Fortune Sets On The Suns Once Again, As LaMarcus Aldridge Becomes A Spur

The Phoenix Suns have existed since the late 1960s. They are, like the St. Louis Blues in the National Hockey League, a professional sports team with a lengthy history but no world championships.

A lot has to go wrong over nearly a half a century for a team to miss out on a title at every turn. The Cleveland Cavaliers are in good position to end their drought next year, but the Los Angeles (formerly San Diego) Clippers have lost their shot at a title, at least for one season. Just how can an organization consistently fall short of its ultimate goal, never tasting glory?

For the Suns, one deficiency has consistently dwarfed all others: a truly great presence in the low post, a pivot man who can anchor a team. Clearly, bringing aboard Tyson Chandler at this stage of his career was not enough to convince LaMarcus Aldridge to come to Phoenix. The Suns and the rest of the NBA watched Aldridge agree to sign with the San Antonio Spurs, a move which makes the Spurs one of the top three or four teams to beat heading into next season.

This decision is hardly a surprise — the Spurs were the favorites to land Aldridge throughout the past few weeks — but it still represents another significant blow to a franchise that will have to wait to field an elite team. LeBron James instantly opens a title window whenever he moves to a new team, but the Suns aren’t going to be able to benefit from that dynamic. They’re stuck without Aldridge, stuck without a transformative moment that can change the course of their existence.

It all goes back to the center of the Suns’ history… or more precisely, a lack thereof.



It all started for the Suns when they were just starting to exist. In one brief moment, the tone and trajectory of an organization’s history were set… and have not yet been meaningfully altered.

Preceding the 1969 NBA Draft, a coin flip between the Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks would determine which team got the No. 1 pick. The second prize was center Neal Walk (above), but the first prize was a good bit better: Lew Alcindor, soon to be renamed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was the player everyone coveted after winning three straight national titles for John Wooden at UCLA.

Phoenix lost the coin flip and settled for Walk, who turned out to be a bust. The franchise has been chasing a quality center ever since.

It’s true that the Suns made the NBA Finals in 1976 and 1993. Yet, in each of those years, it’s not as though Phoenix owned a dominant low-post presence. In the cover photo above, Alvan Adams is shown. Adams played the 5 for the Suns for portions of his career, but the product of the University of Oklahoma was 6-9, not a true center by any means. Adams averaged 23 points per game in the 1976 Finals against the Boston Celtics, but Boston was able to overpower Adams and the Suns on the glass by an average of 14 rebounds per game. The Suns’ deficits near the rim caught up with them, something that would continue to limit the team whenever it had a title-contending bunch.

In 1979, Jack Sikma and the Seattle Supersonics outlasted the Suns in a seven-game West finals series. In 1984, the Suns reached the West Finals again with help from James Edwards, shown here:


However, the Los Angeles Lakers had the player the Suns missed out on in 1969: Kareem. Los Angeles would dominate the 1980s, making eight NBA Finals from the Western Conference. Only the Houston Rockets interrupted the Lakers’ dominance of the West.

In 1990, Phoenix sped past the Lakers in the first year of the post-Kareem era. The Suns reached the West finals against Portland, but Kevin Duckworth and the Trail Blazers’ bruisers heavily impacted that series, keeping the Suns out of the Finals.

In 1993, a fellow you might have heard of, Charles Barkley, teamed with point guard Kevin Johnson to get the Suns to the Finals against the Chicago Bulls, a team that never owned a particularly impressive center during the Michael Jordan years. Yet, this was Phoenix’s center in those Finals:


Mark West, bless his heart, always worked hard and carried himself the way all professional athletes should. Yet, he just didn’t have enough of a skill set to give the Suns the added ingredients they needed to topple Jordan and the Bulls. Phoenix came close in 1993, but its lack of a low-post hammer once again mattered.

In 2005, Amar’e Stoudemire — another true power forward shifted to the 5 — played center for the Mike D’Antoni small-ball Suns. As was the case in the LaMarcus Aldridge sweeptstakes, the Suns came in second to the Spurs in the Western Conference that season.

In 2010, the Suns put Channing Frye and this guy at the 5 spot:

NBA: MAY 19 Western Conference Finals - Suns at Lakers - Game 2

If a more recent version of Robin Lopez had been available to the Suns in 2010, they might have been able to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in that season’s West finals series. However, Lopez was still in his second season, not yet ready to do everything it took to keep Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol at bay.

The Phoenix Suns have a history of centers who were not good enough, and now, it’s clear that Tyson Chandler was not good enough to lure LMA to the desert.


One of these days, the Phoenix Suns will get a great center in his prime. When that happens, you will know that the Suns are ready to step forth from the past, putting their demons in the rearview mirror.


About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |