Joe Johnson believes 2005 Suns would have been champions had he avoided injury
The Phoenix Suns had everything going for them in 2004-05. Steve Nash was working his way toward his first NBA Most Valuable Player award, Amar'e Stoudemire was imposing his will to the tune of 26 points a night, Shawn Marion was fantasy basketball's most prized possession, and Joe Johnson was an elite marksman from behind the arc.
That core, operating under the tutelage of Mike D'Antoni, won an astounding 62 games, resulting in the third-biggest turnaround in NBA history - Phoenix won just 29 games the year before.
"It was as fun as hell," Nash told Paul Coro in a special piece for the Arizona Republic. "It was a big surprise and a lot of fun. All of a sudden, you're a lap ahead. It's like, 'Wait a minute. We can't be this much better than the rest of the league.' You knew we had to come back to Earth but you're also thinking, 'Holy (expletive)!' It was like, 'Is this real?'"
The Suns cruised in the opening round of the playoffs, sweeping the Memphis Grizzlies. While Phoenix emerged victorious in six games over the Dallas Mavericks in the second round, not everyone on the roster was able to escape the series unharmed.
Johnson was diagnosed with a displaced orbital fracture over his left eye, keeping him out of action until Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan and company, who had a 2-0 series lead by the time Johnson returned, eventually went on to eliminate Phoenix in five games.
"There's no way you can tell me we wouldn't have been NBA champions if I hadn't got hurt," said Johnson.
Marion agreed, telling Coro, "We should've won it all that year. If it wasn't for that (Johnson's injury), I think we would have."
The loss of Johnson didn't signal the end of Phoenix's run as a powerhouse, as the Suns got back to the Western Conference Finals the following year, ultimately falling in six games to the Mavericks. The Los Angeles Lakers also got the best of them in 2010.
The memories of the Suns' golden era during the mid-to-late 2000s, as described through Coro's feature, have Nash wishing he was back on the hardwood dazzling NBA fans with his highlight-reel dimes.
It's a shame Phoenix was never able to capture that elusive Larry O'Brien Trophy with the talent they had. D'Antoni's systems, combined with Nash's leadership, Stoudemire's freak of nature athleticism, and Johnson's sharpshooting should have managed to win at least one title.
Injuries, Robert Horry tackles, suspensions, and plain old bad luck prevented that from happening, though.
What could have been.