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Top Five: Biggest Arizona Free Agent Departures

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The Top Five train continues to roll on -- this time to the Top Five Free Agent Departures in Arizona history. It's called being topical.

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Two gentleman with something in common (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Two gentleman with something in common (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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I'm not sure if you've noticed, but there has been some sort of free agent frenzy occurring in the National Basketball Association of late. It seems that some fellow from Cleveland left town in a less-than-classy manner to the dismay of the city and, in particular, the founder of a residential mortgage loan company. Oh, and Golden State decided to pay David Lee a gagillion (rough estimate) dollars to ensure that he never plays a playoff game. It's been fun. 

Unfortunately for the PHX, we were not immune from said frenzy, as Amar'e Stoudemire took off for the bright lights and consistent losing of New York. Considering the departure of the now ex-Suns star, I've decided to take a look back at some of the most notable free agent departures in Arizona sports history.

A few criteria:

  • The player had to have left while the team was in Arizona. That takes care of all you Chicago/St. Louis Cardinals and Winnipeg Jets fans. You lose again, Winnipeg.
  • The player had to have actually made an impact in the state. You know, like actually have been a good player here.
  • Forcing a trade doesn't count (but I've decided to allow half-assed sign-and-trades in the Amar'e situation). Mr. Pollack attempted to shoe horn Cappie Pondexter into this list, but I put my foot down.

It's worth noting that there are only about 20 years to choose from here since unrestricted NBA free agency didn't begin until 1988, NFL free agency didn't begin until 1993, the Coyotes showed up in 1996, and the D-backs began play in 1998. 

That disclaimer in mind, on with the list:

Honorable mention: Jamir Miller (1999 - Cleveland Browns), Orlando Hudson (2009 - Los Angeles Dodgers), Richie Sexson (2005 - Seattle Mariners), Jeremy Roenick (2001 - Philadelphia Flyers), Ken Harvey (1994- Washington Redskins), Jay Novacek (1990 - Dallas Cowboys), Aeneas Williams (2003 - St. Louis Rams), Karlos Dansby (2010 - Miami Dolphins), Antrel Rolle (2010 - New York Giants), Larry Centers (1999 - Washington Redskins)

No. 5: Tim McDonald, Safety, Phoenix Cardinals (1993 - San Francisco 49ers)

The Buildup:

For those of you who don't travel that far back in Arizona sports fandom, McDonald was a stud strong safety for the then-Phoenix Cardinals in the late '80s and early '90s. The hard-hitting McDonald was a three-time Pro Bowler for Phoenix and was the cornerstone of the Cardinals defense. 

As was the trend for the team in the era, McDonald never played for a squad that won more than seven games. In fact, the team went 13-35 in his final three years out at Sun Devil Stadium in spite of the USC product being an Associated Press Second Team All-NFL pick in 1992. 

Apparently all that losing didn't sit too well with McDonald, as during the first year NFL free agency existed, he bolted for the contending San Francisco 49ers. 

The Aftermath:

This certainly ended up being a fine move for McDonald as he continued to perform at a star level AND got to win football games. Imagine that. 

McDonald made three more Pro Bowls in his time in San Fran and played on the Super Bowl XXIX winners. He played out his career in the Bay before retiring after the 1999 season. 

The Cardinals continued down the path of mediocrity and bad football for the next five seasons that featured such fun as Buddy Ryan, Joe Bugel, and the quarterbacking stylings of Stoney Case. It would be a bit disingenuous to say that the loss of McDonald was the blow that held them back from the playoffs. 

No. 4: Simeon Rice, DE, Arizona Cardinals (2000 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

The Buildup:

Rice was a dominant college linebacker at Illinois prior to being selected by the Cardinals with the third overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. As was relatively standard for the Cardinals at the time, there was a contract dispute with their new rookie and Rice didn't sign until just before the first game of the '96 season. 

Yet it did not take Rice -- now moved to defensive end -- long to warm to the professional ranks. After a season in which he accumulated 12.5 sacks, Rice was named the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

Though he slowed a bit on the sack front in his second season (recording just five), Rice had 10 sacks in the Cards' playoff year of 1998 and 16.5 in 1999, which was good for second in the NFL. In '99, Rice earned his first Pro Bowl berth. 

In 2000, the pass rushing star opted to hold out for a new contract and did not appear on the field until the second game of the season. During his contract dispute, he so tactfully referred to Phoenix as "the armpit of the world." The following off-season, he jumped on a five-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' dominant defense. 

The Aftermath:

In five-and-a-half seasons with Tampa, Rice recorded an impressive 69.5 sacks and played in a couple Pro Bowls. He was also an Associated Press 1st Team All-NFL selection in 2002, the same year the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. 

Rice was sidelined midway through 2006 with a shoulder injury and released that off-season following -- you guessed it -- a contract dispute. He landed in Denver for the 2007 season, but was released over playing time concerns after just six games. Rice then finished his career with two games in Indianapolis during the same season. 

And the Cardinals? Well, they won seven games in 2001 before going on a dandy five-season streak of losing 10 or more games. If I haven't said this yet... thank god for you, Ken Whisenhunt. 

The two sides allegedly discussed a reunion in 2009, but from the looks of this Dan Bickley blog, it seemed to be more than a little one-sided. 

No. 3: Antonio McDyess, PF, Phoenix Suns (1999 - Denver Nuggets)

The Buildup:

You might be able to call this guy Amar'e 1.0, as in his younger years, McDyess was one of the more exciting and explosive forwards in the league. Drafted by the Clippers as the second selection of the 1995 NBA Draft, Dice was traded to the Nuggets on draft day. 

After two relatively impressive seasons with the Nuggets, the Suns acquired McDyess for the low, low price of three first round picks, two second round picks, and Wesley Person (all part of a three-way trade). McDyess thrived in the desert, teaming with Jason Kidd to lead the Suns to 56 wins. Due to injuries to key players like Danny Manning and Rex Chapman, the Suns were fairly defenseless against the Spurs in the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round in just four games. 

With McDyess now a free agent and the NBA entering a lockout, the young big man was faced with a decision: return to Denver or remain in Phoenix. This is where it gets weird. 

McDyess was in Denver during January of 1999 preparing to sign a contract when he called Suns guard Jason Kidd and expressed reservations about his decision. Sensing an opportunity, Kidd, Chapman, and George McCloud flew to Denver and arrived at a Colorado Avalanche hockey game, where McDyess was sitting in the owner's suite. 

However, according to McDyess, then-Denver coach/GM Dan Issel instructed arena security to keep the Suns personnel out of the building. And apparently that is how Antonio McDyess remained a Nugget. Seriously.  

The Aftermath:

McDyess played three productive seasons in Denver, eventually blossoming into a 20-point-a-game scorer and an All-Star in 2001. He wasn't so lucky in his fourth season. 

In just the 10th game of the year, McDyess ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee and missed the remainder of the 2001-2002 season. During the 2002 offseason, McDyess was dealt to the Knicks in exchange for Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson, and Nene.

Yet the bad luck kept on coming for Dice as he re-injured his knee late in a preseason game (against the Suns no less) and missed the entire 2002-2003 season. 

McDyess did actually make it back to the Suns the following season as cap fodder in the Stephon Marbury trade. Sapped of his explosiveness, McDyess has managed to remake himself as a tough rebounder with a relatively reliable jumpshot and was a key member of the Detroit Pistons from 2004 until last season. 

Spurned by McDyess, the Suns turned to Plan B -- a white power forward who was coming off his first All-Star appearance and carried a 20-point-per-game average. His name? David Lee. No, I'm just kidding... it was Tom Gugliotta. 

Although Gugliotta had a decent first season with the Suns, he suffered a seizure that was apparently from consuming a nutritional supplement for sleep deprivation. Googs recovered from that setback to return to the Suns lineup, but suffered a season-ending ACL injury in March of 2000. He did play several more seasons for the Suns after the injury, but was never nearly as effective as he had been. 

No. 2: Jake Plummer, QB, Arizona Cardinals (2003 - Denver Broncos)

The Buildup:

Things always seemed to be moving on a nice fairy tale path for Jake the Snake and the Arizona Cardinals. Plummer led Arizona State to within a whisker of the national championship in 1996 and then landed in the Cardinals' lap in the second round of the 1997 NFL Draft.

By Week Nine of his rookie season, Plummer was named the Cards starter and although the results were mostly mixed -- the team went just 3-6 in his starts -- he was established as the team's leader moving forward. In 1998, Plummer led the Cards on a wild ride which wound up with the team reaching the Divisional round of the playoffs (that's the second round). That year, the team won an astounding seven games by three points or less and, although Jake only put up a 75.0 QB rating with a 17/20 TD/INT ratio, he sealed his reputation as a local legend. 

The next several seasons weren't nearly as friendly to Plummer. The team did not win more than seven games in any of Plummer's final four seasons with the team and Jake led the NFL in interceptions in 1999 despite playing in only 12 games. 

By the end of the 2002 season, the relationship had soured. Arizona's final game of the season was a 37-7 loss to Denver where Plummer walked off the field to chants of "We Want Jake" from the Bronco fans. And they got him, as Plummer signed a free agent contract with the Broncos in the off-season.

The Aftermath:

Plummer went into Denver and immediately had his best season as a pro, posting a 91.2 QB rating in just 11 starts. The next season, he managed to eclipse 4,000 passing yards and threw a career-high 27 touchdown passes. 

However, the Plummer era in Denver was marked by an over-reliance on free-styling (Jake's specialty) and playoff losses. In three playoff appearances, the Broncos won just once under Plummer and went only as far as the AFC Championship Game. 

Although the Broncos got off to a 7-4 start in the 2006 season, the Snake was seen as too shaky for Mike Shanahan and was replaced as starting quarterback by rookie Jay Cutler. 2006 was the final season for Plummer, as he retired to play professional hand ball. That happened.

The Cardinals didn't get much worse, but they didn't get better, either. As is obvious by this point, they continued to struggle, losing 10 games or more every season until the Ken Whisenhunt era began in 2007 (again... thanks, Whiz). Plummer's departure did, however, allow the Cards to say that they started John Navarre in an NFL game. That's something to hang your hat on! 

No. 1: Amar'e Stoudemire, PF, Phoenix Suns (2010 - New York Knicks)

The Buildup:

This one is nice and fresh. Phoenix drafted Amar'e out of "illustrious" Cypress Creek High School with the ninth pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. In his eight seasons with the Suns, Amar'e went to five All-Star games, was First Team All-NBA once, and Second Team All-NBA three times. All in all, the guy was a big, athletic, hard-dunking star and one of the best players in franchise history. 

In Stoudemire's tenure, the Suns reached the Western Conference Finals three times (once where STAT was just a spectator), but failed to make it to the NBA Finals. Due to a combination of injuries (knee and eye), lack of rebounding, and an allergy to defense, Amar'e was a polarizing figure for Valley sports fans. 

With Suns management unwilling to guarantee a full five years to his trick knees, Stoudemire took his high-flying act to the desperate Knicks for the next five years. An act which has caused SB Nation Arizona columnist Scott Howard to become even more of a bitter dick. 

The Aftermath:  

This is where No. 1 on my list is different from the others. While the history of the rest is written, the futures of Amar'e and the Suns have yet to be determined. New York did not manage to get another star to come to the Big Apple with Stoudemire, so for at least one of the last good years of his knees, the big man will be a lone star.

As for the Suns, the loss of Stoudemire puts a serious damper on any illusions of title contention for 2011 and barring a savvy use of the trade exception acquired from New York, rebuilding is afoot. Suns fans may learn just how valuable Stoudemire was after a few months of Hakim Warrick patrolling the paint.  

Show me some feedback. Show me some love. Do you have a suggestion I didn't think of? Have you googled it to make sure it wasn't a trade? Check again. 

Or if you're a Coyotes or D-backs fan, prove to me why one of your players deserves to be on this list.