The Phoenix Suns are still searching for the franchise’s first NBA title. In their five decades of existence, Phoenix boasts a distinctly up-and-down track record. They contended for titles in the mid-1970s and early-1990s, then found mild success with Jason Kidd at the turn of the century before their most recent sustained run of contention with Steve Nash.
The last decade has been particularly rough in the Valley of the Sun. the team hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2010, though Devin Booker and company are looking to change that.
Accordingly, the franchise boasts a rollercoaster record on the trade front, as they’ve participated in some of the weirdest swaps in league history. The Suns haven’t always come out on top, but, here are five instances in which Phoenix did.
5) Dec. 26, 1996: Suns acquire Jason Kidd, Tony Dumas and Loren Meyer from the Dallas Mavericks for Michael Finley, Sam Cassell, and A.C. Green
Phoenix gave up a lot in this deal, parting ways with a solid point guard (Cassell) and an All-Star wing in Finley. (Green still had a few decent years left, too). But, it was a fair price for Kidd—one of the best players in the game entering his prime.
Kidd led the Suns to the postseason all five of his seasons in the desert, and they improved by 16 wins in his first season (though the turnaround he would orchestrate in New Jersey would be far more dramatic).
Kidd averaged 14.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 9.1 assists per game and made three All-Star teams in a Suns uniform.
His time in Phoenix had an acrimonious ending after a domestic violence incident. However, the team undeniably improved on the hardwood during his tenure.
4) May 23, 1975: Suns acquire Paul Westphal from the Boston Celtics for Charlie Scott and two second-round picks
Red Auerbach wasn’t often outwitted, but he took an L on this trade. Scott averaged 24.8 points per game during his first three full seasons with the Suns, but Westphal was a different caliber of player and leader.
Westphal brought the team to the NBA Finals in 1976—falling to his former team in historically epic fashion.
Overall, he averaged 20.6 points per game in his six seasons in Phoenix. He’s the franchise’s fifth all-time scorer (9,564 points) and made the All-NBA Second Team in 1978. (Plus, he’s among the franchise’s most successful head coaches, going 191-88 from 1992-96.)
Westphal was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019. (Get well soon, Mr. Westphal.)
3) Jan. 5, 2004: Suns acquire Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward, Maciej Lampe, Milos Vujanic (draft rights), and two first-round picks from the New York Knicks for Stephon Marbury, Anfernee Hardaway, and Cezary Trybanski
This ended up being an immensely valuable salary dump. Marbury was a talented but troubled player whose teams rarely posted winning records, and Hardaway was a shell of himself on his last legs at the time of the deal—with two years and nearly $26 million left on his contract.
This trade brought little on-court return for Phoenix, but it created the requisite cap room for the organization to offer Nash a six-year, $63 million in the summer of 2004 that the Dallas Mavericks refused to match.
2) Feb. 25, 1988: Suns acquire Kevin Johnson, Mark West, Tyrone Corbin, a first-round pick and a second-round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, and a first-round pick
At the trade deadline in 1988, Johnson, a rookie, was stuck behind star point guard Mark Price on the Cavs bench, and the Suns took advantage. Nance was a beloved and steady player who had averaged 17.3 points per game in seven seasons for Phoenix, but Johnson was much younger and more dynamic.
The Suns’ thinking was quickly validated. KJ won the league’s Most Improved Player in 1989 (20.4 points, 12.2 assists per game) and would average 18.7 points and 9.5 assists per game in 12 seasons for Phoenix. He made three All-Star teams and four All-NBA second teams, and helped lead the Suns to the 1993 Finals.
This deal became even more lopsided when Phoenix used Cleveland’s first-round pick to draft Dan Majerle with the no. 14 overall selection in 1988. “Thunder Dan” made three All-Star games in the first half of the 1990s.
1) June 17, 1992: Suns acquire Charles Barkley from the Philadelphia 76ers for Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang
The Suns were on the rise in the early ‘90s with Johnson and Majerle, but were still one major piece away from true contender status.
Barkley had become disgruntled in Philadelphia, and Phoenix pounced in the summer of 1992. It cost an All-Star guard in Hornacek, but Barkley’s production instantly paid dividends.
Coming off a gold medal-winning run with the Dream Team in Barcelona, Barkley was energized in his first season in Phoenix. He was in the best shape of his career (thanks to the Olympics), and produced a career-best campaign in 1992-93, averaging 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds on his way to MVP honors, leading Phoenix to a 62-20 record and the franchise’s last Finals appearance.