So what now? An extended look at the Phoenix Suns' future

By now we’re more than a week out from the blockbuster trade that changed our view of the Phoenix Suns, present and future.

I analyzed some of the issues surrounding how this affects the Suns’ future in the immediate aftermath of the trade, but now there’s been enough time and space for a further examination.

So far as I’m concerned this deal helps the Suns’ present as well since they needed to acquire a big like Gortat to have a chance, but let’s take a look at the direction this team is headed in the coming years.

First off, the Suns dealt three players that did not figure into their long-term plans. Hedo Turkoglu did not fit and avoiding paying him upwards of $11 million to be a bit player the next few years is a true blessing.

Earl Clark’s affordable (around $2 million) third-year option was declined at the start of the season, which rarely ever happens for lottery picks. It would have taken a miracle for Clark to return to Phoenix, and I was disappointed not only because of my well-chronicled love for Earl but also because it basically signaled to opposing teams that the Suns didn’t value him.

I would have preferred continuing to search for his talent for another year or at least picking up the option for trade purposes, but at this point I was just hoping the Suns could get any value for him. That was certainly the case with his inclusion into this deal.

Jason Richardson was headed toward unrestricted free agency, and we never really got a chance to explore the possibility of the Suns re-signing him in this space. J-Rich is making $14.4 million and would have had to take a severe paycut to warrant a return, something undercut by his productive season.

All along I thought something like three years, $30 million could be fair, but depending on how the market changes that could very well be far below market for a player of Richardson’s skills and it might not be worth spending such a large chunk of change on an aging shooting guard who doesn’t really figure into your future core.

Of course, losing Richardson for nothing after getting essentially flexibility for Amare would have been just as bad as making a mistake with a contract extension. Making matters even more difficult is the Suns couldn’t just dump him for any asset if they wanted to continue competing for a playoff spot, and in this deal they essentially got some value while rolling him into an even bigger trade chip that could produce similar numbers.

I have been screaming for months about the Suns’ need for a post-Nash star replacement, and with the short-term size issue addressed that immediately becomes priority numero uno for the Babbly/Blanks tag team.

The one thing this deal accomplished is that while the Suns have no stars beyond Nash, their payroll is now reflective of that fact.

Once Carter is traded or cut next by the start of this offseason, the Suns will have Nash at $11.7 million and then nobody else over $7 million next season. The three years after that nobody will make more than $8 million, so although the Suns have no future elite players at least nobody is being paid like one as Hedo was.

The Suns of course have a slew of role players being paid very good mid-level money, and with Dragic/Lopez extensions coming up and the unknown rules of the pending new collective bargaining agreement, it’s very possible the Suns will never be able to pluck a star out of free agency.

Assuming options are picked up (and nobody is dealt, which could be in the cards for one or two of these guys), the Suns will be going to war with Josh Childress, Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick and Jared Dudley through 2013-14, and unless things go horribly wrong Goran Dragic and Robin Lopez will join that group.

Along with Dragic (24) and Lopez (22), that quintet is all between the ages of 25-28, so the Suns should be getting prime seasons out of them these next three seasons.

As I’ve written about ad naseum, the Suns MUST swing some sort of deal to add star power to that core, from which nobody should really be untouchable in the right deal.

In the interim the Suns need to deal away one of their wings either for a pick that can provide added flexibility when trying to acquire their future stud or use Carter’s monster semi-expiring deal to clear cap space if a team wants to get rid of a sizable contract of a talented player to clean house (yes, I’ve mentioned Andre Iguodala’s name before).

The Suns seem set for the future at point guard, small forward and (for once) center, but could obviously use a true power forward or elite shooting guard as Dudley/Childress are really more in the small forward mold.

A few days before the trade I discussed many of these same concepts in light of the Suns’ No. 26 ranking in ESPN’s future power rankings. Dumping Hedo certainly brightens that future and should make adding a big salary for the future much more palatable for Robert Sarver. In light of the trade, I just don’t see the Suns’ future being as bleak as those future power rankings put it.

In chess, you seldom can garner a checkmate with one move. You often need a move to set up that move where you make the kill.

This deal solves the roster problem in the present, but also puts them one move away from being in pretty decent shape for the future (and by that I mean continuing to be a perennial playoff team, not an elite championship contender. I know, that’s the ultimate goal, but baby steps here).

In the past I have thought the Suns should ship out whatever wing they could receive value for, but with Gortat they no longer need to make a desperation deal. Since they will be wasting a quality player by just benching one of their wings, a deal must be made, and if they can find the right team wanting to cut salary, Vince’s deal could be the key to bringing back the kind of mega-talent the Suns need to help Nash in the present and lead the team in the future.

I know, every team this side of South Beach could use another star and you can’t just snap your fingers and acquire one with semi-expiring contracts. I understand the Suns won’t be going very far this postseason (if they even get there) without another stud and that a future of role players won’t ever play deep into June.

But with the flexibility afforded by the removal of Hedo’s contract from their future cap and the addition of Vince’s potentially enticing deal, the Suns might finally have the bait to make up for this past summer and brighten the basketball future in the Valley.

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Tags: Earl Clark Hedo Turkoglu Jason Richardson Vince Carter

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