Phoenix Suns proposed trade of Robin Lopez, Hakim Warrick for Wesley Johnson, pick a brilliant maneuver


The proposed Robin Lopez trade is a slam dunk for the Phoenix Suns. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The proposed Robin Lopez trade is a slam dunk for the Phoenix Suns. (AP Photo/Matt York)

At the beginning of the free agency period, Robin Lopez was a priority for the Phoenix Suns.

In May, PBO Lon Babby said, “It is quite likely if not certain that we’re going to match because he’s an important asset for us.”

The Suns backed that up by meeting with Lopez on the first day of free agency to convince him that “every hero has a home,” playing off his love of comic books and the roots he has developed in the Valley to pitch him on re-signing.

Yet even when Babby made that first comment it seemed to me more like a statement meant to scare off other teams from throwing a fat offer sheet at Robin than a genuine desire to match at almost any cost. Now the way the offseason has gone, the Suns would be crazy to lock him up to anything past this season.

After all, the Suns have already committed over $42 million in 2013-14 salary and if they keep Shannon Brown and their two first-rounders it could be closer to $47 mil for 11 players. Add $5 million for Lopez and you are essentially locking in this core for two years.

On top of that, the Suns already possess a crowded frontcourt wtih Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye, Luis Scola and Markieff Morris (not to mention the possibility of Michael Beasley playing the four), which makes it questionable how Lopez would ever find more than a few minutes of playing time. That’s especially true since Frye almost must play backup center minutes to get everybody close to the minutes they deserve, and head coach Alvin Gentry said Scola could be used there as well.

In comparison to what the rest of the young 7-footers received, $5 mil a year for Lopez isn’t terrible on a three-year deal. When considering how it would lock the Suns into this roster for two years with a squad loaded (depth-wise at least) upfront, bringing back Robin Lopez for more than one season just does not make sense.

And even then, with no intention of signing him long term, he would largely be brought back as trade bait, at least if I were the general manager of the Phoenix Suns.

This is why I love the proposed three-team trade between the Suns, New Orleans Hornets and Minnesota Timberwolves. Signing Lopez long term makes no sense for the Suns and he was never going to sign for one year realistically, so any asset obtained for him should be seen as a bonus. Instead the Suns received two and shipped out a useless expiring contract to boot.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who first broke the news, is reporting that the Suns will trade Lopez and Hakim Warrick and receive former No. 4 overall pick Wesley Johnson, a lottery-protected first-rounder and the retiring Brad Miller’s contract for cap purposes.

The Hornets will get Lopez and sign him to a three-year, $15 million deal as well as Warrick’s expiring $4 mil deal (with the 2013-14 team option that will be declined). Minnesota will get two future second-rounders from New Orleans, giving them the cap space to sign Andrei Kirilenko.

Nothing is official yet, and if the Kirilenko deal falls through it’s doubtful Minnesota would be willing to take the short end of this stick just to clear cap space, so AK is the key to the Suns getting this much out of a Lopez trade.

As for how this would affect the Suns’ cap situation, Johnson ($4,285,560) makes slightly more than Warrick this season ($4 mil even), and the retiring Miller will count for the $848K guaranteed portion of his salary.

Overall, by my calculations (which might be slightly off), the Suns’ cap number for 2012-13 would be a hair over $50 mil for 12 players, which would give them just under $8 mil to fill out their final roster spot and then take on money in lopsided trades for either a talent upgrade or more picks. Presumably they will be looking for a true center with that final roster spot as Gortat insurance, especially with Frye expected to miss the beginning of the season.

In 2013-14 when Warrick comes off the books, the Suns would be looking at a $5,421,233 team option for Johnson. As stated previously with Lopez in the equation, keeping Johnson at that price would essentially lock in this roster for two seasons as they would be at $52.5 mil for 12 players or $51 for 11 without Brown.

Johnson has yet to do a thing to justify such a salary, and considering how valuable that cap space could be the Suns would be wise to decline it and make this a one-year trial for Johnson.

Unfortunately, the Suns only have until Oct. 31 to exercise Johnson’s 2013-14 option, and there’s really nothing he can do in preseason that would justify tying up that much cap space in a player who has been a bust thus far. Of course, the Suns could always re-sign him next summer once he becomes an unrestricted free agent if they so choose even after declining the option.

As for the potential protected pick, Minnesota did trade its first-rounder to New Orleans via the Clippers last season, but the Wolves can deal a first-rounder this season because they are owed a lottery-protected Memphis pick. That pick from the Grizzlies via Houston is top-14 protected in each of the next four drafts, but considering how good Memphis is that should be out of the lottery this season. That pick would seem to make sense for the purpose of this trade.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported that the Suns pulled out of a four-team deal with New Orleans involving Lopez that also included Boston and Houston before finding Minnesota as a potentially willing trade facilitator.

Of course, this isn’t the move that will bring the Suns back to glory, but like the Scola acquisition it’s a smart, savvy move in which the Suns are turning an asset they no longer need into more valuable future assets.

Johnson has been bad thus far in his NBA career, but with just two years on his resume he still could be a valuable NBA rotation player even if he never lives up to the hype of a player drafted ahead of DeMarcus Cousins, Greg Monroe and Paul George.

The Suns badly needed another wing, particularly one with the length and athleticism to defend small forwards, and thus Johnson becomes a needed rotation player. I see him as the backup three behind Beasley in a role whereby he will no longer feel the pressure of being a top-five pick.

Assuming the Suns decline his option before the season begins, 2012-13 will be a year for Johnson to rebuild value and for the Suns to take a long look at whether he could be part of their future. They could even trade him if such a deal makes sense.

With the draft pick the Suns will own six first-rounders in the next three drafts and potentially three firsts next season. They could have five picks overall next year and 11 in the next three. That should give them plenty of ammo to eventually trade for that next star they so desperately need and/or continue to replenish the organization’s youth.

Yes, this Suns team is starting to feel an awful lot like the Rockets of the past few years, and eventually they will need to make a big move if they want to be anything better than one of the final playoff teams in.

But if this trade comes to fruition rather than clogging their cap with an underachieving big man they don’t really need, the Suns will have flipped him for assets that could come in handy this season and beyond.

And 1

Woj’s original report included the Hornets sending Miller’s contract back to Minnesota, but that is not possible because a team cannot reacquire a player it dealt that season (meaning until the next July 1).

Tags: Hakim Warrick Robin Lopez Wesley Johnson

  • Tim in BC

    I will miss Lopez’s hair and infectious enthusiasm…

  • PennyAnd1

    @Michael Schwartz

    Lopez is way more intimidating compared to Gortat. Gortat is way too soft for a center, and has a weak mentality. He gets pushed around too much and puts his head down alot.

    I remember when he made a mistake at the offense end, Gentry called a time-out. All the players went right to bench to huddle while Gortat just stood near the basket with hands on hips shaking his head taking too long to move. Gentry was so pissed he freakin’ yelled at him to move his a$$. If you don’t know what that meant, it means Gortat just let his opponent showed him off and he was an embarassment to the Suns by showing it that he got beat. Lopez atleast won’t back down or get intimated.

    We all saw how productive Lopez really is when paired with a goof PF (like in Amare). With Scola on board, Lopez would’ve been a good fit, especially now that we have better scoring option.

  • Tony

    @Michael,

    thanks for the response. While I agree that Lopez hasn’t been great or even really good since that stretch run in 2010, I do think you’re underestimating his play in the 2nd half of last season and yes, the guy has an intensity about him that does intimidate opposing guards.

    To add another reason why I believe this trade would be bad news for the Suns is that by getting rid of Lopez and bringing in a wing player, the Suns essentionally take away one of their strengths of which most teams don’t have, that of two effective centers. The Suns marginally improving their perimeter defense will not offset their other wing players lack of perimeter defense in Brown and Beasley, nor willl it add offensive firepower. Lopez’s absence will have a far more appreciable effect in terms of lack of any interior presence in the 2nd unit. It would be one thing to trade him for an already proven quality sg who could off-set the Suns lack of quality depth from their wing positions, but WJ is hardly that.

    Finally, and I know you and probably several others will disagree, but in my opinion, all this talk about having cap space is so overrated in importance. Look at the overwhelming number of teams that are title contending teams, amongst other similar attributes such as having star players, these teams are also regularly well into the luxury cap. Creating cap space just for the sake of doing so or in hopes of landing one star player at some uncertain timeframe, is not a usual recipe for success. The best free agents next season are James Harden and Josh Smith and in all reality, how likely is it that the Suns land either of them? There’s also Chris Paul but reports have so far indicated he declined his option primarily because by doing so he will make more money when the Clippers are forced to offer him a 5-yr max deal.

  • Josh

    Warrick and Lopez suck big time, great off season for the Suns.

  • http://no Keith

    There is only one amnesty, Jeremiah. It’s not every year.

  • bk

    The future of this team is whether Beasley, Dragic, Morris becoming allstar. If not, we will need to reset at 2015 again. This Cap space of 2013 is a joke. keeping Lopez at $5M allow Gortat trade or injury. Scola, Morris, Beasley, Frye are not centers.

  • Jeremiah

    Alright so there is only an amnesty this year, but they will have the option to waive one player before each season between 2011-12 to 2015-16? If so then my original statement still works, but with “waived” instead of “amnestied”.

  • Ty-Sun

    There is a big difference between being waived and being amnestied. If a player is waived and not claimed on waivers or after he clears waivers then the team that waived him not only still has to pay his salary but that amount still counts against their salary cap! An amnestied player still gets payed but the salary does not count against the cap. Amnesty and being put on waivers are not the same thing. There’s more to it than that but that’s the gist of why they’re not the same.

  • Yohance

    Source say trade is in its final stages pending any set backs.
    This is great let’s go suns. While I will miss Lopez and Warrick, not so much I think it gives the suns more asset and another draft pick. If everyone lives up to their potential we can be very scary in the west.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    One more thought. Here’s how I grade the different elements of the deal:
    Losing Lopez – Plus in that it’s better than signing him to a long-term deal and he never would go one year. A positive since it prevents a negative
    Losing Warrick – Neutral, expiring but wasn’t going to play.
    Adding Johnson – Slight positive in that he’s needed for depth and could always exceed expectations but based on prior performance nothing special.
    Adding a pick – Always a positive.

    This is why I’m high on this move. Obviously those of you who disagree on particular elements of that analysis will have a different perspective.

    Tony the best teams don’t need cap space because they already have great players. The Suns obviously don’t. Cap space doesn’t guarantee great players but not having cap space guarantees not signing great players.

  • Jeremiah

    Good info, think I’ve heard all this at one point. At least the Suns will be down to just one bad contract on their roster after this season.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    Why are we still trying to say that ROBIN LOPEZ was valuable in Phoenix?

    ROBIN LOPEZ!

    The FO managed to get a first round pick for Warrick and ROBIN LOPEZ.

    The bench center position will be fine. If Scola starts, Morris will be that stretch 5 until Frye returns. Any center brought in will be for practicing purposes. I don’t see them getting much game time.

    Also, we have DRAFT PICKS.

    The Suns will just draft another one in the future. Almost any center coming out of college would be an upgrade or at worst, even with RoLo’s output.

  • Jacob

    Are you all stupid. Lopez is like the worst center ever. He couldn’t do anything for the suns. Sure in the last 10 or 15 games he did about 20% better than the rest of the year, but he still sucked. I don’t care who we get as long as we get rid of that ape. And for warrick who cares we need to get rid of some people. I mean the suns have beasley as Sf, brown as Sg, scola as Pf, gortat as C (also his performance at the end of the season last year really sucked.) and for starting Pg I don’t know if it’s gonna be dragic or telfar. My last words are GET RID OF LOPEZ!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Greg

    lol jacob….how do you not know who is gonna start between goran and telfair? did you just tune into the Suns off-season?

  • PennyAnd1

    @Jacob

    Take some chill Pill

    I’d rather have a combo of Gortat & Lopez rather than Gortat & Frye. Lopez has good defense, it’s his consistency that sucked.

    No way Brown makes it into the starting rotation, he has inconsistency & shot selection issues. Brown likes to shoot, tag him in there with the 2 unit along side the pass-first Marshall and give him the green light. Dudley belongs in the starting line-up as the shooting guard. Goran is a scorer himself anyways.

    Last but not least, Telfair over Dragon? are you freakin’ serious?! Telfair also lacks consistency although he was pretty consistent during the 2nd half of last season. But what’s keeping Telfair from being a starter is not his inconsistent plays, he has great defense that’s for sure, but he ain’t fit to lead the team. He yells too much and let his emotions get the best of him affecting him & the team.