Phoenix Suns Roll Call: Who Should Be The Core To Build Around?
When I was a kid, I saw on some random TV show a method for firing employees that I thought was the coolest thing a boss could ever do. I pledged that if I ever became a CEO that I would do it at least once.
It goes down like this: All the employees are lined up in a room. The boss would then say “Everyone here who will have a job tomorrow, take one step forward. Not so fast, (insert fired employee’s name).”
Ice cold, yet hilarious, right?
With the Suns’ season having now devolved into a “Will they or won’t they” soap opera regarding the possible trade of Steve Nash, it’s not out of line to reconcile that longstanding CEO fantasy with the current state of the affairs over at U.S. Airways Center.
As those who read my last column will know, I feel strongly that the best thing for the Suns’ long term future is to blow the team up and, for the first time in decades, begin a true rebuilding effort.
Acknowledging that your championship window is closed is a difficult admission to make, one the team has refused to make, but any objective analysis on the state of the team reveals that it is the one prudent option left.
For this exercise, imagine if you will that the current Suns' roster is lined up along the baseline in a dimly lit arena. A shadowy figure - one with the power to make contracts disappear into thin air without consequence (for the purposes of this piece) - slowly saunters to the free throw line. He then utters in a raspy yet powerful voice, "All those players who should be Suns next season, take one step forward".
Who would get a “Not so fast” and who will be able to take that one step forward into purple and orange in 2011-2012? Let’s find out, in alphabetical order.
Remaining Contract: $18,000,000 in '11-'12 (Team Option)*
The player once known as "Vinsanity" that the Suns acquired during their six-player trade with the Orlando Magic on December 18th is a mere shell of the dynamic scoring force of the 2000s.
What remains is a serviceable scorer that is in his career's twilight while getting paid as if it was midday. In his six games as a Sun, Carter has averaged 17.5 points, a solid figure for sure, but well below what a player making $17.3 million should contribute. Next year, the Suns hold an $18 million team option next season on his contract.
Carter will be 34 years old on January 26th and does not offer the veteran leadership intangibles that often come with experience, and his one-dimensional game only grows more evident with age.
Fate: Not so fast, Vince
* All salary information courtesy of hoopshype.com
Remaining Contract: $6,000,000 in '11-'12, $6,500,000 in '12-'13, $7,182,500 in '13-'14, $7,317,500 in '14-'15 (Player Option)
One of the many offseason mistakes made by the team, Childress has found his way firmly into head coach Alvin Gentry's doghouse.
After spending two seasons in Greece, the Suns gave up a 2nd round pick to Atlanta for Childress' rights and then gave him a preposterous five year, $30 million contract.
Childress has been a near non-factor all season, and has only seen action in four of the last six games. The team's third highest paid player has scored 4.1 points per game since December 2nd. At 27, Childress has likely peaked in his development and his hefty contract would be paralyzing to a rebuilding team's efforts to revamp a roster.
Fate: Not So Fast, Josh
Remaining Contract: $2,108,000 in '11-'12 (Team Option)
Now in his third year, Dragic has been taking a PhD-level course in point guard play under the tutelage of Professor Steve Nash, an opportunity that few players in the league can boast.
His shooting has suffered this season and he's averaging a career high 2.1 turnovers per game, yet his talent is undeniable. Fans have not yet forgotten about his explosive effort in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals when he dropped 26, including 23 in the 4th quarter, against the hated Spurs.
He heads into next season in the final year of his contract making a very manageable $2.1 million. Just 24 years old, his development is far from over.
Fate: Welcome Back
Remaining Contract: $4,250,000 per season through '15-'16 (Player Option in '15-'16)
Dudley joined the Suns in December of 2008 in a trade that saw Phoenix fan favorite Raja Bell - a hustling and gritty defender who developed his three point shot into a potent weapon - sent to Charlotte.
A little over two months in to this season, Dudley has in most respects evolved into a younger version of Bell. While never the most talented player on the court, Dudley is an effort player who is a reliable defender.
Perhaps most surprisingly is how quickly his scoring touch has developed. Since December, he's topped 20 points four times and set a career high with 33 against the Miami Heat. Over that same stretch, he is 34 of 73 (46.5%) from beyond the arc. The team rewarded his play with a 5-year, $22.5 million extension that places his cap number at a manageable $4.25 million per season, making the 25 year old Dudley a very nice value.
Fate: Welcome Back
Remaining Contract: $5,600,000 in '11-'12, $6,000,000 in '12-'13, $6,400,000 in '13-'14, $6,800,000 in '14-'15 (Player Option)
This probably caught no one by surprise.
After attempting 70 total three point shots in his first four seasons with the Knicks and Blazers, Frye reinvented himself into a (very) poor man's Dirk Nowitzki. The 6'11" center hoisted 392 from downtown in 2009-2010, connecting on 43.9% of his attempts. The team then made another in their long series of knee-jerk signings, locking him up for five years and $30 million.
His 2010-2011 season has been uneven. He has started for most of the season and averages 10.5 points and a career high 6.0 rebounds. Yet, Frye entered a slump and found himself on the bench during a recent stretch. He recently regained his starting role, but the duration is unknown. He will be 28 on May 17th.
Fate: Not So Fast, Channing
Remaining Contract: $6,790,640 in '11-'12, $7,258,960 in '12-'13, $7,727,280 in '13-'14
Originally a 2005 second round draft pick of the Suns, Gortat was quickly dealt to the Orlando Magic.
He began to come into his own with some excellent play during the 2009 playoffs with Orlando, yet his minutes were always going to be limited behind Dwight Howard.
He was a coveted piece of the six-player trade between the Suns and Magic that also netted Vince Carter and Mickael Pietrus. Coach Alvin Gentry is still tinkering with the lineup, yet despite only having one start among his eight games, Gortat is averaging 7.5 points and is tied for the team lead with 6.0 rebounds per game.
Despite his limited minutes in Orlando, the Magic trusted his ability and matched a 5-year, $34 million offer sheet given to him by Dallas in July of 2009. He will turn 27 next month, but despite the price tag, quality big men are a scarce and expensive commodity.
Fate: Welcome Back
Remaining Contract: None
Grant Hill's career in Phoenix is nothing short of astounding.
Since coming to the desert after his disastrous years in Orlando, the venerable Hill has been a model of consistency. He's the team's most versatile defender, a crafty scorer and most importantly, has avoided the injuries that derailed his once dominant career.
Despite turning 38 years old in OCtober, Hill is averaging 14.2 points (his best since coming to Phoenix) and 4.7 rebounds a game while giving the team solid defense.
His contract is up after this season and he has stated that he wishes to retire in Phoenix. His skills and leadership could be a very valuable asset for a young team during a rebuilding process.
Fate: Welcome Back
Remaining Contract: $788,870 in '11-'12
Lawal was a second round pick this season. He began the season as a bench player for the Iowa Engery of the D-League before being recalled to the Suns on December 31st.
He made one appearance for two minutes before tearing the ACL in his right knee and is out for the remainder of the season.
Just 22, he has good size at 6'9", 234 pounds and projects to be a high energy bench player. With his age and salary, it's too early to abandon his ship.
Fate: Welcome Back (to the D-League)
Remaining Contract: $2,866,336 in '11-'12, $4,007,137 in '12-'13 (Qualifying Offer)
Despite being only 22 years old, there is a sense that the time may be running out on Robin Lopez.
In his third season, Lopez gets an 'A' for effort, a 'C' for production and a near failing mark for durability. He's missed considerable time in his young career due to injuries which has hampered his development.
Lopez has seen his scoring (6.7) and rebounding (3.9) numbers decline from last season and despite starting for the most part since his return from injury, Marcin Gortat and Channing Frye have been seeing more frontcourt minutes. In fact, many think it is just a matter of time before Gortat supersedes Lopez as the Suns' center.
Despite his stalled development and injury history, his work ethic is strong and his salary manageable, both key factors in a rebuilding situation.
Fate: Welcome Back
Remaining Contract: $11,689,000 in '11-'12
Ah yes, the main event.
Try to find an article about the Suns that is not focused on the future of the two-time MVP. It's nigh impossible.
The debate on whether to trade him is almost a valid one. Almost.
Yes, Nash is the team's best player and the unquestioned face of the franchise. He sells tickets and jerseys. He, for all intents and purposes, is the Phoenix Suns.
But he must go. Despite turning 37 next month, Nash is still an elite point guard. He's averaging 16.9 points and is second in the NBA with 10.7 assists per game. He could very well be the difference in a title run, or at least perceived as such, by many teams.
Nash could remain in town to polish the brass on the Titanic, or the team can make the difficult but correct decision to deal him for a bounty of high draft picks and/or young talent with star potential. The impact he can make in his final two or three seasons on the court for this franchise is far less than the package the Suns could get for him.
Fate: Not So Fast, Steve
Remaining Contract: $5,300,000 in '11-'12 (Player Option)
The other component of the six-player trade with Orlando in December, Pietrus shares many of the same traits as Jared Dudley - good defense, hustle and a good three point shot.
He's also three years older a million dollars more expensive.
He'll turn 29 next month and has developed into the player that he will be for the remainder of his career. While his strengths are certainly valuable, they aren't unique to this roster. When a rebuilding team has two similar players, they need to choose the younger and cheaper option.
Fate: Not So Fast, Mickael
2011-2012 Salary: $788,870 in '11-'12
Siler was an undrafted free agent that the Suns invited to camp this season and soon signed to a two year deal for the league minimum.
He has bounced between the Suns and the D-League Iowa Energy, seeing sparse action in six games.
He's a 6'11", 305 pound beast that doesn't fit the team's style. For his salary, there are numerous other options of greater athleticism that would mesh far better with the Suns' ideology.
Fate: Not So Fast, Garret
Remaining Contract: $4,320,000 in '11-'12, $4,640,000 in '12-'13, $4,960,000 in '13-'14
Never short on athleticism, Warrick's career has been defined by inconsistency.
A good bench player in Milwaukee for four and a half seasons, he came to Phoenix over the summer thanks to a four year, $18-million contract that was tinged with some reactionary panic after Amar'e Stoudemire left the team.
Warrick had a solid beginning to the season, but after exceeding 20 point in consecutive games in late November, he's scored double digit points only four times in the subsequent 19 games, resulting in a decreased role.
He will turn 29 over this summer, meaning his skill development has likely plateaued. Nonetheless, his athleticism is a good fit for the Suns' system and his reasonable contract could at least buy him another season or two in town.
Fate: Welcome Back
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