FOR A TEAM THAT WAS PICKED to finish as low as 28th out of 29 teams by one national sports publication, the Phoenix Suns had one incredible season in 2002-03.The Phoenix Suns reemerged as playoff contenders after missing the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons in '01-02 (36-46) by finishing with a 46-36 record and securing the eighth and final seed in the competitive Western Conference in the final week of the regular season.
The Phoenix Suns weren't just content with being back on their playoff course, though. The young squad put a scare into the NBA’s top team, the San Antonio Spurs, by stealing two victories in their first-round series thanks to a couple of improbable game-winning shots by Stephon Marbury in Game 1 and Jake Voskuhl in Game 4.
Not many outside the Phoenix Suns’ locker room thought the club would be in contention for anything other than a spot in the lottery. The Phoenix Suns departed for training camp in Flagstaff seven months earlier with several question marks hanging over them.
The Phoenix Suns have a lot of reasons to believe they are indeed headed in the right direction, but maybe none as significant as the emergence of Marbury as the team’s leader in only his second season in the Valley of the Sun.
Perhaps, just as significant as Marbury’s breakthrough season, was the sudden and immediate impact of the Phoenix Suns’ top choice in the 2002 NBA Draft. Stoudemire, the ninth overall pick and the only high schooler drafted, became the third Phoenix Suns player to win the Rookie of the Year award (Alvan Adams, ’75-76, Walter Davis, ’77-78).
Another key reason the Phoenix Suns exceeded most expectations was the steadying iNBAuence Hardaway had on the Suns. This was never more evident than when the veteran guard underwent right thumb surgery and missed 24 games from Jan. 10 - March 4. Phoenix went 10-14 without him in the lineup, but were 34-24 with him. Many believe the Phoenix Suns wouldn’t have had to face the top-seeded Spurs if the four-time All-Star didn’t get hurt.
Now, Phoenix heads into the offseason with much different expectations than one year ago. With most of the team’s nucleus expected to return, the Phoenix Suns will be expected to build on a successful 2002-03 season.