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

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.”

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Tags: Josh Childress

  • Ty-Sun

    How long is the amnesty available for the Suns to use? I was under the impression that teams had to use it this year or it wouldn’t be an option for teams next season.

    Whatever the case, Childress and Warrick are the only two amnesty targets for the Suns (baring some career ending injury to someone else). Childress seems most likely because he has a higher salary but whatever moves the Suns make during the off season will determine which – if either – of them get amnestied.

  • Michael Schwartz

    The Suns can use the amnesty for the length of Childress’ contract. It is available to use on any player that was on your roster before the new CBA went into effect. So they can use it on anybody who was on the 2010-11 team (realistically only Childress and Warrick, as we both agree) for as long as they are still a Sun.

  • Ty-Sun

    Thanks for clearing that up, Michael!

  • Tony


    why is it we never hear about basketball related decisions from Blanks? In other words, why is it that Babby, who as far I as know has never played basketball, even at the college level, seemingly the only one speaking on behalf of basketball-related matters concerning the Suns? The guy was supposed to be the financial guru, that is to manipulate and take advantage of the new CBA for the Suns benefit. Yet, more and more, it appears as if Babby is also too involved in assessing players’ value to the team.

    As far Childress is concerned, I really question is work-ethic because the one critical aspect of his game that needed dramatic improvement, that of being able to shoot even if just wide open jumpers, showed no improvement from last season to this season. Just by his shooting form it’s to be expected that he will never be a great shooter, but where is the progress in being able to make at least 48% of wide open mid-range shots? Did he not spend the off-season working everyday to improve his shooting? IF not, then that clearly demonstrates a lack of work ethic.

  • steve

    I think of all things that could be questioned about childress, his ethic is the last. He’s a stand up guy. There are certain people who, for whatever reason, simply cannot develop a reliable stroke. Try telling a career .220 hitter in baseball he just needs to work harder. Or a golfer who can’t break 70 that he just needs to work on his swing a little but. Or a d-lineman that he could increase his production by 30% if he could just master his technique.

    I don’t know a whole lot about childress, but from the bit that I do know, I don’t question his integrity one bit. I think it’s just a matter of ability. Not everyone can be Steve Nash. And sure, Steve worked hard for what he has, but not everyone can get there just by working hard.

  • grover

    Michael – are you sure about the amnesty being available only to those on the roster at the time of the CBA? I read somewhere it was available to once during the length of the CBA to any player signed by that team, meaning a team could sign a bad contract this summer and still decide to amnesty that player at a later date. Minor point… The only reason it matters at all to the discussion would be if Childress co.uld provide some value to the Suns, maybe its worth keeping the get out of jail free card just in case.

    I believe they should amnesty Childress so long as they use that cap space to do something worthwhile. If they cant make major improvements this summer, it may be wiser to not amnesty Childress yet. They have to pay him regardless, so if they aren’t going to use the cap space now they may as well retain the option in case something happens. Example: they sign one great player this summer, but can’t get a second good one and don’t need the cap space this year. If they already have used the amnesty on Childress and the great player they signed this summer blows out a knee next season and will never return to the same form, they would be stuck with him and his cap hit. If they had waited on Chuildress (because they didn’t do anything that required the cap space yet anyway), they could choose at that point which player to Amnesty – the two years left on Childress or whatever is left on the new players contract. All a moot point if you’re right that you can only amnesty players on the roster when the CBA was signed.

  • Ty-Sun

    I agree, Steve. One former player that quickly comes to mind is Darrell Walker (mainly because I went to collage with him… even though I never met him). Darrell never had a consistent shot and his shots almost always looked “awkward” at best but no one ever questioned his effort or integrity. Childress sometimes reminds me of him which is why I’m often not as hard on his play as other are. Walker played 10 seasons in the NBA and in his final season won a championship ring as Michael Jordan’s backup with the Bulls in 93. Perhaps Childress’ real problem is that he’s playing on a team that counts too much on him being a scoring threat instead of a defender, rebounder and facilitator. I think he has a future in the NBA but maybe just not with the Suns.

  • Ty-Sun

    Grover, one thing I’m sure of is that teams can NOT use amnesty on players signed AFTER the new CBA was agreed to.

  • Michael Schwartz

    Larry Coon clears up all your amnesty questions here: So yeah, amnesty is ONLY available to players on your roster at the time of the CBA. It’s kind of meant so you can erase one mistake you made under the old rules that you might not have taken a chance on under these new more restrictive rules.

    @Tony That’s an interesting question that Seth Pollack from Bright Side actually asked Babby in some form at the media lunch a few weeks back. From what I’ve seen over the past year and a half, Blanks just isn’t very comfortable in front of the media. He came out very much on the attack at one of those pre-draft workouts last season, almost accusatory at many reasonable questions. He also seemingly does all he can to evade the media whereas Babby is a lawyer and an adept public speaker.

    It’s hard to see how much influence Blanks has when Babby is the one often making public statements/appearances, but Babby raved about some evaluation system Blanks put together for evaluating players and he is the guy in charge of the draft along with John Treloar. Apparently they will be doing a “Lunch with Lance” before the draft so we will hopefully get a better sense of what he’s thinking then.

  • Tony

    There’s no reason why a player can’t at least improve jump shooting, especially considering that that is the essence of Childress’s problem and why he doesn’t play. I’m not suggesting he should become Nash over one off-season, but he should at least be able to make some mid-range shots. I believe both Gentry and Eddie Johnson talked about shooting being the easiest aspect of the game to improve. Childress should have hired a shooting coach over the last off-season and worked every day on improving his shooting. Now he might have indeed done that in which case my point is moot, but it just seems difficult to see how he couldn’t have improved his shooting despite working everyday on it with a shooting coach.

    The other incident that irks me about Childress was when he recently referred to himself in the third-person. Michael probably has the exact quote, but it was something along the lines of, “Josh needs to take care of himself,” when asked about the amnesty situation. It’s ridiculous for anyone to refer to himself in the third-person, especially one who rides the pine for two straight.

  • steve

    Fair enough. I hope he improves his j as well. The suns sure need it. And I’m I’m total agreement about the third person thing. I didn’t hear the quote you’re talking about, but that just reminds me of that whole cam newton mess everyone was making such a big deal about before he got drafted. A lot of athletes think they’re something more than a normal human being, and no matter how good they are at their sport, I can never really root for them the same way after those sorts of instances.

  •!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    I still don’t care that he can’t shoot.

    If that’s the only problem he has, I don’t really mind.

    Michael posted that video of the ’06 Suns / Lakers series. The one thing missing on this team really since Amare left is constant slashing, even in offensive sets.

    Slashing from the elbow, the wing, back-door. Fast break advantages because the ball could be passed ahead to somebody other than Nash who can get up the floor in a hurry. Somebody who can score the ugly points when the “system” fails.

    Grant Hill played great defense, but it never resulted in much offense, if that makes sense. He made it hard for the person he was guarding and kind of cancelled that guy out for the most part, but there were no extra benefits from it.

    I also think Chil didn’t see much playing time early because Frye strugged so terribly. In the system Gentry was using, he simply couldn’t have a guy out there to do the little things without a jumpshot AND a guy who spaces the floor who is supposed to be a deadly shooter but suddenly can’t shoot anymore.

    I think the “Marion 3″ posistion is perfect for him if he is given that role in the system. Lets not forget, Marion only ever had ONE play designed for him, and he only had it when Diaw was on the team.

    He developed that chicken-wing-cluck-shot-of-death as the seasons came and went, but he was out there because D’Antoni had nobody else to pencil in there and he grew because of it.

    If Josh actually gets to play and is used in that role while others are designated to keep the floor spaced, (as he was with the second unit at the end of the season), then he will bring the team that missing energy.

    Though, I will say, that my co-sign of him just means he’ll get banished from the team. I backed Dragon as well…

  • Scott

    The problem is that Childress is a finesse slasher who avoids contact. At least partly that’s because he doesn’t want to go to the line where his poor shooting can be exposed.

    In the past he’s had a decent shot but lately he’s been horrendous. In his first year with the Suns his FT% dropped nearly in half, from 80% to 49%, and this last season – though he played in 34 games – he failed to hit a single FT. None. 0%.)

    It’s no secret the Suns expect players to shoot jumpers, and all teams expect players to shoot free throws. If you can’t do either, and your name isn’t Shaq (the young Shaq), you need to sit on the bench and maybe ask yourself what you’re doing with your career.

    I mentioned this basic situation at the beginning of the season, before a game was played. I said, “If the Suns’ offense is predicated on everyone being a shooter and someone can’t shoot, then that person shouldn’t get on the floor.” However, after the bench played so poorly in the first couple games, I was contradicting myself and advising Gentry to please put Childress on the floor, because at least he was a veteran of the system and knew where to go and what to do. (The other guys clearly didn’t.) He wouldn’t score a lot, but he’d get to his places and help with the defense.

    IMO, Josh’s problem was identified by the VotS team last summer. He floats several inches when he shoots, especially in games, and especially when a defender is running out on him, and the ball misses the basket by however far he floated and in whatever direction he moved. If they could just have him practice by shooting from within a ring of fire or a bale of barbed wire – so he couldn’t float – it looks like his shot would be dead on.

    I don’t believe Childress has been working on his game. I think he decided it was just a confidence issue, and he decided to be more confident. But that doesn’t correct his mechanics, and it doesn’t make him stop shying away from contact.

    To his credit, he said he’s going to work on his shooting this summer. He should have done it last summer if he was as professional as everyone says he is. So far as I can tell he doesn’t have to overhaul his mechanics. He just has to land where he jumped from. No more floating.

    As for speaking in the third person, that may naturally come from being in a sports system that objectifies players and refers to them as “products.”

    As for Marion shooting the 3, IIRC he did a lot of that in his rookie year.

  • Scott

    Ugh. As I just watched the video above, I have two corrections to my previous post.

    One: apparently Childress still believes his problems are mental. Sure, the shying away from contact is mental, but the shooting problem appears to be mechanical. Mental toughness is unlikely to correct his shot.

    Two: maybe he’s NOT going to work on his shot this summer. I thought he was going to do that, but maybe he’s just going to look for opportunities to slash within the flow of the offense.

    I hope he figures it out this summer. And if he does do that, I hope he’s still with the Suns, because if his shot was falling he’d be fine.

  • Michael Schwartz

    Yeah, he spoke of the mental issues in an interview I did with him in training camp as well as the exit interview that this story’s quotes came from. I buy it. He just doesn’t look very confident shooting the basketball and basketball really is a mental game. As I know Steve has pointed out before, he put up some of the better true shooting percentages in the league for a non-big in Atlanta. I can only assume he’s been diligent working on his shot in the offseason as most NBA players are. I’m not sure if he put in Jared Dudley before 2009-10 time in the gym, but I’m sure he put in a decent amount.

    The third person thing is kind of strange since he’s one of the more down to Earth NBA players I’ve been around in most other ways. One such example is at the 6:30 mark of the above video.

  • Scott

    @Michael -

    I can understand the lack of confidence in his shot. I don’t have confidence in it either; he’s been missing badly. However, lower body mechanics count for a lot, and I don’t know if he’s even considering that. He may be thinking his form is the same as it’s always been.

    Consequently, he could be playing a game of second guessing that he can’t win, where he insists the problem is in his head, yet because his shot never improves despite shooting drills, he isn’t ever able to gain true confidence. There may be even be some further erosion of basic basketball confidence due to ending up on the bench for 2 years.

    Too bad he hasn’t seen the VotS video. Maybe someone should tweet him a link to it and ask him if he thinks the floating on his shot is significant. :)