Since the championship drought in Arizona has been evident over the past five decades, it’s been hard for the Phoenix Suns to attract the talent their team needs. They’ve had more than a handful of division titles and a couple of conference titles but for some reason, they just can’t seem to go over the hump and lift the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The Suns have had impressive spurts that kept them in playoff contention for consecutive seasons but through the course of their history, they’ve managed to plateau and brand themselves as a good franchise rather than a great one. This makes Phoenix not the ideal landing spot for a free agent hungry for some rings. But, that didn’t stop the Suns organization from getting to work and acquiring the right pieces to build a playoff team over the years.
Here are the five best free-agent signings in Phoenix Suns history.
5. Raja Bell (2005)
After five years of going around the league, 6’5″ forward Rajah Bell finally found his home in Phoenix when he signed a five-year contract with the Suns. At this point of his career, he was never really a bonafide starter and came off the bench a lot in his first five seasons in the NBA. But, head coach Mike D’Antoni saw something in the gritty forward that would be a key piece in his line-up which eventually pushed D’Antoni to start the newly-acquired Bell. Bell would end up being the perfect fit to a Steve Nash-led offense and would provide enough firepower from long-distance which opened up the floor for Nash and the rest of the Suns’ attackers. He averaged 14.7 points per game while shooting 44.2% from deep in his first season in Phoenix. In his second season, he ended up leading the league with 205 total three-pointers made.
Though his offense was clicking, it was his defense that really help the Virgin Islands native stand out. Bell’s defensive presence provided the Suns some much-needed intensity in the other side of the floor. He would take it upon himself to get a little too friendly with his opponents and get under their skin. Who could forget his clothesline on the great Kobe Bryant in their 2006 NBA Playoffs match-up? Bell prided himself on being a lockdown defender and was the Suns’ premiere backcourt stopper in his time in Arizona.
4. Grant Hill (2007)
The Suns were coming off two consecutive Conference Finals exits so they were looking to add another talent to their team to possibly help the team build on it’s recent winning trajectory. The front office decided to sign 13-year veteran Grant Hill to try and help them go over the hump. Hill started out as an athletic slasher as a hotshot rookie for the Detroit Pistons and was one of the biggest names in the mid-90’s. Unfortunately, a horrific ankle injury plagued the Duke alum’s career in Detroit and eventually with the Orlando Magic. Hill was already passed his peak and a nagging ankle injury wasn’t helping. This was when the Suns grabbed the opportunity to swooped in and sign the seasoned vet on a bargain.
The Suns already had enough athleticism in Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. What they clearly lacked at that time was some veteran savvy and leadership which Hill brought to the table. At 35, Hill was still able to contribute to the Suns offense as a starter and was an impressive addition to the Phoenix defense where he thrived. Somehow, the trainers in Phoenix did a terrific job in making sure Hill stayed on the floor as he ended up starting almost all of his games with the Suns in five quality seasons. Though Hill’s stay in Phoenix didn’t result in some hardware, his contribution to the team’s young stars was undeniable.
3. Clifford Robinson (1997)
The late Clifford Robinson had a daunting task of filling in the void for the Suns in the post-Charles Barkley era. Robinson had quite a career with Portland Trailblazers where he averaged 16.2 points per game in eight seasons in Portland which included a Sixth Man of the Year Award (1993) and an All-Star nod (1994). Along with Antonio McDyess, up and coming point guard Jason Kidd and newly-acquired shooter Rex Champman, Robinson would shine and make sure the Suns would consistently make it to the post-season.
Though hit didn’t quite shot in the numbers, Robinson’s stint in Phoenix was certainly impactful. He did almost everything for the Suns whenever he was on the floor – from scoring, rebounding, stealing and blocking. He was a stat sheet stuffer that any Fantasy team owner could only dream about. His best season in a Suns uniform was in the 1999-2000 NBA season where he logged in 18.5 points per game, 4.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and .8 blocks per game. This was also the same season where he exploded for a 50-point game against the Denver Nuggets in January 2000. He also made it to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team for the first time that season.
2. Tom Chambers (1988)
GM Jerry Colangelo and head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons jumped the gun as soon as they were allowed to when they signed big man Tom Chambers when the free agency opened up prior to the 1988-1989 NBA season – even if they had to spend more than what they wanted to. After slowly building his resume with the Seattle SuperSonics, Chambers came into the Suns organization as one of the main scoring weapons and proved that he was worth every penny. He debuted with the Suns by averaging 25.7 points per game in his first 81 games and followed that up with an even more impressive 27.2 points per game average in his second season in the desert. In both of his first two seasons in Phoenix, he was able to lead the team to back-to-back Conference Finals stints.
Chambers would continue to carry the Suns to the playoffs in all of his five seasons in Phoenix. Though his numbers went down a bit after two prolific years, he still managed to make his presence felt down low and was a key piece to the Suns’ 1993 NBA Finals appearance, just to be booted out by none other than Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls squad. In his time in Phoenix, he made it to three All-Star games and was named to the All-NBA Second Team twice.
1. Steve Nash (2004)
The legendary Steve Nash will undoubtedly make it to any all-time Suns list. And, given that he re-signed with Phoenix in 2004 makes his more than eligible to be on this list.
Though he was originally drafted by the Suns as their 15th overall pick in 1996, Nash took a 6-year vacation out in Dallas from 1998-2004 where he slowly made a name for himself as one of the most exciting point guards in the league at the turn of the century. And when he was back in the free-agent market in 2004, the prodigal son made his way back to the desert where he would have the most important years of his career.
Nash brought his long locks to Phoenix and paired up with head coach Mike D’Antoni to create one of the most thrilling offenses in recent NBA history. The Canadian spearheaded D’Antoni’s ‘seven seconds or less’ offense which empowered Nash to put his foot on the gas and run an offense based on speed and adrenaline. This fast-paced offense allowed Nash to fully blossom into an elite point guard and dominated this position for years to come. The eight-time All-Star would bring Phoenix back to the map and would rake in a ton of wins and individual accolades in his second stint with the Suns. Nash was able to bring his squad to three Western Conference Finals and snagged back-to-back MVPs in eight glorious seasons.
Nash managed to surpass a few Hall of Famers and currently sits as the franchise’s assist leader with 6,997 career assists in Phoenix. He also leads the franchise in three-pointers made (1,051) and free-throw percentage (90.7%). Ring or no ring – Nash has undoubtedly made his case as one of the brightest Suns to ever play for the franchise.