When trades like the Kevin Durant deal occur, they ignite a city at its core.
It is rare for superstars to change teams in any manner, but especially via in-season trade. A look at Valley pro sports history reveals no more than 20 trades that could really be labeled as big, and far fewer that had a major impact.
Sometimes the trades pay dividends in titles, which has only happened once in Phoenix’s dreadful male pro sports history. Sometimes they pay dividends in the form of marketing, cash, credibility or visibility.
There is no debating the Suns’ preeminence in all of these departments. They made the list below four times and the four big names in those deals can all be recognized by a nickname or their initials. Their names are so big that spelling them out isn’t necessary.
There were other significant Suns deals that you could argue also belong among the top 10 (three of them are listed among our honorable mentions). Paul Westphal was a four-time All-Star in Phoenix and helped lead the team to one of its three NBA Finals appearances.
For our purposes, we chose to spread the wealth among the four major men’s sports, but this has been and likely always will be a Suns town. They were the Valley’s original major pro sports franchise and the only one for two decades, allowing them time to weave their way into the city’s very fabric.
The only team that has a chance to usurp the Suns’ top-dog status is the Cardinals. The NFL is king in most major markets — in terms of revenue and interest — but the Cardinals have failed to sustain any type of success and, more recently, they have had difficulty finding someone who wants to coach the team because it is such an undesirable situation.
As has often been the case, all Valley eyes will be fixed on the Suns in their quest for that elusive first title. The window is open, but it won’t be open for long with an aging Durant (34) and four unprotected first-round draft picks (2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029) out the door in the deal.
If the Suns win a championship, nobody will remember the near misses in 1976, 1993 and 2021, and nobody will care that the Suns mortgaged a good portion of their future for the present. If they don’t win a title, well, that’s a lament for another day.
For now, enjoy this stunning, red-carpet entrance by new Suns owner Mat Ishbia; an all-in approach that we have rarely seen in these parts.
Here are the 10 biggest trades in men’s Valley pro sports history with some honorable mentions for each team below.
The trade: On Apr. 2, 2013, the Cardinals acquired QB Carson Palmer and a seventh-round draft pick from the Raiders in exchange for a sixth-round selection and a conditional 2014 seventh-round draft pick. Palmer agreed to sign a new contract with Arizona that paid him $16 million over two years with $10 million guaranteed.
The player: Palmer was coming off two seasons in Oakland in which he threw for 35 TDS and 6,771 yards, but also threw 30 interceptions. The Raiders went a combined 12-20 in those seasons.
The impact: In Palmer’s first season, the Cardinals went 10-6 and just missed the playoffs. In his second, they started out 9-1 and looked every bit a Super Bowl contender until Palmer suffered a torn ACL that ended his season. It is one of the greatest what-ifs in Valley pro sports history. Arizona finished 11-5 that season and lost in the wild card game with Ryan Lindley at QB.
Palmer returned in 2015 and had arguably his best season as a pro, throwing for a career-high 4,671 yards and a career-high 35 TDs (11 INTS) while earning a Pro Bowl nod. The Cardinals advanced to the NFC Championship but the Carolina Panthers demolished them, 49-15.
Palmer’s last two seasons as a pro produced mediocre 7-8-1 and 8-8 finishes, but the three-year run at the start of his Cardinals tenure still marks the only three-year period in the team’s Valley history in which it had three consecutive winning records.
The trade: On Mar 15, 2016, the Cardinals acquired DE Chandler Jones from the Patriots for OG Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick.
The players: Cooper was the Cardinals’ heralded No. 7 overall pick in 2013, but he broke his leg in the preseason of his rookie year and he missed the entire regular season. In his second camp, he drew ire from coach Bruce Arians for lackluster performance. He never panned out into a legitimate NFL player and was out of the league by 2019. Jones was coming off a 12.5-sack season with the Patriots that earned him a Pro Bowl berth.
The impact: While he was sometimes criticized for garbage-time, stat-padding sacks and his run defense, Jones performed at a high level in Arizona with 71.5 sacks over five-plus seasons and 84 games. He led the NFL in sacks (17) and tackles for loss (28) in 2017, and he posted a career-high 19 sacks in 2019, while leading the league with eight forced fumbles. The Cardinals made the playoffs in his final season in Arizona (2021).
The trade: On March 16, 2020, the Texans traded WR DeAndre Hopkins and a fourth-round selection in 2020 for RB David Johnson, a second-round pick in 2020 draft and a fourth-round pick in 2021.
The players: David Johnson made the Pro Bowl in 2016 with 1,239 yards and 16 TDS, but he sustained an ACL in the final game of the season and missed all but one game the following year. He had 940 yards in 2018, but more injuries robbed him of his running ability and he became a bit player one year after the trade. Hopkins was coming off three straight Pro Bowl seasons with the Texans, with 4,115 yards and 31 TDs.
The impact: Hopkins made the Pro Bowl in his first season in Arizona with 1,407 yards and six TDs. When healthy, he was an impact player for the Cardinals, who will likely trade him in the offseason, per PHNX Sports’ Johnny Venerable.
The trade: On Aug. 17, 1996, the Blackhawks traded C Jeremy Roenick to the Coyotes for C Alexei Zhamnov, RW Craig Mills and a 1997 first-round pick (Ty Jones).
The players: In 235 games with the Winnipeg Jets, Zhamnov had 103 goals and 267 points. He was a terrific set-up man who, when paired largely with wing Tony Amonte, put up 140 goals and 424 points in 528 games in Chicago. Mills only played 27 games with the Hawks. Roenick was a superstar in Chicago, amassing 267 goals and 596 points in 524 games. He topped 100 points in three straight seasons before a knee injury robbed him of some of his explosive skating ability.
The impact: Roenick was very good in Arizona. In his initial stint with the Coyotes, he had 141 goals and 362 points in 384 games. But Roenick’s arrival was about more than performance. As a flamboyant American, he was more than willing to embrace owner Richard Burke’s marketing efforts to sell the team and grow the game in a US market whose closest foray into high-level pro hockey was the WHA’s Phoenix Roadrunners. Roenick was a tireless and genuine pitchman for the team, always engaging with fans and always making appearances.
The Coyotes made the playoffs in their first four seasons in Arizona — the longest stretch in their Valley history — and five of their first six. Had they managed to escape the first round of the playoffs in any of those seasons — two of which ended in excruciating, Game-7 losses — they may have ingrained themselves in the Valley, Burke might still own them, and they could be playing in south Scottsdale.
The trade: On Dec. 28, 1998, the Tigers traded OF Luis Gonzalez to the Diamondbacks for OF Karim Garcia.
The players: Garcia was coming off a nine-home, 43-RBI season. In 10 MLB seasons, the ninth overall pick in the 1997 draft never became more than a serviceable player with 66 homers and 352 hits and a .241 batting average.
The impact: Gonzalez was a five-time All-Star in eight seasons in Arizona. He led the league in hits (206) in his first season in Arizona. He hit 57 homers in 2001, finished third in MVP voting behind Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa. In that same season, he had the walk-off, game-winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series to help the Diamondbacks rally to beat the New York Yankees at Bank One Ballpark in the wake of the 9/11 terrorists attacks. That is still the only title in the Valley’s male pro sports history. Gonzalez is on the short list in any discussion of the Valley pro sports Mount Rushmore.
The trade: On July 26, 2000, the Phillies traded RHP Curt Schilling to Arizona for LHP Omar Daal, RHP Nelson Figueroa, IF/OF Travis Lee and RHP Vicente Padilla.
The players: Daal had his best two seasons in the majors in Arizona. Figueroa went on to a productive if unspectacular nine-year career. Padilla was an All-Star in 2002 and had a good first few seasons in Philadelphia before falling off. Lee signed a four-year, $10 million contract with Arizona after the Twins failed to tender him a contract within fifteen days of the end of the 1996 draft where they made him the second overall pick. He had a solid rookie season but an unspectacular second season before the trade. In 2001, he had 20 homers and 90 RBI, but he never came close to that production again. Schilling was coming off three straight All-Star appearances with the Phillies.
The impact: In the 2001 World Series season, Schilling had a league-high 22 wins with a 2.98 ERA and six complete games. In the postseason, he went 4-1 in seven starts, allowing six earned runs in 48.1 innings (1.12 ERA) to earn World Series co-MVP honors with Randy Johnson. He only played 3½ seasons in Arizona, but the Diamondbacks had winning seasons in all four and made the postseason in two.
The KJ blockbuster
The trade: In late February of 1988, the Suns acquired PG Kevin Johnson, C Mark West, F Tyrone Corbin and a 1988 first-round pick (which they used to draft Dan Majerle) from Cleveland for F Larry Nance, F Mike Sanders, a 1988 first-round pick (Randolph Keys) and two second rounders.
The players: Nance was a popular player in the Valley who had been an All-Star in 1984-85 and earned another All-Star bid in his first season in Cleveland. A strong all-around player, Nance could give you 20 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game. Sanders was a role player. In bringing KJ aboard, the Suns acquired one of the best point guards in the NBA; a player who had been forced to play understudy to Mark Price in Cleveland. West became a mainstay at center for years. Corbin was a decent bench player for a couple seasons before moving on to Minnesota. Majerle became a Valley icon and a key piece of many Suns teams to come.
The impact: The Johnson-led Suns made the playoffs in every one of his full seasons in the Valley, advancing to the Western Conference Finals three times and the NBA Finals once. The 1988–89 season was the first of three straight seasons in which Johnson averaged at least 20 points and 10 assists, joining Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas as the only players in league history to accomplish that feat. He was a key cog in the most successful run in Suns history.
The trade: On June 17, 1992, the Suns acquired F Charles Barkley from the 76ers for G Jeff Hornacek and F Tim Perry and C Andrew Lang.
The players: Barkley, the fifth overall pick in 1984, was already a six-time All-Star with Philadelphia; a scoring and rebounding machine who regularly averaged better than 25 points per game and led the league in rebounding (14.6 per game) in 1986-87. Hornacek was a fan favorite who averaged 20.2 points per game in his final season in the Valley, earning All-Star Game honors. Perry averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds that season while Lang averaged 7.7 points and 6.7 rebounds. Hornacek later became a key piece of the Utah Jazz’s runs to the NBA Finals.
The impact: Barkley took the Valley by storm. He was as good off the court as he was on it, transfixing reporters and fans with his hilarious takes and his irrepressible personality. He trained incredibly hard that first season and led the Suns to the NBA’s best record (62-20) by averaging 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds and a career-high 5.1 assist per game.
Had it not been for the presence of the game’s greatest player, Chicago’s Michael Jordan, Barkley may have led the Suns to their first NBA title that season. Instead, John Paxson stuck a dagger in Valley fans’ hearts in Game 6 at America West Arena, Barkley garnered criticism for not training as hard the next two seasons, the Houston Rockets stunned the Suns in back-to-back-playoff series with Jordan in temporary retirement, and Barkley left town on a sour note one season later.
The Suns didn’t win a title with Barkley, but until Durant proves otherwise, this was still the most successful and entertaining stretch in Suns’ history.
The trade: On Nov. 16, 2020, the Suns acquired PG Chris Paul and F Abdel Nader from the Thunder for F/G Kelly Oubre Jr., PG Ricky Rubio, G Ty Jerome, G Jalen Lecque and a 2022 first-round pick.
The players: Paul had a renaissance season with Oklahoma City in 2019-20, leading a young team to a surprising playoff berth and earning his first All-Star appearance since 2016. Nader was a minor player for the Suns for two seasons. Oubre is averaging 20.2 points per game this season with Charlotte. The others are also minor players.
The impact: Paul helped lead the Suns to the NBA Finals in his first season here and in his second season, the Suns finished with an NBA-best 64-18 record. While he has shown signs of wear and age (37), you have to wonder if the Kevin Durant acquisition will re-energize him for one last run at a title before his contract situation raises questions about his future with the franchise.
The trade: On Feb. 8, 2023, the Suns acquired F Kevin Durant and F T.J. Warren from the Nets for F Cam Johnson, G/F Mikal Bridges, F Jae Crowder, four first-round picks (2023, 2025, 2027, 2029) and a draft swap in 2028.
The players: Durant is a 13-time NBA All-Star, a two-time NBA Champion and NBA Finals MVP (2017, 2018) and was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2014. He has averaged 27.3 points per game over his career along (29.4 in the playoffs) with 7.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He is a superstar of the highest magnitude. Warren is averaging 9.5 points in 18.8 minutes per game.
Bridges was averaging a career-high 17.2 points and 3.6 assists per game on .463/.387/.897 shooting splits this season, and had topped 20 points in 12 of his past 15 games. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season. Johnson averaged a career-best 13.9 points per game on a 45.5 percent shooting beyond the arc. Crowder has not played during the 2022-23 season after he and the Suns mutually agreed he’d sit out while the team found a trade partner.
The impact: We’ll see, but the Suns are back in the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy conversation. DraftKings gives the Suns (+425) the second-best odds of winning the NBA title behind the Celtics (+350).
April 21, 1994: Cardinals acquire WR Rob Moore from the New York Jets for RB Ronald Moore and 1995 first- (DE High Douglas) and fourth-round picks.
Dec. 16, 2019: Coyotes acquired F Taylor Hall from the Devils for Fs Nick Merkley, Nate Schnarr, D Kevin Bahl, a conditional first-round pick in 2020 (Dawson Mercer), and a conditional third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
June 30, 2019: Coyotes acquire F Phil Kessel (plus D Dane Birks and a 2021 fourth-round pick) from the Penguins for F Alex Galchenyuk and D Pierre-Olivier Joseph in the trade.
July 18, 2017: Diamondbacks acquire OF JD Martinez from the Tigers for 3B Dawel Lugo and SSs Sergio Alcantara and Jose King.
Dec. 14, 2007: Diamondbacks acquire RHD Dan Haren and RHD Connor Robertson from the A’s for LHP Brett Anderson, 1B Chris Carter, OF Aaron Cunnigham, LHP, Dana Eveland, OF Carlos Gonzalez and LHP Greg Smith.
Dec. 26, 1996: Suns acquire PG Jason Kidd, G Tony Dumas and F Loren Meyer from the Dallas Mavericks for G Michael Finley, PG Sam Cassell, and F A.C. Green.
May 23, 1975: Suns acquire guard G Paul Westphal for G Charlie Scott and two second-round picks; June 30, 1980: The Suns acquire G Dennis Johnson from Seattle for Westphal.
Top photo of Kevin Durant via Getty Images