Twenty-five years ago on today, the Suns beat the Los Angles Lakers to set up a much-hyped Game 6 in the 1984 Western Conference finals.
Twenty years ago today, the Suns battled the Lakers again in the conference finals, suffering a disheartening six-point loss in Game 2.
Today there is no such reunion. On Saturday night, the Lakers square off with the Nuggets in Denver for a pivotal Game 3. The Suns? At home, contemplating their No. 14 draft pick and longing to be relevant in the playoffs again.
Why is LA on the fringe of another conference title? Two words: Pau Gasol.
For all the greatness of Kobe Bryant, it's the addition of Gasol that has made the Lakers so dangerous this postseason. His interior presence, his passing skills in the triangle offense and his ability to set up plays for others make the Lakers that much better.
I'm not just hammering home the obvious. I'm more just trying to remind anyone in, ahem, earshot that management, when it's at the top of its game, has the ability to change the fortunes of a team with a single transaction.
Clearly, the lopsided Gasol-type deal doesn't happen every day. It was a league-wide stunner, one that prompted then-Dallas coach Avery Johnson to say, "Merry Christmas, LA," and one that had Steve Nash saying, "Incredible some of the gifts people have been passing around the league lately."
What the Lakers pulled off was stunning. On Feb. 1, 2008, they acquired Gasol and a 2010 second-round draft pick for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, Aaron McKie, the rights to Marc Gasol, and 2008 and 2010 first-round picks. In other words, a collection of expiring contracts and uninspiring prospects.
This type of grand theft, er, deal, works only when there's an important convergence of forces: Communication is key and a secure relationship with other league executives invaluable.
After the trade went down, one general manager told ESPN.com's Chad Ford that he had a better deal to offer but Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace never returned his calls.
A will to gamble helps. Several teams backed off on acquiring Gasol because it would have put them over the luxury-tax threshold. Often to pull off this type of deal, management has to take early risks to see greater payoffs later.
It takes creative thinking, too. Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak signed retired free agent McKie and traded him to Memphis so the deal's salaries could be equitable under NBA parameters. McKie was working as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers at the time. He resigned and secured a nice $750,000 contract.
It takes the right timing, too. The deal caught a lot of people by surprise because it came early, three weeks before the trading deadline. Did Kupchak spot a Grizzlies vulnerability and circle it like a vulture? It was known Michael Heisley had been trying to sell the franchise. Did Wallace feel the heat to make it look more attractive to potential buyers? He denies it, but you can't help feeling Kupchak smelled something.
Afterward, a lot of teams were left feeling they could have come up with something better than what the Lakers delivered. Could the Suns, for example, have put together a package involving the disgruntled Shawn Marion and a draft pick that would have benefited Memphis more? Marion was dealt several days later.
Alas, I regress. This is not about second-guessing, we've all been down that road, but to remind the faithful it might not be time to surrender your fan card yet. Consider it a motivational kick in the backside, a pep talk from Tony Robbins, Norman Vincent Peale and Deepak Chopra all rolled into one.
It's like Thomas Jefferson said: "I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."
Hear that, Suns? Let's roll up those sleeves and get down to business already