It is said that you can’t go home again.
That’s wrong, especially in sports.
It turns out going home is often an attractive option to players and coaches who have a history with a certain organization. Two summers ago, LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, announcing his decision in an article that was aptly titled, “I’m Coming Home.”
Lucky Cleveland, right?
Here in Arizona, no one quite of James’ level has returned after leaving, but that does not mean the Valley has not had its share of comebacks.
Just this past week, the Phoenix Suns brought back Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa, a pair of players who have each already spent time with the organization. In Barbosa’s case, this will be his third go-round with the team.
While we do not know how either player will fare in their respective returns, we can look back throughout history and find other homecomings that worked out pretty well. What are some of the best? That’s the topic in this week’s Five.
One of the most outspoken players in Coyotes history, Roenick was a force in his first five seasons in the desert. From 1996 to 2001, he recorded 141 goals and 210 assists, and in the process helped provide a level of excitement for a franchise trying to solidify itself in a new state. He left as a free agent in 2001, and went on to spend three quality seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers and one uneventful campaign with the Los Angeles Kings before coming back to the Valley in 2006. Though that team finished a disappointing 31-46-5, Roenick was solid, notching 11 goals and 17 assists while providing nostalgic fans a little more incentive to head to the arena.
Westphal spent four All-Star seasons with the Suns from 1976 to 1980, averaging 22.5 points and 5.6 assists per game for the relatively new franchise. He was traded away in 1980 and returned in 1983, though that final stint with the team as a player is not what landed him on this list. No, it was Westphal’s return to the franchise in another capacity — as a coach — that earned him the nod. After retiring as a player, Westphal spent time at Southwestern Baptist Bible College and Grand Canyon College, both of which were in Phoenix. In 1988 he was hired by Cotton Fitzsimmons to be an assistant coach for the Suns, and in 1992 he succeeded Fitzsimmons on the bench and became the head coach. The rookie boss guided the star-studded team to a 62-20 regular season record as well as a berth in the NBA Finals, and won a total of 177 games in his first three seasons at the helm. However, back-to-back playoff disappointments were followed by a 14-19 start to the 1995-96 season, for which Westphal was relieved of his duties.
No one was shocked when Karlos Dansby departed as a free agent following the 2009 season, nor was anyone really all that upset with the guy. A stud linebacker for six seasons who had tallied 25.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries — along with more than 500 tackles — it was simply a case of the player being offered considerable more money to play elsewhere. Dansby spent three effective seasons with the Miami Dolphins, racking up more than 300 tackles, six sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, but found himself on the market once again in 2013. Unable to find a long-term deal, he re-upped with the Cardinals for one season, and what a season it was. Dansby posted a career-high 135 tackles to go along with 6.5 sacks and four interceptions. A second-team All-Pro, he had a strong case to make his first Pro Bowl as he helped lead a resurgent defense. Of course, Dansby’s return to the Valley was short-lived, as he parlayed his dominant season into a lucrative contract with the Cleveland Browns. Still, having one more season of ‘Los in the desert was a treat.
Randy Johnson’s first six seasons with the Diamondbacks produced four Cy Young Awards and one World Series title. Not bad. Johnson was traded by the struggling and rebuilding franchise to the New York Yankees in 2005, and the left-hander spent two unremarkable and disappointing seasons in the Big Apple before returning to Arizona nearly two years to the day after he was first shipped out. The Hall of Famer’s 2007 campaign was limited to just 10 starts due to the then-43-year-old needing back surgery. He posted a 4-3 record with a 3.81 ERA that season, striking out 72 batters in 56.2 innings. While not the pitcher he once was, he looked like he still had something left in the tank. The “Big Unit” returned the following season and finished with an 11-10 record to go along with a 3.91 ERA. He struck out 173 batters and, in the final game of the season (and his D-backs career), tossed a gem, striking out nine while allowing just one unearned run on two hits with one walk in a complete-game win over the Rockies.
Expectations were reasonably high for Nash, as the Suns chose him 15th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft out of Santa Clara. His first couple seasons were nothing notable, as he showed a deft shooting touch and keen passing eye but was buried on the depth chart behind Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. The Suns shipped him off to the Dallas Mavericks in a trade, and from there watched him blossom into an All-Star. Everyone expected him to remain in Texas, but the Suns presented Nash with a contract offer the Mavericks were unwilling to match, and from there the Canadian went on to become a franchise leader in many statistical categories as well as lead the franchise to an incredible run of success. In total, Nash spent 10 seasons with the franchise, with eight coming in his second stint with the team. In that time he won a pair of MVP awards and established himself as one of the best point guards to ever play the game.