Phoenix Suns' present, future brighter after blockbuster

Give the Phoenix Suns credit for one thing: they know know when to admit they made a mistake.

Today’s trade of Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, a 2011 first-rounder and cash marks admission that the Turkoglu deal — and really the Clark lottery pick while we’re at it — was a giant mistake.

Credit Turkoglu’s former agent and current Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby for not only being willing to admit the mistake but also being able to find probably the only team in the basketball world that would have taken on Hedo’s hideous contract.

“The Hedo Turkoglu acquisition was a noble experiment,” Babby said. “Hedo really tried to make it work, but I think it became obvious that we were not going to be able to succeed with him as our four. And so you have to adjust.”

When the Suns first acquired Hedo I tried to convince myself that he was a good fit but always questioned whether he could play the four. We soon found out that Turkoglu would not become a second facilitator with Nash, that instead he would be a glorified spot-up shooter. Defensively, things were worse as Hedo could not defend any decent four one-on-one and got killed on the boards.

The Suns finally moved him to a small forward bench role, and at times he looked like the old Hedo in that role. But occasional flashes of solid basketball off the bench can be had for much less than the $10-12 million a year he will be paid through 2013-14 (when it’s not fully guaranteed).

Those assets would be much better spent on a legitimate big, and if Marcin Gortat has one thing, it’s legitimate size. Gortat has long been known as one of the best backup centers in the league who just couldn’t get out of Dwight Howard’s shadow.

He’s a rebounding force who grabs between 18-20 percent of the available rebounds for his career, much better than any current Phoenix big. He has averaged a double-double per 40 minutes throughout his career, but having never played more than 15 minutes per game he averages just 3.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest for his career.

Gortat has been waiting for a perfect opportunity like this his entire basketball life. He’s coming to a team that craves his skill set of interior defense and rebounding, and I expect him to make a big impact.

Pietrus continues that Golden State to Phoenix wing pipeline, and he should fit this style as well as Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes did.

As for the salary implications of this deal, this is no cost-cutting trade for Phoenix. It actually adds about $2.6 million to this season’s cap number (less in actual dollars because the contracts are prorated), which is no big deal at all since Orlando is throwing in $3 million and the Suns are still below luxury levels.

Instead of having J-Rich’s $14.4 million expiring deal come off their books this offseason, the Suns will have Vince Carter’s $18.3 million contract that’s only guaranteed for $4 million. The Suns will be about $5 million worse off next season assuming they cut Carter for just the guaranteed $4 mil as there’s no way they bring him back at full price.

The savings really start during the 2012-13 season, as the Suns will save $4.5 million by paying Gortat instead of Turkoglu. The Suns could save over $4 million the next season as well, but it’s hard to speculate on that at this point without knowing if Gortat will exercise his early termination option (in which case there could be real nice savings) and how much guaranteed money Turkoglu has in the final year of his deal (assuming he even gets cut with $12 million in potential salary).

So this year doesn’t matter since the Suns are still under the luxury cap, and the slight increase next year doesn’t affect things much since the Suns weren’t going to be players either way next summer.

Obviously it’s hard to project offseasons a couple years in advance since the Suns could make a bevy of moves by then, but along with some guaranteed flexibility they will be paying a needed piece rather than a square peg in a round hole even if Gortat is probably a little overpaid (although that might not even be true if he plays to his per minute averages).

I also am not sure this is the Suns’ last move. This deal does nothing to eliminate their glut at the wings with Carter likely to receive J-Rich’s time and Pietrus needing a spot. The Suns have five legitimate wings in Carter, Hill, Dudley, Pietrus and Childress, and the other three positions all have bonafide backups as well.

Perhaps the Suns can upgrade a position with a two for one trade or even just turn one of those wings into another first-rounder.

It’s also difficult to wave goodbye to J-Rich, who was such a barometer of success for this team, for an enigma like Vince Carter, whose effort can be questioned on a nightly basis. The optimistic view says the Suns’ warlock training staff and playing next to Steve Nash will turn Carter into a 20 ppg guy again, but at 33 you just don’t know.

J-Rich was the Suns’ leading scorer and he finally learned to play perfectly in sync with Nash. It will take Carter time to discover that chemistry, but J-Rich has been averaging 3.5 more shots per game than Carter this season. When Carter has gotten that many shot attempts, which he will in Phoenix, he’s been a 20-point scorer throughout his career, and we saw what he did with an elite point guard in New Jersey.

So while it’s a bit disconcerting that the Suns will rely on Vince Carter to stay relevant this season, this was a move they had to make. Gortat will provide more value than Turkoglu throughout his contract while filling Phoenix’s biggest need, and sans Hedo the pieces finally all seem to fit.

Give Babby credit for reversing the Turkoglu mistake because today’s blockbuster makes the Suns better both in the present and the future.

  • Mike L

    Now THAT’S what I call a great bit of insight. I’m really hoping we have all these guys in uniform tomorrow!!

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  • Mike L

    Interesting take from Hollinger on what is the obvious question: what do you do about the roster?

    “a coherent rotation that has two real centers (Gortat and Lopez), Channing Frye as a full-time power forward, a four-man wing rotation of Carter, Grant Hill, Josh Childress and Jared Dudley, and of course Nash and Goran Dragic at the controls.”

    While that is a good 9-man rotation, he leaves out Warrick and Pietrus. Based on what Babby and Blanks said about Pietrus’ defense, I expect Pietrus will be in the rotation. And while I guess paying Warrick the kind of money he’s getting isn’t a requirement to play him, I’ve got to imagine they will. And can you really just play 2 centers and rely on Frye as a PF?

    I still think another move is in the making … but hopefully Gentry is having fun playing around with his rotation tonight. Really hope all these guys are in uniform tomorrow!

  • Chad

    Nash+Dragic at point, Vince+Pietrus at 2, Hill, Childress, and Dudley at 3, Frye and Warrick at PF, with Lopez and Gortat at C sounds good to me.

  • KJ Loyalist

    As far as him leaving out Warrick, don’t worry. Gentry will not leave him out, ever. He’s a freak – (Man Crush mode: ON)

    Also, I hope these moves keep Barron on the team and getting a bit of playing time. I love his tools in regards to how they manifest themselves on this team, and I think he spreads the floor enough to be put out there with Rolo or Gortat.

    Also, the way the team is constructed “today,” could we see 3 bigs? Rolo / Frye / Warrick? hmm..

  • Steve

    Given the number of guys they have with legitimate NBA talent, they’re going to have to keep making moves. They can’t find PT for Hill, Childress, Pietrus, Carter, AND Dudley. They can’t find PT for Rolo, Barron, Frye, Gortat, AND Warrick.

    Something is going to have to give. My guess is that they’re going to try to move Pietrus. He seems like a good fit, but I don’t know if anyone is going to take on anyone else’s contract besides his or Carter’s, and I don’t think anyone else is dumb enough to touch the wreck that is Vince Carter at this stage in his career.

  • Robert

    Well, truth be told, nobody (and this probably includes the Suns) are “touching the wreck that is Vince Carter” because of his diminishing skills, its the $13 million that will come off of the books of whatever team has him at the end of the year. Could be the Suns, but there are no great guards to go after in next year’s free agent group, so maybe a team that wants to unload a salary commitment? Andre Iguodala, Kevin Martin, or Monta Ellis anyone?

  • Al

    Suns need to trade for a new Water Boy…the current one sucks worse than Hedo… :)

  • Daniel

    Yeah, take that waterboy!

  • JC

    Looks like Jason Thompson to Phoenix is a pipe dream. However, I think that Babby may contact the Cavs and inquire for J.J Hickson. J.J is currently in the bench and appears to be as unhappy as Lebum was when he was a Cleveland Cavs. I think Phoenix should make a push to acquire J.J and get that solid young PF that Phoenix desperately needs.

  • Erman

    Wow Michael, doesn’t it feel strange for you too? Friday night we were talking on DDL about how Hedo is a bad fit on the Suns, and you even answered “Ask Lon Babby!” to a question from a reader regarding why Hedo is “still on the Suns roster”.

    Wake up next mourning, and boom! Hedo gone. We should to this more often.

  • HankS

    I don’t even know what to dislike about the trade… let me break it down.

    First, the Suns got rid of Turkoglu’s contract—that itself would put a good spin on any trade conceivable. For him, they got currently the most coveted center around the league. Gortat is still fairly young, his contract is pretty reasonable, he provides exactly what the Suns need most and he’s hungry to finally prove himself. All I can say is WOW!

    Second, while losing the leading scorer hurts, J-Rich would have been difficult to re-sign, and Vince Carter, over the hill as much as he might be, still can give the Suns 70-80 per cent of what J-Rich could.

    Third, Pietrus is a decent player with a decent contract, he might help the Suns, or he might get traded. Earl Clark has the body and the skills to play, but clearly not the head.

    Fourth, the first-rounder just serves to show how hard the Suns brass bargains. Objectively speaking, the trade would have been about fair even without the pick, yet here it is. Ready to be shipped along with one of the wings to a third team for a PF with some upside, ideally the Knicks and Anthony Randolph, currently in their D’oghouse.

    I don’t think the Suns will be any worse off right away (at least when the new pieces get integrated), and they should be much better down the road. And I have to say I’m glad I’m not a Magic fan…

  • Eric

    Injury-prone or not, Lopez doesn’t fit this system. Gortat is much more versatile around the basket and can actually rebound. At best, Lopez is a non-athletic, complimentary post player. Gortat could be the pick-n-roll companion that Nash needs when the game slows down, especially when opposing teams play defense and make shots (so, the playoffs). Lopez is a step too slow for what Nash needs–at times, Lopez looks like a JV player trying to keep up with faster-paced “varsity” team. I’d like to sit in on the practices with Lopez and Gortat going head-to-head. Gortat will definitely push Lopez, which will probably cause Robin to punch some walls.

    The way I see it, J-Rich, although good, is not the amazing player everyone makes him out to be–though he has hit some big shots in the past and is very athletic. In this system, your shooting guard should get 20+ points easily. Vince, although a douche bag, will get close to 20 per game, I think. In this hands-off, wide-open, shoot-before-the-defense-sets system, Vince will regain some of his swagger and is very capable of taking over games. Plus, if Nash is injured, I bet Vince won’t look as lost/disengaged as J-Rich did.

    Pietrus is a good addition, and should be next in line of the wingman stoppers we’ve had in the past: Bell, Marion. I think “stopper” is too strong of description, let’s change it to simply defensively-engaged wingman.

    The lineup that will be fun to watch is Nash-Carter-Pietrus-Frye-Gortat. Talk about wide-open. This allows Nash to p-n-r with Gortat, while having very capable 3-point shooters spread on the wings.

    I think we should stop referring to Frye as a Center. He’s not. He’s a stretch-forward. He is our power forward. Period. Although streaky, he can really play the game, on both ends even. He’s not going to stop anyone on defense, but he can put a hand up and get the board, which rebounding is an important part of defense.

    We have plenty of offensively capable players, tons of depth on the wing, and now we have some physicality that has alluded PHX this year.

    Also, Grant Hill is amazing! I love that guy.

  • Zak

    I’m certain that Gortat will be the Suns’ starting center by season’s end and probably by the All-Star break. While I like Lopez, he’s been inconsistent and seems somewhat injury prone when called on to play large amounts of minutes. And somehow I think Carter will fit in well with the Suns chemistry wise. Just a hunch of mine but I think he might form a bond with Nash and Hill especially. I’m sure the Suns will be looking toward making at least one more trade this year but I’m afraid the best trade chip they have left is Lopez to a team that is in need of another big. They would probably try to package him with Childress or Warrick to get a stronger defensive/rebounding PF and a serviceable backup for Gortat or either a 3-point sniper or defensive stopper at SG or an all-purpose PG/SG in case Nash is injured again. I actually think Barron can be that backup C for Gortat so perhaps the Suns should work toward making a trade for a strong PF and all-purpose backup SG/PG.

  • JC

    How about Lopez, Dragic, Warrick round pick to Warriors for Curry and Biedrins. 1st round pick for anthony randolph, and another pick/wing player for Marcus Thornton from NO? Would that work?


  • Matt Manske

    Although Curry would be awesome, he’s probably untouchable.

  • HankS

    Zak, I think it’s no big deal if the starter is Lopez or Gortat, they’ll split the time more or less evenly, depending on who’s going better on a given night. The question is who plays with whom. Lopez/Fry and Gortat/Warrick? Or some other PF coming in?

  • Sean

    I think Zak might be right about Lopez. I see Lopez, Warrick, and Childress/Dudley/Pietrus as potential trade pieces. I’d be curious to see Hickson here at the 4.

    The Suns really have a lot of quality depth right now (11 guys when the newbies arrive, and that doesn’t even include Barron). But I’d like to see them move 2-4 of those guys, and throw in a pick if necessary, to get a PF and maybe a SG.

  • Zak

    Hmmm… Perhaps if they do split the time roughly equally then Lopez will stay healthy and even play harder/better knowing that there is a legitimate threat to his starter status. But I can’t see Lopez or Gortat being happy with that situation for long unless the Suns show signs of being a legitimate contender. Gortat could start for many NBA teams as can Lopez so I don’t see the Suns being able to keep the both of them for more than 2 years if they don’t think they’re playing for a contender. Hopefully having them as a one-two punch at C will help in making the Suns a real contender. But I still think that sometime during the season Lopez will get injured again, Gortat will move into the starting lineup and Lopez will have to win the spot back when he returns. But I do think that the Suns will make at least one more trade before the break but who knows. After the way they handled OKC last night, shorthanded as they were, perhaps the new pieces they’ve added to the puzzle aren’t as important as the pieces they’ve taken off the table. Hill played a great game! Maybe deferring to J-Rich as the Suns sharp-shooter has held him back from showing us what HE can still do. After last night’s game, I’m not that worried about what people think of Carter. He will have his nights, Hill will have his, Nash will have his, etc., etc., etc. They’re not a great team but they have the potential to be great on any given night… now.