What to do with the $16.5 million trade exception from the Amare Stoudemire sign-and-trade?

It certainly isn’t David Lee, but at least it’s better than nothing. As expected, the Phoenix Suns will receive a $16.5 million trade exception and a second-round draft pick in a sign-and-trade sending Amare Stoudemire to the New York Knicks, according to an ESPN report.

Soon after Amare verbally committed to joining the Knicks on a five-year, $100 million deal it was looking like the Suns were facing their worst nightmare — losing the five-time All-Star forward for nothing.

But Stoudemire, who was introduced to The Big Apple as a member of the Knicks Thursday morning, soon made it clear that he was aiming to help Phoenix in any way after eight seasons with the Suns.

In fact, Knicks president of basketball operations Donnie Walsh said in the ESPN report that New York did the sign-and-trade as a “courtesy to Amare, who didn’t want to leave Phoenix with nothing.”

STAT also took an $800,000 pay cut his first season by opting for the sign-and-trade, which will give the Suns that same amount in added cap space this offseason.

Although it isn’t a big-time free agent like Suns fans had hoped, this $16.5 million exception to the salary cap gives the Suns a ton of wiggle room this offseason. They will use an estimated $4 million on forward Hakim Warrick in a sign-and-trade with Chicago, leaving them with a $12.5 million exception to use at their discretion over the next 365 days, as it expires after one year.

So what will the Suns and owner Robert Sarver do with the $12.5 million exception? It’s hard to say at this point because the Suns are somewhat stuck between win-now and rebuilding mode, but here are a few options:

1. Sign-and-trade for a solid free agent

Because the trade exception is only good for a year, there really is no use in not putting it to use now. There’s more talent available now than there will be in the next couple of years, so the Suns might as well pounce.

The Suns were unable to lure David Lee, who just agreed to a sign-and-trade with the Warriors, so that leaves the Suns with a few other names that fit that financial description.

The Suns could go after a guy like Luis Scola, who would most likely cost right around the trade exception’s value. This would be a great pickup for the Suns, and if you look at it, Amare Stoudemire for Luis Scola really isn’t all that bad of a deal.

He isn’t a huge name, but he has the skills to be an All-Star and would fit nicely next to Robin Lopez down low. Another name that could be worth the exception is Richard Jefferson, who opted out of his final year with the Spurs that would have paid him $15.2 million.

It remains to be seen how realistic these scenarios could be, but Scola and Jefferson are the caliber players the Suns could land using the trade exception in a sign-and-trade.

2. Sign-and-trade for a few mid-level free agents

The Suns could use the exception in separate deals to garner a few decent players that would help fill the roster and make them somewhat-competitive now.

A guy like Kyle Korver comes to mind, who would fit great with the Suns and wouldn’t use up the whole exception. They could then turn to a Udonis Haslem or Al Harrington to add some depth and experience up front.

But it’s looking like the Suns are most likely trying to save money for next offseason, or snag a big-time guy now, so using the exception on a few decent guys that would take up cap space after next season probably won’t happen.

3. Use it in a trade for Al Jefferson

The Minnesota Timberwolves have been trying to move Al Jefferson and the $42 million he’s owed over the next three seasons. As he’s making $13 million next season, the Suns could trade only the trade exception for the big man and ride out the next three years of his contract.

Although he does have a hefty price tag, Jefferson has proven he can play at an All-Star level, and considering Steve Nash has two more years to go, the Suns could continue to win now, but wouldn’t be financially tied down when Nash hangs it up.

I’m not all that sure how viable of an option this is, but the T-Wolves want to move him and the Suns have the ability to deal practically nothing for him. And when J-Rich comes off of the books for $14.4 million after next season, the Suns won’t be agonizing over the $14 million they will owe Jefferson.

4. Use it to shed Leandro Barbosa’s contract

I have a feeling that the Suns are going to try to move Leandro Barbosa and the $14.7 million he’s owed over the next few seasons with this exception. Because LB makes $7.1 million next season, the Suns could theoretically package him with the $12.5 million exception to land an All-Star caliber player that the Suns could potentially build around.

But it’s looking like the Suns want cap room for next offseason, so they could possibly use LB and part of the exception to deal for an expiring contract. This would rid them of LB’s ugly contract, opening up an added $7.6 million that wouldn’t have been available otherwise. I feel that this may be the most realistic scenario.

5. Stand pat until the trade deadline or early next offseason

The Suns could very well hold onto the exception and use it during the season if they want a player who is on the block or they can swing a deal with a team that needs to cut costs. There are always those teams that fall out of the playoff race early, and the Suns could be the beneficiary of a big-time player on a team that’s simply going in a different direction.

Since it has a one-year life, the Suns could actually wait until the very beginning of next offseason and try to swing a sign-and-trade deal with the exception. This is a bit risky however, as the Suns would be on the clock.

It’s hard to say what the Suns will do with this trade exception, aside from using some of it on Warrick, but they have no shortage of options. So while Amare Stoudemire didn’t exactly return an All-Star caliber player to Phoenix, the huge trade exception the Suns received could eventually turn into that.

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