Since the moment he stepped foot in Phoenix, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has focused on two areas when it comes to personnel: asset acquisition and cap flexibility.
As Michael Schwartz thoughtfully pointed out in his article on Sunday that focus shouldn’t change. The Suns are off to a surprising 11-9 start but the goal isn’t to be a middling .500 team in the Western Conference for years to come, it’s to build a roster that can compete for championships three to five years down the line.
And as McDonough has illustrated, the most methodical way to achieve that is by pawning off veterans to contending teams (Clippers and Pacers) and/or teams that would like to contend (Bucks and Wizards) in exchange for future assets. It’s why every veteran piece, save for P.J. Tucker and Channing Frye, was shipped out over the summer.
In the case of Frye, I’m not suggesting that McDonough’s vision should change. I’m well aware he’s a Valley product and a fan favorite. With that said, sentiment and popularity shouldn’t factor into any decision. If a team is willing to offer a first-round pick to acquire his services or the Suns can package him in a deal for a player that would seemingly be a better long-term fit, by all means McDonough should pull the trigger. My point is simply this: if trade offers come for Frye in the coming months, at what cost do the Suns simply part ways? Would they do it for a second-round pick? Would they do it for an expiring contract or a team willing to eat the rest of the seven-year veteran’s contract?
Schwartz pointed out that if Frye exercises his player option, the former Arizona standout will be the second-highest paid player on the Suns next season at $6.8 million. Even though that’s a mid-level contract, it does seem like quite a bit for a stretch-four who is averaging 10.4 points and 5.3 rebounds in less than 27 minutes of action.
But I’d argue that Frye’s value can’t simply be measured in just numbers.
On one hand, while he’s not the league’s greatest front court defender, he’s willing and able to go pound-for-pound on the interior with bigger, stronger fours. Given that the team’s No. 5 overall pick has spent more time in street clothes than in uniform, that’s an important asset to have. Not to mention, Miles Plumlee is still navigating his way around the paint at the defensive end, as well.
On the other hand, Frye offers a veteran presence in a locker room that was primarily born during either the George H.W. Bush or Bill Clinton administration. Maybe that’s overvalued in today’s NBA, but the idea of having a roster in two years full of eight or nine former first-round picks paired with some combination that features Dragic/Bledsoe/Plumlee/Morris Twins is a scary proposition.
There’s no doubt that this organization needs more young talent and hopefully a budding superstar to fall in its lap, but it also needs to place some value on leadership and on holding onto a glue guy. Maybe down the line the Suns deem that to be P.J. Tucker or one of the Morris twins (albeit they’re both 24) or a player from another franchise, but I’d like to think they already have that guy on their roster in Frye.
To win a championship or at least contend for one, teams need that guy. And sometimes they need multiple.
Sam Presti seems to be the model for general managers when it comes to building their rosters from the ground up, seeing as he took the Oklahoma City Thunder from a 23-win team to a playoff team to a Western Conference champion to a team that now annually is considered one of the favorites to win the title.
While he was the man who drafted Kevin Durant, James Harden, Jeff Green, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, he was also the man who held on to Nick Collison and acquired Nazr Mohammed during the 2010-11 season.
Why? Because even with a roster full of young talent, there’s something to be said for having a veteran or two who can command the locker room or act as a coach on the floor.
As mentioned above, Schwartz and I are absolutely in complete agreement that the goal of asset acquisition should not stop. It’s quite amazing what McDonough has been able to do in seven short months. However after gutting the roster of its primary veterans, the first-year general manager has to ask himself: Does he want a roster entirely of fresh-faced 20-somethings or does he see value in keeping Frye as part of the future? And if it’s the former, what return would he expect in a deal for the Suns starting power forward? Cap relief? A pick? A player?
Those questions might be answered soon enough, but for now it’s definitely something to ponder.