Suns Rumors: Should the Suns trade J-Rich?


Coming back from a four-game road losing streak that dropped Phoenix to 1-11 in its last 12 road games, I understand why some fans are panicking. We’re talking about a team that for the first time in all of 2010 did not blow a double-digit lead or get blown out on Monday yet still failed to beat the Memphis Grizzlies.

Something clearly isn’t working. We have yet to see if Gentry switching Robin Lopez and Leandro Barbosa into the starting lineup for Channing Frye and Jason Richardson is a permanent thing or if it will even be an effective thing at all.

Frye is averaging 4.6 points per game in his last five games, and Richardson is averaging 8.8 ppg over his last four in what has been a very hit or miss season all year long for both players really. It would be nice if Robin Lopez develops into a reliable center, but again we’re talking about Robin Lopez, and LB hasn’t really been himself all season.

I kind of think the Suns should see how Lopez/LB work with the starters for a little while if for no other reason than the fact that the rotation needs a shake-up. I assume Lopez will start on Wednesday against his twin, but it will be interesting to see how Gentry fills out his lineups from here on out. Maybe he should consult the matchups for the next few weeks at least when choosing his starting lineup until he finds something that works.

Before getting to the reason you’re reading this post I will say this: every team goes through slumps like this. OK, not every team will go through 1-11 road stretches or blow double-digit amounts of double-digit leads in just over a month.

But every team goes through peaks and valleys, even if they aren’t exactly usually 14-3 followed by 10-15 with all the aforementioned inconsistency and blown leads.

So the question remains, should the Suns make a trade, and will they?

I will answer the second question first: no, I don’t think the Suns should make a trade, and I fear if they do it will be a cost-cutting kind of deal involving Amare if this thing really bottoms out more than anything. When the Suns were doing so well it looked like a foregone conclusion that Amare would be a Sun through this season at least.

I still think that will happen, and in fact the Suns’ brass will be meeting with STAT’s agent for their first formal discussion about an extension this week. I doubt there’s any chance Amare signs an in-season extension, but I think he will seriously consider re-signing in the offseason (if he even opts out) if the Suns offer him market value (which I’m not sure they will, especially considering how this season may yet end).

I do think any Amare trade would be something of the 40 cents on the dollar variety that wouldn’t do a whole lot for this season or the future. So unless something changes in that department, I don’t plan on spending a whole lot of time discussing a potential Amare trade.

If the Suns are to make a move it would make the most sense for them to ship out Jason Richardson. The question is, will they find an amenable deal?

In a perfect world they would want a tough shooting guard who can play ‘D’ with an expiring contract. It’s more than a little sickening that I just described Raja Bell.

The biggest sticking point to trading J-Rich is the $14.4 million he’s owed next year. No team in their right mind would want to pay that for a guy averaging an inconsistent 14.9 points per game playing next to Steve Nash in Phoenix’s system, especially when that guy doesn’t exactly make a name for himself on defense to put it kindly. I ultimately think the combination of bad contracts Phoenix would need to eat and lack of talent available in such a trade will preclude such a deal.

But let’s have a bit of fun with ESPN’s Trade Machine for a minute anyway and imagine what Tracy McGrady would look like in purple and orange. Here’s my cap-satisfying proposal: Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa to Houston for Tracy McGrady and Chase Budinger.

Why this works

There are a number of reasons this won’t work, but let’s start off by discussing why it does.

If T-Mac is healthy (a HUGE if), he gives the Suns a potent three-star lineup of Nash-Amare-McGrady, the kind of star-studded lineup that can really compete in the West. At full strength he’s a sizable improvement over J-Rich.

You all know I love Chase, and I would love to cover him again, but that’s not why I’m proposing this deal. The Suns would need another player to fill out the roster anyway and they’d need some wing depth if they trade both of their shooting guards and then plan on relying on the creaky McGrady. As I wrote around draft time, Chase would be a great fit in this system, and Suns GM and fellow Wildcat Steve Kerr is very familiar with his game.

The biggest boon, though, would be on the books. By acquiring McGrady’s league-high $23 million expiring contract, the Suns would essentially be paying Nash and guys on their rookie contracts entering the Summer of 2010. Even if Hill and Frye re-up, the Suns would only have about $25 million worth of commitments minus Amare. That would give them roughly $30 mil to spend in free agency, which could mean Amare and a really nice piece (maybe Joe Johnson all over again?) or even a shot at the jewels of the class.

People ask me all the time about the Suns’ future and my answer is this: it doesn’t look championship bright. At best you have Amare leading the Suns’ current crop of young guns. Sounds like a nice team, but not a championship contender. Taking one step back in a move like this would give Phoenix the flexibility to re-tool for one last run under Nash while building for the future after he retires, kind of how taking one step back with the Marbury-Penny trade allowed the Suns to sign Nash.

For Houston, the benefit would be they’re getting two pretty solid shooting guards in place of a decent rookie and a guy who isn’t even playing. The Rockets may well have better options in exchange for T-Mac’s deal, but getting two guys the caliber of J-Rich and LB would certainly upgrade Houston.

Why this won’t happen

Money, money, money.

Every deal the Suns make is dictated by money; we’ve known that for years. Such a trade would require the Suns to take back $3.6 million in season salary commitments, which would be doubled when factoring in the luxury tax and likely at least a $5 mil overall charge (it’s not plain doubled because half their salaries have already been paid).

Regardless of what this would do for long-term flexibility and the ability to make the Suns a contender down the road, I bet you that very fact makes this scenario a moot point, especially since the Suns don’t have any other salaries they could legitimately just dump without losing anything on the basketball end of things.

There were discussions of a T-Mac for J-Rich and LB deal over the summer, but I’m sure this is one of the biggest reasons it ended up fizzling.

The Suns would also be taking a major risk both short term and long term. If McGrady’s knees don’t hold up or he’s a shell of his former self, the Suns just flushed another one of Nash’s late prime years down the toilet. If they subsequently come up empty during the Summer of 2010, that’s another gamble they will have lost.

There also would be a question as to how well McGrady would fit in next to Nash. Here’s a guy used to taking 20 shots a game who wasn’t happy being just another player in Houston. If McGrady dominates the ball, this trade would end up hurting the Suns more than it would help them in the short term.

Houston likely won’t be so willing to clog up its cap with a guy like Richardson next season, and with Ariza and Battier around it’s not like Richardson and LB are needed that badly in Houston. Plus, who knows what Dork Elvis’ stat gurus say about them.

It’s too bad I’m pretty sure this trade will never happen for money and other reasons, as great as it would be for Phoenix’s 2010 cap situation. That, and it would be nice to see a Phoenix Suns guard voted into the All-Star Game this year.