The past haunts the Suns on 2010 draft day


As it turns out, the Phoenix Suns’ past may have been more affected by this draft than their future will be.

With just a pair of second-round picks to their name (46th and 60th overall), the Suns would be doing well if they get even an eventual fringe rotation player out of this draft.

So while draft day is essentially just one more day before free agency opens for this franchise, many moves have been made and not made with its consideration.

The main focus of the 2010 draft for three years now has been the Kurt Thomas trade of 2007, the first move of Steve Kerr’s regime that will now have a bearing on his final act as general manager.

It’s well-known now that in that ill-fated deal the Suns dealt Thomas and two unprotected first-rounders to Seattle (now Oklahoma City) for a 2009 second-rounder that the Suns sold to Cleveland. To make matters worse, Seattle a year later flipped Thomas to the Spurs (gaining another first-rounder in the process), who then defeated the Suns in the first round of that year’s postseason.

So to recap that trade the Suns dealt a key big man who ended up going to their biggest rival, a 2008 first-rounder (which turned into Serge Ibaka at No. 24 overall) and this year’s first-rounder (No. 26 overall) to save $16 million.

Yes, yes, this was worst trade in the history of trades, a pure money deal made by a team inches away from a title. Steve Kerr told The Arizona Republic of the trade, “We were in a tough spot because we had to shed Kurt’s money. That was the only team with the room to do it. They basically held a gun to our heads.”

What’s interesting about that deal is how it colored the future. I’ve been freaking out about this trade basically since Terry Porter started running the team into the ground because it would be borderline-catastrophic (from a basketball sense at least) to hand a lottery pick over to a team on the rise when you’re a team in decline badly craving an infusion of youth.

The Suns lucked out in that they got to keep their lottery pick last year yet are handing over a pair of mid-20s picks to the Thunder. These are the types of picks that are rarely hit on in a big way, and when the Suns do hit on such a pick it’s often sold anyway under this regime. As terrible as the Kurt Thomas trade looks on paper (and it does), when you consider the Suns really had no other choice to shed the salary and ended up giving up just a pair of low first-rounders, the deal doesn’t look so bad.

It was really a bad trade because of what it could have been. It would be unforgivable if the Suns were picking in the lottery, and what I wonder is if maybe the Suns would be picking in the lottery this season if not for fear of handing the Thunder such a selection.

One of the biggest reasons I’ve argued for not trading Amare (despite knowing the potential likelihood of him leaving in free agency) was because you couldn’t become a mediocre team that misses the playoffs with this unprotected pick up in the air (although of course it never should have been unprotected in the first place).

Maybe the Suns would have decided to clear house last summer (or at least get rid of Amare) if this were the case. There likely would have been more consideration given to getting something for Amare at the deadline this year if the Suns knew they could have a lottery pick waiting for them at season’s end.

It might be a sliver of a silver lining based on some circumstantial evidence, but the only positive I can see from that trade is potentially keeping the Suns together for their wild 2009-10 playoff run.

But while the Kurt Thomas trade is the big Suns regret story of the draft, the real regret story should center around another cost-cutting trade and another unprotected first-rounder that leaked into the top 10 six years later.

Back in January of 2004, the Suns dumped Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway on the Knicks for essentially cap space and a pair of first-rounders. At the time I hated the deal because it made the Suns atrocious for the rest of 2003-04, but I didn’t realize at the time that the trade opened the door for the signing of a certain eventual two-time MVP.

One of the picks in that trade included a variety of protections, but it was completely unprotected starting in 2010. It might have been a stretch at the time to think that the Knicks would be so bad the rest of the decade that the deal would slink to unprotected status this year, but that’s exactly what happened.

Unfortunately for the Suns, they made the ultimate salary dump trade later that year by dumping Tom Gugliotta and having to part with a pair of first-rounders and a second-rounder to do so. Six years later, one of the first-rounders will be the ninth overall selection in the 2010 draft, the exact position Amare was picked at eight years ago and a place where a plethora of talented power forward replacements can be found this time around.

The Suns cleared Googs’ $11.6 million salary at the time, but I have a feeling the Suns could have found a better way to save cash if they had it to do over again. The one thing that’s certain about this situation is Robert Sarver didn’t even own the team yet, so you can’t pin it on him, the kind of mistake you never expect to regret so much more than half a decade later.

Phoenix also dealt its second-rounder to clear Alando Tucker’s salary, but the team owns a pair of second-rounders from recent major trades.

The 46th overall pick from Charlotte completes the J-Rich/Dudley for Bell/Diaw deal. At the time a national pundit suggested the Suns may have gotten the three most valuable assets in the trade, and we will soon find out if that comes to fruition depending on if the Suns can get a steal that late.

The 60th pick comes from the Cleveland Shaq deal. Although it’s hard to see any talent falling that far, the Suns at least have a chance on Thursday to finally reap some legitimate basketball value from the Shaq salary dump.

As so many teams look to the future and might what be on draft day hoping to select the player they expect to lead their franchise to glory, the Suns can look back on a salary dump that — while ugly — could have been worse, another disaster deal that prevented the team from sitting on a surprise lottery pick six years later and a pair of second-rounders that complete trades that we have long since shut the books on.