NBA

Phoenix Suns Make the NBA Playoffs; How Many Teams Have Missed the Postseason for More Than a Decade?

The Phoenix Suns clinched a playoff berth Wednesday night with a 109–101 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. With more than half of the NBA reaching the postseason every year, why make a big deal of the Suns clinching a spot? Because it ended a rare streak of futility; Phoenix had not reached the NBA playoffs since 2010.

Last season, the Suns became just the sixth team in NBA history to miss the playoffs at least 10 consecutive seasons, according to research done at Basketball Reference. The NBA traces its roots to the Basketball Association of America’s launch in 1946, and this is the Association’s 75th season. In that time, there are only four years in which less than half the league reached the postseason. From 1970–71 through 1973–74, eight clubs in a 17-team league qualified for the playoffs.

What happened the last time the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs?

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It’s been a long drought for Suns fans, who have been wandering through the NBA desert since 2010. Phoenix was a No. 3 seed in the 2010 playoffs, finishing 54–28 to place just behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference. The Suns opened the playoffs by handling the Portland Trail Blazers in six games to advance to the conference semifinals.

The seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs knocked off Dallas, giving Phoenix home-court advantage for the second round. The Suns swept the Spurs to reach the Western Conference Finals and a showdown with the defending champion Lakers. Los Angeles wound up winning the series in six games and beat the Boston Celtics in seven to win a second straight NBA title.

Where are the members of the 2010 Suns now?

Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns in 2010
Amar’e Stoudemire (1) and Steve Nash (13) of the Phoenix Suns high-five during a 2010 game. | Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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Of the 12 players in uniform for Phoenix in Game 6, four are still active. Robin Lopez plays for the Washington Wizards, Jared Dudley is now with the Lakers, and Goran Dragić has been with the Miami Heat since 2015. Internationally, Earl Clark is playing with Gran Canaria in Spain’s Liga ACB

Steve Nash is now in the Hall of Fame and coaches the Brooklyn Nets. Grant Hill is an executive and part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks, and he has joined Nash in the Hall of Fame.

Two players entered coaching after retiring last year. Amar’e Stoudemire played as recently as last season when he was MVP of the Israeli Basketball Premier League championship game. He reunited with Nash on the coaching staff of the Nets when hired as a player development assistant in October. Meanwhile, Leandro Barbosa is a player mentor coach for the Golden State Warriors after playing part of last season in Brazil. Jarron Collins works with Barbosa, having joined Steve Kerr’s coaching staff with the Warriors in 2014.

What teams are with the Phoenix Suns in the futile half-dozen?

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The first NBA team to miss the playoffs at least 10 years in a row still holds the record for the longest drought. The Buffalo Braves missed the postseason in 1976–77 and didn’t make it again until the team had moved. The Braves became the San Diego Clippers in 1978 and moved to Los Angeles in 1984. But it was 1991–92 before the franchise ended its 15-year playoff drought.

The Sacramento Kings could join the Clippers this season. Sacramento last made the postseason in 2006 and trails the 10th-place Golden State Warriors by six games with just 10 games to play for the last spot in the Western Conference play-in field. Even if the Kings made the play-in, however, they’d have to win twice to make the actual playoffs.

The Minnesota Timberwolves ended a 13-year skid when they made the playoffs in 2018. The Warriors may have won three NBA championships in four years from 2015–18, but they were on the other side of the coin from 1995–2006, missing the playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons. The Dallas Mavericks are the last team in the circle of futility, missing 10 straight postseasons from 1991–2000. It’s notable Nash played for the Mavericks team that broke the skid before he returned to the Suns in 2004.

The Suns might make some noise in this year’s playoffs. They currently trail the Utah Jazz by just one game for the top spot in the Western Conference while leading the third-place Clippers by two games and the fourth-place Denver Nuggets by three.