Robin Lopez a priority for the Suns, but what will they spend to keep him?


PHOENIX — Robin Lopez followed up his disaster 2010-11 season in which he averaged 6.4 points and 3.2 boards with a 2011-12 campaign in which he produced 5.4 and 3.3.

He played only 14 minutes a game, didn’t start a single contest, shot a career-low 46.1 percent the field and corralled 13.2 percent of the available rebounds (47th among qualifying centers).

Yet with the Suns’ center headed for restricted free agency, PBO Lon Babby made it clear Lopez is firmly in Phoenix’s plans.

“He’s going to be a restricted free agent, and the message I would send out is it is quite likely if not certain that we’re going to match because he’s an important asset for us,” Babby said. “He gave us a lot down the stretch this year, and what we need is rim protection and he gives us that and we don’t have that really from anybody else.

“I thought he had a good second half of the year in particular. He’s got to get more consistent. I thought he made a lot of progress this year and I think vindicated our decision to stick with him.”

As I have written before, that sure sounds like Babby making a plea to other teams not to extend an offer sheet that the Suns would not be wise to match because in an ideal world he would like to keep Lopez.

But with Marcin Gortat deserving of heavy minutes as the starting center and the team unwilling to play the two big men together, it leaves scant few minutes for Lopez to consume.

As nice as it is to have a quality backup center, how much money can the Suns afford to pay a guy who has not played over 15 minutes a game the last two years and never has played 20 a game in a season when they already have a bonafide starter at the position?

That’s the question the Suns will have to ask themselves as it pertains to Lopez’s free agency. What price is too much for a backup center who would be lucky to play 17 minutes a game?

If the Suns don’t make a big splash, I would be in favor of bringing Lopez back on any reasonable one-year deal, but he figures to want some years on this contract. I would not pay him much more than $4 million a year on a long-term deal.

For what it’s worth, Lopez said, “I’d love to be here, I love Phoenix. … I’m just kind of weighing my options, but I like it in Phoenix.”

With Lopez having spent four years in the Valley — more than any player aside from Nash or Hill — the Suns have a fair sense of what he brings and more importantly of whether he has another level to reach.

My biggest complaint about Lopez is that he’s 7 feet tall and doesn’t rebound. He peaked with a rebound rate of 14.2 in his “breakout” 2009-10 season (still not very good for a center) but followed that up with a 12.6 in 2010-11 and this year’s 13.2 after rebounding 11.2 percent of the misses while he was on the floor as a rookie.

As Babby pointed out, he is a rim protector, but he doesn’t block a ton of shots at just 0.8 a game for his career. It is noteworthy that he ranked 81st in post defense, according to mySynergySports, holding opponents to 0.76 points per play and 43.5 percent shooting. Isolation players scored 0.72 ppp and shot 33.3 percent about FroLo.

Meanwhile, it’s disconcerting that his shooting percentage has dipped from 58.8 percent in 2009-10 to 50.1 percent last year and all the way down to 46.1 percent this season.

Babby raved about his second half as Lopez upped his numbers from 4.1 ppg and 2.8 rpg on 42 percent shooting in 11.6 minutes to 6.8 and 3.7 on 49 percent shooting while being a key component of the bench’s superb April run.

“The first half of the season was a little weird for everybody,” Lopez said. “Sometimes play quite a bit, sometimes get six minutes. I think we did a good job of kind of finding our rhythm. Hopefully I can carry that over into next season.”

The other question I have about Lopez concerns how much bounce his back injury robbed him of, how much he has gotten back and whether he will ever regain the athleticism he possessed as a rookie.

He apparently lost eight inches on his vertical upon his return in 2010-11 and may yet have more improvement to make before he’s back to full strength.

“I think it’s still a little bit of a process,” Lopez said. “It’s slowly retuning I think. I even felt better [in the season finale] than I did the previous game.”

Added Babby, “I think in retrospect it was clear it took him a long time to recover from his medical issues he had, physical issues he had last year, and second half of this year particularly after the All-Star break he was excellent.”

Although he seems older based on how long he has been a Sun, Lopez turned only 24 in April and thus has yet to reach his career’s peak.

You never want to give up on a young big man with some athleticism who can protect the paint and provide energy, but past a certain price it doesn’t make much sense to bring back a player who has averaged 5.8 points and 3.3 rebounds for his career.

The Suns will keep their fingers crossed that nobody throws a stupid offer sheet at Lopez, as surely they would like to keep him in purple and orange so long as the price is right.

And 1

  • Lopez ranked second in adjusted plus/minus behind only Nash at 11.74, according to Basketball Value. However, his unadjusted net rating was just -3.29.
  • Robin scored 0.93 points per play to rank 145th in the league. He was best on cuts (1.29, 53rd) and as the pick and roll roll man (1.15, 20th), a play he has always thrived in after ranking ninth at 1.3 ppp in 2009-10 and 33rd at 1.11 in 2010-11. Furthermore, this season 20 percent of his offensive attempts came off offensive rebounds, and he hit just 31.6 percent of his spot-up attempts.
  • Lopez accrued a below average 0.034 WP48, according to Nerd Numbers. However, he improved to 0.094 after the All-Star break and 0.137 in April (above average) following a horrid -0.051 mark before the break.
  • Lopez “broke out” in assists by posting an assist ratio of 5.1 and averaging a career-high 0.3 after accruing an average of 0.1 in each of his first three seasons. RoLo ranked dead last in the entire NBA with a 1.8 assist ratio in both 2009-10 and 2010-11, making his 15th to last ranking this year seem like a gigantic jump. Still, I don’t think anybody is going to confuse him with Steve Nash anytime soon for reasons other than his hair.
  • Ronnie Price lauded Lopez’s improvement as one of the key’s to the Suns’ second-half turnaround. “I think the second half of the season he really turned it up a notch,” Price said.

Tags: Robin Lopez

  • Ty-Sun

    As long as the price is right I’m all for keeping Lopez. First he’s a good backup for Gortat and at his age there is still room for improvement even if he never comes back fully physically. Second, he could figure into “the big trade” that we’re all hoping for someday.

  • Nathan

    He does have value as a trade asset, I suppose. A team like Atlanta who’s desperate for size and a true center would probably start him. PHX could probably get a pick from him, or maybe steal Jeff Teague with Lopez and cash considerations? Maybe absorb Marvin William’s contract as well? They’ve been trying to find some one who would allow Horford to slide down to PF, and they’re probably going to have even more pressure to do so because Josh Smith isn’t going to be in ATL very much longer, by all reports.

    If Lopez does get an offer that Babby doesn’t match, I think he’d have to consider bring Frye off the bench to back up Gortat. He’s traditionally played better both off the bench and as a center, and his floor spacing at the 5 would be a really great help for the bench. Markieff Morris should probably start at PF, at least for developmental reasons. He’s going to turn into basically Channing Frye with defense and rebounding(at least that’s the hope), and since we’re probably not winning much next season it makes sense to get his reps in while we don’t have much at stake yet.

  • Nathan

    Otherwise, it might be a good idea to try and use Lopez as a trade asset to take a flier on some other young prospects. MIN would probably give up either Michael Beasley or Anthony Randolph straight-up for Lopez. We have great need for a wing scorer like Beasley, and he can play the 4 as well. Randolph would be an excellent addition off the bench, and could back up both Gortat and Frye/Morris. He’s still only 23 and hasn’t really had a chance to play meaningful minutes, and he has a lot of potential as a shot blocking, pick-and-roll player.

  • Tony

    Michael,

    quick question as I’m not entirely sure how the restricted free agency works. Hypothetically speaking, if Babby offers Lopez a contract that he doesn’t like, can Lopez simply turn it down and accept another team’s offer? Assuming that the Suns then did match another team’s offer, is Lopez then obligated to fulfill the full term of the contract even if he isn’t satisfied by the deal? Overall, I’m not entirely clear how much leverage the player, in this case Lopez, has in a restricted free-agency situation.

    Unlike Gortat, Lopez is still young enough to develop his game to a much greater level if properly coached. Assuming Nash leaves, it’s hard to see how the Suns can continue running the same offense which is predicated on spacing from the pf. As such, the chances of Gortat and Lopez playing together increase greatly, which as we all know would be to Scott’s delight.

    With a change in offensive style, Lopez’s value to the team becomes far more important on the offensive end. If, however, Nash does resign, then it is hard to see how Lopez can be effectively utilized to earn a relatively high contract. But since I do not buy into the whole saving cap space for some future elite player(s) that is entirely based on chance, Lopez is too valuable to the team to just let another team take without getting anything in return. Furthermore, since the Paul Coro is reporting that Frye will be out 6-8 months following surgery, it’s hard to see how Frye will be NBA-ready when the season starts. As such, Gentry might be more dependent on Lopez to replace Frye than he ever has.

  • MikeM

    Anything over 1 year, $2 m is a horrible signing. 4 years is enough to know that this guy’s never gonna make it as a starting center. He’s a terrible rebounder, uncoordinated, can’t run the pick and roll, turns it over, can’t shoot, not a great blocker. Am I missing something or is the only thing keeping him in the league the fact that he’s 7 feet tall and is a body to put up against other incompetent, overpaid 7 footers? I’d much rather go smaller, let Markieff get more minutes; possibly draft or trade for another big man.

  • Ty-Sun

    I really don’t see Lopez as a big trade asset during the off season. There might be a few teams that are willing to take a chance and make him a fairly large offer as a RFA but I think he still needs to prove his durability before he becomes a really good trade asset. If he continues to improve I can see teams making several trade offers for him as the trade deadline approaches next season. I forget who originally said it but it’s true… “You can’t teach size” so 7 footers will always be valuable in the NBA.

    And I have to also say that Robin is an asset to the Suns coming off the bench even if his game never improves (which I doubt).

  • MikeM

    Tony, if the Suns match another team’s offer then he plays for the Suns. The only leverage that Lopez would have is if he pulled a Joe Johnson: where the Suns matched the Hawks’ offer but then Joe told the Suns he didn’t want to play here and wouldn’t be happy (don’t want an unhappy player on your team).

    Then it’s just a matter of the Suns being smart and not matching if it’s too high. Michael says $4 million a year, I say even less because I think he’s terrible for the above reasons. But obviously $10 million would be too much for example.

  • Ty-Sun

    My understanding of restricted free agents is that the team they are with has the opportunity to make a qualifying contract offer first. If the team doesn’t make that offer then the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. But if an offer is made, the player can then accept or refuse that offer. If they refuse it, then they can take contract offers from any other team in the NBA but the team the player is presently with can choose to match any offer made to that player which the player has to accept and remain with their original team.

  • Scott

    Wow … I think I agree with every single point made in the article. :)

    And about the salary, something lower would be better, of course, but $4 in the final year has to be the max. Hopefully he does what Dudley did on his contract, and goes for years, because he may need more time in the league to develop and prove his worth. His injuries really sucked the wind out of his rookie contract.

    As for a Gortat / Lopez pairing … please remember I want this tried in practice first, to see if the potential is really there. But yes, I think it could be the best defensive pairing for the Suns, and if the two men can work together on offense, it could be another source of non-Nash point creation, something the Suns can use in crunch time.

    One thing this strategy would depend on is better big man passing, and maybe that’s there, maybe it isn’t. But I do believe it’s in the character of both men to play as a team as well as get their own points. If they can score and create for each other, I think they’d really enjoy it.

    In fact, I wish these guys (and maybe other Suns) would get together on their own and practice. That’s what Steve and Dirk did, and they found a way to become perennial all-stars.

  • Scott

    Oooh … any comments on this anecdote by Jalen Rose?

    http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post?id=43774

  • Ty-Sun

    I remember that season, that series and that game but until reading this I would never have even guessed that Jalen Rose was a member of the Suns that season. He averaged 8.5 MPG in a total of 29 games played and had worse stats than Price did last season. He was basically a non-factor that season, that series and that game. He’s “obviously” a great source for insight as to what “really” happened back then. He wanted a ring – as all NBA player do – but didn’t get one. He contributed virtually nothing that year… so it must have been D’Antoni’s fault!

    Right…

  • steve

    I really dislike jalen rose and almost always disagree with him (big generalizations, I know), but I actually agree with most of what he said there-even though I could hardly understand any of it. Didn’t he go to college?

  • New fan

    Hey man, love the work. Do you have a Twitter?

  • JZ

    I truly don’t mind if Lopez comes back as long as it’s not higher than 5.5 million per year. Suns can’t have a Andris Biedrin or Andre Jordan center with a bloated contract down low in the paint.
    I am really interested in the amnesty situation. I think Phoenix should truly choose to amnesty Warrick over Childress. Both players have contracts for 2 years, but Childress has an extra year that is a player option. I doubt Childress will take the player option. Over the next 2 years Childress will make 13.6 million while Warrick will make 9.6 million. That’s only 4 million extra in 2 years with 2 million extra in cap space for each year. Childress has more value than Warrick. If Childress is amnestied he will just go and sign with a play off team (Spurs, Mavericks, Boston, etc.) and become a solid contributor off the bench. Warrick has lesser value do to his size, weight, and inability to defend. And that is why I think Warrick should be amnestied instead of Childress.

  • Scott

    @JZ -

    I think you’ve got that wrong. Childress has 3 years left on his contract, one of which may be optional.

    Warrick has only 2 years left on his contract, the final one is team option.

    Warrick is only $4 million and a veteran who now knows the system. That’s not bad for someone coming off the bench. If he needs to be amnestied to make some great plan work, fine. But otherwise, he comes off the payroll as early as next summer.

    I imagine if Warrick was to be amnestied today, it would cost the Suns about $8 million to pay him off. If Childress was to be amnestied today, I believe it would cost around $18 million to pay him off. In both cases, that’s a fair amount of money to shell out for a team that doesn’t appear to be contending.

  • .

    Suns will use Warrick’s contract as filler to include on a Dwight Howard trade this summer. 2012-2013 season will be the Sun’s GO BIG OR REBUILD. Dwight and Nash in the valley +a Return of the Turk. Who wants to bet?

  • Scott

    @. -

    As others have pointed out, if the Suns do get someone chances are it will be someone we didn’t know was actually available to the Suns, like Pau, Boozer, or Dirk.

  • Realist1234

    How is Lopez a trade asset if he’s a restricted free agent? The new rules take away almost all incentive for a player to agree to it, and it’s really not going to be an option for any player slated to make less than the mle. Atlanta, for instance, can just sign him outright.

    And Jeff Teague is worth more than Lopez. So is Marvin Williams.

  • Ty-Sun

    No, Atlanta – or any other team – can not sign Lopez outright. Being a restricted free agent means that the Suns have the right to match any offer made by any other team and Lopez HAS to return to the Suns. Unless some other team makes him an outrageous offer that the Suns refuse to match, Lopez stays a Sun, is under a new contract and THEN is a possible trade asset.

  • Scott

    The Suns should test the waters with Dallas to see if they want to trade Dirk, as I think this summer presents more opportunities for such a trade than usual. (In other words, there’s a 1% chance instead of zero.)

    It all depends on whether or not Deron decides to leave NJ this year. If he can stand one more year in NJ, it would make sense for him, as per league rules his next contract from the Nets will be millions of dollars larger than what would be allowed from Dallas. And the Nets should try to get one more year out of Deron before trading him.

    When asked by the press about whether Dirk expected to be with Dallas next season, he said that if the Mavs didn’t get a star free agent like Deron, they’d be rebuilding, and he said he’s too old for that. So he’d expect in that case to be traded.

    If Cuban is willing to trade Dirk – because of Dirk’s recent injury-plagued season and Dallas’s aging roster – I can see where that trade might set off a small cascade of trades based on a complete roster rebuild for Dallas. If the Mavs traded Dirk to Phoenix, I could see them turning around and making trades with possibly Houston and the Lakers, coming out with a complete rebuild that would be competitive.

    The Suns would have to like their chances too, though they’d be set to blow out on both Nash and Nowitzki in two or three years.

    If the Suns could trade for Nowitzki, I think they’d have to give up Gortat, Childress, Dudley, and a re-signed Brooks, and maybe even a trade of the Suns #1 pick for the Mavs #2.

  • Scott

    Or, as regards the scenario above, but in reverse … maybe if Cuban doesn’t get Deron, he’ll come knocking at Steve’s door to see if he’d like to be the free agent signing the Mavs need to keep Dirk. ;)

  • Ty-Sun

    I don’t know where you read that about Nowitzki but he’s a quote from him from 5 days ago:

    “I can’t really see myself in another city or another uniform after 14 seasons I think it’s been now. Growing up here and basically I’ve matured so much over the years and met a lot of great people here, so I can’t even think about going somewhere else really.”

    Cuban’s not going to trade Dirk unless Dirk requests it. I’ve been to games in Dallas and they LOVE Nowitzki there. Cuban is going to go all out to bring in D-Will and build a team around them. If D-Will does decide to stay in NJ/Brooklyn, Nash might be a target but so might Kyle Lowry or Dragic. The word is that Lowry is VERY unhappy with McHale as his coach and is hinting he wants to be traded. And Dragic actually put up better numbers than Lowry when got the opportunity to start. I think Houston will make Dragic a very good contract offer and then put Lowry on the trading block. Considering that, the Suns might want to take a look at Lowry too (if Nash decides to sign elsewhere).

  • Scott

    @Ty-Sun -

    C’mon now. It’s all in the NBA Player’s Handbook of Scripted Responses.

    Yes, of course Dirk wants to remain a Maverick. He’s been there for years, and been the core of the team. But if they can’t get another star, and decide instead to rebuild, then he understands it will probably make sense to trade him. He probably gave your quote and the one I saw in the same interview. ;)

    Has Nash said anything much different? Do any of the players ever say anything different … aside from the knuckleheads and the disgruntled few who demand to be traded?

    Dirk isn’t demanding a trade, yet he realizes it’s a business and he could be traded. I believe he also has a “no trade” clause in his contract, but it just lets him choose which team he’d go to if the Mavs want to move him.

    Nash and Nowitzki – despite one looking for a new contract and the other having 2 years left on his – are in very similar situations. They’re at the end of their careers and a rebuilding team isn’t the right spot for them. They’re hoping their respective GMs can land one or two stars that make the team competitive. If the GMs can’t swing it, then Nash tries to find another team, and Dirk believes Cuban would trade him for assets rather than have his career close out while on a rebuilding team.

  • Scott

    @Ty-Sun -

    If the Suns do sign Lowry, they should probably nix plans on signing Brooks.

  • Ty-Sun

    I suppose I misread your initial post as Dirk saying that he WANTED a trade if Dallas falls into rebuilding mode but I see that wasn’t the case. If Dallas hadn’t won the championship last year, I could have believed that he might want a trade after Cuban let so many key players slip away but – with that championship ring already on his hand – I don’t think that Dirk would really push to be traded even if Dallas went into rebuilding mode. Especially since Dallas – like Phoenix – really doesn’t have much of a history of building/rebuilding through the draft. Cuban rebuilds on the fly and doesn’t mind too much about the cost. Yeah, last year he went cheap but that was to keep from clogging up cap space with aging players for years to come and create enough cap room to make a run at D-Will and/or D Howard. My guess is that right now he’s working on putting together some sort of trade deal to offer Orlando for Howard.

    As for Lowry, he’s not a free agent so the Suns would actually have to make a trade for him. If Houston is leaning toward resigning Dragic and handing him the starting job, then resigning Brooks so that he can be a part of that trade could be something to think about. Who knows. I am certain that because of the limited time teams had this year because of the lockout to make off season trades that we could see a lot of trade deals made in the NBA this summer.

  • Scott

    While I don’t see Brooks heading back to Houston, if that’s what you meant, I do agree that there could be a kind of pent-up demand for trades that could explode this summer.

    As an example, I think the Lakers, for whatever reason, are determined to retool, and everyone is on the block except for Kobe and Bynum.

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