Six questions after the Suns-Magic six-player trade


We’ve broken down the salary cap implications, whether Vince Carter can replace Jason Richardson and what Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus bring to the table, but here are six more questions surrounding Saturday’s blockbuster deal with the Orlando Magic.

1.  What does this mean for Steve Nash?

In the immediate aftermath of the trade, speculation swirled about the future of Steve Nash in the desert. That didn’t last long as Robert Sarver told ESPN’s Marc Stein that “this deal has nothing to do with [trading] Nash. We have no intention to trade him.” Nash’s agent Bill Duffy then told Yahoo’s Marc J. Spears that “nothing is going on” regarding Nash.

Nash has confirmed all that to The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro, as he said, “I know a lot of people are telling me to demand a trade. If I demand one, does that mean I get to pick my team? No. It’s not that simple. Maybe somebody could explain to me the reasoning. You can’t just go in and tell management where you want to go. I signed to play here and I want to make this team a really good one.”

To me this trade was never about Nash. This is not a salary dump with the Suns taking on about $7 million during the year and a half that Nash will remain under contract in Phoenix.

Sure, Hedo is shed, but this trade also puts the Suns in a better position to compete this season with the size Gortat brings. So while Nash was disappointed to lose a teammates in J-Rich whom he was finally clicking with, Nash has spoken more than anyone about how undersized this team is, and he’s lost enough friends in Phoenix to understand that this is a business.

Nash will now be tasked with the responsibility of blending the newcomers in on offense and making Vince Carter a team’s leading scorer once again (once healthy), but I don’t see why this would have impacted Nash’s situation in the least bit.

Sure, an offseason Nash deal could still be in play if the Suns fizzle out this season and management decides it’s time to rebuild, but to me nothing has changed about Nash’s situation since the time the team left Dallas on Friday night.

2.  What legacy does each of the departing Suns leave behind?

Jason Richardson finally became a true Sun last season after a rough opening year that included a driving under the influence charge, a citation for driving well over the speed limit with his toddler unrestrained in the backseat and a number of late-game gaffes like his defensive miscue leaving Roger Mason Jr. open for a game-winning three all the while adjusting to being a secondary option on a star-studded Suns starting lineup.

Last year J-Rich became a barometer of sorts for the Suns, as the team reeled off a 31-5 record including the playoffs when he scored at least 20 points. When he played like a third star next to Nash and Amare, Phoenix was nearly unbeatable. Richardson was especially lethal in the playoffs, when he led all Suns in Wins Produced. However, no Suns fan will soon forget his failed box out of Ron Artest that cost the Suns Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

This year Richardson blossomed as the Suns’ leading scorer at 19.3 points per game while drilling a league-high 62 three-pointers.

J-Rich’s two-year run in Phoenix will ultimately be remembered in a positive light, and his up and down first season has largely been forgotten after his stellar stretch run last season and start to this year. His teammates all tweeted about how much they will miss playing with him as he was a good-natured guy in the locker room as well as a stud on the floor.

Hedo Turkoglu just never fit in Phoenix, where he averaged 9.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Trying Hedo at the four worked about as well as you would have expected, as he struggled defending opposing power forwards and failed to take advantage of them at the other end, often setting up as a vastly overpaid spot-up shooter.

He did a nice job of that by knocking down a career-high 42.3 percent of his long-range shots, but the Suns were paying him to do much more than hit threes.

His attitude remained positive and Suns fans should not feel the negativity Toronto fans do toward Hedo, he just was a bad fit for this roster.

Earl Clark never got his opportunity with the Suns thanks to his own underwhelming play. He’s got all the tools in the world, but he never really developed them, clanking jumper and jumper when he did get a look. Perhaps Orlando read a bit too much into his one decent garbage time performance this season against the Magic because that’s one of the few times he looked like a lottery pick during his stint with the Suns.

He underwhelmed in summer league a few months after Gentry proclaimed he would be surprised if Clark wasn’t a 2010-11 rotation player before failing to sniff the rotation all season when the Suns brought in Turkoglu and Childress.

His stint in Phoenix was a disappointment considering his lottery pick status, but he’s still got the ability to become a player in Orlando.

3.  Is this deal admission that the Suns botched the post-Amare summer?

Bill Simmons ran off a stream of tweets in the immediate aftermath of the deal making that point exactly. Simmons feels after the Suns came within a hair of the Finals, then dumped Amare, LB, Lou and now J-Rich and “now they’re way worse off + cap-wise no better. Savvy!”

I feel this is only admission that the Suns botched the Hedo trade, which his former agent Lon Babby readily admitted during the ensuing trade press conference. Nobody will argue that point.

There’s no reason to re-hash all the circumstances surrounding STAT’s departure in this venue, but when he left priority No. 1 should have been finding a big to replace him. They could have overpaid for David Lee or made a run at Luis Scola (looking like a great option in hindsight), but instead they made the Hedo deal and prayed it would work out.

When Stoudemire left the thinking was that perhaps the Suns could improve on their defense and rebounding at the position, but somehow they made one of the few moves that made them worse in both those areas. Much worse in fact.

This trade reverses that mistake and makes Gortat (plus some of the other assets acquired such as Childress and Warrick) that STAT replacement. The Suns still have yet to replace Stoudemire in the “future star when Nash leaves” department, but at least they have finally made up for his size on the interior, something that shockingly never happened this summer.

In summary, yes, they botched the main move in the post-Amare summer, but this trade provides them a chance to make things right with a future move that could set them on the correct path.

4.  What should the Suns’ rotation look like?

I pity Alvin Gentry for having to come up with an answer to this one.

Once Vince Carter returns, the starting lineup should be set everywhere except center with Nash-Carter-Hill-Frye-Lopez/Gortat. Ultimately the Suns should go with the big men rotations that play best together. I’m not sure it really matters who starts between Lopez and Gortat because I figure they will both largely split the minutes at the center position.

Things really get interesting at the wing. You have five guys (the aforementioned starters plus Jared Dudley, Josh Childress and Mickael Pietrus), all of whom deserve playing time. It’s just too difficult to play 11 guys so once the team is back to full strength, somebody will have to be the odd man out. I feel like ultimately this needs to be solved via a trade either for a future draft pick or in a two for one deal that upgrades another position.

In David Berri’s analysis of the Suns on Wages of Wins, I was pretty shocked to learn that J-Chill has produced more wins per 48 minutes than everyone on the Suns not named Steve Nash. That’s despite all the troubles he’s going through with his fractured finger, which could soon be a thing of the past as he’s expected to get his splint off this week. We saw how productive Childress can be for this team the last two games of the trip, so I don’t think benching him would be the answer.

But then Pietrus is a great fit with his three-point shooting and defense and we all know the all-around importance of Jared Dudley, who has been playing great of late.

Of course, having too many good players is really not a bad problem, but all 11 guys deserve quality time, so this will be Gentry’s greatest juggling act yet.

5.  Could the Suns be in the market to make another move?

As mentioned in the previous question, I think they have to be.

The Suns will be dealing from a position of strength having acquired that big man they so desperately needed in Gortat. Before it was a position of weakness because it was obvious to anybody watching this team that they needed a power forward or center to become a legitimate playoff team.

As for whom to deal, I would say whichever player can get you the best value. Pietrus seems like the easiest answer just because he has yet to ingratiate himself to the team (although I think he will) and since his $5.3 million player option for 2011-12 should be palatable.

It would be tough to deal Dudley after he signed his extension but you would have to pull the trigger if the right deal came along, and some teams might not like the additional four years on Childress’ contract but there’s a reason this was tabbed a very underrated move in the offseason.

It could be nice to package them with Warrick and maybe even part of the trade exception to get another big.

Another option would be Carter’s $17.5 million semi-expiring contract that includes a $4 million buyout next season.

Over the summer, Suns owner Robert Sarver spoke about how he expects the Suns to acquire their next star via a trade rather than through free agency or the draft. Aside from the (gulp!) possibility of a Nash trade down the road, they will never have a better chip than Carter’s semi-expiring deal. That could be a very attractive asset for a team wanting to clear a big contract in a hurry, such as an Andre Iguodala if Philly were to decide to go in that direction.

6.  How does this change the Suns’ playoff situation this season?

According to the Wages of Wins guys, this transforms the Suns from a fringe playoff team to a solid candidate for a playoff spot. Of course, there are no guarantees in life and any injury to Nash would cripple this squad, but they finally have the balance to compete in the Western Conference.

This team played the last month with no legitimate center — with Earl Barron in fact hurting them, according to Wins Produced numbers — but now the Suns possess a pair in Lopez and Gortat. That will make a huge difference, especially after going much of the year with Hedo Turkoglu as a four man.

The Suns are now more conventional in a good way. They should still maintain their efficiency on offense while becoming more efficient on defense with Gortat and even Pietrus making the Suns a more conventional defense that doesn’t need to gamble so much.

My crystal ball says the Suns have one more trade in them before charging into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed.