Luis Scola converted into more assets for efficient Suns


When an amnesty provision allowing teams to eliminate one salary from their cap emerged from the muck of the 2011 lockout, we knew it would provide teams under the cap with a means to add veteran talent on the cheap.

As the Phoenix Suns discovered today when they traded amnesty acquisition Luis Scola to Indiana for Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and a coveted but lottery-protected first-round pick, the amnesty auction can aid in rebuilding as well after the Suns got tipped with the aforementioned assets to convey Scola to  the kind of team that can actually use him.

“The trade is consistent with our stated plan to continue to acquire young assets,” said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby in a release.

All along it made little sense for the Suns to acquire Scola from a pure basketball standpoint considering his age (32 at the time) for a rebuilding team that had just lost its franchise point guard and was set to go young. When the Suns won that Scola bidding, I lauded the move because the Suns acquired an attractive player for nothing other than cap space on a trade-friendly contract for about $13.5 million over three years, including little guaranteed money in the final year to make him a de facto expiring contract this offseason.

This was a delayed transaction with Scola spending one year on the Phoenix roster before he could be moved on to his final destination due to amnesty rules that prohibit such a deal until the following July 1 after the amnesty bidding.

Babby has long talked about there being many uses for cap space beyond its traditional usage of signing high-profile free agents, and after using cap space to finish off the Eric Bledsoe deal by taking on Caron Butler’s contract to make the cap math work, the Suns have now struck once again by turning last offseason’s excess cap space into a future first-rounder and a recent first-rounder while rostering Scola for a season.

In sum, Scola was acquired to be traded, as he provided the Suns with the kind of veteran asset that’s very appealing to contenders, which is a piece the Suns lacked in the immediate aftermath of Nash’s departure. The quality of that amnesty bid was always going to be predicated on what the Suns could get for Scola, and the draft pick alone makes the Scola amnesty claim a major success since Phoenix essentially turned excess cap space into a first-rounder in a loaded draft assuming the loaded Pacers don’t flop (if they do it is lottery-protected through the 2019 draft, per Paul Coro).

It’s easy to see why Indiana would want Scola. Their lack of bench punch hamstrung them time and time again during the Eastern Conference Finals against Miami, and Scola is the kind of player who can carry a bench offense for stretches. He also provides insurance for David West, since he can do many of the things West does although perhaps not as well.

Scola is the kind of gritty veteran that can push a team like the Pacers over the top, whereas they do not have much use for the assets they sent Phoenix. Like the Bledsoe/Dudley trade, this deal works for both sides considering where they are in their franchise’s development.

Financially, the deal is essentially a wash this season with the Suns’ cap number going up by about $113K, a negligible amount so long as you aren’t actually paying the bill. Because Scola was guaranteed $940K next season, the Suns add about $3.7 million to next year’s books since Green is owed $3.5 million each of the next two years and Plumlee has a rookie contract team option that is likely to be exercised at $1.7 million.

It’s far too early to start projecting cap numbers for 2014-15 before we know which rookie team options the Suns will decline as well as what kind of contract Bledsoe might command, but I have the Suns a bit over $34 million without Bledsoe if the options are exercised. Keep in mind the Suns will also have up to three first-rounders that will cut into that cap space as well.

By taking on non-expiring contracts for Scola, I continue to believe the Suns plan to make their big free agency splash during the 2015 offseason. Goran Dragic’s $7.5 million player option (that I bet he declines for a big pay day) is the only contract on the books at this point aside from rookie deals and the likely Bledsoe extension. The Suns could fill the roster with five more first-rounders by then to develop the kind of core that would attract a max contract player to be that final piece.

Such a plan would also provide the Suns flexibility in future trades this season whereby they could offer expiring contracts for deals expiring in two years to coincide with their period of major cap space. Remember, they still have over $19 million in expirings in Gortat, Butler and Brown and could add more if they decline team options on any of their rookie contract players.

The Scola trade signals that the Suns aren’t going to be too subtle in their tanking after a season in which he put up a 16.8 PER (second best on the team behind Dragic) and figures to contribute much more than Plumlee or Green can. In that way this trade helps the Suns by making them even more likely to land a top draft pick with more Beasley and now Gerald Green time.

I don’t believe Green will be helpful in anything more than losing in exciting fashion, and I’ve never been particularly high on Plumlee. Clearly he’s athletic, so perhaps he can develop into a cheap backup center one day. However, his addition on the roster makes it easier to trade Gortat. With Channing Frye’s status still uncertain, the Suns could not have wanted to leave Alex Len as their only true center. The addition of Plumlee, another lesser brother, will make it easier to cushion that blow.

Since Gortat theoretically at least possesses more trade value than Dudley and Scola, I imagine McDonough will wait until he has more leverage to make that deal, perhaps when a contender’s center gets hurt. With the direction the Suns are heading it makes no sense not to eventually move him.

The Suns now have 16 guaranteed contracts on their roster (with a whopping seven being cheap rookie deals) and enough mediocre talent to make playing decisions very interesting. Scola’s departure would seem to leave the power forward spot to the Morri with potentially a side of Beasley since he’s always been better at the four than the three. With Dragic, Bledsoe and Gortat until he’s traded seeming to be the only players guaranteed major PT, Jeff Hornacek will have some tough decisions on his hands.

The big takeaway from this trade is that the Suns now will have three first-round draft picks if Minnesota and Indiana both make the playoffs. Considering the Lakers’ pick owed in 2015, the Suns could have access to seven first-round picks during the 2013-15 drafts, and perhaps another could be coming for Gortat. If both picks hit next year, the Suns will be in a very enviable position in advance of one of the most anticipated drafts in history.

It’s doubtful that the Suns will actually use all of these picks, but owning them allows them to potentially package them to move up or trade them down the line for other players that fit their rebuilding plan. Last year only one first-rounder was dealt at the trade deadline despite 2013 being widely panned as a weak draft, so even likely later selections hold major value under the new CBA.

Suddenly a roster devoid of impact young talent might be teeming with it in a few years as once again Babby, McDonough and their staff have continued to stockpile assets in an efficient manner after turning excess cap space last offseason into a likely 2014 draft pick through the acquisition and eventual trade of Luis Scola.

Tags: Gerald Green Luis Scola Miles Plumlee Suns Trade

  • DBreezy

    @Michael,

    At least as far as the first rounders go, why do you think it’s doubtful the Suns use all of those picks? The new cba has put a premium on draft picks and players on rookie deals. Also the Suns still need considerable talent infusion going forward.

    If they do absolutely nothing trade wise between now and next offseason, they will have 4 roster open which fits nicely with having 3 1st round picks in a strong draft. When you look at the guys on rookie deals, I would say that only Goodwin and Len are safe bets to be here beyond next season. Marshall is already on well chronicled thin ice and I don’t expect a new regime to have much patience with the twins if they still fail to show consistency in their third season. Especially when there are several wing and frontcourt players in next year’s draft.

    I do expect that the team will be active in trying to package picks/players to either move up or to land a star as McD as said, but purely from odds standpoint I wouldn’t expect much to happen there. Again that’s just a guess at the odds, as McD crew seem to be good at what they do.

    I expect them to ride out the rookies/young player thing as long as they can to not only put their stamp on things, but to try and time their rise back to prominence with a lot of players being on rookie deals. Imagine how much uglier things would have been for the 2004 Suns under this cba. Marion already maxed out, Nash on a big deal, Q on a midlevel, Amar’e and JJ extensions coming up, and LB already looking like a possible a midlevel guy-all before the squad had even made the playoffs.

    Of course I believe some of this will be blunted in time by a general reduction in average market $$$ and contract length for a lot of players, but who knows how long that will take? Of course AK47 and Gerald Henderson would disagree with that last statement…

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

    Making seven first-round picks in three years (plus perhaps another if they move Gortat) on top of the 5 they currently have under contract not counting Len/Goodwin could practically fill a roster. If nothing materializes they could make all those picks, but you’ve got to think at some point they will be used as assets to move up in the draft or to put forth in a trade. The CBA has certainly put a premium on these kinds of picks and the Suns desperately need talent, but because they are at such a premium that could help the Suns make a quality deal.

  • Scott

    Upon reading the title for this article, the two words that popped into my brain were “soylent green.”

    And the Suns did get some Green, the quality of which is suspicious. ;)

  • bk

    It is a good one. Utah also gets two 1st round picks from space cap from Warriors. But need to shallow the $10~20M salary of Biedrins and Jefferson. This one is a 1st round pick for about using of $4M only.

  • Scott

    While I would have been disappointed if the Suns had drafted Plumlee, as I’m normally looking to find a diamond in the rough, I don’t mind getting him for basically nothing as a deal sweetener.

    To me Plumlee is a 2nd round level talent who appears to have become better after one year in the NBA despite not playing and having spent a full 4 years at a quality college. If he sticks with the Suns (as opposed to going out on another trade), he may have the occasional great game, but mainly I see him as a durable big on a cheap contract who doesn’t have the usual issues of immaturity, lack of size, lack of weight, lack of strength, lack of effort, or lack of athletic ability.

    And he won’t finesse his points at the basket.

    Long story, shortened: he’s a dirt worker.

  • Morgan

    Great read Michael! You need to post more often. It’s great to see the front office having a blue print and plan for the future. It’s going to take some time, but I think 2015 is where we are going to make some noise.

  • Morgan

    I agree with you again Scott. People who are complaining about Plumlee forget some of their favorite players are dirt workers. Guys like Tucker and LOU! We aren’t saying Plumlee is a future starter but he could develop into a ok back up big man that can play the 4/5. He’s smart, fits the system, and can jump out of the gym. I’m looking forward to see him battle for minutes out there.

  • Scott

    @Morgan -

    Well put! When people see Miles Plumlee in this trade they should think of Lou Amundson.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    This is Green’s 14th pro team since being drafted 8 yrs ago…..includes D-League & foreign teams.

    Do the Suns get the rights to his frequent-flyer miles ?

    Miles ?….Mason ?….always mix ‘em up.
    Suffice to say we have the brown-haired Plumlee….the older, and slightly less talented version of his blond haired younger. brother.
    They have an even younger brother, Marshall, who is playing at Duke. Marshall is 6’11″.
    Wonder if he is a red-head ?

    A good trade, another gem for McD to pluck at the bottom of the 1st round & maybe Green blossoms….finally.
    McD is doing a great job.

  • Chad

    Who would have thought we would be celebrating a deal that combines Green, Beasley and Brown! But sensational job in getting another 1st. Those salaries shouldn’t hurt us too much and could give relief when gortat is dealt. You continue to impress McD!

  • Scott

    I imagine at some point, in garbage time, Brown and Green will have a dunk contest. ;)

  • Chad

    While doing their best to not pass to each other….. Or anybody else on the court! Haha

  • Voqar

    I’m somewhat shocked. Suns are positioning themselves well and making smart moves. It’ll be a while, but things are at least looking to have potential.

  • DBreezy

    @Michael,

    That many picks certainly could fill a roster and I don’t think McD necessarily minds that considering the overall state of this roster presently. I guess to me moving up in the draft going forward depends heavily on the Morris twins. If they show considerable improvement and consistency this season perhaps the Suns do consider moving up, but my bet is that McD ends up using those picks to round out his roster in the frontcourt. It’s cheaper than paying for quality frontcourt players as free agents and was a staple of Ainge’s Boston regime.

    Now I’m sure they’ll be on the hunt for those Harden or KG type deals but there are no glaring ones burning on the horizon. Despite his personal feelings, LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t one of those guys and neither is Bosh. No other team seems to be in the 3 or 4 bonafide young star situation that OKC was in or the Suns were in 2004-2005. I’m sure they’ll also talk to big FA’s as McD says, but even if they get Wiggins, I suspect the big names will view him the same way Kobe and T-Mac viewed young Bynum and Howard back in the day.

  • Evan

    As far as im concerned the only players we have on the Roster right now are Dragic, Bledsoe, Goodwin and Len, everyone else is either gone next year, gone before this year or is completely expendable.

    Those 4 players have decent enough talent to build around.

    Obviously McDonough will do his best to try and turn the rest of the players into some type of asset.

    We now have 3 first round picks in one of the best draft classes in recent memory, and a ton of cap room to go out and sign a star or 2 (probably not a Lebron or Melo but still)

  • foreveris2long

    I am with ya Evan. Very well said.

  • Scott

    I would not want to overpay Bledsoe. So if he can’t be re-signed early (that’s an option, right?), I’d rather trade him for a pick or a player like Schroeder than be locked into paying him a ton of money in restricted free agency.

    Hopefully McD will exercise more restraint than we’ve seen from the Suns in the past and not tie the team up with bad contracts.

    Other than that contract consideration, I agree that the only players on the team are Dragic, Goodwin, Len, and Bledsoe.