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.

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