Caron Butler trade gives Suns more options

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During the last few years of the Nash era, the Suns dipped their toes into the rebuilding waters while maintaining the core of a team fighting for the playoffs.

After dealing Caron Butler to Milwaukee in a cost-cutting deal, the Suns cannon-balled into the rebuilding deep end (if they weren’t already there after trading Luis Scola and Jared Dudley).

Butler, a Wisconsin native, was previously the Suns’ oldest and highest-paid player at 33 years old with an $8 million salary. Now the 30-year-old Channing Frye takes the reins as the Suns’ elder statesman (which makes me feel old, since I stepped foot on the UA campus while Frye was still in school), and Marcin Gortat regains his title as highest-paid Sun at $7.7 million.

By acquiring Viacheslav Kravtsov ($1.5 mil) and Ish Smith ($951,463), the Suns shaved about $5.55 million off their 2013-14 cap number. In a corresponding move, the Suns finally inked their first-round pick Alex Len to a standard rookie deal with 120 percent raises, per Paul Coro’s salary figures.

The Suns likely waited to make things official with Len so they could continue to operate under the salary cap, as by my salary cap numbers the difference between Len’s cap hold at 100 percent of the rookie scale and his deal with the standard 120 percent raises would have taken the Suns over the cap. As a result of the cap space created from the Butler deal, the Suns remain well under the cap even after signing Len, whereas otherwise they might have waited until closer to training camp to sign him to preserve that status.

In fact, with 17 guaranteed contracts on their roster, the Suns’ cap number stands at $53.437 million, which gives them about $5.2 million worth of wiggle room below the $58.679 million cap. That flexibility is why the Suns decided to trade a player who never seemed to make sense for their long-term plans anyways.

We don’t yet know how this room will be used, but based on how active new GM Ryan McDonough and his staff have been thus far, it’s a safe assumption that it will eventually be used at least in part.

That could be in a lopsided trade like the Bledsoe deal whereby the Suns score a choice asset in return for one of their players and cap relief. The Suns will also be a must call for any team looking to cut their luxury tax bill or dip below the tax line. For the price of a first-round pick (or an asset to be named later), Phoenix would surely be willing to help out.

In fact, according to Grantland’s Zach Lowe, only the barely trying Sixers are projected to possess more salary cap space than the Suns after Phoenix essentially took the bulk of Milwaukee’s remaining room. Per ShamSports, teams like Utah and Atlanta could create a smidge of cap room as well, but still the Suns will be one of the few teams that can make an organization’s cap issues disappear, so based on that lack of supply they should have plenty of leverage if such a scenario for a straight dump or facilitation in a three-way deal materializes.

The flexibility will make a potential Gortat trade easier because of the options this cap space opens up, and the Suns could even opt to add a free agent to their crowded roster if one suits their fancy.

This trade does not impact the Michael Beasley situation whatsoever, as McDonough said in Coro’s report before adding he expects a resolution on that count “over the next week or so.”

If the Suns do decide to waive Beasley, he’s a sunk cost. That $9 million will have already been spent regardless of what the rest of the roster looks like, so it’s not like this trade is freeing up money to pay Beasley; it’s freeing up money to make other moves.

However, not coincidentally next week coincides with the beginning of the month of September, lending credence to the possibility that the Suns are waiting until then to stretch the final $3 million of his contract owed in 2014-15 over three years, as I detailed after his latest alleged transgression.

Even without Butler and Beasley, the Suns have plenty of potential small forwards with P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and Gerald Green.

The one surprise to some Suns fans on Twitter about this deal concerned the fact that Phoenix could not pry away one of Milwaukee’s many second-rounders, a point Lowe addressed in his piece:

Butler’s expiring contract is sexy in theory, but not in reality. You might be able to get someone else’s unwanted albatross in exchange — a Gerald Wallace type, for instance — but a rebuilding team like Phoenix has no use for such a player. The new collective bargaining deal has reduced contract lengths and made teams more careful in doling out contracts. There are fewer albatrosses out there, and smart teams with very little short-term interest in winning are steering clear

When looking around the league at teams’ needs and cap situations, it’s hard to see many potential buyers for a player like Butler. The Bucks happened to possess requisite cap space and a need at small forward as well as being a team trying to contend for a playoff spot in Butler’s home state. Pretty much any other team aside from the Sixers would have required the Suns to take back similar salary. Considering Lowe’s contention that there are not as many quality assets dealt for expirings these days, it’s tough to see too many other places the Suns might have been able to deal Butler.

He could have served as salary ballast in a bigger deal, but with the Suns’ cap number reduced by $5.5 million they are gaining that flexibility without actually having to include the player in the deal, which gives them many additional ways to use it.

In sum, this deal was a set-up trade. When over-the-cap teams make trades in which they cut salary, they receive a trade exception to include in a future deal. Although that was not the case for a Suns team operating under the cap, that’s essentially what this deal provided.

There wasn’t much of an opportunity cost to losing Butler with the veteran not fitting into the Suns’ long-term plans, and this trade provides the flexibility for the Suns to make a deal for a player that will.

And 1

It’s interesting that the Suns were able to make the Blesdoe trade by taking on salary, because when combining the effects of the two Butler trades the Suns essentially dealt Jared Dudley and a second-round pick for Eric Bledsoe, Ish Smith and Viacheslav Kravtsov. That means they took back a mere $828K extra in salary between the two transactions.

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