Suns carry lengthy history of struggles trying to find and keep the right No. 2 guy - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Suns carry lengthy history of struggles trying to find and keep the right No. 2 guy

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Posted: Saturday, May 12, 2007 1:16 am | Updated: 6:38 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

In the Beginning, there was nothing but night. Negele Knight, actually. Much later came the living. Randy Livingston. In the end, the Suns kept going to the bank — through the draft, free agency and trades — but ended up only with Marcus Banks.

The subject is the team’s long-muddled backup point guard spot, a spot that seems cursed for them.

The topic comes up every year, including this year, as Suns fans fidget every time Steve Nash leaves the game.

This is doubly or triply so whenever he leaves at unexpected times, such as when he suffered that ghastly nose cut Sunday in Game 1 of this Western Conference semifinal against the San Antonio Spurs.

Through three crucial possessions in the final minute, the Suns got only two free throws and lost a game that could cost them their season.

Sure, Leandro Barbosa is there. But he’s much, much better as the off-guard alongside Nash. The Suns often end up relying on a big man — Boris Diaw — to get the offense going when Nash is out.

Banks, the guy who had been designated — emphatically, with a $25 million contract — specifically as the backup point guard, is nailed to the bench after a failed season.

But none of this is new.

Ever since the Suns started coming up with All-Star-caliber point guards nearly two decades ago, they’ve been equally befuddled on how to give them a break.

Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd, Stephon Marbury and Steve Nash all have grown grey hairs wondering who would give them some relief.

The Suns once came up with a terrific prospect, but he was so promising they figured they couldn’t afford to keep him as a backup to Kidd, so they traded him away.

His name: Steve Nash. At least they got a high draft pick for him that they used to draft a forward out of UNLV named Shawn Marion.

Otherwise, the Suns have been all thumbs in trying to fill this void.

They drafted Knight back in 1990. He had one amazing week filling in for an injured Johnson, putting up 20-10 point-assist numbers. He was so terrific that the Suns were offered a first-round draft pick for him. Sad for them they turned it down.

Knight’s great stint turned out to be a mirage, and eventually he was sent packing. He was replaced by Frank Johnson, who did a competent job. Johnson, however, was at his career’s end.

Elliot Perry had one solid season backing up KJ. But when Cotton Fitzsimmons, who didn’t like Perry’s game, replaced Paul Westphal as coach, Perry’s contributions declined and he was traded as well.

Livingston proved notable, but not for the right reasons.

He once rolled into the knee of forward Tom Gugliotta, virtually ruining the career of a guy who had been playing at an All-Star level.

Then, when Kidd went down with an ankle injury, the Suns were forced to drag KJ out of retirement; he helped push the Suns to an upset playoff victory over the defending champion Spurs in 2000.

A theory on all this comes from David Griffin, the team’s vice president for basketball operations:

“Our first guys have been so good the (backups) pale in comparison. And the coaches don’t have as much faith in them as they normally would.

“Anybody playing behind Steve would have taken a lot of heat. That’s a difficult role. Being behind Jason Kidd is tough. Being behind Kevin Johnson is tough.

“Anybody else is going to look bad in comparison.”

The Suns actually have come up with good players for the spot, but — for whatever reason — have punted them away.

A few years ago, they had a smooth point guard named Jason Hart on their summer league team.

They let him go, and Hart ended up winning a ring in San Antonio.

Hart turned up playing for the Los Angeles Clippers late this season.

He hit a game-winning shot that nearly put his team in the playoffs.

Then there was Brevin Knight. The Suns had him briefly in 2003, but traded him away; he ended up starting and playing well in Charlotte.

Under Nash, the Suns tried Eddie House, who got off to a great start last season before fading and losing the confidence of coach Mike D’Antoni in the postseason.

So they went searching again.

The Suns might have gotten a terrific backup point guard for virtually nothing just last year.

But they traded away a first-round draft pick to Portland. The Trail Blazers used the pick to draft Sergio Rodriguez, who arguably was the league’s best rookie point guard and appears to be a lock as a future starter.

Meanwhile, the Suns are spending $25 million on Banks, who so far hasn’t worked out.

It’s all part of the curse of the backup point guard.

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