3-on-3: The Robin Lopez contract situation

While teams across the league went to great lengths to extend their 2008 draft picks, the Phoenix Suns decided to stand pat with Robin Lopez, opting instead to deal with his contract situation during the summer. At that time the Suns can extend a $4 million qualifying offer that would make Lopez a restricted free agency. The ValleyoftheSuns team evaluates Lopez’s contract situation in this edition of 3-on-3.

Did the Suns make the right move not extending Lopez now?

Michael Schwartz: Yes, because every move before the offseason should be all about preserving financial flexibility. The Suns basically punted the decision until the summer, when they will decide to extend a qualifying offer, sign him long term or let him go. Since the Suns may need that extra salary space, there was no reason to lock themselves into another role player before knowing the direction they will take during the summer.

Mike Schmitz: Absolutely. Marcin Gortat is playing about as well as any center in the Western Conference right now. The Polish Machine leads the NBA in field goal percentage, while ranking third among Western Conference centers in rebounding, second in scoring and fifth in blocked shots. With Gortat and blossoming rookie Markieff Morris, in addition to three years still left on Channing Frye’s contract, it makes no sense to commit to Lopez long term.

Ryan Weisert: Yes. Other than his 21-point explosion in the first game of the year, Lopez hasn’t shown enough to warrant an extension. He’s coming off some pretty serious injuries, and his play thus far would indicate he’s not the player he was. The Suns were right to preserve their cap space for next year instead of extending their backup center.

What would a fair contract for Lopez be?

Michael Schwartz: Lopez could be worth the $4 million qualifying offer for one year, but I would not match anything over the mini mid-level of about three years and $9 million, give or take a few million, on a long-term deal. He would be signed to be the backup center and thus he should be paid backup center money.

Mike Schmitz: Something around $3-4 million a year. The Suns would be crazy to give him Kwame Brown money, but something like $10 million over three years wouldn’t be out of the question. Active 7-footers are rare and any NBA coach will tell you that there’s no such thing as too much frontcourt depth. Even if he were to play 15-20 minutes a game, Lopez could give the Suns an interior presence while Gortat takes a breather. For the aforementioned price tag, that’s not a bad deal.

Ryan Weisert: A salary in the range of his qualifying offer for next season ($4 million) would be fair for Lopez. While he’s not a star, he’s still a 7-footer who can rebound, block shots, and hit his free throws in a limited role. Given his injury history, a contract of more than two years wouldn’t be advisable from the Suns’ perspective.

How should the Suns handle Lopez’s situation in the offseason?

Michael Schwartz: First, wait to see if they can acquire any studs with the salary space, in which case they would make him a free agent. Otherwise, they should try to sign him to the $4 million qualifying offer to preserve cap space for the next offseason and give the team another year to evaluate RoLo. In the meantime, I would see what Lopez could fetch on the open market and trade him if a decent future asset could be had in return.

Mike Schmitz: Let him walk. There’s no question Lopez is a valuable piece on any NBA team. He’s shown flashes of his old self this season and he’s only scratched the surface of his potential. But the fact of the matter is, he’s not a franchise center, and for a team that will mostly be in major rebuilding mode this offseason, there’s no point in paying him to ride the pine. Gortat is the future, so let Lopez walk.

Ryan Weisert: There is always a market for size in the NBA. There are some teams out there who might overspend for Lopez. The Suns should not match any offer for more than $5 million/year or more than three years long. Anything less than that, the Suns should match and hold onto Lopez as a backup to Gortat and potential trade chip.

And one bonus question just for fun:

Can Lopez still improve as a player?

Michael Schwartz: From what he’s shown the last year and a half? Most definitely. To me the question has always been whether he can fully regain his athleticism from his back injury. He’s been much springier this season and if that holds up he can become one of the better backup centers in the league, the kind of player who could start for teams that don’t feature Marcin Gortat.

Mike Schmitz: If he’s healthy, Lopez will certainly improve as an NBA center. Aside from his jump shot, he really hasn’t developed anything in the league that he didn’t have at Stanford, meaning he has major room to grow. In order for him to develop, he needs 25-30 minutes a night, and that’s not going to happen in Phoenix. So if Lopez gets in the right situation and can consistently play like he’s shown he’s capable of for short stretches, he can undoubtedly be a starting center in the NBA.

Ryan Weisert: Yes. When looking at Lopez’s profile, I was shocked to see he’s only 23 years old. He has shown the ability to rebound and score more effectively than his per-game numbers would suggest. He has lacked consistency. You can’t teach ability, but a young guy can learn consistency.

Tags: 3 On 3 Robin Lopez

  • shazam

    trade him for a 2nd round pick tomorrow…he wont play 25 – 30 minutes to get better because if he does he will get injured…there is a reason he hasnt shown anything new since stanford..thats about when he quit growing mentally

  • Scott

    Honestly, does anyone see the Suns picking up any significant free agents next year that aren’t already on the team? My projection of FA signings by the Suns: Nash, Hill, and probably Redd, Lopez (if they can keep him), and Price.

    As for Lopez, I can’t help but wonder if Gentry is worsening the playing situation by trying to make Lopez into something he isn’t. I see coaches do that repeatedly; failing to credit what a player can already do, and instead spending time and energy and emotional stress on trying to make someone into something that maybe they’re not going to be.

    For example … STAT did well for the Suns so long as what they needed was inside scoring. Later, on his own initiative, he developed a jump shot. But the defense the coaching staff kept trying to push on him … well, he did some of it, and when it suited him. It didn’t mesh with his mentality. He’s just not likely to ever be a defensive juggernaut (unless some day it clicks internally and suddenly he decides to do that).

    I think Dragic got traded not so much because he lacked talent, but because he lacked a specific quality which the coaching staff thought he should have. Whatever that missing quality is, it isn’t stopping him from being successful in Houston. I don’t think it would stop him from being successful in San Antonio, either.

    I think Frye is by nature a center, not a power forward. I think he should be the 2nd unit center; that’s where his success was, and he’s been notably less successful out of that position.

    Turkoglu is a SF, not a PF. Period. He’s done fairly well for the Magic when returned to his natural position. (PER-wise, he’s rated above league average and he’d be the 3rd best player on the Suns.)

    And I think Lopez is by nature a complementary player. He was practically born that way with his twin, Brook. So pair him up with an aggressive PF like Gortat. If the chemistry is at all good, I suspect Robin would embrace the role of helping this PF succeed.

    IIRC, Robin’s best year was his sophomore year, playing alongside Amare, who is another aggressive PF.

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    No, that’s not the style. The Suns need to trade him AND a 2nd round pick, preferably for someone with an expiring contract who doesn’t play any better and who won’t stay. :p

  • Scott

    BTW, Diaw is another example of how nature trumps coaching. He had the ability to play beastly offense, but it just wasn’t in his heart to do it except when the team’s back was against the wall.

    If Amare was well and on the team, then Boris’ natural instinct was to give Amare the ball, and not score a basket himself, even if he was right under it.

    Where the Suns got burned was when they disregarded Boris’ nature and signed him to a contract that reflected what he did for the team at center that one year. If they’d given him a contract that reflected what he did the rest of the time, they wouldn’t have been so upset with him.

    Likewise, Marion is a SF. He’s willing to play PF if the team is in a pinch, and he can do well at it, but he’s not a PF.

    The Suns have to recognize what they’ve got and use it appropriately.

  • sun-arc

    The thing about Lopez is that he’s great as a back up center. When was the last time we had one that could play like Lopez? He was even a good starter for one year, and might get back to that level. It would be great to be able to keep him to play off the bench. Of course, if we could trade him for a good piece, that’d be nice too. But I’d prefer to keep him for the prices mentioned.

  • steve

    I think it’s too easy to forget how 23 year old kids think and what they care about in life. I think Robin deserves another 3 years in the system. It’s probably going to go to waste, in all honesty, but do we really want to send another first rounder away for pretty much nothing without really testing it out? When Marcin was 23 we never thought he would turn into what he is (no one did)? I know Marcin probably still showed the desire back then, so it’s not a perfect comparison, but what I’m saying is we can’t let an athletic, fairly coordinated 7-footer walk away if he can be had for around $10M over three years. If someone wants to pay Robin $20M, I’d be glad to see him go. But not if his price tag is low.

  • http://godaddy.com Big Daddy

    Robin Lopez SUCKS. NO other way around it. The only reason that stiff is in the nba is strictly because of his height. He is the most uncoordinated, least athletic player in the NBA. Not only that, but he makes poor decisions on the court all the time. Please get rid of this mistake, grant my eyes mercy from watching this pig play basketball.

  • Geo

    I agree with sun arc, after all I should not expect to see players make a big impact on such a compressed season. RoLo is probly going to be gassed by the end of the season along with the alot of ther players in the league. Especially coming back from injury, he was probly watching tv all offseason rehabilitating his back.

    Plus what do we do if gortat goes down with an injury? Stck frye in there and let him get handled by all the bigs in the league. Keef is a rookie and a Pf, why would we put him in that type of situation unless we are in a pinch. Maybe these guys would be better off in the 2nd. RoLo has been a starting C and is the only one capable of playing like one. Unless we trade or sign another player capable of being a C like Kenyon Martin, although he has that ugly looking shot but agreesive as hell….. Can only wonder of whats to come… Life after Nash…..

  • Zak

    At the very least, Lopez is a good back up with potential to be even better. We’ve seen that potential because he’s had some great games in the past. I’m agreed that unless some other team want to take the chance of grossly overpaying him, the Suns should make him a reasonable contract offer.

  • steve

    @BigDaddy – “He is the most uncoordinated, least athletic player in the NBA.”

    Clearly you have never seen Brian Cardinal play basketball.

  • http://blah Morgan McCoy

    I would trade Lopez for a draft pick. Why get a expiring contract when we can just let him walk next year. Trade him to Nj to play with his brother. I think the nets will keep Brook, because I can see dwight not going to NJ. I could see the lakers trading one of their late 1st rd or 2nd rd picks to add more size to their bench. I think a contending team would send a pick and cash to add more size for the post season. He needs a fresh start, so why not give it to him.

  • Cam

    On another note. Eric Gordon declined the contract extension that the Hornets aka David Stern offered him. I think the Suns should make a run at him and Nicolas Batum in the offseason. They should amnesty Childress. They should also resign Nash if they don’t trade him this year. I think the Suns would be playoff bound with these lineups:

    Nash, Gordon, Batum, Morris, Gortat

    Price, Dudley, Warrick, Frye, Fropez(if resigned).

    The Suns could look in the draft for a PG of the future or just draft the highest ranked player available. I like these lineups. Both Gordon and Batum are young and will only get better. Gortat and Morris can be the rebounding/defensive front court the Suns haven’t really had in a while. Go Suns.

  • Zak

    Going after Gordon is worth the effort but he’ll still be a restricted free agent so NO/Stern will still have the option of matching any offer so I wouldn’t count on him in a Suns uni next year. Stern put too much effort into bringing him to NO to let him go easily.

    Batum is also a restricted FA and I doubt Portland will let him go easily either although I think getting him is more likely than getting Gordon. If Hill decides to retire after this year, I’d make the hardest run at Batum over Gordon because I think Stern/NO will do almost anything necessary to keep Gordon in NO.

  • http://godaddy.com Big Daddy

    @ Steve- That’s true lol. Fair to say he’s in the same class as brian scalabrine and all the other stiffs(Except he cant shoot to save his life)

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    Making a run at guys like Gordon and Batum are really the only chance the Suns have of making a big splash next offseason. Both guys are probably a long shot but you just never know if you make a crazy frontloaded offer that will at least make NO/POR think twice. The Suns have the resources to do exactly that.

  • Cam

    My thoughts exactly. If the Suns were able to get those two I think the Suns would have one of their best offseasons since snagging Nash back from the Mavs. Gordon and Batum would be two more peices added to a strong core that the Suns could build around for the next few seasons at least. @Zak, they will only be restricted if they are made qualifying offers at the end of the year, which of course will happen. Go Suns.

  • steve

    I’m not that big on Batum. Would he be an upgrade on what we’ve currently got at SF? Absolutely. With him, it just depends on the contract.

    Eric Gordon, on the other hand… I might be willing to bet the farm. I realize he has been rather inefficient so far in his career, but he’s the best SG in the game under 30, in my opinion (althought MarShon Brooks and James Harden might be staking a claim on that title soon).

    Speaking of James Harden, when is he due for restricted free agency? Harden is a BEASTLY #2 or #3 option on a team, and he’s just 22 years old. If the Thunder can keep that core together, they have no excuse for not winning the next 3 NBA championships (and maybe more). The ONLY thing that can stand in their way, in my opinion, is LeBron James or maybe a combo of D-Rose and D-Howard (if Howard gets smart and decides he wants to win championships, rather than just wanting to play in LA or NY).

  • GoSuns

    He’s got two more steve

  • GoSuns

    This and next I mean

  • Scott

    I think Robin could be a fairly reliable low volume scorer if he could count on getting a small number of touches on rehearsed plays each game.

    He shoots about 75% from the line, so it’s not like he’s incapable of accurate shooting. Bo Outlaw or Andris Biedrins. He’s not even Gortat, who shoots 65% from the line.

    But near as I can tell there isn’t much work by the Suns on getting him involved, despite the fact he gets to the line in virtually every game he plays, having the same production at the FT line as Gortat, but in half the minutes.

    Furthermore, I still believe a Gortat / Lopez combo could pose the front lines of other teams with a problem – especially in crunch time – moreso than the tactic of using an iffy 3 pt shooting PF to spread the floor. And if someone has to help defend in the paint, then an opportunity opens for a 3 pt shot for the Suns.

  • Sam Sneak

    As far as athleticism and durability are concerned Lopez is well worth the going rate of $4 million. There’s a reason those issues come up when you’re 7 feet tall. Given the lack of a good bench PG to feed Lopez I’d say he’s doing quite well.

    Nevertheless, spending a reasonable amount of money to keep a working piece is a no brainer. You can’t just play Gortat 40 minutes while you get a new guy integrated. Especially this season.

    Trading Dragic was short-sighted and foolish for the exact same reason. If anything they need to resign Lopez and get us a backup PG.

  • bk

    I would love to see him playing some times in 4 with Gortat at 5.

  • Scott

    @Michael -

    I agree that Gordon and Batum are fine targets, but I don’t think the Suns have much chance of landing either player.

    Gordon is now pretty much the franchise player for NO, and I would assume the whole league will have some sort of say over what happens to Gordon. Either Gordon A) won’t be allowed to leave (NO will be required to match), or B) he will only leave on a sign and trade where some sort of franchise quality asset comes to NO.

    So I could see Cleveland, maybe, offering NO one of their #1 picks plus some players to fill roster holes (maybe Gibson and Eyenga) in exchange for Gordon.

    As for Batum … looking at the Blazers’ salaries I suspect the Blazers won’t be able to re-sign Felton, Batum, and Camby – someone will have to go – which will leave them short of talent somewhere, so they’re probably going to try to make some sort of trade before the deadline.

    At the moment, I don’t see how the Suns have an edge to get either Gordon or Batum, except to be the team that overpays.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Okay to everybody wanting to see a Gortat / Lopez front line, (shudder), please consider these truths.

    First, we’re still dealing with a Nash, (SNOW!) system and having two bigs in there that have to do the same thing doesn’t work. the weak-side would be clogged because either Lopez or Gortat would have to remain down low instead of sitting at the elbow or higher for shots like Morris / Frye do.

    This would me faster help on Nash and far smaller avenues for passes back out plus, there would be only two options for kick-out passes which would both be far more difficult on their own. The corner shot, (which would not be clear because the weak-side big is actually down there and his guy in the way), and the strong-side elbow 3, (which would be a pivot pass with another big in the way because he’s always there off the PnR if he takes the high side)

    That’s actually the small factor.

    The bigger one is RoLo’s foul trouble. With Gortat as the center, he’s going to be on the strong side. You’d be asking RoLo to be the weak side defender. The guy who has to come over quick and protect the rim. RoLo is clumsy and will commit easy fouls and be on the bench quickly. Then, you’d have to play Frye and Morris at the same time.. So much blood.

    To be honest, the Suns don’t need RoLo anymore. He plays center but, really, he was used as the backup in an “Amare role” for Nash or whatever guard was in the game. Gortat has that locked down now and Morris has already shown that he will mature and be far superior in the same role in comparison to Lopez.

    He will never get it defensively and his rebounding isn’t going to magically improve. I’d let him test the open market or let him walk.

    Can we please stop mentioning the Dragon? It still fills me with prehistoric rage that he was traded away. it’s the Nash-to-Dallas situation all over again, (because at the time, Nash was all over the place too & nobody expected him to become 2-time because he wasn’t there yet). He made a stable bench mob sing. Anyway…

    Gordon is not the answer. Batum is not the answer. Sadly, for Phoenix, it’s too late to go out and get a go-to scorer. They’re going to have to draft a demon or turn to Gortat later in games. I think Gortat can do the heavy lifting scoring wise if Gentry would go to him in the 4th. At least let him show that he can or can’t. That way we can narrow down what is needed via the draft.