The Phoenix Suns won 177 regular season games between the 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons, making two trips to the Western Conference Finals in the process.
They were one of the NBA’s best and most entertaining teams, playing a style of basketball that was must-watch TV.
One of the catalysts for that team was forward Shawn Marion, who made three All-Star games during that span. Arguably the most versatile player the Suns had, and one of the most unique in the NBA, Marion was able to defend four positions while averaging 19.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.6 blocks per game.
He, along with two-time MVP Steve Nash and All-Star Amare Stoudemire, formed one of the most dynamic trios the league had to offer.
It is said that all good things must come to an end, though, and Marion was traded to the Miami Heat in a deal that brought Shaquille O’Neal to the Valley in February 2008.
Looking back, Marion, who is retiring from the game, said he was kind of shocked when the move was made.
“I was having a party at my house at the time in Phoenix, a Super Bowl party at my house, I was like, ‘Wow, what the hell, I just got traded,'” he told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Tuesday.
Marion, who was averaging 15.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game at the time of the deal, said the timing of the trade made it a difficult situation. With the trade happening during the season, there was little time to settle into his new home.
Back then, the Suns said the trade was made in hopes of making them a better half-court team, one that could succeed when games slowed down in the postseason. On top of that, Marion had asked to be traded before the season began.
But Tuesday, Marion, who played for the Suns, Heat, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers in his career, said he wasn’t really anxious to delve into why the team that drafted him decided to get rid of him.
“It was different reasons,” he said. “They probably thought they couldn’t get over the hump and they needed to move something, and I guess at the time I was the most tradeable piece that people really wanted.
The forward was making $16.4 million that season, and had a player option for the following year that would have paid him $17 million.
“And of course, my money was a big part of it as well. I think I was either the highest or close to being the highest paid on the team, so that probably played a point in it. They probably felt if they got Shaq they had have a chance to win a championship, which never happened, so it is what it is.”
The Suns went on to win 55 games the season of the trade, bowing out to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. O’Neal was an All-Star the following season as the Suns won 46 games and missed the postseason, and he was traded to Cleveland the following offseason.
Whether or not the Suns would have been better off without the trade can be up for debate, as can be the idea that a move needed to be made in the first place.
The Suns may have felt they couldn’t have won a championship without a player like O’Neal, one who could have success when the game slows down. But the Golden State Warriors winning the 2015 NBA Championship may prove that it is possible to win without a true low-post threat, so long as you have the right pieces elsewhere.
And who knows, maybe the Suns did have the right pieces, and were only missing a bit of luck during their run.
The 2005 playoff team lost Joe Johnson to injury during the Western Conference Semifinals. The 2006 squad, already without Amare Stoudemire, had a less-than-healthy Kurt Thomas during its playoff run and an injured Raja Bell in the Western Conference Finals. Then, the 2007 team saw Stoudemire and Boris Diaw get suspended due to their actions during the ending of a Game 4 win over the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals, a victory that evened the series up at 2-2 with games five and seven (if necessary) set to be played in Phoenix.
When asked which of the Phoenix teams that fell short was the best of the bunch, Marion pointed to the 2005-06 version.
Without Stoudemire, Marion averaged a career-high 21.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game that season as the Suns turned to a super small lineup featuring 6-foot-8 Boris Diaw at center.
“That year, I felt like — for some reason — we had Tim Thomas, he came in partially through the season, and I just felt that was a team because we beat (future NBA champs) Miami twice that year,” he said. “That’s the year I felt like we should have won a championship.”
Marion said after the injuries, especially the one to Kurt Thomas, the team just ran out of gas as head coach Mike D’Antoni refused to go deep into the team’s bench.
The Suns needed seven games to get past both the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, so by the time they got to the Dallas Mavericks in the conference finals they just had nothing left.
“We had a short bench at the time, so we didn’t have enough to get over the hump,” he said. “But I think that’s the team we should have won a championship with because I just felt like it was that time.
“You have that feeling, it’s like a magical feeling, you feel like nobody can beat you. That’s the year I felt like that.”