Future of the Phoenix Suns at stake this offseason

Will Amare Stoudemire ever wear a Phoenix Suns uniform again? That is the biggest question of the offseason. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Will Amare Stoudemire ever wear a Phoenix Suns uniform again? That is the biggest question of the offseason. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Last offseason, all the Phoenix Suns required was a little chemistry tinkering.

They desperately needed to dump the Big Cactus, his contract, his pick-and-roll defense, and his clash with Steve Nash, and they needed to replace him on the cheap. Channing “three-point shooting” Frye and his floor-spacing abilities proved to be the perfect pickup in that regard for $2 million.

Aside from that, the Suns drafted Earl Clark in the lottery and essentially stashed him on the bench for a year and did a lot of talking about a potential Amare deal but otherwise kept the status quo, re-signing Grant Hill and extending Steve Nash to give the team a legitimate chance to redeem its mediocre 2008-09 season.

Although there was a lot of talk about blowing things up last year as well, it’s safe to say Steve Kerr faces a much more difficult challenge this offseason with a team that could go in so many different directions.

Whereas last offseason didn’t do much more than set up the 2009-10 team for a Western Conference Finals run (OK, so that was a big thing, but you know what I mean), this offseason will have a drastic effect on the future of the franchise regardless of how things shake out.

The following delves into the top story lines facing the Phoenix Suns entering the much-ballyhooed Summer of 2010:

What to do about Amare?

Before even beginning to discuss any scenarios for the Summer of 2010, the first domino that must fall is Amare Stoudemire.

Amare has essentially been in limbo the past year and a half, as the Suns dangled him at the 2009 trade deadline, last summer and then again at the 2010 deadline. Time was always on their side, but now if Amare Stoudemire declines his $17.7 million player option for next season the Suns will finally be at risk of losing him for nothing.

The Suns expect him to opt out, especially with so many teams possessing money to burn and since a potential lockout next summer makes this summer the time to get paid.

The case of whether or not to pay Amare is a polarizing issue that divides the Suns’ fan base.

On one hand, we’re talking about a player who set the league on fire during the second half of the season while the Suns were sprinting to their 28-7 tear to end the year, averaging 25.3 and 10.1 in February, 27.3 and 9.9 in March and 26.4 and 9.3 during the regular season in April.

I can count on one hand the number of players better than Amare during the second half of the season, and when watching him at times down the stretch it was impossible to imagine a Phoenix Suns future without Stoudemire in it.

Then the playoffs rolled along, and he averaged just 22.2 and 6.6 for the postseason, grabbing more than eight rebounds just three times in the 16 playoff games. His defense, which improved during the season, abandoned him when he needed it most against Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in the West Finals.

Amare wants max money. He was a max player during the second half, but he was barely more than a solid No. 2 player in the playoffs. Sure, teams game planned to take him out of his game, but aside from his 42-point, 11-board Game 3 against LA and maybe his 29-point clutch Game 4 closeout against San Antonio, it’s hard to find many superstar performances for STAT in the postseason.

So the Suns must weigh if they want to commit their future to Stoudemire, a player who is far from a No. 1 on a title team and thus far in his career has failed to be a No. 2 on a title team while playing for some very good squads.

At the same time, head coach Alvin Gentry and many players have publicly stated they want Amare back. The question is if this is the player — his surgically-repaired knees and eye and all — you want as the face of your franchise for the next half decade.

“Of course we all want Amare back,” Nash said. “He’s a huge part of our success. He continued to improve this season, he was phenomenal, we just hope he’ll be back with us.”

Added Jason Richardson, “I’m definitely on the ‘Bring Amare Back’ campaign. I think I’m going to start a web site. Start a web site, start a Twitter page. I’m going to do everything it takes to get this guy back.”

In an ideal world, you sign Amare to a short-term, big money deal so he can be here through the close of Nash’s career and then you can consider re-building around the youngsters. But that’s not likely an option the Suns will have. It’s hard to predict what will happen here, but it’s easy to see how incredibly important this decision is for the future of the franchise.

Should the Suns go to Plan B?

If Amare leaves for nothing and Grant Hill takes his $3.3 option, which he has said he will do “unless word gets to me that I can get the max between now and July 1 from some other team” (he was joking), the Suns would have about $43 million in salary commitments before factoring in a potential return by Channing Frye at a hefty raise.

That leaves the Suns about $13 below the projected $56 million cap. That’s not enough to get in the mix for a major free agent ….. unless they can clear more room.

If the Suns could jettison Leandro Barbosa’s $7.1 million salary, they’d have about $20 million to play with, and at that point the Suns could join the free agency fun. ESPN’s Marc Stein writes that his initial research into potential trading partners didn’t find him any takers, and LB’s underwhelming season certainly didn’t help in that regard.

If the Suns were to go to Plan B, you’d have to think Dirk Nowitzki would be their Option A. Although Stein details the four things that have to happen for this to become a reality, I only see two as real obstacles: things must go sour for Dirk in Dallas as Nash said he always expects Dirk to stay in Big D and the Suns must find a taker for Barbosa.

If both of those become reality, I think Dirk becomes a Sun because I could see the Suns audibling their Plan A to Dirk, and if Dirk goes anywhere outside Dallas it’s going to be to Phoenix to play with Nash again.

Dirk would be a perfect fit in a dynamic offense that would become even more special, and he would ensure the Suns stay elite through Nash’s final years.

As perfect as this sounds in theory, though, there are too many hurdles for this to be anything more than a fun fantasy for Suns fans at this point. Then again, I doubt anybody thought Steve Nash would become a Sun at this point of the 2004 summer.

Will Frye be too rich?

Channing Frye will opt out of his contract after vastly outplaying the $2 million option that he said was only a realistic possibility if he got hurt early in the season.

Now the question is if the Suns will be able to afford him.

As for his contract demands, Frye said, “I’m 27, it’s probably going to be the biggest contract of my career, so you’ve got to do what you have to do to take care of your family and your friends.”

That’s not exactly a Latrell Sprewell statement, but it also doesn’t sound like a guy about to take another hometown discount.

After his breakout 2009-10 that included 172 three-pointers hit at a 43.9 percent clip, Frye is in position for the best deal of his career. I would estimate that he could get a four-year, $30 million offer on the open market, or something in that range. I doubt the Suns would want to pay much more than $5-6 million for a shooter who doesn’t contribute a whole lot else and can be a big minus when he goes cold as we saw in the Lakers series.

Frye will likely have to wait to see how much money the Suns have left after making a decision on Amare or his replacement. At that point, the Suns may need to offer Frye the mid-level exception.

It’s uncertain if the Suns will be able to pay Frye as much some other team that may be infatuated with his skills, but we know he likes Phoenix, as he said, “Of course, great system, great coach, great players. You really couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Jared Dudley for one expects him back.

“The good thing about him he’s from here, he talks about being here all the time, he never mentions going anywhere else,” Dudley said. “It would take a team to wow him and basically sweep him off his feet, but I expect Channing to be back here.”

The only question is if the money will be right, and that of course is no small question.

Will the Suns be able to pay Louuuuuuuuuu?

Lou Amundson played the least of any of the Suns’ regulars, and his 14.8 minutes per game figure to be gobbled up by Earl Clark next season … but that’s in a world where everybody else comes back.

With his hustle, Lou deserves at least something like three years, $10 million and he deserves the chance to play more than 15 minutes a contest. It’s hard to see either of those things happening in Phoenix.

If Amare or Channing leave, the Suns will need to find some way to replace their scoring, something Lou can’t do of course.

The only way I see Lou coming back is if Amare stays (or he leaves and is similarly replaced), Channing goes and the Suns decide they can replace Channing’s scoring with Clark. Even then it’s possible Lou has priced himself out of Phoenix, but if he ends up not having much of a market I could see him returning in that situation.

“I’ll just wait and kind of look at the options when the time comes,” Amundson said. “I’d love to be here.”

But will his potential playing time and price match that desire?

What can we expect?

Anything. I really don’t think I’ll be surprised by anything that happens this offseason league-wide, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to your Phoenix Suns.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Amare signed to a max (or near-max) deal, I wouldn’t be surprised by a Nash-Dirk reunion, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Suns sign a second-tier free agent if STAT bounces, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frye back or gone and I wouldn’t be more than a little surprised to see Lou back.

The immediate and long-term future of the Phoenix Suns is at stake. By the end of the summer we will know if Amare will be the face of the franchise when Nash retires as well as if the Suns will be executing a short-term plan to take advantage of Nash’s final years or if the rebuilding process will commence in earnest.

This offseason will only shape the next half decade (at least) of Phoenix Suns basketball.

No pressure or anything, Mr. Kerr.

  • patty

    In the playoffs in the first place. We get there because of amare and Steve nash. We need to stop taking that and our situation for granted. We were amazing this year. Leave what works alone.

  • KJ Loyalist

    You know, I really don’t understand all of the Dirk-to-PHX hype that has suddently exploded.

    I read through the live chat we had on this site and the one thing that really sours me on Dirk came through on that chat:

    “Dirk isn’t a number one. He’d probably be the best number two of all time, (that means eclipsing Pippen and I agree), but in that scenario we’d need a number one.

    Not just Nash – We’d need a number one after him or when he retires, if Dirk is still here, it’s Dallas all over again, and I don’t want Dirk leading my Suns. He doesn’t have the heart or the killer instinct for it.

    I also don’t know if he is enough to get us 2 more games, (and back into the finals), if Amare leaves. having Dirk basically keeps the end result the same with a different equation. In my opinion anyway.

    I, for one, have always supported Amare Stoudemire. I’d love him here forever. BUT -

    The team has already proven that, as long as Nash is healthy, we can go deep into the playoffs without STAT and just about any PF will do.

    Enter Earl Clark.

    He’s got to get tossed into the fire sometime. Why not if Amare bolts? Scoring will go down to start with, but Clark’s defense is quite impressive not just at the rim but out challenging smaller guys. That fits right into what the team has been evolving into anyway. May as well let him evolve with them.

    I never thought I’d call Barbosa “dead weight” – personally because I never thought anybody could come along and fit into what we are trying to do better than him.

    DRAGON!!! has evolved now and is just a better fit for that slot. Though Frye leaving or sweet Lou softens me on Barbosa staying.

    If Amare does leave and we can deal Barbosa, I don’t know if I’d want the team to chase down any of that top tier talent floating around out there. Other teams are going to have to make some cuts in order to get in on that FA lottery too. Some great gems are going to shake loose.

  • patty

    On any given day amare is one of the top 10 players in the league. How stupid it would be to give him up. Then what? I say keep him, work on him, give him some recognition instead of grief. He will be great. He is our very own form of one of the greatest overcomers in the history of the game. Stop beating the guy up. He has proven he is s Hugh 40 pt plus contender. Lift him up.

  • S

    @patty: He is also an injury-prone player who has a tendency to struggle when facing difficulties. As much as i would love Amar’e back, I just don’t think he’s worth a max contract.

  • patty

    @Mel. So far nobody can bridle kobe. We came close. Doubt the celtics gonna do it either. Then what. They need to ditch garnet, pierce? Rondo? No doesn't make since getting the suns who have gotten amazingly far, broken up makes no. Since either.

  • elvis14

    “S” is right patty. Amare is a great player but the question here isn’t “should the Suns sign Amare” it’s “should the Suns sign Amare to a max or near max contract”. If they do that, he needs to stop getting outplayed in the playoffs for it to be a good deal for the team and I just don’t see that happening. The Suns are in a tough spot b/c if Amare leaves they still don’t have the cap room to chase Bosh, King James, DWade, Dirk without making more moves (as mentioned above).

  • SilkCityP

    I think they should resign Amare… BUT… I think management should lay it down to Amare… "Are you going to be the man or not"??? That's the biggest problem I have with Amare… He just doesn't seem as if he has the desire to be the go to guy! The guy that puts the team on his shoulders… The guy that should average 25 pts & 12 rbds a game every year! The guy that calls for the ball to punish and demoralize the opponent! He definitely has the talent to do so, but the desire is a big question. And a team would be stupid to sign a player to max level deal for him to come in and average 22 pts and 8 rbds a game. Not bad numbers, but Max level numbers?? Not quite!!… Stats do matter! It's an indication of performance level… No power forward should be getting 3, 4 rbds in a game… that's just unacceptable!!

  • Phil

    Amare is not worth anywhere near a max contract. anyone who says otherwise needs to bear one number in mind – 17. That’s how many boards Amare pulled down in the 4 losses to LA (Even Nash got 15!). His overall rebounding in the playoffs was 26th best in the league. If you think that is worth the max you are crazy. The only reason the Suns can contend with Amare’s current salary is that Nash plays for a huge discount, so a long term deal at or near the max ruins the Suns for that period IMO.

  • pap

    The real question is what is he being instructed to do by his coach via Steve kerr from a good source amare is often instructed not to be aggressive on offence but push defence. He continues to tell the press he is only doing what he is told. When he played his way he got 40+ and got in trouble for not following instructions. Face it Kerr don’t like him. But let amare do his thing with bash and we will win. Proven fact.

  • patty

    Onc again you have to ask the question get rid of amare? Then what? We have a great player whereas 80% of the rest of the nba teams do not. Don’t we get it? Outside of our bubble we have no respect. The attention we do get comes from nash and amare without them we are no different then the 80% of teams that are never

  • Manrique

    Since you brought up Dirk, if the Suns signed Dirk it would make sense to also let Frye go since Dirk will have the center who shoots 3′s position covered. That way you could get a big defensive rebounder who can also run in exchange for Frye (like a Camby type player). A lot has to happen but a lot can happen because all the players opting out who want to leave.

    I agree with Charles Barkley that Stat is a nice player but can’t be a max contract guy since he doesn’t rebound or play D. Being the physical specimen he is, he should never get less than 10 boards. Let’s be honest about his basketball IQ as well. He’s not a dumb person, but he’s not an intelligent enough player. Always out of position and makes dumb comments that fire up the other team (i.e. Odom was lucky).

    Granted, with Dirk you’re not going to get much more D or rebounding, but his offensive game is so much more evolved that he won’t disappear in playoff games and the supporting Suns won’t have to carry them but can compliment Dirk instead. IMHO.

  • Hersey

    You have to earn that coin in the postseason and Amare didn't. J-Rich proves to be the real barometer for success for this team. I think we need to keep him but on 3 year deal. Lopez covers his weaknesses and he's growing into a great defensive anchor. I reality Amare will be too hard to replace. Give Frye MLE or something just above it. Clark will eat Lou's minutes. I think LB needs to go so Dragic can expand his role. I have no doubt that Dirk would be sick in this system but it's a pipedream.

  • Mel.

    “On any given day amare is one of the top 10 players in the league.”

    The problem is, nobody seems to know when or where (or how often) that “given day” is going to take place. Watching Nash force-feed the ball to Amar’e through the third quarter of the Lakers’ series Game Six was painful; it seemed as though Steve was desperately trying to ignite something in the paint, despite the fact that STAT was getting manhandled and couldn’t buy a bucket from three feet out.

    There were a lot of intangibles and explanations for the result of that game, but STAT’s contribution is the only one with a twenty-million dollar price tag. The Suns got as far as they did on his shoulders, but he just wasn’t able to come up big when they needed him most. That’s a major issue for a team that purports to be a contender.

  • pap

    Amare had been instructed to play defence and lay low frm offence. When he varied from that strategy and played his way he scored points. Got reprimanded for it too but suns won and he walked away w 42 points to show for it. The real question for me is why is Kerr instructing coach to bridle him? Can’t blame amare if he leaves they won’t let him play hoe he does best. Mark my words he will get the big bucks somewhere. We will regret it if we aren’t the ones paying it.

  • Will

    No more STAT, RICHARDSON, FRYE, LOU, or COLLINS. Don't resign Lou nor Collins. Due a sign and trade of Richardson and Frye to Heat for Dwayne Wade @ $21 mill. Let STAT walk and sign Dirk Nowitzki at @ 18 mill. Then, sign the unrestricted David Lee @ $10 mill – $12 mill. Just imagine the Starting line-up: Nash, Wade, Hill, Nowitzki, Lee. David Lee is a good rebounder and Nowitzki is far better shooting big than Frye for a tall 3 point shooter. The Reserves would remain almost intact except without Lous and the insertion of Lopez back to reserve center. Reserves: Dragic, Barbosa, Dudley, Clark, Lopez, Jones, Griffin = BEST BENCH IN THE NBA!!! The salary would only increase about $5mill – $7 mill more.

    Salary Estitmate:

    Nash – $10.25 mill

    Wade – $21 mill

    Hill – $3.25 mill

    Nowitzki – $18.5 mill

    Lee – $11 mill

    Dragic – $1.75 mill

    Barbosa – $7 mill

    Dudley – $2 mill

    Clark – $2 mill

    Lopez – $1.75 mill

    TOTAL =around $78.5 million (more or less)

    That's only about $5 million more salary than this year and a small amount more to pay for a title contending team until Nash's retirement.

    What do you guy's think?

  • Mel.

    Patty, STAT wasn’t guarding Kobe. He wasn’t even guarding Pau. Placing blame on him for letting the Lakers’ heavy-hitters run wild is a straw-man argument, since his assignment was generally Bynum, Odom and occasionally Artest, which he did well enough at.

    My point is that his heart and production were in question when the Suns started dangling him at mid-season (Which was an idiotic move by Kerr, IMHO; premature panic and a lack of faith in Gentry and the team chemistry), followed by a max-money effort in the second half of the season. That version of Amar’e was inspiring to watch, but the fact that I was never REMOTELY sure if the motivation was coming from the fact that management had tried to turn him out for chump-change, a desire to be included in the same breath as Lebron, Bosh and Wade in the FA market OR an actual, driving desire to win a championship doesn’t settle my sense of his investment in the team’s future.

    And honestly, why should he pass up a payday to demonstrate loyalty to the franchise that was willing to jettison him for a pittance, prior to the 76ers and Cavs dragging the rug out from under Kerr and company? I’m not making Amar’e a goat. Not by a long shot. If there was a clear commitment to retaining his services demonstrated by the Suns WAY back in the lean months of ’09-’10, then it would be a different story.

    Now, unfortunately, it just seems like a foregone conclusion.

  • pap

    Genius Will but keep stoudie and grab wade dirk actually wants 20 mil but the rest is real smart

  • AzOgre

    The future of “Los Suns” should not be in Arizona… better to have no team vs the discrace that is the Sucky Suns.

  • Will

    LoL. Thank You. I should be a Team Consultant xp. I've read that Dirk wouldn't mind taking a pay cut if it meant going to a title contending team. If the Suns were by some miracle able to acquire Wade through a Sign-Trade that sent Richardson and Frye to the heat; then, Dirk would be more than willing to join his old friend Nash for a decent pay. (Even more so, if David Lee were convince to sign with Phoenix to be the rebounding force and scorer that he is with the Knick…David Lee would be the new Louuu with better shooting.) The go to scorer, in this Suns Dream Team, would obviously be D-Wade, Dirk (2nd), Lee (3rd), Nash (4th + assist leader), and Hill (5th).

    The Suns peaked with the team that they currently have and I doubt they could get as far next year with the current team. STAT proved that he's not Max player material and that Frye can choke when the team needed him to step-up (WCF Gm 1-4). I still have faith that Barbosa can be a reliable back up SG and that the surgery and lack of playing time affected his game.

    Even if Wade is a long shot, having Dirk and Lee on the team would be a vast improvement for the Suns this upcoming season. That is why I stand for getting rid of STAT, FRYE, LOU, COLLINS, AND RICHARDSON (unless we can't get Wade) and convince Kerr to do everything possible to acquire Dirk and Lee and possibly Wade. The Suns would be the most dominant FG% shooting team in the Nba.


  • Phil

    Thanks Will and Pap. Meanwhile on Planet Earth, we have no chance in hell of signing D-Wade, Lee and Dirk, so lets move on.

    I still can't believe how cheaply people throw around the word 'Great' in discussing Amare. He is a great scorer, not a great player. Even then, he isn't truly elite – he is staggeringly efficient, but has never threatened to get 30 PPG. Would you give Danny Granger or Monta Ellis (who were both ahead of Amare in scoring this year) a max deal? Of course not. And stop all the talk about the Suns jerking him around – he is paid $15m a year to play basketball, so grow up and get on with it (which actually is what he did second half of the season).

  • http://deeznuts.com Kdogg

    All of you baggin cuz dem lakers rolled over los suns in 6 games. Dont worry triangle offensive hard to overcome without solid defensive player to shutdown Kobe and with little to no rebounding so address the issues.

    1. if you dont have defense them replace with offense

    Dirk can fill this gap if Amare leaves

    2.Frye non issue in series no 3pt shot and no rebounds or defensive help

    Kick him to the curb and pay for defensive presence

    3.no one could guard kobe BS he is no Michael

    answer Wade or very strong defensive player

    So agree with Will but keep Lou

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  • Rosie

    I'm an outsider & new to the Suns team, so I can only comment on what I've seen during the playoffs, STAT did not impress me, he should have stepped up & been consistent when playing the Lakers. I'm a HUGE fan of the bench so keep them, Dragic, Dudley, Barbosa, J Rich, etc. They have GREAT chemistry! I'm not sure who the Suns should try to acquire acquire during the off season since I do not consider myself an expert authority. I'm just a fan of basketball. This amazing Sun's team won me over when I watched the Suns sweep the Spurs. I am from So Cal which in most cases makes someone from this area a Laker fan, imagine my surprise when I found myself cheering for the Suns & being devastated when the Lakers beat them. I was public enemy number 1 because I spoke my mind among my friends, family and co-workers stating that I would love to see the SUNS in the finals. Please Mr. Kerr, do what ever it takes to make this team a contender next year. I look forward to watching the Suns next season from day 1!

  • Michael

    financially getting wade works. but no team in their right mind would trade the 2nd best guard in the nba for richardson and frye. I’m a huge suns fan, and i’d love if that happened. but no team would make that trade. you might as well propose that trade to the lakers for kobe. it would end with the same result. however, i am all for getting dirk, WHILE still having frye. imagine the line up of nash jrich dudley frye and dirk. all 3 point shooters. that would totally mess with the defense at times of desperation. but i really dont want to lose barbosa either. he struggled this year for obvious reasons. next season he should be back to normal and ready to contribute more to the team.

  • Zane

    we need to keep amare lou and frye no matter what.

  • http://twitter.com/will_ex Will of the Suns

    Thank you to Joseph and Santiago for the articles on the Phoenix Suns Dream Team Roster of 2010-2011. I know that the roster is just a dream, but it is possible if it is executed perfectly. Just Look at the Boston Celtics becoming NBA champions with the surprising additions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett (In their first season together,nonetheless). This could be Phoenix next season with Lee, Dirk, and Wade joining Hill and Nash in the starting line-up. I think we've been given a hint of hope with Danny Ferry's departure as CAV's GM. The Phoenix Suns should hire Ferry as GM or assistant GM and present him with the SUNS DREAM TEAM PLAN of 2010-2011 Season. I think that he could have the ability to make this happen if Steve Kerr felt incapable to do it himself. Phoenix Suns would emerge this off-season as the favorites to be NBA Champions next season. The only team that I see beating them is the PORTLAND NIGHTMARE TEAM OF 2010-2011 of: Miller, Roy, Lebron, Bosh, Camby/Oden (I am knocking on wood every night that this doesn't come true) Suns fans reading this that have twitter or facebook, that would like to see this team become a reality or be taken into consideration, need to send Wade messages so he takes the suns into consideration. (Also send messages to Steve Kerr at Ask Steve Kerr, and the Contact Us section in Suns homepage.) We've got less than 4 weeks, but we may be able to grab some attention if plenty of us make our voices heard.



    P.S. Sorry for the grammatical errors. I am heading to the movies and feel to lazy to proofread. PEACE.