the conference finals before falling to the San Antonio Spurs. The team repeated as division champions and Nash repeated as NBA MVP in 2005-06, but Phoenix again came up a round short of a trip to the NBA Finals, falling to Nash’s former team, the Mavericks, in the Western Conference finals.
Injuries slowed the Suns over the next few years, but Nash led the team to one more trip to the Western finals in 2010, where they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers. The bottom fell out the following season, with Phoenix missing the playoffs completely, starting a 10-year string of missing the postseason.
The team struggled over that decade but started putting pieces together in the drafting of guard Devin Booker in 2015 and center Deandre Ayton in 2018. The team made a run at a postseason berth in the Orlando bubble in 2019-20, winning all eight of its games after a break in the season due to COVID-19.
That offseason brought the acquisition of veteran point guard Chris Paul, and the Suns were suddenly title contenders, winning the Pacific Division and advancing to the NBA Finals. Phoenix won the first two games of the championship series against the Milwaukee Bucks but dropped four straight to again fall short of the ultimate prize.
2021-22 Key Stats
Coming off an NBA Finals appearance, Suns management rightfully kept the same lineup and didn’t make any major moves in the offseason. Phoenix returns intact and is primed to make another run at the first title in franchise history.
Chris Paul was fourth in the NBA in assists per game at age 35, so he’s the one-question mark as far as age, but he’s still playing at a very high level. The Suns also have several young reserves who will be ready for bigger roles this season under coach Monty Williams.
Championships Won by the Phoenix Suns
The Suns have yet to win the NBA title, but they have played in the championship series three times in their history after winning the Western Conference title. The team’s first trip to the Finals came in 1976 when Phoenix won the West by defeating the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the conference finals in seven games. The team fell short of the ultimate goal, however, losing in six games to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
The next Western Conference title came in 1993, with Phoenix knocking off the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games in the West finals to advance to its second NBA Finals appearance. Again, the team came up short, falling in six games to the two-time defending champion Chicago Bulls in six games.
The Suns won their third Western Conference crown in 2021, topping the LA Clippers in the West finals to move on to face the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals. Phoenix won the first two games of the championship series at home but dropped the next four contests as Milwaukee won the title.
Phoenix has won seven Pacific Division titles, with their first coming in 1980-81. The 1992-93 team that advanced to the NBA Finals took the division, as did the 1994-95 squad. The team won three straight Pacific crowns in the mid-2000s, and its seventh title came in the 2020-21 season.
Important Team Events
Trades have been a big part of the Phoenix Suns’ success over the years, including deals that brought players to the team that won NBA MVP while with the franchise. A major trade came in the 1992 offseason, as Phoenix sent three players to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for All-Star forward Charles Barkley. The move led to Barkley winning the 1992-93 NBA MVP and the Suns advancing to the NBA Finals in his first season with the team.
The Suns also brought a top player into the fold when they traded for Steve Nash from the Dallas Mavericks in 2004. Nash earned back-to-back NBA MVP awards and the Suns made two straight appearances in the Western Conference finals with Nash leading the way.
Another big trade helped the team back to the NBA Finals in 2021, with All-Star point guard Chris Paul joining the team in the summer of 2020. Paul was the floor general the team needed, as Phoenix advanced to the NBA Finals for the third time in franchise history.
There have been a lot of excellent players in the history of the Phoenix Suns franchise, but only one won back-to-back NBA MVP awards, and that’s Steve Nash. The point guard wasn’t the biggest scorer, averaging 16.3 points per game while with Phoenix, but he was a master distributor, leading the league in assists per game five times in his eight seasons with the franchise. He also helped the team become a title contender, with back-to-back trips to the Western Conference finals.
Charles Barkley had the same kind of impact as Nash did when he came to the Suns in 1992, winning the league MVP and leading Phoenix to the 1993 NBA Finals. Barkley played just four seasons with the Suns, but he was outstanding during that time, averaging 23.4 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game and putting the Suns on the brink of their first NBA title.
Though he didn’t have the same impact on the team’s fortunes as the other two, Walter Davis had just as good of a career with Phoenix as Nash and Barkley. The Rookie of the Year in 1977-78 after averaging a career-best 24.2 points, Davis became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in his 10 years with Phoenix, a mark that still stands today.
John MacLeod spent 13-plus seasons as the head coach of the Suns, taking the job in 1973 and holding it until he was fired midway through the 1986-87 campaign. Over that time, MacLeod took Phoenix to the playoffs nine times, including the 1976 NBA Finals and two other conference finals appearances, and won 579 regular-season and 37 playoff games to set the standard for Suns coaches that still stands.
The five seasons that Mike D’Antoni was on the Phoenix bench were some of the most successful – and exciting – of the franchise’s history. D’Antoni preached “Seven Seconds or Less,” which meant getting a shot up quickly to beat the opposing defense. With Steve Nash at the controls and players like Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, Phoenix reached the Western Conference finals twice under D’Antoni, who finished with 253 regular-season wins with the franchise.
Frequently Asked Questions
Walter Davis scored 15,666 points in his 11 seasons with the Suns, the most in franchise history.
The Suns have had two players win the NBA MVP award: Charles Barkley in 1992-93 and Steve Nash in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
The Suns have played in the NBA Finals three times, advancing to the championship round in 1976, 1993, and 2021.
John MacLeod won 579 regular-season games as the coach of the Suns, the most in franchise history.
The Suns have picked No. 1 in the NBA Draft just once, taking Deandre Ayton in 2018.