Breaking Down Full Phoenix Suns 2012 Offseason Report Card
The Phoenix Suns had a roller-coaster ride of an offseason with plenty of moves to be graded and critiqued.
Phoenix entered the offseason knowing full well that Steve Nash had an extremely high chance of leaving as an unrestricted free agent. If Nash had any aspirations of winning an NBA championship, doing so with the Suns moving forward simply was not in the cards.
Would Nash join the Miami Heat's big three? Re-join forces with Amar'e Stoudemire in New York with the Knicks? Possibly lead the upstart Toronto Raptors in a move that would allow him to play in Canada?
Well, the answers with hindsight are no, no and no.
Nevertheless, the Suns did more than lose the face of the franchise this summer. (In fact, they did much, much more).
Let's put Suns' GM Lance Blanks and president of basketball operations Lon Babby on the hot seat and create a full report card for each move this offseason.
10. Amnesty of Josh Childress
Josh Childress joined the Phoenix Suns in 2010 as part of the quantity-over-quality bunch meant to replace the explosive scoring prowess of Amar'e Stoudemire when he left for New York.
After a year spent playing overseas, Childress was handed a five-year $33.5 million deal to play in Phoenix.
The problem with that massive contract was that the Suns already had a roster full of small forwards and wing players. Childress was buried on the Suns' bench despite being paid like an NBA starter.
In two seasons with the Suns, Childress only played 88 total games.
It's impossible to fault the former Stanford Cardinal's professionalism, because he never complained about his limited playing time.
Everyone with knowledge of the new amnesty clause knew that this move was coming. The Suns, due to a handful of bad signings in the past, had a few candidates for amnesty, but Childress was far and away the obvious choice.
Using the amnesty clause on Childress to wipe his contract from the salary cap was the right thing to do, but the fact that it was a necessary move to begin with is a rude reminder of the Suns' mindless spending when Stoudemire left.
9. Signing of P.J. Tucker
The signing of 2006 NBA second-round pick P.J. Tucker had many Phoenix Suns fans asking, "who?"
The term "NBA journeyman" gets thrown around a lot with guys who have played for a plethora of teams in their NBA careers. Players like current Sun Sebastian Telfair (six teams in eight seasons) and former Sun Lou Amundson (five teams in six seasons) are good examples.
Compared to these two players, P.J. Tucker is what we'll call a world basketball journeyman. He's played professionally in Israel, Ukraine, Greece, Italy, Puerto Rico and Germany after a brief NBA stint with the Toronto Raptors where he was drafted in 2006.
Stefan Swiat wrote a rather entertaining blog about Tucker's experiences overseas, asking about everything from the country with the craziest fans to the best food.
It's not enough to know how many countries the guy has played for, however, so I delved into the archives to find Tucker's 2006 draft profile (via ESPN):
P.J. Tucker is 6-5. That's great if you're a point guard, tolerable if you're a shooting guard and regrettable if you're a small forward. If however, you are, like Tucker, most comfortable down under the basket, scoring in the post and banging for rebounds... well, that lack of size is pretty much a deal-breaker.
Even though Tucker's play most resembles an NBA power forward, his distinct lack of size dropped him in the 2006 NBA draft to the second round, 35th overall.
What separates Tucker from the competition is his motor.
According to an article by Suns beat writer Paul Coro, Tucker had a few important notes about his evolution as a player.
"When I was in Toronto, I wasn't half the player I am now," Tucker said.
"I just stick my neck out and play hard. I never let anyone outwork me," Tucker said.
Signing Tucker, who has had a long road back to the NBA to say the least, is a feel-good story.
However, if the Suns decide to pick up another veteran at any point next season (a la Michael Redd last season who replaced the class act Garret Siler), Tucker could be the odd man out.
8. Signing of Jermaine O'Neal
The term "injury prone" doesn't even begin to describe the tail-end of Jermaine O'Neal's career.
Over the span of the past two seasons spent with the Boston Celtics, O'Neal has played in just 49 total games due to injury.
Following the trade that sent both Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick to the New Orleans Hornets, Suns management wanted to add a backup center to round out the roster. O'Neal fits that bill as a defensive-minded veteran presence, but his injury woes are a concern.
Nevertheless, the Suns' great training staff led by head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson have had great success with the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Grant Hill and Michael Redd in terms of getting injury prone veterans back on their feet.
If the same scenario plays itself out with O'Neal moving forward, the Suns could have a defensive difference-maker off the bench. On a one-year, $1.35 million deal, the O'Neal signing is a low risk move.
7. Drafting Point Guard of the Future... Sort Of...
Suns fans know all too well just how poorly the team has drafted in recent years.
Trading away Rajon Rondo and Luol Deng so they could become All-Star players elsewhere has fans with their head in their hands. Throw in draft duds Earl Clark, Alando Tucker, Gani Lawal, Robin Lopez and others, and the Suns don't have a great draft history.
Kendall Marshall still has everything to prove, but this is honestly a solid draft choice for the Suns.
After scoring play-makers like Jeremy Lamb, Dion Waiters, Terrence Ross and Austin Rivers were all off the board before the Suns' choice at No. 13, nabbing the best distributing point guard in the draft class was the best the Suns could do. (Of course, in two years Maurice Harkless, Royce White or Terrence Jones could prove that statement false).
After the draft, it appeared as if Marshall would be the successor to Steve Nash in Phoenix. Another offseason acquisition rendered that outlook highly unlikely, but Marshall should still get plenty of playing time as the backup point guard.
As an unselfish, pass-first point guard, Marshall fits in well with what Suns fans are used to seeing.
Again, he has to prove he can perform at the NBA level, but his future seems bright.
6. Re-Signing of Shannon Brown
When Shannon Brown signed on to a one-year contract with the Phoenix Suns following a stint in Los Angeles as Kobe Bryant’s backup, expectations were high for the athletically gifted shooting guard to have a breakout season.
Unfortunately for Suns fans, Brown’s scoring output didn’t exactly explode. The 11 points per game he averaged with the Suns wasn’t much of an improvement from the 8.7 points per game that he had over the course of his final Lakers' season.
Brown started 19 games for the Suns compared to zero starts for the Lakers the season before, and notched four more minutes per game in Phoenix, but the breakout year fans were expecting didn’t come to fruition.
With that said, bringing Brown back on a two-year $7 million contract is a bargain for the Suns.
He’ll likely act as Jared Dudley’s backup yet again, but his scoring prowess and athleticism off the bench will prove invaluable.
Perhaps Brown just needed a year to adjust to a new role and new surroundings before meeting lofty expectations.
5. Trading of Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick
How did the Phoenix Suns manage to turn Robin Lopez and Hakim Warrick's undesirable contract into Wesley Johnson and a first-round draft pick? Did Gandalf suddenly get a job in the Suns' front office?
Perhaps the New Orleans Hornets owed the Suns a favor of sorts for matching Phoenix's max offer sheet to restricted free agent Eric Gordon. Regardless of the reason, this deal is fabulous for the Suns.
Lopez wanted a starting job, something that wasn't available with Marcin Gortat on the roster, so he would have been unhappy as the Suns' backup center.
Lopez is still just 24 years old and has potential as a seven-footer, but in four seasons with the Suns, he never averaged more than 8.4 points or 4.8 rebounds per game (both of which he logged during his sophomore season).
Recurring back problems stilted Lopez's growth as an NBA player, and gaining consistency out on the court seemed an arduous task for the former Stanford standout.
Warrick was usually productive for the Suns when he found court time (even leading the team in scoring during preseason before last season started), but had trouble cracking the rotation as a liability on defense.
Flipping both players not only gives them a change of scenery, but the Suns add the potential of Johnson (a former 4th overall pick in the draft) and a protected first-round choice from Minnesota.
Johnson may never harness his potential, but by trading Lopez and Warrick, the Suns not only shed some of the dead weight on the roster, but added some low risk, high reward options.
4. Claiming of Luis Scola Via Amnesty Auction
The Houston Rockets put all their eggs in the Dwight Howard basket and came up empty-handed. Before Howard was eventually shipped to Los Angeles, the Rockets decided to use the amnesty clause on Luis Scola to free up more cap space to acquire bad contracts.
Scola was arguably the Rockets best player, so cutting him loose was seen as an odd move around the league. The Suns jumped at the opportunity to add the frontcourt depth and grit Scola provides, which is a decision they probably won’t regret.
Even so, when the Suns originally added Scola, I wondered where he would fit in with the current unit. Phoenix already had Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye and Markieff Morris (a young player who they need to develop) in their frontcourt.
In theory, the Suns could have started Scola at power forward and moved Frye to the backup center role (where he’s been before as a solid floor-spreading option). Instead, the Suns went out and added Jermaine O’Neal for even more depth.
The Suns now have plenty of players to step in should someone sustain an injury, and Scola is a proven veteran who brings a lot of intangibles to the table. Nevertheless, adding him could cut into Morris’ playing time and stunt his growth as an NBA player.
There are pros and cons associated with the addition of Scola, but overall he makes the Suns a better team.
3. Signing of Michael Beasley
Michael Beasley has had a tumultuous start to his NBA career. He was drafted second overall by the Miami Heat in 2008, but never embraced his potential there.
In his first season in Minnesota, Beasley averaged 19.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.7 blocks per game (all career highs except for rebounds). Last season, Beasley's scoring numbers dipped to just 11.5 points per game in fewer minutes played.
"B-easy" now joins his third NBA team as he starts his fifth professional season. The potential to become a star is undoubtedly there, but Beasley has been wildly inconsistent throughout his career and off-court issues have overshadowed his on-court successes.
With a fresh start and a new situation, Beasley may be able to focus purely on basketball and have a breakout year.
According to Eric Freeman of Yahoo! Sports, Beasley firmly believes he'll be an all-star next season.
That's certainly music to the ears of Suns fans, but whether or not Beasley can deliver on that projection remains to be seen.
Adding Beasley is a gamble, but on a three-year $18 million deal (less money than the Orlando Magic gave Jameer Nelson over the same span) the possible reward vastly outweighs the risk involved.
2. Trading of Face of the Franchise to Hated Rival
Against the wishes of the franchise, Suns' owner Robert Sarver honored Steve Nash's request to be dealt to the rival Los Angeles Lakers. He swallowed his pride and sent the face of the franchise to a Pacific Division rival.
The Suns' most famous floor general in franchise history, who won two MVP awards in a Suns uniform, made the decision to join the Lakers in order to be close to his children while chasing a championship ring.
Even though Nash made the best decision for himself, that doesn't mean the news didn't deliver itself like a stomach punch to Suns fans.
The community knew that Nash's days in a Suns' uniform were over, but nobody expected him to join the hated Lakers.
Even so, being able to add first-round draft picks in 2013 and 2015, as well as two second-round draft picks in 2013 and 2014 (one of which was sent away in the three-team deal that netted the Suns Wesley Johnson) was a great haul for the Suns.
Considering Nash could have signed anywhere as an unrestricted free agent, leaving the Suns with nothing in return, getting something was the best Phoenix could have done.
But again, Nash is now a Laker. Excuse me while I go throw up.
1. "The Dragon" Returning to Phoenix
Goran Dragic was a fan-favorite among Suns fans during his time in Phoenix.
Although he sometimes played with a timid style, fearful and nervous to make mistakes as a young player, his flashes of brilliance showed fans that the team had a shot at being great even after Nash decided to leave or retire.
One such flash of brilliance was Dragic's postseason performance against the San Antonio Spurs in 2010. "The Dragon" fittingly torched the team that drafted him before shipping him to Phoenix. He scored 23 points in the fourth quarter alone (26 points total), leading the Suns to victory. Phoenix eventually swept the postseason series against the Spurs.
In addition, while Kyle Lowry was frequently sidelined due to injury in Houston, Dragic blossomed in an expanded role.
In the month of April last season, Dragic averaged 18.9 points, 7.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.
For the first time in his NBA career, Dragic will be the unquestioned starting point guard from day one forward. He should be an early favorite to have a breakout season.
Replacing Steve Nash as the team's point guard will be a difficult task, but if Dragic simply plays his own game with his unique style of play, fans won't be disappointed.
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