As the March 15 trade deadline approaches, the inevitable Steve Nash trade rumors will start swirling.
But while several teams will be tying up Lon Babby’s phone lines in pursuit of Phoenix’s star point guard, there’s another player the Suns should shop around in order to brighten their seemingly gloomy future.
Enter Robin Lopez.
The Suns used to think Lopez was the future. But after a major decline in production and playing time, trading the hardly used 7-footer now becomes the most mutually beneficial and realistic deal the Suns could possibly make before the deadline.
From Lopez’s perspective, why wouldn’t he want to get dealt? As it stands now, there’s no future for Lopez in Phoenix. Marcin Gortat is cemented at the center spot, Channing Frye is locked up until 2013-14 with a player option in 2014-15, and Markieff Morris will only see more time as he grows and develops.
If Lopez wants to be a longtime starter in the NBA, it’s not going to happen in Phoenix, and the 7-footer isn’t ignorant to that fact. He already made it clear he wants to test free agency waters, choosing not to negotiate with the Suns on a long-term deal before the Jan. 25 deadline for players of his experience.
Do you think it’s a coincidence he’s seen an increase in playing time since the All-Star break? Is it just by chance he’s having his best month since December, averaging 4.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 14.7 minutes per game?
No. This is the last chance the Suns’ front office has to show potential suitors that Lopez has significant trade value before the deadline passes and he eventually jettisons elsewhere in the offseason. This is also his final audition to prove he’s not the immobile big man scouts would see if they turned on last year’s film.
A Lopez deal makes perfect sense for both sides. Lopez needs an opportunity, and the Suns need to get something in return before they lose the Stanford product to free agency. Most importantly, there’s a market for Lopez.
Sure, he’s proved injury prone and uninspired at times, but what team couldn’t use a 23-year-old 7-foot center with a reasonable price tag? Lopez is appealing to both a playoff team needing more depth up front to take them to the next level, and a young team stuck in rebuilding mode in search of a center that can grow and develop.
A Lopez trade is the most realistic deal the Suns can make before March 15, and it’s a trade that would only benefit Phoenix and potentially help them add a piece for the future. If the Suns move Lopez they wouldn’t have to deal with his contract situation in the offseason. They would also most likely be able to bring back a decent draft pick, which aligns with the Suns’ strategy for the future.
“I don’t think we’re interested in any short term fixes,” Babby said on Doug and Wolf on Feb. 22. “We’re interested in things that are going to make the Suns an elite team in the future.”
A Lopez deal doesn’t make the Suns an elite team in the future but it could give them a building block to move toward that goal. So while all of the talk will surround if and where Steve Nash will go, it’s Robin Lopez who should be on his way out of Phoenix in a move that would do nothing but help all sides involved.
Hypothetical Trade Partners
Rebuilding teams that could use a young big man
New Orleans Hornets: The Hornets are planning on shipping out Chris Kaman, which makes room for a center like Lopez. New Orleans has one of the weakest rosters in the NBA, and Lopez could help give them a building block at the center spot.
Emeka Okafor is still locked up for two more seasons, but Carl Landry is a free agent after this season which leaves Okafor by himself in New Orleans’ frontcourt. While the Hornets obviously wouldn’t give up a pick that will most likely be in the top three, they own Minnesota’s unprotected first-round pick, which would give Phoenix a selection in the late lottery or 15, 16, 17 range.
If New Orleans wouldn’t give up that pick, the Hornets also have some young talent in shooting guard Xavier Henry and point guard Greivis Vasquez, both of which could help the Suns’ future to some degree. If the Hornets land Anthony Davis or Andre Drummond, Lopez is an afterthought but they could end up with the third pick and miss both young studs.
New Jersey Nets: The Nets obviously already have Robin’s better half, but the twins played next to each other at Stanford and Brook could possibly lobby to get his brother in New Jersey. After all, he could use the frontcourt help as the Nets will lose Kris Humphries to free agency and after Memhet Okur’s deal expires will be left with Johan Petro down low.
Like the Hornets, the Nets have a second first-round pick from the Houston Rockets that they could offer the Suns. The pick is lottery protected, however, but if the Rockets sneak into the playoffs the Suns could be sitting pretty with a pick in the teens. New Jersey also has rising shooting guard MarShon Brooks, who the Suns could try and include in a deal.
Eastern Conference team that could use a big man for playoff run
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks have the talent to make noise in the Eastern Conference but with Al Horford out for the majority and maybe all of the playoffs, Atlanta needs another big to help back up Zaza Pachulia.
The Hawks currently have Jason Collins and Erick Dampier behind Pachulia, but Collins is nothing more than a stopgap and has a sprained elbow, while Erick Dampier is, well, Erick Dampier.
Lopez could give the Hawks much-needed size and a warm body who could at least attempt to bang Dwight Howard. In return, the Suns could receive a draft pick most likely in the early 20s, which is almost like a lottery pick in this loaded draft.