I know it’s hard to accept, but even in the world of sports all good things must come to an end. It’s been an exciting stretch for us Suns fans. We have seen the unexpected, heard the unbelievable, and suffered the agony of disappointment. It seems no one has had as bad of luck as us, and it’s reasonable to understand that.
It’s tough to let go, and it’s tough to admit to the truth, so I thought we could go over the ups and downs of “Planet Orange.” The sun might be setting, but the least we could do is look at those purple and orange skies and remind ourselves of the moments of our past.
It all started in 2003 when Mike D’Antoni became the coach of the Suns 21 games into the season. The injury riddled team went 21-40 in that time and finished 6th in the pacific division. During that same year General Manager Brian Colangelo traded Stephan Marbury, Cezary Trybanski, and Penny Hardaway to the Knicks in a deal that involved Antonio McDyess , Maciej Lampe, Charlie Ward, Howard Eisley, the rights of Milos Vujanic, a 2004 first round pick, and a future first rounder.
The 2004-2005 season is when the Suns became one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. With off-season acquisitions of Quentin Richardson and Steve Nash, Colangelo gave Coach D’Antoni the perfect lineup to make his “7 seconds or less” style of offense the biggest craze of American basketball.
The 04-05 regular season was one of the most successful the franchise had ever seen. Richardson set the franchise record for 3-point field goals made, Nash won the Most Valuable Player award, Coach D’Antoni won the NBA coach of the year, Colangelo won Executive of the year, and the Suns tied a franchise record with 62 wins. The regular season might have gone smooth, but a face injury to Joe Johnson may have cost them an NBA championship. Phoenix ended up getting all the way to the Western Conference Finals, but fell 1-4 to the San Antonio Spurs.
During the 2005 off-season the Suns went through a major facelift. They traded Richardson and first round pick Nate Robinson to the Knicks for Kurt Thomas and first round pick Dijon Thompson. They also sent Joe Johnson in a three team sign and trade deal to the Atlanta Hawks for Boris Diaw and a conditional first round pick, and acquired James Jones from Indiana. Their new-found hole at shooting guard led to the signing of Raja Bell.
Before the 2005-2006 season even began the Suns had a major problem. Just off the best season of his career, fourth year player Amar’e Stoudemire had season ending knee surgery. This knew opening had the Suns scrambling for a solution, and they eventually decided to start Thomas at center and Diaw at forward.
Even with the loss of Stoudemire, the Suns went on to a 54-28 record and won the Pacific Division for the 2nd year in a row. Nash also won his 2nd straight MVP award, and Diaw won the leagues Most Improves Player award. The post season finished nearly the same as the last. After reaching the WCF they lost to the Mavs in 6 games, arguably having their greatest postseason success.
There wasn’t much to speak of in the 2006 off-season. Coach D’Antoni ended up becoming GM/Head Coach, the Suns sold whatever draft picks they did have, and mike D’Antoni ended up bringing on his brother, Dan D’Antoni, as a bench coach in place of the recently departed Mike Iaveroni.
The Suns started off the ’06-’07 season hot opening up with a 15 game winning streak. Later that year they put on a streak of 17 games. Nash was playing once again at an MVP level leading the Suns to a 61-21 record, but was beat out by Dirk Nowitzki who led his Mavericks to the best record in the NBA, only to be beat in the first round by the number 8 seed Golden State Warriors.
That year’s playoff run was one of the most controversial in Phoenix Suns history. They defeated the Lakers with ease, but the next round proved to be fatal. In game 3, the most pivotal in their series against the Spurs, Robert Horry hip checked Nash into the border between press row and the court. Bell immediately got in Horry’s face, while Stoudemire and Diaw left the vicinity of the bench in order to get a closer look of the scuffle.
The league ended up handing down suspensions to both Diaw and Stoudemire, as well as giving one to Horry. The Spurs went on to win the series in six games along with the NBA championship, and Suns fans to this day still claim they were cheated out of a title.
In the 2007 offseason the Suns made a hiring that would soon change the shape of the franchise. Steve Kerr, former NBA player and TNT broadcaster, was named by owner Robert Sarver as the new GM. That off-season the Suns ended up making their first draft picks since 2003 when they selected Zarko Cabarkapa in the first round. With their first pick they took Big Ten Player of the year Alando Tucker. In the 2nd round they took D.J. Strawberry, son of former baseball player Darrel Strawberry. Neither played much for their pro squad.
Just like the previous season, the Suns started out ’07-’08 as one of the top teams in the western conference, but disgruntled superstar Shawn Marion still wasn’t happy. He felt he was deserving of a max contract, which typically goes to the league’s elite players, but Phoenix didn’t feel he was good enough to warrant that type of contract. This little squabble proved to impact the franchise more than anyone would have thought at the time.
Right before the February trade deadline, GM Steve Kerr would end up making a controversial move. He traded Marion and Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat for the Big Diesel himself, Shaquille O’neal. This had some fans screaming in fear and others gleaming with joy. At the time of the deal the Suns were in first place in their conference, but by the end of the year they fell all the way to the 6th seed, but still were only 2.5 games back from the top spot.
In the first round of the playoffs Phoenix got matched up with the San Antonio Spurs, a team that had knocked them out of the postseason in three of the last five seasons. The same would hold true in this series. The first game went to overtime after Tim Duncan of all people made a three point shot to tie it up. The Suns countered with one of their own in the first over time, but then the Spurs ended up getting the best of them. Emotionally and physically drained, the Suns proved no match, losing to the Spurs in five games.
The following off-season is arguably what led to the beginning of the end. Kerr requested to D’Antoni that he hire a defensive assistant coach, develop a bench, and be tougher on Stoudemire. Not only did D’Antoni refuse to comply, he took it as an insult that Kerr would tell him how to do his job, even if the players were asking for the same thing.
D’Antoni then asked to be allowed to search for a new job. He ended up choosing to coach the New York Knicks over the Toronto Raptors and the Chicago Bulls. This triggered about a month long coaching search that ended in signing Terry Porter, friend and former teammate of Kerr’s, as the new head coach. That same offseason Kerr drafted Robin Lopez and Goran Dragic, passing on the likes of Maurice Speights, Nicolas Batum, and JaVale McGee.
The 2008-2009 season started off very rocky, with players like Diaw, Bell, Nash, and Stoudemire speaking out against Coach Porter’s philosophy. It wasn’t too long before Kerr packaged Bell, Diaw, and newly acquired rookie Sean Singletary in a deal that brought Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley, and a future Charlotte Bobcats 2nd round pick to the valley. The team performed better for a while, but after the New Year the ship started to sink.
Rumors of a trade involving Stoudemire, O’Neal, and just about every other player not named Nash began circulating. At one point everyone thought a trade was going down, but then Phoenix made an alarming move and fired Porter before he even completed a single year as head coach. Alvin Gentry became the interim coach.
The Gentry Era started off hot with three straight 140 point victories, but the Suns couldn’t keep that stretch going for long. After a season ending eye injury to Stoudemire they became fairly inconsistent, winning three games here and then losing a few there. It wasn’t until recently they started their longest winning streak of the season in pursuit of the final playoff spot in the West.
Currently they’re neck and neck with the Mavericks, but it looks like Planet Orange is all but over. Gentry was recently granted the coaching job for next year, but stars like Nash and O’Neal are expected to be shipped out for youth, draft picks, and expiring contracts. It was great while it lasted, but you have to say there will be no more Planet Orange for the next few years to come.