Luis Scola a savvy acquisition for Suns franchise that is spending money smarter

Luis Scola will be taking his talents to Phoenix after the Suns won an amnesty auction for him. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Luis Scola will be taking his talents to Phoenix after the Suns won an amnesty auction for him. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The Phoenix Suns chose not to seriously negotiate with Steve Nash because they wanted to get younger and then aggressively pursued a handful of free agents in their early-to-mid 20s.

So how exactly does a 32-year old Luis Scola fit the rebuilding plan of a team with four power forwards already?

Suns PBO Lon Babby has said in the past that not every move this offseason will be for a player that gets the Suns to the “promised land.” Instead they will acquire players who will be “part of the process to get there,” and Scola is an ideal bridge piece who may one day turn into attractive trade bait.

That’s the way I see this Scola acquisition, and although it will be hard to really give a hard opinion on how good a move it is until we find out Scola’s price tag, presumably he was a bargain.

That’s quite difficult to find when you are a rebuilding franchise spending dollars on the free-agent market. Unless you have some sort of hometown discount or are a serious championship contender, free agents often will only sign with you if you make the best offer.

As you may know, teams must bid actual dollars under the salary cap for a player in an amnesty auction. Especially at this point in the offseason when so many signings have already taken place, not many teams have much cash to throw around, and most of those that do are not interested in a 32-year-old power forward.

But the Suns were able to parlay their cap space advantage into a player who just two years ago averaged 18 and 8 and is a career 51 percent shooter who is now a decent bet to become the Suns’ leading scorer.

Although the Suns are prohibited from trading Scola until next July 1 (and can never trade him to Houston), depending on where his salary comes in at they just acquired a very attractive future trading piece. Even as he ages a durable, productive and cheap power forward is the kind of trade chip the Suns have lacked in recent years when frankly there has not been much of interest to entice trading partners.

Or the Suns could just keep him as every young team needs a few vets to show them the way (although with Scola that way will be rather dirty), and having a starting four man who should get you at least 16-7 for cheap will allow you to utilize more resources elsewhere. If you remember the Suns’ last win in Houston, you know the Suns are getting a player who has perfected the art of flopping as well.

He’s also a bonafide starting power forward who could allow the Suns to pass on Robin Lopez and make Channing Frye the main backup at the center position, where he has thrived in the past. A frontcourt with Gortat, Scola, Frye and Markieff Morris is already crowded enough, especially since some think Beasley is best as a four as well.

I assume the Suns needed to amnesty Childress as a corresponding move to make space under their cap. Per Larry Coon’s salary FAQ, teams “must make the cap room available immediately upon being awarded the amnesty claim” and this can be done “by waiving non-guaranteed players, but not by making trades.”

In Saturday’s release, Babby said the Suns were waiting for Eric Gordon to pass his physical to restore their cap room. Assuming that has not happened yet, the Suns would only be able to bid a bit over $3 mil based on their cap predicament (if they maintained Lopez’s cap hold but none of their UFAs) before the Childress move.

However, if the Suns want to sign a quality shooting guard (and especially if they still want Lopez) along with the players they have already committed to signing, an amnesty was likely inevitable.

Babby said the Suns would not hesitate to use amnesty to better their team, and today we found out that was true as Robert Sarver swallowed hard and agreed to pay Josh Childress $21 million not to play for his team the next three seasons. That’s quite a chunk of change to just swallow for an owner who is supposedly so thrifty.

Although there was some merit in amnestying Hakim Warrick if the Suns felt they needed space this year, especially since Hak doesn’t really have a role on this team, in reality Childress was always going to be the amnesty guy, the only question was when.

The Suns could have used Chilly as a de facto “keeping powder dry” hold in that they knew they could wipe his salary from the books anytime in the next three years that they needed a bit more cap space. If they did not need the cap room this year, they could have spent another season trying to get something out of J-Chill on the court before potential swinging the amnesty hammer next summer.

I do worry that without that hold the Suns will not keep their future books clear enough, but the Phoenix Suns will be a better team with Scola rather than Childress and likely at a cheaper price to boot.

I will wait for the dust to clear on all of the Suns’ upcoming moves before delving deeper into their salary situation, but with the Suns’ second-highest paid player now on waivers the Suns will have $41 million in committed salary before factoring in Scola or Lopez but including Dragic and Beasley. No matter how much they offered for the Argentinean big man, they will have plenty of room left to sign O.J. Mayo or Courtney Lee and bring back RoLo if they so choose.

This also obviously opens up plenty of future cap space as starting next offseason Frye’s deal will be the only bad one left, and I still see him as a very useful albeit overpaid NBA player. In one fell swoop the Suns’ mistakes from the summer of 2010 have all but been eliminated save for one last season of Warrick.

The front office now must hope that none of the contracts signed this summer will become a similar albatross.

How the Suns got Scola

Due to some complicated CBA logistics, not many teams were likely eligible to bid on Scola.

Per Coon:

The minimum bid for a partial waiver claim is whichever of the following is larger:

  • The sum of the player’s minimum salary for all remaining years of his contract, except for completely non-guaranteed seasons (seasons with 0% salary protection) which are ignored for this purpose.
  • The sum of all non-guaranteed salary in partially-guaranteed seasons.

For example, if a 10+ year veteran is amnestied in 2012 with three years remaining on his contract at $10 million each season, and his salary is guaranteed 100% in 2012-13, 60% in 2013-14, and 0% in 2014-15, then the minimum bid for a partial waiver claim is $4 million — the unprotected amount in the partly-protected 2013-14 season, which is larger than the sum of the minimum salaries for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. Since the 2014-15 season is completely unprotected, it is ignored when determining the minimum bid amount.

As Eric Pincus explains over at HoopsWorld:

His final season is for $11.0 million with just $1 million guaranteed.

Therefore a minimum amnesty claim for Scola would start at the non-guarantee portion of exactly $10,041,037.  That amount needs to be paid over three years, so the lowest claim would be $3,347,012.

Few teams have that kind of cap space which may open the door for Luis to clear waivers completely.

This CBA rule may have allowed the Suns to steal a player of Scola’s quality for a relatively cheap price without too much bidding competition. As Marc Stein reported, the Dallas Mavericks are the only other team known to have put in a bid on Scola, but with their stated goal of keeping their future books as clear as possible I imagine they did not bid much more than the minimum necessary.

Suns fans now have a reason to watch the Olympics

The Suns missed out on Eric Gordon, who did not make the US Olympic team anyway, but Scola has starred for the Argentinean squad for years and will represent his native country in the 2012 Games as well.

Per the Suns’ release:

It will mark the third Olympic appearance by Scola, who helped lead Argentina to the nation’s first men’s basketball gold medal in 2004, and also a bronze medal in 2008.  He was the MVP of both the 2009 and 2011 FIBA Americas Championships, and averaged 27.1 points at the 2010 FIBA World Championships, the most by an Argentinian in tournament history.

Reunited with The Dragon

Scola and point guard Goran Dragic spent last season with Houston, so those two presumed members of the Suns’ starting lineup are already plenty familiar with each other.

According to the NBA’s advanced stats tool, Scola shot a bit better with Dragic on the floor (50.2 percent compared to 48.0). The Rockets outscored opponents by 1.5 points per 100 possessions with Dragic and Scola together compared to their plus 0.6 overall rating.

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