Steve Nash is congratulated by Commissioner David Stern on draft night in 1996. (NBAE Photos)
You have a ticket to see and hear the real scoop on NBA hopefuls from the perspective of Suns GMs, coaches and scouts.
I have witnessed some shrewd moves like the drafting of Michael Finley at #21 overall in the first round of the 1995 draft. The Suns fell in love with his fire and athletic skills during the Desert Classic showcase camp here in Phoenix. In 1999 the Suns headquarters were at Bank One Ballpark and we were all stunned when they snagged a wiry kid out of Vegas named Shawn Marion. That pick along with the year they chose Amare (also at #9) were examples of the “misdirection” our staff created leading up to the draft. Even those of us close to the team were choking through the smoke screen and led to believe they had eyes on another player. In 2002 the Suns brought Jared Jeffries in for a second workout and interview. All the while, they were craving and hoping for Amare to still be there at #9, and thanks to the Clippers choosing Chris Wilcox 8th, Stat was indeed available. We can also thank Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe for taking Nene and Nikoloz Tskitishvili ahead of Amare as well!
But that just goes to show what an unscientific process this draft can be for teams like the Suns who have swung and missed a few times themselves. Recent names and linguistical nightmares like Cabarkapa and Tsakalidis might ring a bell since ‘93. Malcolm Mackey and Mario Bennett flamed-out early. But overall, the Suns have been extremely successful in judging talent and character over the years. You also have to consider that most of their picks have been mid to late first-round selections due to the success of the franchise. Their draft-day heist of Leandro Barbosa late in the first round of ’03 (away from the Spurs no less) was a stroke of genius. Selecting DJ Strawberry as the second to last pick in the ENTIRE draft last year may also turn out to be quite a coup. And don’t forget the pick which resgistered the second-most boos in Suns history—second only to the now infamous Majerle selection of ’88.
In 1996, the Suns held the 15th pick in the first round. Turmoil and unrest shook the club. They were coming off a .500 season and first-round exit to Houston in the playoffs. Charles Barkley was helping to force an off-season trade with controversial comments about the organization. Something about being treated “like a piece of meat” (of which he should know plenty about these days). Meanwhile, Phoenix fans made it clear who they wanted in the draft, jumping on the bandwagon of Syracuse star John Wallace (whose nomadic days in the NBA later included a stint with the Suns). Plus, Phoenix already had a star point guard in Kevin Johnson. So the sharks circled when “with the 15th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns select……Steve Nash,” an obscure point guard from Santa Clara.
Well, he wasn’t so obscure to us. Back in ’96 for a television feature, we wanted to follow a draft hopeful through the entire process of working out and interviewing with the Suns before the draft . Obviously, we would be rolling the dice in terms of the Suns actually drafting this player. But it was clear the team really liked this kid named Nash. As suggested by “then basketball ops assistant” David Griffin (now a Senior VP), we chose to follow Steve from the moment the future NBA MVP arrived at the airport. I still laugh at the fact I had to tap our videographer, Dave Grapentine, on the shoulder to point-out Nash, who literally walked right past him at the gate! I mean WHO KNEW?? He was an averaged-sized young kid who could easily have been working at the Hertz Rental Car desk.
Battling a sore hamstring, Nash was limited in his workouts with assistant coach, Danny Ainge. You could see he had an architecturally perfect shot but I still doubted his size and strength to compete on the NBA level (I guess that’s why I’m broadcasting and not in player personnel). At the time, drafting Steve still appeared to be a long-shot, but we all know how it has turned out for the ultimate MVP longshot! The Suns wound-up nabbing Nash as disgruntled fans chanted for Wallace. I will never forget Suns head scout, the late Dick Percudani (one of the finest gentleman I have ever met, ) say after the Suns made the selection of Nash: “you’ll want to adopt this kid.” How right he was!
Now the question is: Who will we adopt this season?