Hedo Turkoglu Just The Latest In A Long Line Of Phoenix Suns 'Noble Experiments'

Hedo Turkoglu wasn't the first so-called noble experiment to go wrong for the Phoenix Suns. Here's a history.

In the aftermath of the Suns' Saturday afternoon trade of Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, and Earl Clark, Phoenix Suns President Lon Babby commented on the 25-game Turkoglu era as follows:

"I think the Hedo Turkoglu acquisition was a noble experiment. I think Hedo really tried to make it work."

I liked the way that sounded -- the idea that it was a noble experiment, that is. To me, that indicates that Lon Babby has a dictionary somewhere that defines "noble experiment" as "something which is roughly as successful as the Hindenburg or New Coke." That's a definition I can get down with.  

So considering SB Nation Arizona and our Suns blog, Bright Side of the Sun, have beaten the trade to death, I've decided to call to memory some other "noble experiments" -- as defined by Lon Babby -- in Phoenix Suns history.

I could go with a Top 5 here, but this stuff is just all too interesting. You'll find this list in chronological order.

Suns Call Heads (March 19, 1969)

The Experiment:

During their expansion season, the Suns finished 16-66 -- by far the worst in their franchise history and 11 games worse than the last place finisher in the Eastern Division (precursor to the conferences), the Milwaukee Bucks. Unfortunately the draft system at the time required that the last place finisher in each division flip a coin for the first pick.

The prize for the winner of the flip was a 7'2" franchise center from UCLA by the name of Lew Alcindor. You may know him now as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Suns had the right to call the coin and held a contest in the Arizona Republic for what they should call. Heads won out by a narrow margin. 

The Result:

The coin came up tails. Alcindor went to the Bucks and took them to a championship in his second season while the Suns have yet to win the ultimate prize. To add insult to injury, the Bucks actually defeated the Suns in Phoenix later that night.

Moral of the story

Tails never fails.   

Butch Van Breda Kolff hired as head coach (June 28, 1972)

The Experiment:

When Cotton Fitzsimmons quit his first stint with the Suns following 49- and 48-win seasons, the organization needed a guy with head coaching experience to guide the team.

With Connie Hawkins, Charlie Scott, and Dick Van Arsdale in the fold, this was a team capable of playoff success, so why not get a guy who'd been there before?

Butch Van Breda Kolff had spent the previous three seasons at the helm for the Detroit Pistons, but had led two Lakers teams to the NBA Finals. Perfect fit.

The Result:

It wasn't a perfect fit. The man known at VBK had a hands-off coaching approach and fiery temper that didn't mesh well with the organization.

He was ejected from his first game as Suns coach and just six games after that was sent packing by then-general manager Jerry Colangelo.   

Moral of the story:

If you knew a guy was going to be a bad fit just seven games into his career, then you probably knew that before then and may have wanted to consider interviewing more than one candidate for your high profile coaching job. 

Suns deal Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey (June 27, 1983)

The Experiment:

The 1982-83 Suns won 53 games, but fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Denver Nuggets. That team -- and the previous two -- were led in large part by All-Star point guard Dennis Johnson.

In an effort to get bigger, Phoenix dealt Johnson, their first round pick, and their third round pick to Boston for reserve big man Rick Robey and a pair of second round picks.

Robey was the third pick in the draft by Indiana in 1978, but had greatly underachieved for the Pacers before being dealt to Boston. As a Celtic, Robey existed almost exclusively as a reserve big man on the 1981 NBA Champions and a couple other title contenders.

Apparently the Suns thought he'd blossom with some more playing time. 

The Result:

Remember how Robey was a reserve center/forward with the Celtics? Well that didn't really change when he came to Phoenix. 

The 1984 Suns overachieved their way into the Western Conference Finals where they fell to the Los Angeles Lakers, but it wasn't exactly on the back of Robey. Johnson, on the other hand, helped the Celtics defeat Los Angeles in the NBA Finals. 

Robey played three injury-plagued seasons in Phoenix before being released. 

Moral of the story:

If a trade looks really, really unbalanced on paper then in all likelihood it's really, really unbalanced and not some uber clever move on your part. 

Xavier McDaniel arrives to toughen up the Suns (December 7, 1990)

The Experiment:

For the first 15 games of the 1990-1991 season, the Suns tried Tim Perry, Kenny Battle, and even Kurt Rambis at the small forward position. Searching for a better fit and a little additional toughness, they reached out to Seattle and acquired Xavier McDaniel in exchange for sixth man Eddie Johnson.

The move put McDaniel, a solid rebounder for his position, back with former Sonic running mate Tom Chambers. It was rumored that one of the reasons Chambers left Seattle was to escape some of the friction that existed between he and the X-Man.

The Result:

Though Phoenix had been in the Western Conference Finals the previous season, they weren't able to get out of the first round of the 1991 playoffs.

McDaniel averaged 15/7 for the Suns, but his volume shooting playing style didn't mesh with the Phoenix system.

Moral of the story:

If you have the opportunity to reunite a couple of teammates who hated each other and couldn't get out of the first round of the playoffs in their last year together -- don't.

Also, I really wanted to embed Xavier McDaniel's cameo in the movie Singles here, but it's a tad racy, so I'll just link it instead.

Acquiring Hot Rod Williams finally gives the Suns a true center (October 7, 1995)

The Experiment:

During the first three seasons of the Charles Barkley era, the Suns had experienced nearly unprecedented success for the franchise. Michael Jordan kept them from the crown in 1993, but the previous two seasons, Phoenix fell to elite big man Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.

In those losses to the Rockets, Olajuwon feasted on the Suns big man rotations of Joe Kleine, Danny Schayes, Oliver Miller, and Mark West.

That considered, Phoenix went out and acquired a true center in the form of Cavs big Hot Rod Williams. The veteran Williams was entering his 10th season in the NBA and had yet to fail to average below 10 points a game in a season. To Suns fans, he was best known for this:

Overall, a fine idea in theory -- but they had to give up fan favorite and three-time All-Star Dan Majerle (in addition to Antonio Lang and a 1997 first round pick) to get the job done.  

The Result:

The entire team struggled with a combination of injury, age, inexperience and took a major step back to 41-41 and a first round exit in the playoffs. 

Hot Rod himself played in just 58 games during that first season and averaged a career low in points (7.3) and his second lowest rebounding output (6.0).

For the next two seasons, both the Suns and Williams stayed solidly mediocre before they parted ways prior to the 1998-99 season. 

Moral of the story:

If you have to trade a lockdown defender and three-time All-Star that's in his prime to get a mediocre center on the wrong side of 30 then you might want to consider how badly you need a center. 

Spurned by Antonio McDyess, the Suns sign Tom Gugliotta (January 23, 1999)

The Experiment:

After paying a heavy price for Antonio McDyess one offseason before, the Suns had a bit of egg on their face when he elected to return to Denver.

With the money they would have paid McDyess burning a hole in their pockets, the Suns reached out to Minnesota power forward Tom Gugliotta. 

Googs was coming off an injury-plagued 1997-98 season, but had posted two consecutive 20/8 years and was a 1997 All-Star. Seemingly not a terrible consolation prize. 

The Result:

The Suns got five seasons out of Gugliotta, but he never played more than 57 games in any one. He peaked in his first season -- the lockout-shortened 98-99 campaign -- when he posted averages of 17/8.9.

In his second season with the team, Googs suffered a seizure on the team bus that almost killed him and blew out his knee only a couple months later. 

Injuries sapped Gugliotta of his effectiveness, as he never again averaged even seven points a game for the Suns. 

Moral of the story:

Just because you have available money doesn't mean you have to spend it on the first hussy that comes along. Also, playing alongside one of the Top 5 power forwards in NBA history might help boost your stats. 

Backcourt 2000 is formed, world changes forever (August 5, 1999)

The Experiment:

Having faced first round exits in their previous four seasons, the Suns attempted to shake things up by dealing Pat Garrity, Danny Manning, and a couple first round picks to Orlando for the electric Penny Hardaway.

In his first six seasons as a pro, Penny was named an All-Star four times and, at 6'7", was one of the more unique guards playing the NBA. He had suffered a season-ending knee injury during the 97-98 season, but rebounded to play all 50 games of the lockout-shortened 98-99 season.

Acquiring Hardaway paired him with fellow big-bodied All-Star guard Jason Kidd, forming the "vaunted" Backcourt 2000. Marketing dream.

The Result:

The Suns were actually pretty good in the first season of Backcourt 2000. Penny posted a 16-5-5 while Kidd was good for 14/10/7 -- nicely well-rounded backcourt. Unfortunately, the Lakers were just way better and easily dispatched Phoenix during the second round of the playoffs. 

Disaster struck in the second season of the era when Hardaway blew out his knee again and became an early adopter of microfracture surgery.

The surgery sapped Penny of most of the athletic ability that made him special and the Suns never did any better than the initial season of Backcourt 2000.

Moral of the story:

Sweet nicknames for backcourts don't always make them good. 

Suns decide the future is Stephon Marbury (July 18, 2001)

The Experiment:

During his five seasons in Phoenix, Jason Kidd was an All-Star and three-time First Team All-NBA. In other words, dude was good.

However, in January of 2001, Kidd was arrested and pleaded guilty to domestic abuse charges in connection with an incident involving his wife Joumana. With concerns about the image of the franchise, Suns CEO Jerry Colangelo engineered Kidd's departure to New Jersey and received the young Stephon Marbury in return. 

Marbury had developed into a big-time scoring point guard in his seasons in New Jersey, but hadn't played in the playoffs since his messy divorce from Kevin Garnett in Minnesota.

The Result:

Starbury was paired with two other members of this list (Penny and Googs) in his first season in Phoenix, but the team stepped back 15 wins from the season before without the distribution skills of Kidd. 

The Suns snuck in the playoffs as the eighth seed the next season and Marbury was an All-Star, but midway into the following year, it was clear the Starbury experiment was a failure.

To establish a lasting legacy, Marbury's bloated contract was paired with Penny Hardaway's and dealt to New York to create the cap space that would permit Phoenix to sign Steve Nash in the 2004 offseason.

Moral of the story:

Shoot-first point guards almost never work out.

Why not just name Mike D'Antoni General Manager (March 10, 2006)

The Experiment:

When Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns, he made it relatively clear that he was going to put his stamp on the team. First, Jerry Colangelo was slowly pushed out of the organization. Then in 2006, his son Bryan -- then the general manager -- took the same position up in Toronto.

Without a GM, Sarver decided to hand the GM reigns to coach Mike D'Antoni, who, at the time, was coming off of two consecutive Western Conference Finals berths.

David Griffin was promoted to VP of basketball operations and was set to serve as D'Antoni's right hand man in personnel decisions. 

The Result:

Mike D opened his regime by trading the draft rights to Rajon Rondo, since he had no use for him, and then turned around to give Marcus Banks a five-year, $21 million dollar contract -- although Banks had been a chronic underachiever.

Not to be outdone, D'Antoni re-signed Boris Diaw to a five-year, $45 million dollar deal even though they had no idea whether he could play with Amar'e Stoudemire or not.

The D'Antoni era as GM ended just over a year after it started when Steve Kerr was moved into the position in June of 2007.   

Moral of the story:

If you've got two full-time jobs where the position is typically paid seven figures then you should probably hire two different guys. 

Phoenix becomes Diesel Powered, or something (February 7, 2008)

The Experiment:

In the first three seasons of the Steve Nash era, the Suns were consistent title contenders, making the Western Conference Finals twice and possibly coming within some self-control from Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw from winning a championship.

In early 2008, the Suns had the Western Conference's best record, but the Celtics were a force with Kevin Garnett while the Lakers had made themselves much bigger with the acquisition of Pau Gasol.

Feeling like they couldn't win the title as constructed, Steve Kerr dealt the surly Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Miami in exchange for Shaquille O'Neal.

In theory, the move was going to add a tough, rebounding presence to the soft by reputation Phoenix side, although O'Neal was already 35 and in the midst of the worst season of his illustrious career. 

The Result:

Shaquille O'Neal stayed in the worst season of his illustrious career -- to that point. The Suns struggled to incorporate O'Neal into the lineup and, in the space of two and a half months, slipped from the top record in the West to the sixth and got themselves a first round date with the Spurs.

San Antonio wiped up the Suns in five games.

The following season, Shaq became the focal point of Terry Porter's extremely boring offense -- and actually managed to post All-Star numbers -- but the team was incredibly mediocre and by the time Alvin Gentry replaced Porter, Amar'e Stoudemire went down and the team didn't have a chance to make the playoffs.

O'Neal was dealt to the Cavs for cap space the following offseason amid rumors that Steve Nash couldn't stand him. Personally, I just couldn't understand why the guy dove on the floor all the time when the ball was already out of bounds.

Moral of the story:

Shaq can't run and The Big Cactus always was a stupid nickname.

Suns opt to get defensive and hire Terry Porter (June 7, 2008)

The Experiment:

Since Steve Kerr had taken the Suns general manager job, he had impressed upon Mike D'Antoni to stress a little defense for his team. D'Antoni never did and following the Suns' first round dismissal at the hands of the Spurs in the 2008 playoffs, Kerr gave D'Antoni an opportunity to "look around."

With one of the most successful coaches in Suns history off to New York, Kerr hired his former Spurs teammate Terry Porter to bring some defensive intensity to a roster that included Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire.

The Result:

Porter's style never could fit with the personnel on the Suns roster. By December, it was clear nobody could stand playing for the guy, as Raja Bell complained his way out of town and Steve Nash was visibly miserable.

After compiling a 28-23 record, Steve Kerr manned up to his error and dumped Porter in favor of top assistant Alvin Gentry. 

Moral of the story:

No matter how hard you try, you're not going to fit a square peg into a round hole. Also, I hate Blazers exports. 

I don't know about you guys, but after writing that up, I'll hope for a few less noble experiments in the Suns future. 

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