Josh Childress rides the pine once again before solid final month, now must sweat out amnesty decision

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PHOENIX — Pretty soon it’s going to start feeling like Groundhog’s Day for Josh Childress.

For the second straight season, J-Chill entered training camp with the expectation of being a rotation player. At training camp, he spoke of feeling much more comfortable in the Suns’ system and said he was ready to put his underwhelming inaugural season in Phoenix behind him.

Instead he got more of the same, as he was out of the rotation by the start of January and averaged a career-low 14.4 minutes in 34 contests overall.

“It’s frustrating, but it’s a part of basketball,” Childress said. “These two years have been the first two years in my career that I have dealt with it, but Coach basically [said] he can’t play 12 guys. I understand that guys are playing well.

“One of the things he did all year is if a guy was playing well and we were winning he kept that rotation the same, and I can’t fault that at all. He’d be stupid not to do that. I don’t accept the role and I’m going to work my butt off to not let that happen again, but that’s something out of my control and I’ve just got to continue to try to get better.”

Childress did not get much burn because he was a liability on offense, averaging a mere 2.9 points per game and only once reaching double figures. He shot just 48.5 percent (down from 56.5 percent last year), the first time he was below 50 percent since his rookie campaign. He “improved” on last year’s 1-for-16 effort from three-point land, but shooting 4-for-24 is nothing to be too proud of, and he did not make a single free throw all year (and took just two).

According to mySynergySports, Childress scored 0.93 points per play but he just can’t shoot, scoring an abysmal 0.5 points per play on 32 spot-up jumpers, his most frequent play type despite it being his worst.

The Suns’ offense is predicated on the pick-and-roll and spacing, and Childress is the antithesis of a spacer. The thought behind his signing had to be that he would play a Matrix-like slasher role, and although he has been effective doing that at times his lack of spacing ability has got to be a major reason Gentry does not feel comfortable playing him rotation minutes.

However, with three years and $21 left on his contract, Childress said he can still envision a scenario in which he earns a substantial role with the Suns.

“Coach said as much, but once again I’m not a GM and I’m not a coach so I can’t really discuss what that role is,” Chilly said. “I think a lot of it will depend on what direction the team goes in.”

Childress better hope that direction involves a similar bench unit to the one that finished this season.

Gentry had no choice but to break the glass and free Chilly from his bench exile when Grant Hill got hurt late in the season — which pushed Shannon Brown into the starting lineup — and that move turned around the bench’s second half.

During the second half of the season, the Suns’ bench lineup of Telfair-Redd-Brown-Morris-Lopez lost 23.8 points per 100 possessions in 87 minutes over 17 games, according to the NBA’s stats tool.

Once Childress replaced Brown that unit outscored opponents by 22.9 points per 100 in 112 minutes over 12 games — a whopping difference of 46.7 points per 100 possessions.

Not surprisingly the Suns played their best with Childress during the season’s final month, as Childress finished with a positive 11.4 net rating in 14 April games after racking up a -12.9 net rating in four December games, a -20.2 in four January contests and a -21.0 in 11 games in February (he only played seven minutes in March).

This should be no real surprise to anybody who read Thursday’s Telfair story. That bench unit just clicked, and replacing Brown with Childress was a big reason why.

That meant Michael Redd could take on the unit’s go-to guy role as Childress did all the little things for a unit that gelled in a big way.

Unfortunately for Chilly he did not exactly play like a defensive stopper once again as he gave up 1.03 points per play (445th in the league), according to Synergy, and the Suns were 5.29 points per 100 worse defensively with him on the floor, according to Basketball Value.

That’s about where he was at last season when he yielded a Suns-worst 1.05 points per play and the team was 5.14 per 100 worse defensively.

All that leads us to the $21 million question of whether it’s time to amnesty J-Chill.

To me it comes down to a question of what the opportunity cost is for keeping Childress. If amnestying him would allow the Suns to make a big move in free agency or via a trade, it’s a no-brainer.

But if the Suns go into “save your powder mode” they may as well pass on amnestying either Childress or Hakim Warrick (another consideration due to his uselessness and $4 mil salary for next season) and save that artillery for the offseason in which they plan on spending. PBO Lon Babby seems to agree.

“It’s a weapon and we will use it if it makes sense,” Babby said. “We won’t use it just for the sake of using it, but we have it available to us. If it allows us to do something that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to do I’m sure we would consider it. We’re not going to do it just for the heck of it.”

Although Chilly understands his amnesty future is somewhat uncertain, he said, “I’m not worried about it. I really have to focus on Josh and not worry about things that are out of my control.”

On the surface the amnesty clause was created for a player like Childress, the kind of mid-level splurge for below average talent that has hamstrung so many caps throughout the years.

Chilly played a vital role in April’s bench revival, yet he figures to be on the first plane out of Phoenix the second the Suns find a better use for the cap space he’s currently occupying.

Until then, Childress vows to work hard this offseason to ensure he finally sticks in the rotation next season if he is lucky enough to make it through the summer.

“I love it here,” Childress said. “Obviously the on the court stuff hasn’t been the best for me, but the organization is wonderful, the city, the fans. If the on the court stuff can get taken care of it would be ideal, but it’s just a matter of getting that better.”

Statistical support provided by NBA.com.

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