Caron Butler trade gives Suns more options

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.

Tags: Caron Butler

  • Ty-Sun

    Great explanation of what this trade does for the Suns. In short, it opens up a lot more possibilities without adversely affecting the Suns’ long term plans.

  • Scott

    With Frye presumably cleared to play, this leaves Gortat as the last likely trade to make, and now there is cap space for it.

  • Scott

    FWIW, in the past I’ve mentioned multiple times the idea of trading Gortat to OKC for a package of Perkins plus rookies Adams and Roberson. That’s because even though I don’t like the Suns taking on Perkins, I think Adams and Roberson are young players with potential, and that’s what the Suns need to be stockpiling.

    As an alternative PHX-OKC trade, I’d like to point out that if Perkins was amnestied by OKC, then the Suns could trade Gortat to OKC for as little as a future first rounder. (The Trade Machine likes it.)

  • Scott

    ^^ Or, I should say, the Suns could theoretically trade Gortat without taking any salary back.

  • NOitall

    Here is a crazy thought… I believed 2 years ago they needed to trade Gortat before he got close to the end of his deal because he is unlikely to stay here and we are unlikely to pay him what he will command. Doing so would have reaped a quality return in a trade, but they waited and now we will be lucky to get a 2nd rounder for him.

    Now we face a similar situation with Dragic. I love the guy, but let’s face facts. While he is a quality starting caliber guard, I am not sure if he is a star in the making. At his current salary, he is great value for the Suns. But he is good enough to command more from someone else, and that is very likely what will happen when his deal is up after next year [he has a player option he will more than likely decline]. We will then lose him, because we are now tied to extending Bledsoe and will not want to pay Dragic the $9-10M a year he will get somewhere else.

    If we wait until after this season, we end up hearing everyone talk about what will happen with Dragic. We will lose any leverage with team knowing that Dragic will become a UFA. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and trade a guy you really like early on so that you get maximum value for him.

    It is time to trade Dragic, despite the fact he is the only player on this team I like watching play.

    The smart move would be to trade him to Philly along with Gortat for Philly’s two picks next summer [if they can swing that. Even if they got PHI pick, it is probably going to be a top 5 pick.

    We will be at least a top 3 pick. If we can acquire their pick, we end up with 2 top 5 picks in a loaded draft. You could then use the lower picks we have in a trade to acquire players, because we won’t need them.

    It would be a visionary move, one that Cotton would do. Plus, wouldn’t a combo of Wiggins/Randle/Parker/Gordon or some other combo be far superior to having Dragic on a year left, and whatever 2nd rounder and flotsam we get for Gortat???

  • Scott

    ^^ So far as I know, only 2 teams are looking for PGs right now: the Sixers and maybe Orlando. There were so many PGs in the last draft that most teams were able to stock up, and a few teams signed veteran PGs to new contracts.

    So while it might be wise looking ahead for the Suns to trade Dragic now, I’m not sure there’s a market. Also, it could turn around to bite the Suns if Marshall washes out and Bledsoe doesn’t work out.

    As for Philly giving up picks, they would not give one up for 2014 as they expect to be in top position for that. They might give up a future pick though, if they really thought they could get their team out of the ditch.

    Finally, don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. The 2014 draft may not be all it’s cracked up to be. For instance, is Randle significantly better than this summer’s #1 pick? Seems like the same guy to me.

    The 2014 draft could be more like the 2011 draft, where only the #1 pick is a franchise player (Wiggins), and just a few of the rest are possible stars (Leonard, Shumpert, Vucevic, Faried, etc.).

  • Ty-Sun

    Dragic wants to be in Phoenix, Bledsoe probably doesn’t. Bledsoe has a higher trade value than Dragic. Even though Dragic is older than Bledsoe, Dragic doesn’t have a lot of NBA miles on his body and should be a very good PG for many more years.

    My point?

    Bledsoe is the better bet to bring in more value through a trade than Dragic. And Dragic should be an above average starting PG for at least 5-6 years which won’t hurt the Suns at all. In 3-4 years the Suns could start looking for a young PG to eventually replace Dragic. Right now they need a lot of help in other areas and Bledsoe is more likely to bring in that help by a trade than Dragic.

    If Bledsoe has a breakout season this year and becomes an all-star player, THEN Dragic becomes expendable.

  • Russell’s Suns


    Not sure if you know but the #1 and #2 picks are both franchise players. Wiggins and Jabari Parker are absolutely franchise changers (think Duncan, Kobe , Lebron, Wade, Durant).

    Those 2 guys are no doubt about franchise players so the #1 and #2 pick is extremely valuable. Parker is a more talented version of Melo.

    I can tell you right now, had the names below been allowed to enter he draft they would have been taken a head of anyone in the 2011 or this summers draft, as you sighted.

    Joel Embiid

    The other difference between this draft and this last one is a lot of guy’s taken 8-20 are going to become house hold names, this is a very deep draft and not even close to the last few.

    If the Suns have the #3 pick and Parker is still on the board because Randle went #2, Parker will be a Sun. If the Suns have the 2nd pick, Parker will be a Sun.

  • Ty-Sun

    And I agree with Scott of Dragic’s trade value right now. Orlando is rebuilding and will more than likely be content to wait until they have another shot a Smart in the next draft to get their PG for the future. Philly is something of a question mark but I doubt they would actually make any trades this season that might hurt their chances in the Wiggens sweepstakes.

    There are no other teams in the NBA that would want or need Dragic enough to give the Suns enough talent in exchange for him to make the deal worth it. No one will trade a 1st round pick in next year’s draft for Dragic. I really like Dragic but I just don’t see him being that valuable to any other team this year.

    But Bledsoe… maybe.

  • Waysouth

    I see the Suns trading Gortat to Washington for Okafor and 2014 #1. Okafor and Nene have been injury prone. Gortat could provide a larger more offensive option to Okafor and a better pick and roll option for Wall.

    Suns get Okafor’s expiring $14 million and a borderline lottery pick in 2014.

  • hawki

    Saw Kravtsov’s highlight video…not bad….I don’t know if its saying much but he looked at least as athletic as Len.

    Philly is not going to want Dragic,,,,they just got Michael Carter-Williams + they have Wroten.

    but if McD could swing a trade for a likely high draft pick, then I’m all for it.

  • Scott

    @Russell -

    My list has been a bit like yours, placing Wiggins and Parker at the top. However, DX has moved Parker down to #7, and I guess he might have a few question marks to resolve. Also, I’ve heard that Parker might not enter the 2014 draft. IIRC, he’s spoken of the importance of staying in college longer. Of course we won’t know for sure if he’s in or out till then, but it’s something to take into consideration.

    Embiid is interesting, but it’s a bit early to call him a franchise player. If he was available in 2013, I doubt he’d have been taken ahead of Len, Adams, Zeller or Noel, as he’s not exceptional physically compared to these players, and his game is still very raw. (But yeah, keep an eye on him, because he could be very good.)

    When Smart was still thought of as going in the 2013 draft, I never heard of him thought of as a franchise player or a #1, except only if Orlando won top spot, because it was thought they’d take a PG. Otherwise, in 2013 – IMO – he probably would have gone between 6 (Noel) and 9 (Burke), and definitely by 11 (Sixers).

    According to preliminary scouting, Randle is a big, long PF who doesn’t play defense. If he can learn to hit the 3, he’ll be a slightly taller version of Bennett.

    Here’s DX on Randle’s defense: “Just an average defender, at best, at this stage, Randle’s fundamentals and awareness will need plenty of work if he is to reach his full potential on this end down the road. He regularly takes plays off, doesn’t get in any type of stance, and reaches excessively – issues that we often see in players this age. His conditioning appears to be just average at this point as well, something he’ll likely want to shore up by the time he lands in college.” Also, “No real fundamentals on defense. Has the type of body that can get out shape quickly.” Comparisons? “Comparisons to Al Harrington and Terrence Jones are already making the rounds.”

    IMO, he could wind up more of a Zach Randolph, before the double microfractures.

    We’ve got a year to go till the draft comes around again. Hopefully we’ll get a better insight into who these guys are and what they can do by then. But I’m already hearing enough hype to make me remember how Shabazz was trumpeted as the top player for 2013, and how he was a franchise player, when in reality it may turn out he’s a washout on the Darko-Beasley scale.

  • Scott

    @hawki -

    What I can’t tell is if Kravtsov has IQ. If he has it, I’d keep him. If he doesn’t, buh-bye!

    To me, if Kravtsov has IQ, then he’s Miles Plumlee + lateral quickness. If he doesn’t have IQ, then he’s an athletic big guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing on the court.

    McD has scouted Ukrainian players before. He scouted Len. I’d be fairly certain he’s familiar with Kravtsov as well. Len and Kravtsov probably know each other from play for the Ukrainian national team.

    So if Kravtsov has IQ, and McD knows how to best use him, and if Kravtsov and Len get along, then I’m okay with using a spare spot to have more depth at PF/C.

    For one thing, we don’t know if Gortat will be staying with the team all year. For another, we don’t know if Len will stay healthy all year, For a third, we don’t know if Frye will be healthy to play all year. Kravtsov has a cheap contract and he’s not totally raw, except when it comes to shooting.

    Obviously Kravtsov can’t be on the court at the end of games, because he’d be a target for “hack-a-Kravtsov.”

    If Kravtsov wants to have any future in NBA basketball, he needs to be able to hit his free throws and nail a midrange jumper.

    Kravtsov seems intelligent when speaking Ukrainian, but I have no idea what he’s saying. :)

  • Scott

    Wait, let me take back the “big” and “long” bits on Randle. He’s only 6′ 10″ in shoes with a wingspan of 6′ 11″, which is average. Or, in other words, he’s comparable to Cody Zeller, who people thought had a tiny wingspan.

  • Azbballfan

    i agree with Waysouth, that would be a really nice trade

    except, i dont think it works in the trade machine straight up

    However, the Suns could send Shannon Brown and Gortat to Washington for Okafor and a 1st rounder

    i would totally do that move

  • http://none Keith

    I’m with you on the draft, Scott. The amount of hype is deafening but a bit silly.

  • Scott

    Another player highly touted for 2014, LaQuinton Ross, has been steadily plummeting on the DX draft board. In fact, he’s dropped again since the last time I checked (which wasn’t long ago).

    Now he’s at #1 … in the 2nd round.

    Isaiah Austin is now threatening to crash into the top 10, when last year he was a borderline lottery guy before backing out.

    Doug McDermott, who was pegged as a mid-2nd rounder for last year’s draft is now at #20 in the first round … presumably due to lack of talent ahead of him.

    So yeah … I’m not seeing this flood of “can’t miss” talent in 2014 at the moment.

    The Suns will need top-notch scouting again in 2014 if they’re going to get the best players available.

  • Zack B.

    Funny that I saw Shabazz Mohammed being called a washout, with not even an NBA game under his belt. I’m not sure why you guys are ruling out the possibility of us acquiring a star already in the NBA, rather than getting one from the 2014 draft. McD has hinted at it twice. He mentioned once how there will eventually be a disgruntled superstar, and we have assets. Then again when the Butler trade went down, he said this move gives us more flexibility to deal for an “exciting player”. I’ve heard people say Kevin Love, but I’m not sure he’s our guy. A better target might be Paul George, given that he’s a UFA in 2014, perhaps he gives Indy’s front office the impression that he won’t return, and that’s when we swoop in. I wouldn’t even mind giving up picks for him. Another target could be (and should be IMO) is Rudy Gay. It pains me to know that if we had McD when he was on the Grizz, he would be a Sun. Given the fact that we had interest him in the past, perhaps he’s a possibility. There were rumblings earlier this offseason that he might be dealt in an effort to blow up the roster with Ujiri taking over. The Pistons offered Rodney Stuckey and Charlie V for Rudy. Ujiri’s response was along the lines of, if I’m gonna trade him, you better make a good offer. The Raptors have already made one cap-clearing trade shipping off Andrea Bargnani and the $23 million left on his deal to the Knicks with an eye toward cleaning their books following the 13-14 season. Ujiri is sending signals that he intends to tear down much of the Raptors’ payroll and moving Gay could be part of that plan. Sure his contract is huge, but he has one thing that is extremely rare in this league. Superstar potential. He’s primed for a breakout season as he will have a full training camp with the Raptors, and he’s just had corrective eye surgery. Either of these guys would do for me. Heck, even DeRozan wouldn’t be bad.

  • Scott

    @Zack -

    Of course, time must pass for the situation to completely unfold. But you know that Shabazz was kicked out of the NBA rookie program almost instantly for rules violation, and you know he failed to perform well in SL, and you know he dropped in the draft from being a super-hyped #1 “franchise” pick to the tail end of the lottery at #14.

    For now, that will have to be sufficient indication of how a player who is supposed to be a “can’t miss” All-Star type guy long before the draft can look quite different when draft day comes.

    As for McD dealing for an “exciting player,” I’d expect it would be someone younger, like Bledsoe.

  • MAX

    Hey guys i must say after reading every ones opinions on the draft that its funny that there is so much hype before these kids even play in 1 game. I truly believe Wiggins is not a #1 draft pick but more of a #3-#5. He is very skinny and almost no mid to long range jumper. All his scoring comes from dunks or in the paint shots. And it looks to me he is a just below average ball handler. I agree with some one on this board who said randle is like a Antony Bennet which is on point. Truth is he can defiantly score but he had a larger body and he might have a hard time controlling it like many great players have in the past plus no defense = not that great. Now I can definatly see Parker in the top 2-3 picks. He seems more put together than Wiggins. Parker is not as athletic as wiggins but has a better shot, can handle the ball well and has a higher IQ. Marcus Smart is easily a top 3 pick because at least we know what he can do and he do it well. I dont know too much about Embiid so i wont comment but lets add one other player to the top 5 and thats Aaron Gordon. Now im a West coast follower and a AZ fan but im not just touting him because of my team. This kid is exstreamly athletic, great ball handler, great mid range shot, garbage man in the paint and high IQ. he has a NBA body and high motor. This kid really needs a long range shot and he will be a top 3 pick. Sean Miller will definatly get him to that next level just look at a average D Williams #2 pick and Below average Solo Hill to a first round pick which i might add didnt think he would get drafted. Oh and La Q Ross, really is not that good. Get outta hear.

  • MAX

    Sorry for spelling i was typing on my phone lol

  • Scott

    For the record, I thought Parker in an interview was reminiscent of Grant Hill. He also has similar size to Hill, and is going to Duke.

    As with all of these prospects, I think we need to see how he develops and if he falls into the range where the Suns picks, but my eye has been on Parker right along.