Channing Frye re-signed at the right price in this market

Channing Frye has turned into a potent three-point shooter with the Suns. (Darren Ito/ValleyoftheSuns)

Channing Frye's return came at a fair price considering the bloated market. (Darren Ito/ValleyoftheSuns)

NBA contracts are not signed in a vacuum.

If you would ask me if Channing Frye is worth a five-year, $30 million deal in a vacuum, I would say that it’s a bit too pricey.

But if you were to ask me if Frye is worth that deal in a market in which Rudy Gay can get five years and $82 million, Amir Johnson five years and $34 million, Drew Gooden five years and $32 million and Darko Milicic (yes, THAT Darko) four years and $20 million? Compared to all that, this contract looks like a bargain.

As John Hollinger writes in today’s Free Agency Dime, “A rising tide lifts all boats. If the players normally targeted with midlevel money are suddenly angling for much bigger prizes, it means lesser players now become targets for the midlevel.”

Although none of the big dominoes have fallen yet (unless you count Gay), all the available cap space has upped the market for the mid-tier guys. And of the four big men signed today, I would take Frye’s deal in a heartbeat. Are you telling me Drew Gooden and Amir Johnson are worth more than Channing or that Darko is within a year and $10 mil of Frye?

Judging by the rest of the day, the Suns made out like bandits.

I understand the concerns that Frye is one-dimensional, that — as Tyler Lockman writes — he only brings the metaphorical peas and potatoes.

That may be true, but Frye brings some of the most delicious potatoes and peas you’ve ever tasted, side dishes that complement the filet perfectly. You won’t be getting steak for $6 million a year, especially in this crazy market, but if you can get a piece that helps you enjoy a delicious meal than you’re doing OK for yourself.

Channing Frye proved to be a perfect fit in his hometown this season, and no stat proves this better than his +/- numbers. The Suns were an unadjusted team-best 5.95 points per 100 possessions better when Frye was on the floor than when he sat, with the Suns overall gaining a team-best 8.07 points per 100 possessions during his floor time, according to Basketball Value.

By contrast the Suns were 4.18 points per 100 better when Nash played than when he sat and they gained 6.72 pp100 when Nash played. And I hear he usually does a decent job of making the Suns better.

You could say that’s because the Suns often went on big runs buoyed by Channing’s threes, but the point is the Suns were unquestionably a better team with Frye on the floor.

The Arizona product was also a perfect fit for this team’s personnel and style of play both on the court and in the locker room. He might not be worth $6 million a year everywhere, but I really think he’s worth that with the Suns (and really, I thought it would take the entire mid-level to re-sign him).

While averaging a modest 11.2 points per game, Alvin Gentry often compared Frye to an elite wide receiver who can impact a game by his very presence. When teams focused on staying home on Channing, that opened up the game for all his teammates.

In doing so he still managed to drill 172 long balls (fourth in the NBA) at a 43.9 percent clip (sixth in the league), making defenses pay whenever they used three defenders to guard the Nash-Amare pick and roll. That’s one of the biggest reasons I support making an extra charge at Amare now (as doubtful as that looks) because the Suns were so lethal with this trio together.

But I would not describe Frye as just a product of Steve Nash. Although Nash clearly impacted him for the better, when asked if MVSteve deserves a cut of his new deal late in the season Frye brought up the fact that really he played with Goran Dragic more than Nash during the season’s final months.

Before knowing what other moves the Suns make, it’s hard to guess Frye’s exact role for next season. He provided a much-needed scoring punch to the Suns’ defensive-minded bench unit, but if Amare leaves and he isn’t adequately replaced Frye may have to step in and be the starting power forward.

Although he’s an average at best rebounder and post defender, his length can be an asset at times (but obviously that’s not why he was signed).

The Suns were so good last year because they were better than the sum of their parts, and Channing Frye was a big part of that. He created mismatches that the Suns often exploited, providing the kind of elite three-point shooting from the center spot that’s rare in this league.

Plus, he’s 27 and thus theoretically set to embark on the prime of his career during the length of this contract.

Is Channing Frye worth five years and $30 million in a vacuum? Perhaps not.

But basketball isn’t played in a vacuum.

It’s played on a basketball court, where Channing Frye was the perfect complement to the rest of the Phoenix Suns both in terms of his shooting abilities and his easygoing demeanor during the 2009-10 season.

His return ensures the Suns’ unique style will stay intact. Now, if only he could bring an All-Star power forward along with him.

Tags: Channing Frye

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