Offseasons are fun because of the change that can happen. When I play Madden, what I like the best is the team development. I regularly trade away guys who have been very good or draft picks when they have one year left to play—guys I have drafted. It saves me money and allows me to develop my younger players.
However, there are always a handful of players whom I pay big money until they get old. Then I sell them off. I like winning like that. Obviously, it isn’t the same with real people. I have no feelings to deal with as would the Suns with their players.
The Suns have to decide if Amare Stoudemire is that player you let go or the guy they pay as a centerpiece. I believe he is a centerpiece, although many disagree. There are important decisions to be made about salary (particularly Jason Richardson’s and Leandro Barbosa’s) and about free agents-to-be Channing Frye and Louis Amundson.
As a fan, I struggle with the unknown future versus the known product that the Suns give me. With the exception of the 2008-09 season, I know what to expect. I get a very competitive team who can beat anyone, but is considered a dark horse, at best, as a championship contender.
When I look at the Suns, I don’t want to mess up too much what made them successful this year. With that in mind, you have to maintain solid bench play (a true rotation of nine to 10 players) and shooters, as their offensive style thrives on spacing and shooting.
With that in mind, let us take a look at the positions and players on team, what could happen, and what I personally think will happen.
'09-'10 rotation: Steve Nash and Goran Dragic
This is the one position that will see really no change. Steve Nash and Goran Dragic are not going anywhere. They are set. Nothing happens here.
'09-'10 rotation: Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa, with some fill-in duty from Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley
This position is likely to see some changes. Richardson has an expiring contract at over $15 million. Barbosa has two years remaining at around $7 million each year. For financial purposes, one of these contracts will need to go.
Richardson was a key contributor all season. While he has defensive deficiencies, he is still one of the best shooting guards in the league and could be, if needed, the alpha dog offensively.
Barbosa’s best days were when Mike D’Antoni coached the team. He has been inconsistent the past two seasons, but can still put up points in a hurry when hot. He and Nash together offensively are deadly, but defensively are questionable at best. All indications point to Barbosa being traded.
What could happen:
Some dream (I am among them) of the thought of Joe Johnson returning to Phoenix. This only happens if both Richardson and Barbosa are moved and the right salary pieces are brought back. If Barbosa is traded, there are options out there like Raja Bell and even Tracy McGrady, who could come at a lesser cost than LB’s $7 million.
What I think will happen:
I believe Barbosa is all but gone, and that Phoenix gets back a bag of chips. Richardson stays and starts. I don’t know about signing another guy like Bell or McGrady (I personally like the thought of McGrady off the bench).
I do believe that Dragic becomes the old Barbosa and picks up minutes by playing the primary backup two-guard and then Nash’s backup. Any other minutes needed at the two would be picked up by Dudley or a rookie two-guard, which I believe will be a target in this year’s draft for the Suns.
'09-'10 rotation: Grant Hill and Jared Dudley (Taylor Griffin filled space on bench and Earl Clark had very limited minutes)
Like the point guard position, this position is pretty much set. No real changes are going to happen because both Hill and Dudley are under contract for next season. Dudley, as mentioned before, may see a few more minutes at shooting guard, and Earl Clark is expected to be in next season’s rotation and can play small forward, so he will likely get a few minutes there.
'09-'10 rotation: Amare Stoudemire and Louis Amundson, limited minutes for Earl Clark. (Dwayne Jones also plays this position, but never had any significant minutes)
This is the position for the largest potential for change. Stoudemire is going to opt out of his contract if no contract extension agreement happens before the end of the month. Amundson is a free agent.
What could happen:
Amare can stay with the Suns and Amundson leaves (all signs point to this). Amare starts and plays as before. Earl Clark takes the rotation minutes that Amundson had.
Amare could leave and the Suns sign or work a deal to bring Dirk Nowitski. I would LOVE this. This actually increases spacing on the court for the starters. Robin Lopez would be the main post guy, while Dirk plays at the elbow, in the post, and can stretch it out all the way to three point land.
That gives the team, with Nash and Richardson, three outside threats. You still have slashing capabilities with Richardson and Hill and you have more size in the frontcourt. Amundson is still out.
Amare could leave and the Suns sign Carlos Boozer. I like this, but don’t love it. The Suns’ starting offense is basically the same. Nothing is really lost. Some would say that rebounding and defense is improved. Boozer would cost less.
Amare could leave and the Suns sign a second tier starting power forward like David Lee. If this were to happen, it would cost quite a bit less, but you lose offensive ability. Yes, he can score, but he is not a gifted offensive player. He brings hustle and rebounding, but he may be worse defensively than Stoudemire. Amundson still is unlikely to be part of the picture.
Amare could leave and the Suns could decide to re-sign Channing Frye as the starting power forward. This is an interesting situation. The Suns neither gain nor lose anything defensively, but would need a greater effort in rebounding from Frye in that department, so that the difference.
Offensively, it spreads the floor, adding a third three-point shooter, but unless Robin Lopez makes offensive strides in the post, there would be some drop off there. Defensively, there is a little more length defensively, but nothing really gained or lost. In this scenario, Amundson is still likely not returning.
The worst case scenario is that both Amare and Channing Frye leave, and the Suns are unable to sign even a second-tier power forward. In this case, you might see Earl Clark starting. In my opinion, despite what Bill Simmons has said, I think he is going to be a great player. Unfortunately, I don’t think that it will be this next year. He is at least another year away from being really good.
If this happens, look for Amundson to possibly re-sign or another bench/fringe player. Additionally, Jason Richardson would likely have to become the alpha dog of the team. He would have to be the number one scoring option. This could work, but it would not be even a dark horse championship competitor.
Dwayne Jones, whom the team signed late in the season is a wild card. He is much like Lou Amundson, but bigger (6’11", 250). He is a rebounding monster, but limited offensively. He has a team option for this year, so I would expect him back either as a trade piece or a possible rotation player in the worst scenario.
What I think will happen:
I personally expect the Suns to bring back Amare. I expect Amundson to leave. I expect Clark to be a contributor this next season.
If Amare leaves, as much as I want Nowitski or Boozer, I don’t see that happening. I don’t see David Lee. I believe that if Amare goes, then it will be a small time player and then the team will try to make a splash with the 2011 free agent class when Richardson’s contract is off the books.
'09-'10 rotation: Robin Lopez and Channing Frye, Jarron Collins (Jones on the pine)
With Frye looking to score a long-term deal, this position is in flux. Lopez is staying and will start. Collins may return but would be more for emergency play and veteran leadership. Jones is, again, the wild card possibility.
What could happen:
The Suns could re-sign Frye. This is one of the Suns’ priorities because of what he brings to the table. He is a 7-footer who shoots threes. Gentry considers him the most important player off the bench because of how he spreads the floor, giving the team four shooters on the floor with Amundson in the bench rotation. In this scenario, Collins or Jones would likely return as insurance.
The Suns could lose Frye to another team. This changes things. There are no other centers with his particular skill set. To offset that, Jones could be the backup center (the Amundson type player) and then the Suns could sign a shooting forward (a la Tim Thomas—I shudder at the thought of his returning). Of course, this would move Clark to small forward in a 10-player rotation.
Another possibility is to go a more traditional route offensively. Only four bench players have significant minutes (Dragic, Dudley, Clark, Jones/Collins/other guy). Clark sometimes is center in a small ball setting with Hill or Richardson playing with the second unit. Lopez could also get some minutes going bigger with second unit.
What I think will happen:
When push comes to shove, I believe Frye returns. I don’t think he will command a ton in open market and he, as previously mentioned, is an important piece here in Phoenix. Coach Alvin Gentry values him and plays him, even through shooting slumps. He will be back at about $5 million per year, being basically the team’s sixth (or seventh) man.
Collins will be back for a few reasons. One, he can provide some emergency minutes. He is a good teammate. Most importantly, he will only command the league veteran’s minimum, which is partly paid by the league, thus saving the owner some cash. I believe Jones stays or is used as a trading piece.
After the dust has fallen of the free agent frenzy, I don’t think much will change. The Suns will likely look very much the same as last season, with only Barbosa and Amundson departing. We could expect an exciting and competitive year.
The thing is that if Amare does not return, then the team will not do much. It will stand pat, develop the young players, and wait for 2011. The resulting play will be good, but not great. It likely would be a struggle to make the playoffs.
Naturally, this is all my own personal speculation. I would love to hear your honest prognostications. Share your pipe dream scenarios for the Suns. Do you think that Phoenix can make another run like this past season? Leave a comment, drop me an email , or send me a tweet .
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