The Phoenix Suns spent the offseason slashing veterans from their roster every time they found a playoff contender with a need for such a player.
Jared Dudley, Luis Scola, Caron Butler and Marcin Gortat all changed addresses once the Suns were able to find the right asset mix to acquire in return. That left a roster with Channing Frye as the only player in his 30s aside from injured big man Emeka Okafor.
Frye likely was never considered for trade purposes this summer because we didn’t even know if he would return to the team this year after missing all of last season with an enlarged heart. There seemed to be a better chance of Frye’s contract coming off the Suns’ books due to a medical retirement than through a trade.
However, not only has Frye returned but he hasn’t looked like a player who could not do any strenuous physical activity for the better part of the last year. In 26.7 minutes per game, Frye is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting nearly 40 percent from the three-point line, numbers that are very similar to his career marks. Frye is an excellent stretch big who will grab a few rebounds and play decent post defense, the kind of big man most contenders could use.
Frye is making $6.4 million this year and will take home $6.8 million next season assuming he exercises his player option, making him the second-highest paid player on the Suns behind Goran Dragic aside from Okafor’s massive expiring deal. That contract isn’t exorbitant but it’s hefty nonetheless as mid-level type deals are often the worst contracts in basketball.
The Suns’ plan this offseason was clear: trade every possible useful veteran for draft picks and young players with upside. I see no reason why that plan should be altered just because the Suns have overachieved thus far. After all, as well as they’ve played, they wouldn’t even be a playoff team if the postseason started today while all but two teams in the West are within two games of No. 9 Phoenix. According to Kevin Pelton, earlier in the week ESPN’s Playoff Odds only saw the Suns reach the playoffs once in 1,000 tries due to the strength of the conference. In addition, along with the Clippers, the Suns have both played more games against sub-.500 teams (12) than any other squad in the West and Phoenix’s 4-4 mark against winning teams doesn’t seem sustainable.
Therefore, if the Suns have an opportunity to acquire a young asset of some sort or even future flexibility, they should not hesitate to trade Frye. His strong play should be applauded because this wasn’t even a conversation the team needed to have before the season. Now it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think a contender could view Frye as a missing piece on their roster.
Remember, the Suns are in a very advantageous trading position sitting about $5.7 million under the salary cap. They could rid themselves of Frye’s final year by taking on an expiring contract for bigger money from a team desperate to cut 2013-14 dollars. They could use Frye as part of a package for a big-money quality player that could become available. They could also offer Frye and 2013-14 cap relief for something like another first-rounder if just Frye is not enough. It’s tough to gauge Frye’s trade value, but it’s easy to see the Suns have many ways they could execute such a deal with how flexible their 2013-14 cap position is.
I’ve long viewed Frye as an underrated contributor to success on the basketball court, and that’s no exception this year. I wrote a few years ago about how the Suns were much better not only when Nash played but when Frye was on the court and have questioned how much his loss was felt in last year’s offensive ineptitude amid all the other more highly-publicized personnel losses. According to NBA Stats, this year has been more of the same as the Suns have scored 110.3 points per 100 possessions with Frye and 97.7 without him, which is roughly the range between Boston’s No. 25 offense and Portland’s top offense. Their true shooting percentage increases from 52.3 percent to 57.9 percent as well with the floor-spacing big on the court.
If the Suns want to win as many games as possible this season, keeping Frye is the way to go. Beyond what he brings on the court, he provides a quality veteran presence on a young Phoenix roster and he’s as nice an NBA player as you will find in any locker room. However, the Suns will likely have the cap space to acquire the kind of solidifying veteran their locker room might need once their core is set.
For now, asset acquisition should remain the name of the game, and Frye’s play this year could make him useful trade bait either by himself or in a package. The Suns should not dump his salary just to clear the books, but if they can receive an asset that could improve their future for Frye while ridding themselves of his 2014-15 salary commitment, they should continue implementing the plan that was executed so well this summer.
Tags: Channing Frye