Phoenix Suns complete offseason of asset acquisition


PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns entered the summer short on assets and talented young players.

After an offseason that saw them say goodbye to franchise legends Steve Nash and Grant Hill, that has completely changed.

The Suns have come out of July with three quality players in their early-to-mid 20′s with varying degrees of potential, not to mention first-round pick Kendall Marshall, and they nearly bagged a 23-year-old star in Eric Gordon as well.

They have also replenished their draft pick war chest by adding three-first rounders to give them a total of six firsts and four seconds the next three seasons (assuming the Minnesota pick conveys in that time, which is a likely assumption).

“I think what we’re trying to do is two things, we’re trying to get younger and we’re trying to accumulate assets and we had the opportunity to do both,” said PBO Lon Babby, speaking about the recent three-way trade in particular but a statement that could go for the offseason in general. “We wouldn’t have done it unless we got both things.”

Just like the Suns got “both things” (the player, Wes Johnson, and the protected first), the Suns seemed to follow that same pattern all offseason long.

Although they certainly tried with the Gordon offer sheet, the Suns knew they were not likely going to completely rebuild in one offseason. It was likely going to take time — potentially with a losing season or two in between — for the Suns to fully transition from the Nash era to the Dragic/Gortat/Beasley (if you can even call it that) era.

The Suns at long last now possess young pieces and assets. Every Sun except Scola is in his 20′s, and Phoenix has a bevy of draft picks to use as trade sweeteners. It’s highly unlikely the Suns actually use that many picks, but possessing them provides extreme flexibility.

The Suns are also flexible because they have a little over $7 million in cap space remaining after dumping the final guaranteed year of Hakim Warrick’s contract and eliminating Robin Lopez’s cap hold for assets. They do plan on signing a backup center, but I don’t believe they will spend much more than the minimum for that acquisition.

That will make Phoenix a team that GMs call during the season if they need a third or fourth team to take on salary for a draft pick in a complicated trade or if they are desperate to drop a contract to stay under the luxury tax. Being in an advantageous position like this is how Oklahoma City extorted two first-round picks from the Suns in the infamous Kurt Thomas trade years ago.

The Suns also have access to Brad Miller’s non-guaranteed contract until they waive him. Because only $848,000 of his $5.1 million salary is guaranteed, the Suns have the option of immediately eliminating a good chunk of money from a team’s cap. And as we learned on Friday, the Suns could even aggregate Miller’s salary with another player’s since he was traded into cap space, perhaps for a talented but well-paid player a team wants to dump.

Miller’s contract was the key to everybody getting what they wanted in the three-team trade: the Suns received a first and a young player at a position of need, the Hornets got a center and the Wolves got cap relief. If the Suns were on the hook for the entirety of Miller’s contract, I doubt the deal would have happened.

Because the Suns were able to acquire expiring assets for Lopez (Johnson has a team option), they maintained enough cap space to be close enough to find the room to make a max offer next summer if need be. By my projections the Suns will have somewhere around $42 million in committed salaries for 2013-14. Now that doesn’t count the two-first rounders they will have (they should take up about $3 mil in cap holds) nor does it include the potential first-rounder from Minnesota, Shannon Brown’s non-guaranteed $1.75 mil or Johnson’s option.

Basically, it’s way too early to get a clear picture of next summer, but suffice it to say if the Suns wanted to they could probably create max room, especially if they moved a first-rounder to get a player like Channing Frye off the books, and they will most certainly be able to offer the max for a young player like James Harden.

We know the Thunder won’t let him go without a fight, and personally I don’t think they ever will, but at least now the Suns will be in position to make a sign-and-trade deal with their assets and cap space (I bet it would need to be a three-way deal for OKC to get them more established talent).

“So we had tremendous flexibility this year, we will have significant cap space probably around $7 million to use as we might need it as we go through the season for any opportunity that might come along,” Babby said. “Then we also maintain tremendous cap flexibility going forward into next season and the offseason again. So to come out of all these transactions and maintain tremendous flexibility I think was a goal of ours. We’re not going to get everything done in one fell swoop.”

No they weren’t, but after being a franchise trying to accomplish the disparate goals of winning with an aging core and getting younger at the same time, this summer the Suns have finally established their youthful direction.

Suns in search of a backup center

After adding Johnson, the Suns’ depth chart looks complete aside from the backup center position.

“Right now that is the most significant place of need, our backup center position,” said Suns GM Lance Blanks. “Unfortunately Robin filled that role great, we just didn’t have the minutes to offer him. You look at the roster it might have even been a bigger struggle this year with the guys that we brought in and the way the coach wants to play. That will be a position that we’re combing through names just to finish putting this puzzle together, trying to put all the pieces together. Center is definitely the position of need, backup center I should say.”

If I were head coach Alvin Gentry, I would use Channing Frye as the backup center and give some time to Luis Scola while the UA product is hurt. Michael Beasley could log some time at the four when Frye’s out, and then the big man rotation should consist of Gortat/Frye at the five and Scola/Morris at the four going forward.

However, it would be nice to have some insurance at the five in case Gortat gets hurt, too, and for the rare cases when the Suns battle a huge, bruising center who would be too big for Frye or Scola.

That’s why I like giving massive Kyrylo Fesenko a chance. NBA.com lists him at 7-1 and 280, and that even seems small for him. Fesenko has only averaged 8.2 minutes a game for his career so he presumably would be OK with limited court time, and he could be a guy the Suns use only when they need a different look at center. Coming off a season in when he went for 2.7 and 3.0, he should come cheap as well.

Suns in no hurry to pick up Johnson’s option

The Phoenix Suns will need to decide whether to pick up Wes Johnson’s $5.4 million option for 2013-14 on the day of his Phoenix Suns debut, Oct. 31.

It figures to be an easy decision considering how much the Suns value cap space and flexibility and how poorly Johnson has performed thus far in his career, yet they are not in a hurry to make it.

“I’m a big believer in using every second available to you to make judgments like that,” Babby said. “It’s totally within our control as to when and if we exercise that option. We need to get to know the player, and he needs to get to know us. We will probably take all of that time before we make a decision. There’s really no benefit in doing it earlier one way or another.”

This is true, there is no benefit to making an early decision, but I doubt anything Johnson shows in preseason will really impact this decision.

The bottom line is that Johnson has been a below average NBA player thus far, and although I am as optimistic as anyone that he will be better in Phoenix, it seems crazy to guarantee that much to a player who has proven so little when it would take such a significant bite out of the Suns’ available cap space for the summer of 2013.

  • brandon

    does this mean the suns will not offer redd a contract?

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

      @Brandon I think it’s doubtful they offer Redd a contract. The Suns usually carry 13 players, and the backup center will put them at 13. Also, they have plenty of depth at the wings now (Dudley, Brown, Johnson and Beasley since he will likely be a 3). If there’s an injury and nobody picks Redd up it’s certainly possible, but not looking too likely at this point.

  • sun also rises

    Expecting the usual crazed garbage from the same old moron to fill up the comments section in about ten seconds but until then….. great post and a much better off season than I had any kind of hope for (especially after what happened when STAT left). For the true fans it means a lot to cheer for a team that refuses to tank even when it’s old-a$$ franchise player has left town.

    (And now for your entertainment: ninety posts of stupid garbage about how the team not signing a superstar is even worse than them pulling a Portland and rolling over for the next five years… starring this blog’s version of the Village Idiot. lolol)

  • brandon

    do you anticipate the suns unloading frye sometime during the season? i don’t know the exact hit on the books but i know he signed a much bigger contract than he was worth? will there be any takers on him or are we stuck with him? I am kind of surprised that no one has picked redd up as a backup option. he showed flashes of his old self at times last year. who do you think will take a chance on him and will it be a one year deal?

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

      @Brandon Frye has $19.2 million remaining over the next three years when counting a $6.8 mil player option in 2014-15 that is likely to be picked up. You can never say never in a day and age when so many bad contracts get signed and moved, but it would be tough to do so with that many years remaining for a mediocre player. I think next summer it’s certainly possible that either Frye or Scola (or maybe both) are moved. I could see the Suns being willing to offer something like the Lakers 2013 pick to get Frye off their books if Morris develops and they want the cap space. You never know what a team might want, but based off his production last season and the injury going into this year, I would be surprised if Channing is moved before next offseason. Then once he gets down to one year left the following offseason he suddenly becomes potentially very movable as we just saw with Warrick once he became an expiring deal.

      I’m sure someone will take a chance on Redd, most likely on a one-year deal. I know the Bulls showed interest earlier, but now sure if they still want him.

  • shazam

    no redd ..please tell me it isnt so

  • Scott

    @brandon -

    I doubt Redd would accept any offer from Phoenix at this point. There’d be no minutes for him.

    @michael -

    You mean “extorted” not “exhorted” … I assume.

    BTW, for 2013 the Suns have their own 1st pick, their 2nd rounder, plus a Laker first and a Minn/Memphis first (most likely). Is this the case?

    If so, it looks like the Suns should be able to repopulate their wing spots if the current crop fails to impress.

    As far as Fesenko goes, IIRC he played well for Utah against the Suns. Not a lot of stats, but his big body was present and active.

    @sun also -

    Hmph! :p

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

      @Scott Good catch, got that fixed in the story now.

      That is right, potentially three firsts and a second if the Minny/Memphis pick conveys.

      @Alex That’s right, they need to decide on Johnson’s 13-14 option by Oct. 31 of this year. However, we will see him play this year for sure, it’s just likely they will decline the option and he will be a UFA next summer.

  • http://NA Paulie

    Could Suns trainers do wonders with Jermaine O’Neil? They did it with Grant and Shaq.

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    I think Redd was tossed out with Hill and Nash. The Suns are going for green shoots, not mature talent.

  • Scott

    @Paulie -

    Possibly the Suns could do wonders for him, but they’re not going to be paying more than the minimum for a backup C, so I doubt JO would be willing to sign.

    Likewise for Blatche.

  • Alex

    We have to decide on Johnson’s option for 13-14 this year? So I guess we propably will never see him play here, you can’t take a 5 million cap hit for him.

  • Scott

    As I’ve said a few time before, Frye is good to keep as a backup center. If needed, he can step up and start for a while.

    Other backup centers wouldn’t be able to do so.

    But he’s definitely worth a smaller contract if the idea is to play him at PF.

    He’s a tweener, and in his case his defense is best at PF but his offense is best at C.

  • Greg

    •Did you guys check out the game Yi Jianlian had against the Gasol brothers and I-blocka? Even though I feel he is a player that needs minutes to really play up to his capabilities, Yi could be a cheap 1 year option for the Suns and his recent seasons do not indicate that he will need to be given a ton of minutes or clog the rotation. We would be able to get a decent look at him before Frye comes back healthy. After watching him on Sunday, and yes, international play is very different, but it was obvious that Yi was playing with confidence. Confidence has seemed to be one of the things missing from his game in the past, and it was clear the guy can score with a variety of offensive weapons. He is also a very good pick and roll defender, although average defender overall.

    I don’t see many true 7 footers available, and if the price is right, I don’t see why signing Yi would be a bad move. If the guy sucks then leave him at the end of the bench, nothing hurt other than becoming a locker room problem, which is where you trade him for nothing or waive him.

    At 24, 25 come the season, I see Yi in a similar way i view Beasley. A very talented scorer with height, (except Yi seems to be unware he is 7 feet tall) that just hasnt landed in the right situation to flourish.

    Not saying the guy is going to be a stud, he has done nothing to show he deserved being the 6th pick in the 2007 draft. However, with the few options available, Yi would give the Suns quality pick and roll defense and he may learn to use his height as an advantage defensively. On offense he would give you more of the same of guys like Morris, Frye, and Beasley, but at 7 feet he has the chance to develop his game closer to the rim.

    The only way this signing hurts is if his play is so awful he can’t be on the floor. The only way he hurts you off the floor is if he complains and becomes a locker room problem, which as mentioned, there are ways to fix that.

  • Animan

    Greg, you’ve voiced my exact feelings to this. Either Yi, Oden or Fesenko in my opinion. Those are the only three I see pertaining in relevance to the Suns’ ultimate decision. I’m favoring Yi as of now, but I’ll suffice with any of those three.

  • Scott

    At 7′ and 250 lbs, Yi’s most like Frye. If that’s the concept the Suns want to run with for backup C, he could fit into the same schemes as Frye, thereby simplifying training camp for the 2nd unit. He’s not as accurate as Frye from 3, but it’s possible that playing in an offense that embraces perimeter-shooting Cs would cause his shooting to improve.

    Yi’s younger than Frye, and his PER is significantly less, but if there is potential for him, it might be in a system like that of the Suns. (Yi has a PER of 10.48, while Frye has a PER of 14.92.)

    Furthermore, if the Suns do decide to deal Frye, it might be helpful if they had a backup plan in mind. Possibly Yi? We’ll see. ;)

    If the Suns are looking more to have a sturdy C, then Fensenko would be the choice. Gortat and Frye are both a little willowy, and neither stand up to big centers very well. Fesenko has the mass to do so.

    If the Suns are thinking about Oden, they need to run him through their medical inspection twice. His problems aren’t so much athletic injuries as they are structural. This means he might not even make it through training camp before he is out with injury.

  • Ty-Sun

    Scott is right about Oden. He’s much more likely to re-injure himself during training camp than make it through an entire season even playing only limited backup minutes.

    Fesenko sounds like a good option to me. Yi is another. They are about the same age (25 and 24). Fesenko has the advantage of bulk which would make him more difficult to push around in the paint but Yi has the better career stats and would probably be the better choice for an up-tempo offense which I assume the Suns will still play. Overall, I think I like Yi better. If Gortat were to have an injury that would keep him off the court for more than a couple of games I’d rather trust Yi to step in than Fesenko.

  • Dan

    On opening day a lot of people who don’t follow trades closely are going to be looking around and wondering where all the Suns are and who these guys in their uniforms are. I’m pretty happy with all of the off-season moves so far but it does have a very “invasion of the body snatchers” vibe to it. Its just going to be weird to see this team take the court for the first time on opening day without all the usual faces. Especially once you start talking about guys like Fesenko.

  • luis

    the suns will most likely have 5 picks this upcoming draft who do you guys think they will draft

  • Ty-Sun

    Well, I think the Suns have at least a 50-50 chance of winning the opener against GS and even better chances to win the next two against Detroit and Orlando. Game 4 at Miami will be the real test of the new Suns’ lineup. I don’t expect them to win that one but if they can hang close then I will be very impressed as I think a lot of other fans will be. No matter what, I really don’t think this season will be the disaster that some people have predicted.

  • Ty-Sun

    Without knowing the order of the draft there is no use speculating on who the Suns might draft next year. And the draft is basically a crap game. Nash was a 15th pick. Kobe was a 13th pick. Kwame Brown was a #1 pick. In 2003, LeBron was the #1 pick followed by… Darko Milicic? Milicic was drafted ahead pf Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade that year. Easy to see how that was a mistake in hindsight but obviously not so easy on draft night.

    Predicting next year’s draft is impossible especially since there are so many “one-and-done” college players now. Who knows who will be the college player that NBA teams will be salivating over next year.

  • Timz

    Greg Oden would be a great fit. The Suns training staff focuses on injury prevention more than rehabilitation. The players they’ve helped thus far were every bit as bad as Oden. He’s a athletic, talented, defensive 7 footer that’s motivated to show what he’s capable of. Any other team he’s risk. In PHX there is ZERO risk.

  • chad

    Great call on Fesenko. This guy puts up absurd numbers with very limited minutes. Sign him and play him.

  • Animan

    According to Hoops Rumors, Dudley is currently trying to sway and flag down Jermaine O Neal to come to Phx. He saw him at a camp and liked what he saw. Your thoughts on us signing Jermaine? I personally wouldn’t like it. Washed up, still wants high payment, over-rated. Much rather have Yi or Fesenko. Hell, even Oden.

  • Joey

    I would love the suns to pick up oden and try to rehab him. They’re probably the only team than can even remotely fix oden and get him playing 15-20mins a game. Yi can score but plays no d. Fesenko is slow and the suns have never done well with big lumbering centers. They clog up the lane and don’t do well in a uptempo motion offense, especially useless in pick n rolls. At least oden would be a force on defense if healthy, which is what we need most. He’s worth the gamble especially since we are rebuiling.i really hope they give it a shot

  • ro

    BRING IN ODEN FOR CHEAP!!!! WE HAVE THE BEST TRAINING STAFF IN SPORTS, THEY CAN FIX HIM AND WE CAN GET A FORMER #1 PICK FOR CHEAP!!!!

  • Scott

    @Animan -

    Suns are trying to go young. Even if they could sign O’Neil, they might not. Oden, Yi and Fesenko, though, are young.

    For the price they’d be paying, the Suns could possibly sign two of these, if they wished, assuming they’d take one year or partially guaranteed 2nd year deals. This would make particular sense if they were at all considering trades involving Gortat.

    Aside from obvious trade-bait like Scola, Gortat is the next oldest player.

  • has anyone thought about the idea of trading up in the draft? we potentially have 5 draft picks (2-3 first rounders).

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

      I remember there being a Grantland story recently in which Oden said he will be out for this next year to rehab and could make a comeback thereafter. I’m not sure if that has changed or if he could potentially return later in this next season. If I were the Suns I would sign a regular backup center like Fesenko and then sign Oden to a two-year deal with the first near the minimum and the second with either a team option or another low salary or some sort of largely non-guaranteed deal. I see this as a win-win since Oden could train under the watchful eye of the Suns’ training staff and the Suns could unearth a gem if they could somehow get Oden healthy.

  • Scott

    @… -

    It’s too early to consider that with any specificity, as we don’t know who the top draft picks will be yet.

  • Rishi

    I don’t understand why we are looking for a backup center when we can use Brad Miller as a backup if we have to pay him anyway. I heard he is retiring but if he isn’t why not play him as backup? He used to be pretty good and if he only has to play 10 to 20 minutes a night im sure he’ll be ok

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

      @Rishi Aside from the fact that he has announced his intentions to retire, it makes financial sense to waive him. Only $848,000 of Miller’s $5.1 mil salary is guaranteed, so the Suns are immediately saving roughly $4.25 mil against the cap by cutting him. That’s no insignificant amount.

      Haha thanks @Animan. I’ve thought that for some time. If any team could help Oden out, you would figure it’s the Suns.

  • KLS

    I like Fresenko- saw him live in a jazz vs sums game and thought he had a good resence down low.

  • KLS

    *presence – my bad. Stupid iPad:)

  • Animan

    @Rishi, Miller is retiring.

  • Animan

    @Michael, let’s hope the Suns FO bookmarks this page, for that was a remarkable idea.

  • bk

    @Rishi, full contract of Miller is about $5.1M. Waiving him only costs $0.8M. And you can get a cheap center at $0.8M too.

  • bill.thomas62

    The Suns can acquire Matt Barnes for the veteran’s minimum, minus the value of all outstanding warrants, plus legal fees to be determined later:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/

  • bill.thomas62

    For Andrew Bynum it would be for Gortat, a couple of 1st round draft picks, maybe Frye, minus all warrants and legal fees.

  • bill.thomas62

    Maybe the Lakers should set up an in-house detention facility at Staples where players like Kobe, Barnes, Bynum and Metta World Piece can work off things like traffic violations and attempted rape penalties.

  • bill.thomas62

    Forgot to mention, bail may need to be paid on some or all of these players. Andrew Bynum’s bail will involve multiple violations of parking a Porsche or a Bentley in handicapped parking spots. There may also be a fine for his stealing a young schoolgirl’s lunch.

  • Bill_Thomas

    O’Neill is completely washed up. He looks horrible on the court. Let it go, people. Celtics wouldn’t waste a dime on him. Better get Oden (preferably) and/or Fesenko. Or get some cast off who didn’t make some oversized roster (e.g. Sean Williams@Houston).

  • http://sun.com CM Blink

    I really hope we sign Greg Oden.

  • Greg

    The Suns training staff is the best, but they can’t work miracles. Greg Oden has had 3 microfracture knee surgeries, he is one of the most unfortunate injury cases I have ever seen, especially because he is so talented. If Oden was healthy from the get-go I have a feeling not too many people would necessarily say Kevin Durant should have been the number 1 pick. The only reasons for that is the injuries Oden has suffered have labeled him a bust.

    Like i said, they cant work miracles. Any play from Oden for any sustained period of time would be a huge bonus. However, I dont see him staying healthy with any teams staff.

    I am not sayin the Suns shouldnt take a risk, considering there is no risk, especially if they do a partial guarentee and a team option like Michael said.

    @Michael: Oden’s agent, Mike Connely, said he wants to play and sounds excited to play. This was in a yahoo article prior to the draft.

  • Red

    I’m a bit confused where this Jerome Dyson has no wound up (his name is very similar to mine, so it would be awesome if he’d play for the Suns) – could someone elaborate on that one?

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

      @Red Dyson is expected to be waived.

  • http://ballcruncher.com Mr. Cruncher

    @Michael

    The rumor about Oden possibly reconsidering a return to the NBA stemmed from Sulia on HoopsHype. See the fifth rumor listing from the top: http://hoopshype.com/rumors/tag/greg_oden .

    No matter what, the safest plan for Oden long-term is to sit out the full year, regardless if he signs with a team (say a 2 year vet’s minimum contract with a 2nd year TO).

    I read the same Grantland story, as well, and I got the impression Oden has ill feelings towards the Blazers and believes they rushed him back too soon again last year. Hopefully one day he can get healthy and launch a career in the mold of Tyson Chandler. All the better if that is with the Suns and the Warlocks.

  • Pedro

    I know this sounds crazy but do you all think that the Suns could somehow acquire Greg Oden? Maybe give him like a one year deal. That would be a great signing if we got him cheap. He is an UFA and I know he has been plagued with injuries throughout his career but the Suns have a top notch training staff that could help him revive his career. Just my opinion though. What do you all think?

  • Pedro

    Nevermind haha he is sitting out next season. Haha

  • Greg

    You joined the Greg Oden convo a little late Pedro lol

  • http://espn.com Rob

    So we acquired Beasley, former #2, Wes Johnson, former #4, and people would like Suns to grab Oden, former #1…when do we start discussing the next obvious choice, Darko?? Could he sign for cheap and play back up C until Frye returns, and then again if (when)Frye re-injures himself?

  • Tim in BC

    Is there any chance the Suns will sign Barbossa to add to their depth and have the “Brazilian Blur” back on the court?

  • Greg

    @Rob, Darko is an intriguing option for defensive purposes, don’t know if you could get him on a one year deal, and not sure what his price tag would be.

    @ Tim in BC, There is no chance the Suns sign Barbosa, in my opinion. The Suns already have 10 guys that need to get minutes in their rotation. There already is a shortage of minutes available. Brown, Dudley, Johnson, and Beasley will be the 4 players manning the wings. Beasley may also see time at the 4, but when Frye is healthy, that would make 5 players in the front-court. Teams dont run 5 man front courts and they don’t run 5 man wing rotations. Goran, Marshall, and even Telfair figure to take some minutes from the 2 guard spot occasionally as well. There is simply no where to put Barbosa and a player with his scoring ability needs atleast 15 to 20 mins to become the threat he is capable of being.

  • Ty-Sun

    Getting Darko might be more about the length of the contract than the amount. Since he was amnestied he’ll make the same amount that was in his original contract until that deal runs out no matter what his new team signs him for. I don’t know how long his old contract was for but he can afford to be a little picky about who he signs with since he’s going to get paid whether he plays or not. Last I heard was the Miami was interested in signing him but that was several days, maybe a week ago.

  • Tim in BC

    Greg, I understand what you are saying about no room in rotation for Barbossa. I would have like to see him come back because of his skills and familiarity with team system. I hope that he finds a good spot on a team as I like the guy (the Raptors should have kept him as he helped their team alot)

  • Scott

    Speaking of Oden …

    I believe Oden is having the same platelet treatment to his knees that Kobe, Grant Hill, and Brandon Roy have had. Roy says that since the therapy his knees have been fine, and that’s why he signed with Minnesota.

    I’m skeptical of the long term results of this therapy, but I think it could to some degree help Oden. However, Oden’s body is different from that of the other men, in that he’s A) huge, and B) one leg is longer than the other, causing his knees and back to always be points of stress. I wouldn’t count on his knees to hold up to the sort of sustained athletic activity one gets in the NBA.