1975–76 Phoenix Suns season

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1975–76 Phoenix Suns season
Western Conference Champions
Head coach John MacLeod
General manager Jerry Colangelo
Owner(s) Richard Bloch
Arena Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Results
Record 42–40 (.512)
Place Division: 3rd (Pacific)
Conference: 4th (Western)
Playoff finish Lost in NBA Finals to Boston (2–4)

Stats @ Basketball-Reference.com
Radio KTAR
< 1974–75 1976–77 >

The 1975–76 Phoenix Suns season was the eighth season for the Phoenix Suns of the National Basketball Association. The season included an improbable run to the NBA Finals by a team that had never won a playoff series and made the playoffs only one other season in the franchise's existence. With a regular season record of 42–40, the Suns had finished third in the Pacific division standings and improved upon last season's win total by 10 games. The ensuing playoff run took plenty by surprise, including a seven-game series win against the Western Conference's top seed Golden State Warriors, a team that had finished 17 games ahead of the Suns in the divisional standings. The franchise's first Finals appearance pitted them against a 12-time champion in the Boston Celtics, whose roster featured three players from that season's All-Star Game. The 1976 NBA Finals would feature a memorable Game 5 triple-overtime thriller filled with controversies in which the Suns narrowly lost. Returning home for Game 6, the demoralized Suns would lose Game 6 and the series but not before endearing a generation of fans to the Suns franchise and showcasing a basketball from the desert southwest. The team's "Cinderella" season earned them the nickname Sunderella Suns.[1] John MacLeod was head coach and the Suns played their home games at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Offseason[edit]

NBA Draft[edit]

Main article: 1975 NBA Draft
Round Pick Player Position Nationality College
1 4 Alvan Adams Center  United States Oklahoma
1 16 Ricky Sobers Guard  United States UNLV
2 35 Allen Murphy Guard  United States Louisville
2 36 Jimmy Dan Conner Guard  United States Kentucky
3 54 Bayard Forrest Center  United States Grand Canyon
4 58 Sam McCants Guard  United States Oral Roberts
5 76 Joe Pace Center  United States Coppin State
6 94 Clark "Biff" Burrell Guard  United States USC
7 112 Dave Edmunds Guard  United States West Georgia
8 130 Jack Schrader Forward  United States Arizona State
9 147 Owen Brown Forward  United States Maryland
10 163 Mike Moon Guard  United States Arizona State

Finishing the previous season with a 32–50 record, the Suns earned the fourth pick in the draft, which they used to select center Alvan Adams from Oklahoma. Adams averaged 23.4 points and 12.8 rebounds per game in three seasons with the Sooners.[2] With averages of 19 points, 9.1 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks a game, Adams would become an All-Star in his first NBA season, and go on to be named Rookie of the Year. Adams would spend his entire 13 year career with the Suns, and would have his #33 jersey retired by the franchise in 1988.[3]

On draft day, the Suns traded one of their 1976 first-round picks (acquired from a trade with the New Orleans Jazz in 1974) to the Buffalo Braves for the 16th pick in the 1975 draft. The Suns used their additional pick to select guard Ricky Sobers from UNLV. In 1976, the Braves would use the sixth pick to select future Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley. Sobers would play two seasons for the Suns, contributing significantly to their Finals run, before being traded to the Indiana Pacers for Don Buse.[4]

In the third round, the Suns selected center Bayard Forrest from Grand Canyon University. Forrest would play another season with the Antelopes, and be drafted again by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1976. The Sonics would trade the rights to Forrest back to the Suns in 1977 for a 1979 second-round pick. Forrest played two seasons for the Suns as a backup center, before being sidelined by thyroid cancer, forcing him to retire in 1980.[5]

Free agency[edit]

On June 10, the Suns signed free agent point guard Dennis "Mo" Layton. Layton began his career with the Suns in 1971, playing two seasons before being waived. He would then play for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Tams of the ABA in 1973–74, and sit for the 1974–75 season as a free agent. Layton was waived by the Suns during the preseason and would again sit through 1975–76 season as a free agent.[6]

On October 24, the Suns claimed veteran swingman John Wetzel off of waivers from the Atlanta Hawks.[7] Wetzel would play sparingly throughout the season, averaging 6.7 minutes in 37 regular season games, and 2.5 minutes in two playoff games. Wetzel had played for the Suns from 1970 to 1972, and would spend his final season with the Suns before retiring in August 1976.[8] Wetzel would later become an assistant coach with the Suns from 1979 to 1987, before becoming the team's head coach for the 1987–88 season.[9]

Trades[edit]

On May 23, the Suns traded three-time All-Star guard Charlie Scott to the Boston Celtics for guard Paul Westphal, a 1975 second-round draft pick, and a 1976 second-round draft pick. Suns general manager Jerry Colangelo released this statement after the trade:

It takes a team concept of play to win in this league. Although Charlie Scott is a talent, our decision was made on the basis that Scott's talents were of an individual nature and did not fit into a team style of play. In Paul Westphal, we are acquiring a player from a winning situation. He is a stable, quality individual who will add leadership and experience to our club. We are confident that this decision will prove to be a major step in developing a winner and that the Phoenix Suns are more important than any one individual.

—Jerry Colangelo, [10]

Westphal had spent his first three years playing a limited role for Boston, but would blossom as a starter for the Suns. From 1976–77 to 1979–80, Westphal would make four consecutive All-Star appearances, voted as a starter three times, and be named to four All-NBA Teams, including three First Team selections.[11] Scott's minutes and points would decrease with the Celtics, and he would not again be selected as an All-Star.[12]

On May 28, the Suns traded center Earl Williams to the Detroit Pistons for forward Willie Norwood. Unable to play in training camp due to knee injuries, the Suns exercised a contract clause that allowed them to send Norwood back to the Pistons.[13] On September 30, the Pistons would send the Suns a 1976 second-round draft pick as compensation for Williams.[14]

On June 9, the Suns traded a 1976 second-round draft pick to the Portland Trail Blazers for guard Phil Lumpkin. Playing the 1975–76 season as a backup point guard, Lumpkin would average 2.1 points and 1.4 assists in 34 regular season games, and 1.8 points and 1.2 assists in 17 playoff games. Lumpkin was waived prior to the 1976–77 season and would not play in the NBA again.[15]

On September 17, the Suns traded guard Greg Jackson to the Washington Bullets for future draft considerations. Jackson was waived by the Bullets a month later and did not play in the NBA again.[16]

Roster[edit]

Phoenix Suns roster
Players Coaches
Pos. # Nat. Name Height Weight DOB (Y-M-D) From
F/C 33 United States Adams, Alvan 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) 210 lb (95 kg) 1954-07-19 Oklahoma
C 21 United States Awtrey, Dennis 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m) 235 lb (107 kg) 1948-02-22 Santa Clara
G/F 14 United States Erickson, Keith 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 195 lb (88 kg) 1944-04-19 UCLA
G/F 32 United States Hawthorne, Nate 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) 190 lb (86 kg) 1950-01-15 Southern Illinois
F 24 United States Heard, Garfield 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) 219 lb (99 kg) 1948-05-03 Oklahoma
G 10 United States Lumpkin, Phil 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m) 165 lb (75 kg) 1951-12-20 Miami
F 18 United States Perry, Curtis 6 ft 7 in (2.01 m) 220 lb (100 kg) 1948-09-13 Missouri State
G 12 United States Riley, Pat 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) 205 lb (93 kg) 1945-03-20 Kentucky
G 40 United States Sobers, Ricky 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) 198 lb (90 kg) 1953-01-15 UNLV
G/F 5 United States Van Arsdale, Dick 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 210 lb (95 kg) 1943-02-22 Indiana
G 44 United States Westphal, Paul 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m) 195 lb (88 kg) 1950-11-30 Southern California
G/F 25 United States Wetzel, John 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m) 190 lb (86 kg) 1944-10-20 Virginia Tech
Head coach
Assistant coach(es)
Athletic trainer(s)

Legend
  • (C) Team captain
  • (DP) Unsigned draft pick
  • (FA) Free agent
  • (S) Suspended
  • Injured Injured

Depth chart[edit]

Pos. Starter Bench Reserve Inactive
C Alvan Adams Dennis Awtrey
PF Gar Heard
SF Curtis Perry Keith Erickson Nate Hawthorne
John Wetzel
SG Ricky Sobers Dick Van Arsdale Pat Riley
PG Paul Westphal Phil Lumpkin

Preseason[edit]

The Suns held their training camp from September 25 to October 5 at the Yavapai College Gymnasium in Prescott, Arizona. The initial training camp roster consisted of returning Suns Dennis Awtrey, Mike Bantom, Keith Erickson, Nate Hawthorne, Gary Melchionni, Curtis Perry, Fred Saunders and Dick Van Arsdale, as well as newly acquired players Mo Layton, Phil Lumpkin, Willie Norwood and Paul Westphal, rookies Alvan Adams, John Shumate and Ricky Sobers, and training camp invitee Duane Read.[17] Norwood, acquired in an earlier trade with the Detroit Pistons, was unable to play due to knee problems and sent back to the Pistons on October 30. Layton was waived on October 2 after appearing in one exhibition game.[18] Read, a free agent guard from Portland State, had impressed the Suns staff during Los Angeles summer league play and was invited to training camp. Read started in the Suns first preseason game but was cut from the roster before the season.[19] Melchionni was waived on October 24, one day prior to the start of the regular season. Melchionni had played with the Suns for the last two years as a backup point guard, averaging 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 137 games.[20]

The loss of Norwood and injuries to Awtrey, Lumpkin, Melchionni and Saunders cut the team's initial preseason roster down to 11. Even with an abbreviated roster, the Suns finished the preseason with a 5–1 record, including three wins over the rival Los Angeles Lakers, a win over the Seattle SuperSonics, and a win over the Kansas City Kings. Their one loss came at the hands of the Kings, who beat the Suns 105–109 in overtime to close the preseason. Westphal led the Suns with 21.2 points a game in exhibition play, while Adams averaged 15.3 points and a team high 6.2 assists a game.[21] Not included in the Suns preseason record was an exhibition game against the United States Pan American team on October 6 at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The collegiate squad, who would go on to win the gold medal at the 1975 Pan American Games, narrowly defeated the Suns 72–70 off a last second layup from future NBA champion Johnny Davis.[22]

Game log[edit]

1975 preseason game log

Regular season[edit]

Standings[edit]

Pacific Division W L PCT GB Home Road Div
y-Golden State Warriors 59 23 .720 36–5 23–18 17–9
x-Seattle SuperSonics 43 39 .524 16 31–10 12–29 12–14
x-Phoenix Suns 42 40 .512 17 27-14 15-26 15–11
Los Angeles Lakers 40 42 .488 19 31–11 9–31 10–16
Portland Trail Blazers 37 45 .451 22 25–15 12–30 11–15
# Western Conference
Team W L PCT GB
1 z-Golden State Warriors 59 23 .720
2 x-Seattle SuperSonics 43 39 .524 16
3 x-Phoenix Suns 42 40 .512 17
4 y-Milwaukee Bucks 38 44 .463 21
5 x-Detroit Pistons 36 46 .439 23
6 Los Angeles Lakers 40 42 .488 19
7 Portland Trail Blazers 37 45 .451 22
8 Kansas City Kings 31 51 .378 28
9 Chicago Bulls 24 58 .293 35


Game log[edit]

1975–76 game log
Total: 42–40 (Home: 27–14; Road: 15–26)
1975–76 season schedule

Playoffs[edit]

Game log[edit]

1976 playoff game log
1976 playoff schedule

Awards and honors[edit]

All-Star[edit]

  • Alvan Adams was selected as a reserve for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. It was his first and only All-Star selection.

Season[edit]

Player statistics[edit]

Legend
  GP Games played   GS Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field-goal percentage  FT%  Free-throw percentage  RPG  Rebounds per game
 APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game  BPG  Blocks per game
 PPG  Points per game

Season[edit]

Player GP GS MPG FG% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
Alvan Adams 80 78 33.2 .469 .735 9.1 5.6 1.5 1.5 19.0
Dennis Awtrey 74 4 18.6 .467 .688 4.0 2.1 .3 .3 4.9
Mike Bantom* 7 2 9.7 .308 1.000^ 3.3 0.4 .3 .3 3.0
Keith Erickson 74 39 25.0 .470 .854^ 4.5 2.5 1.1 .1 10.1
Nate Hawthorne 79 1 14.5 .430 .676 2.6 0.6 .4 .2 6.1
Garfield Heard* 36 36 33.9 .452 .673 9.9+ 1.8 1.4 1.1 12.4
Phil Lumpkin 34 0 10.9 .338 .867^ 0.7 1.4 .4 .0 2.1
Curtis Perry 71 70 33.1 .497 .732 9.6+ 2.6 1.2 .9 13.3
Pat Riley* 60 5 13.2 .389 .730 0.8 1.0 .4 .1 4.6
Fred Saunders 17 0 8.6 .438 .545 2.2 0.8 .3 .1 3.6
John Shumate* 43 11 21.6 .550 .628 5.6 1.4 1.0 .4 11.3
Ricky Sobers 78 30 24.3 .449 .823 3.3 2.8 1.4 .1 9.2
Dick Van Arsdale 58 54 32.2 .484 .830 2.4 2.4 .9 .2 12.9
Paul Westphal 82 80 36.1 .494 .830 3.2 5.4 2.6 .5 20.5
John Wetzel 37 0 6.7 .478 .833 1.0 0.5 .2 .1 1.7

* - Stats with the Suns.
† - Minimum 300 field goals made.
^ - Minimum 125 free throws made.
+ - Minimum 70 games played or 800 rebounds.

Playoffs[edit]

Player GP GS MPG FG% FT% RPG APG SPG BPG PPG
Alvan Adams 19 19 35.2 .452 .817 10.1 5.2 1.3 1.1 17.9
Dennis Awtrey 19 0 15.1 .467 .545 3.3 1.3 .3 .5 3.2
Keith Erickson 19 0 22.4 .462 .809 3.5 1.8 .6 .2 11.3
Nate Hawthorne 15 0 5.4 .346 .727 1.1 0.3 .3 .1 1.7
Garfield Heard 19 19 37.9 .441 .679 10.4 1.7 2.1 1.9 13.9
Phil Lumpkin 17 0 8.0 .333 .786 0.8 1.2 .1 .0 1.8
Curtis Perry 19 19 32.4 .454 .647 7.7 1.9 .6 .9 12.7
Pat Riley 5 0 5.4 .400 1.000^ 0.0 1.0 .0 .0 2.6
Ricky Sobers 19 19 29.6 .468 .833 3.3 4.2 .9 .3 13.0
Dick Van Arsdale 19 0 24.8 .488 .870^ 1.2 2.0 .7 .1 8.5
Paul Westphal 19 19 36.1 .511 .763 2.5 5.1 1.8 .5 21.1
John Wetzel 2 0 2.5 . 1.000^ 1.0 .0 .0 .0 1.0

^ - Minimum 10 free throws made.

Transactions[edit]

Trades[edit]

May 23, 1975
To Boston Celtics----

United States Charlie Scott

To Phoenix Suns----
United States Paul Westphal
1975 second-round draft pick (United States Jimmy Dan Conner)
1976 second-round draft pick (United States Butch Feher)
May 29, 1975
To Buffalo Braves----

1976 first-round draft pick (United States Adrian Dantley)

To Phoenix Suns----

1975 first-round draft pick (United States Ricky Sobers)

June 9, 1975
To Portland Trail Blazers----

1976 second-round draft pick (United States Jacky Dorsey)

To Phoenix Suns----

United States Phil Lumpkin

September 17, 1975
To Washington Bullets----

United States Greg Jackson

To Phoenix Suns----

Future draft pick

September 30, 1975
To Detroit Pistons----

United States Earl Williams

To Phoenix Suns----

1976 second-round draft pick (United States Earl Tatum)

November 3, 1975
To Los Angeles Lakers----
United States John Roche
1976 second-round draft pick (United States Earl Tatum)
To Phoenix Suns----

United States Pat Riley

November 22, 1975
To Seattle SuperSonics----

United States Mike Bantom

To Phoenix Suns----

Cash considerations

February 1, 1976
To Buffalo Braves----

United States John Shumate

To Phoenix Suns----
United States Garfield Heard
1976 second-round draft pick (United States Al Fleming)

Free agents[edit]