DirtyDez wrote:I'm convinced the Suns would've been a dynasty had they got The Admiral. Remember he was drafted in 87' but of course didn't play his rookie season until 1989-90. So it's not out of the question that they still would've traded for KJ and signed Chambers. Then added Robinson to an already great team in 90'.
I'm too young to comment on the 70's but Kareem would've joined a team that had a star in Gail Goodrich and a really good player in Van Arsdale?
It gets better than that: the '69-'70 Suns also featured Connie Hawkins, who averaged 24.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists, shooting .490 from the field and .779 from the free throw line in 9.1 attempts per game. Hawkins' swooping, slashing actions were similar to those of Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving.
And then, yes, that team featured Van Arsdale, who averaged 21.3 points, 4.4 assists, and 3.4 rebounds, shooting .508 from the field and .798 from the foul line in 7.5 attempts while being rather renowned for his defense. And then there was Goodrich, who averaged 20.0 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds, shooting .454 from the field and .808 from the free throw line in 7.5 attempts (lots of foul calls in those days, too). Goodrich had some Steve Nash in his game, in terms of flair and trickery, and three years ago, when the Suns routed the Pacers at home on January 22, 2014, in a game televised by ESPN, the topic late in the game somehow turned to the best shooting back courts in NBA history. Maybe the play-by-play guy was talking about Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and he prompted Hubie Brown to cite the best shooting guard tandems that he had ever seen (at least prior to Curry and Thompson). Brown named three: John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek in Utah, Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix, and Gail Goodrich and Jerry West with the Lakers (where Goodrich played before and after his two-year stint with the Suns).
It is funny in a sense, but in just their second season of existence, '69-'70, the Suns ranked third (out of fourteen teams) in the NBA in Offensive Rating (points scored per possession) and came close to a break-even record, finishing only four games under .500—four games over .500 after Jerry Colangelo came down from the front office and took over as head coach—while making the playoffs.http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/PHO/1970.html
I had not thought about it before, but had the Suns won the coin flip (or had Colangelo called tails instead of heads), they may well have embarked on a dynasty. If you put Lew Alcindor on that roster, flanked at forward by Hawkins and rebounding ace Paul Silas (12.8 points, 11.7 boards), and with Goodrich at point guard and Van Arsdale at shooting guard, that starting lineup might have been the best in the NBA. Phoenix probably would have been the best offensive club in the league in that case, and its defense (the second-worst in terms of Defensive Rating, or points allowed per possession) would have improved enormously. Indeed, consider that one of the two teams more efficient than Phoenix offensively that year was the Milwaukee Bucks—who of course had won the coin toss and drafted Alcindor. A Suns' club with Alcindor certainly could have won the championship in 1970, not to mention future years.
Instead, still searching for a center after the 1970 playoffs, the Suns traded Goodrich back to the Lakers for journeyman center Mel Counts. Somehow, they won 48 games the next season under this thirty-nine-year old coach named Cotton Fitzsimmons.
As for your first point, it is one that I have thought about before, and I have to agree: the Suns easily could have become a dynasty had they won the 1987 lottery, thus enabling them to draft David Robinson (instead of selecting the late Armon Gilliam with the second overall pick). I concur that Phoenix still would have traded for Kevin Johnson in that case: the Suns would have still been a bad team in '87-'88 (as you note, Robinson would not debut in the NBA for two years after that draft in order to fulfill his Naval obligations), and Phoenix would have still been looking to offload veterans at the February 1988 trading deadline in an effort to restock the roster and revamp the team after a passage marked by losing and a drug scandal. Fitzsimmons, by then the Suns' director of player-personnel (the de facto general manager), would have still loved what he saw in Johnson, and he still would have had a confidant in Cleveland's front office telling him how good the twenty-one-year old point guard happened to be even though he was playing behind a second-year Mark Price. That confidant was Gary Fitzsimmons, Cotton's son. And, yes, there is no reason to believe that Phoenix would not have still inked Tom Chambers as the NBA's first unrestricted free agent in the summer of 1988. Colangelo wanted to rebuild quickly, and he would not have wanted to just sit around and wait for Robinson's arrival.
And David Robinson would have constituted a perfect fit for Kevin Johnson, the Suns, and how they preferred to play—perfect. K.J. could have meshed with any of the superstar big men of that era, or in history—after all, despite being dynamic off the dribble, he meshed with Charles Barkley, who was a major ball stopper (albeit a terrific passer when he was not stopping the ball), as Phoenix finished first in the NBA in Offensive Rating in Johnson and Barkley's first two seasons together and third in their third year together (and may have ranked first that season, too, with better health). But Robinson would have represented such an ideal fit that there would have hardly been any adjustments at all. Although he improved his low-post game over the years, Robinson was the most New Age of all the centers back then—he was like a bigger, more powerful Anthony Davis in certain respects. Rather than dominating the ball on the low block, he would step out, face up, and shoot jumpers or slash to the hoop and finish thunderously. If the defense did not honor his jumper, Robinson would bury it, and once the defender came out to contest, Robinson could explode past him. Those abilities rendered him an optimal option in the pick-and-roll/pop, which was Kevin Johnson's favorite play—he was arguably the best in the league at running it. Jeff Hornacek was effective at running it, too (sometimes in a pure pick-and-roll/pop, sometimes turning a down screen into a pick-and-roll/pop if both defenders went to Hornacek), and in Chambers, Phoenix already possessed one great roll/pop man who could both shoot from outside and go to the hole. Robinson would have fit right in as another, and he would have certainly become the primary option on that play as Chambers aged.
Moreover, Robinson would move the ball and execute dribble hand offs—when he led the NBA in scoring in '93-'94 at 29.8 points per game, he also led the Spurs in assists per game at 4.8, an extremely figure for a true center. And of course, the Suns loved to run, with K.J. pushing the ball or firing long passes down the floor. Along with Bill Russell (who was an Olympic-caliber track-and-field athlete in college), Robinson might have been the fastest running center in history—except that whereas Russell was 6'9" (which probably means that he would be listed at 6'10", at least, these days), Robinson was a legitimate seven footer. He was also a great leaper who slammed with two hands fluidly, so he would have been a perfect fit for the Suns' fast-break style. And then, if the break failed to materialize, Phoenix would get into a pick-and-roll and/or run Hornacek or Eddie Johnson off a down screen on the weak side (often featuring both plays at the same time, with K.J. running a pick-and-roll and Hornacek running off a down screen to keep the weak side defense occupied). Robinson would have fit right in with all those actions. He would not have been planting himself in the low post, repeatedly calling for the ball, demanding that everything orbit around him. (By the way, those comments are not intended as a criticism of Barkley per se—most superstar front-court players have operated that way. When the Knicks hired Don Nelson in 1995 to diversify New York's offense, Patrick Ewing resisted and Nelson failed to last one full season in New York.) Defensively, meanwhile, Robinson would have complemented K.J. as well and compensated for Chambers' defensive inconsistency, which sometimes rendered him a liability on that end of the court.
Finally, even though Robinson won a scoring title and once scored 71 points in a game, there were critics who felt that—especially in the playoffs—he was not aggressive enough or dominant enough, that he lacked the gritty "alpha" mentality needed to lead a team over the top. In fact, during Game Two of the 1996 Western Conference First Round between the Suns and Spurs on NBC, Greg Gumbel asked Bill Walton about Robinson's reputation as a "soft" player. Walton said something like, "He's not soft at all—look at those muscles." But then Walton noted that Robinson, at thirty, was just now learning to play with the passion of Charles Barkley and Kevin Johnson, because the Admiral's size and exceptional athletic attributes had turned him into a basketball player, as opposed to athletic ambitions turning him into a basketball player.
Yet with K.J., Robinson's arguable diffidence would have been less of an issue, because he would have had a co-star with a feistier demeanor who could also score explosively if necessary. When Phoenix defeated the 63-win Lakers in the 1990 Western Conference Semifinals, not only did K.J. outplay Magic Johnson in the clutch, but he also diagnosed—ahead of time—that Jeff Hornacek was primed to enjoy a big series, and he challenged Hornacek to take advantage.
K.J. did the same with Mark West prior to the series, and West responded in kind. So whatever intangible weaknesses that Robinson may have possessed as a franchise player and a de facto team leader would not have been as much of an issue in Phoenix.
Overall, I feel that K.J. and Robinson would have complemented each other as smoothly and ideally as any guard-big man combination in NBA history. They would have complemented each other as well as Stockton and Malone, except that K.J. was a better scorer than Stockton and Robinson was a better defender than Malone. If the Suns had won the 1987 draft lottery, they likely would have won at least one championship—and they may well have become the Team of the Nineties.
I will end on the following note.
In the early-to-mid nineties, some media outlet asked Robinson how he would characterize his game musically—what would be the musical analogy to David Robinson's playing style? Robinson replied that he would liken his game to John Coltrane, the legendary tenor saxophonist with the robust, athletically powerful, "sheets of sound" style. Meanwhile, on February 25, 1998, on an off day in Salt Lake City prior the Suns' game against the Jazz the following night, a newspaper report stated that K.J. was in a bookstore purchasing a CD of Kind of Blue
, the classic 1959 album by Miles Davis' band, which included Coltrane at the time. Davis was the passionate yet cerebral trumpeter equally capable of profound soloing and visionary musical leadership; Coltrane was his most virtuosic sideman and soloist, with the ability to harmoniously blend into Davis' visions. (Then, in the sixties, Coltrane broke off to form his own group.)
Miles Davis and John Coltrane constituted one of the greatest duos in the history of modern jazz. In basketball, Kevin Johnson and David Robinson could have been the equivalent.