The 5: Most impactful Suns free agent signings since Steve Nash

Jul 4, 2019, 8:13 AM

P.J. Tucker #17 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during overtime of the NBA game against the New York Kni...

P.J. Tucker #17 of the Phoenix Suns reacts during overtime of the NBA game against the New York Knicks at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 13, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Knicks 113-111 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The context around the Phoenix Suns’ agreed-upon signing of free agent point guard Ricky Rubio dampened the significance of the move.

It was a slight overpay for a starting point guard, something Phoenix has lacked for nearly two full regular seasons. It was a disappointment with a shinier target in D’Angelo Russell an obvious and welcome possibility.

Inking Rubio, a 28-year-old, was nonetheless significant, especially for a team coming off a 19-win campaign. That’s because Phoenix just hasn’t attracted talent via free agency.

The Suns have rarely signed starting-caliber players — whether they be a primary offensive initiator or a role player — in the first weeks of free agency since that franchise-altering summer of 2004, when they notably added Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson, moves that helped flip a 29-win squad into the best team in the NBA by year’s end.

Even fewer times in the past 15 years have the Suns signed a player who played up to expectations or beyond them.

Here are the five best Suns free agent additions since the beginning of the Steve Nash era. And unlike Rubio, none of them were signed as established NBA players in their primes.

P.J. Tucker (2012)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

After quickly getting washed out of the NBA following his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors, the 2006 second-round pick played in Israel, Italy, Ukraine, Greece, Puerto Rico and Germany before signing with the Suns in 2012 — if only because then-Suns GM Lance Blanks had kept his eye on Tucker because both were Texas Longhorn products.

Tucker never averaged double-figure scoring in four-plus years with Phoenix — and still hasn’t — but he started 45 games his first season with the Suns and 81  during his second year with them (2013-14).

The multi-time Dan Majerle Hustle Award winner developed into one of the best frontcourt defensive players in the league and improved on his corner three-point shooting that helped catapult him into one of the NBA’s best role players with Toronto at the end of the 2016-17 season and in the past two years with the Houston Rockets.

Goran Dragic (2012)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Though he was in the same free agent class as Tucker, Dragic was infamously an addition courtesy Suns owner Robert Sarver, who negotiated a deal with Dragic in the team’s parking garage as Blanks was coveting fellow point guard Raymond Felton, according to The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro.

To begin Dragic’s second stint with the Suns, he averaged 14.7 points and 7.4 assists per game in 2012-13, the latter of which stands as a career-high. The next season, Dragic won the NBA’s Most Improved Player honor by averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists per game on 51% shooting and 41% accuracy from three-point range. Those shooting splits and averaging more than 20 points per game have only happened 20 times in NBA history, and the other names on that list are impressive.

Phoenix won a surprising 48 games in 2013-14, becoming one of the best teams in NBA history to miss the playoffs, and while it went downhill from there as a point guard squeeze led to Dragic requesting a trade the following season, his second run with the Suns was a win for the team and his career.

Channing Frye (2009)

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Signed away from the Portland Trail Blazers, Frye found rejuvenation in a Suns offense that asked him to take his shots; Alvin Gentry often begged the stretch center to take even more. The big man who had never taken more than 0.5 threes per game began launching nearly five per outing, and he hit 44% in his first season to average 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds while starting half the year.

Phoenix rolled to the conference finals and fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in Frye’s first year playing for his hometown team. He continued scoring in the double-digits in the next three seasons he played with the Suns, returning to start in all 82 games in 2013-14 after a lost 2012-13 season due to an enlarged heart.

Grant Hill (2007)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

A seven-time All-Star whose career trajectory took a turn with injuries found a satisfying role to nearly round out his career. He appeared in 70 or more games in four of the five seasons played in Phoenix, and Hill averaged double-figures in all those years while starting at small forward and acting as a versatile wing defender through the end of the Nash era.

Phoenix lost in the first round of the playoffs to the San Antonio Spurs in 2008 but exacted revenge on their long-time foes in 2010 before going on its Western Conference playoff run. Hill left as a free agent in 2012 and played one more year with the Los Angeles Clippers before retiring.

Raja Bell (2005)

(AP Photo/Paul Connors)

He made his way into the NBA as a meet-you-in-the-alley defender with the Sixers as they marched to the NBA Finals to clash with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. A few years later, Bell latched on and posted two successful seasons in Utah before signing with the Suns, who coming off their first iteration of the Seven Seconds or Less era a year prior wanted to add a little more defensive grit to the roster.

The 3-and-D shooting guard joined the Suns and averaged 14.7 points his first two years in the Valley from 2005-07, shooting well above 40% from three as well.

He remained with the Suns until a midseason trade during the 2008-09 season helped the team acquire Jason Richardson, Jared Dudley and a 2010 second-round pick from the Charlotte Bobcats. Boris Diaw was also shipped to Charlotte in the deal.

And-one: Matt Barnes (2008)

The 14-year NBA role player produced one of his four double-digit scoring seasons with Phoenix in 2008-09. Barnes averaged 10.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists for the Suns and started 40 games in 2008-09.


Comment guidelines: No name-calling, personal attacks, profanity, or insults. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate comments by reporting abuse.
comments powered by Disqus

Empire of the Suns

Bradley Beal #3 of the Phoenix Suns brings the ball up court against the Charlotte Hornets during t...

Kellan Olson

Bradley Beal leads big-time Suns response in ugly win vs. Kings

For as much as the last two games looked like the Suns calling it a day on the 2023-24 season, they had at least one more fight left in them.

37 minutes ago

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts as he walks past Kevin Durant #35 during the first half ...

Kellan Olson

Suns show same bad vibes, do barely enough to beat depleted Clippers

The Phoenix Suns were gifted a depleted Los Angeles Clippers squad on Wednesday the night after a terrible loss to L.A.

2 days ago

Phoenix Suns guard Bradley Beal (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

Kellan Olson

Suns continue to show fractures in embarrassing loss to Clippers

The Phoenix Suns continue to show on the court they are not a fully connected group and Tuesday was the latest terrible loss to reflect that.

3 days ago

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson and Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant (Jeremy Schnell/...

Kellan Olson

Zion Williamson steps up to moment, Suns lose crucial game to Pelicans

In the biggest game of the regular season for both the Pelicans and Suns, it was Zion Williamson that dominated the key moments.

5 days ago

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

Kellan Olson

Suns hit first, jumble up Timberwolves in 3rd straight win

The Phoenix Suns used one of their best defensive performances of the season to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves.

7 days ago

(Photo courtesy of the Phoenix Suns)...

Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns’ new Player 15 Group HQ gives staff upgraded working space

The Player 15 Group unveiled its headquarters on Thursday, a big-time upgrade of working space for Suns, Mercury and arena staff members.

8 days ago

The 5: Most impactful Suns free agent signings since Steve Nash