Over the course of the offseason, new Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough truly kick-started a "youth movement" that will begin a new era in this franchise's history.
He made it his priority to acquire as many young assets as possible, while also cutting ties with most of the team's older veterans. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley and Caron Butler were all dealt to new teams in the span of a couple months.
However, Marcin Gortat now appears to be the odd man out.
Gortat, like Dudley and Scola, can be considered one of the Suns' veterans from last season's roster. At 29 years old, he is now the second-oldest player on one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. And yet, despite ongoing and persistent trade rumors circulating Gortat's name for the past year, the Suns have yet to make a decision on The Polish Hammer's future.
When first acquired by Phoenix during the 2010-2011 season, Gortat immediately appeared to be a diamond in the rough. He created a fierce pick-and-roll duo with legendary point guard Steve Nash, something the team had been desperately searching for following Amar'e Stoudemire's departure.
And in his first full season with the Suns, Gortat emerged as one of the better starting centers in the league. With the help of Nash, he even appeared to potentially be a future All-Star. Gortat averaged 15.4 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting an astounding 56 percent from the field.
But the following offseason, Nash was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Suddenly, between Goran Dragic running the point, the additions of post players in Luis Scola and Jermaine O'Neal, and the absence of Channing Frye's floor spacing, Gortat's production substantially declined.
In the 2012-13 season, his usage rate was 17.2 percent, down from 20.8 percent the year before. Additionally, his scoring and rebounding went down, his shooting percentages took a hit and he contributed just 3.4 win shares for the season, as opposed to 7.6 in 2011-12 and 6.4 in 2010-11.
Now, Gortat is entering the final season of his contract on a team that may not be competitive for several years. With that being said, there is no real incentive for Gortat to re-sign in Phoenix and spend his last few productive seasons on a mediocre team.
And for the Suns, there is no real incentive to keep Gortat around either. He will be well past his prime by the time the Suns could potentially make the playoffs again, and he will likely bolt in free agency if he is kept past the trade deadline in February of 2014.
So, the decision is simple. Either let Gortat walk in free agency and receive nothing, or pawn him off to a contending team within the next few months in the hopes of receiving something of value.
The question is no longer whether Phoenix will trade Gortat this season. Now, it is more about when it will happen, who it will be to and what the Suns will receive in return.
Let's address each of these factors individually. If it is a question of when the trade will go down, sooner is better than later.
Why is that?
Because the Suns have already created a tense relationship with the Polish center. First, they surrounded him with young frontcourt prospects such as Alex Len and Miles Plumlee.
Then, he watched as McDonough slowly traded almost every remaining veteran on the team except Gortat, Frye and Dragic.
More and more, it seems like a trade is inevitable, but the Suns have yet to actually pull the trigger on a trade. They have the entire fanbase, and possibly Gortat himself, believing a trade will happen. But despite the incessant trade rumors, nothing has materialized.
It is time for the Suns to let go of Gortat. Allow him to escape the trade rumors and give him a chance to play for an NBA team with championship aspirations.
What sort of teams would be interested? Well, there are always plenty of teams that could use more frontcourt depth, particularly at center. The Oklahoma City Thunder are a team that may be interested in acquiring Gortat, considering the fact that Kendrick Perkins is not what most people would consider a sufficient starting center.
The New Orleans Pelicans could also use a starting center, and while an NBA Finals appearance is highly unlikely, they could look to propel themselves into the playoffs by acquiring a veteran such as Gortat at center and sliding Anthony Davis over to power forward.
Other than that, several other teams may express their interest as we come closer to the trade deadline, depending on their place in the standings and whether they need a center. But for now, not many potential trading partners are known.
Finally, what should the Suns be looking for when they shop their center?
Obviously, young assets are still extremely important to this front office. Despite an already copious amount of future picks, there is no such thing as too many draft picks.
And after trading Dudley for an exciting young piece like Eric Bledsoe, Ryan McDonough is hungry for more. The Suns could use Gortat to pursue another fresh prospect that could play a large role on the team in future years. In fact, right after the Butler trade, here is a statement McDonough made:
Ryan McDonough on trade: "This deal gives us significant cap space as well as the flexibility to trade for another exciting player."
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) August 29, 2013
It looks like he may already have something in mind.
Lastly, expiring contracts are the name of the game. Prospects are great, but perhaps just as important to a rebuilding team is cap flexibility. This allows a young team to offer large contracts to top-tier free agents, or package young players and draft picks together for a star with a large contract.
Right now, the Suns have over $6 million in cap space. In a best-case scenario, they would be able to make a Gortat trade logistically work by swapping him for one or two expiring contracts of about the same monetary value (plus gaining prospects and/or picks). Then, they could drop those expiring contracts at the end of the season, saving several million in cap space and thus allowing them to pursue some of the better free agents in the summer of 2014 or 2015.
However, what the Suns absolutely do not want to do is take on an unwieldy contract at this stage in their rebuilding process.
That is what makes a Gortat to the Thunder trade centered around Kendrick Perkins so unappealing. Perkins makes about $19.5 million over the next two seasons. The Suns would be unable to amnesty him, and they would be forced to keep him on the roster for two years, preventing them for signing any decent free agents in 2014.
What is the most important component of any Gortat trade return?
Any trade that involves Gortat would hopefully include an expiring contract plus a bright prospect or future draft pick(s). The money the Suns save by insisting on acquiring expiring contracts could be just as valuable as any prospect they could realistically target.
Make sure to pay attention to Gortat news in the upcoming months. While a trade isn't inevitable, it certainly looks probably at this point. And for Suns fans, this could be one of the most exciting roller coaster rides to watch this year.