This past year NBA front offices were stuck in limbo in that they could only evaluate each potential decision based on the current system, not the system those decisions would end up impacting.
With the lockout all but over, those poor general managers now have a road map by which to base future decisions.
Now it’s time to make sense of the post-lockout landscape both on a team level and an individual player/executive level, as I do below by analyzing 10 important questions surrounding the Suns in light of the new labor agreement:
1. Did the Suns benefit from the new rules imposed by the lockout?
The Suns were among the teams hoping for widespread change to the rules of the NBA system. They did not get that, but at least the stiffer luxury tax penalties should dissuade more teams from becoming tax payers or at least from going deep into the tax.
These penalties likely ensure the Suns won’t go more than a few million over the luxury tax ever, if that, but if it ends up reducing the Lakers’ payroll down the road and preventing other teams from spending wildly it could end up leveling the playing field a bit.
The rules also allows non-taxpayers to offer a more lucrative mid-level exception (starting at $5 million over four years with 3 percent raises after the first two years as opposed to a three-year deal starting at $3 million), so a Suns team that stays under the luxury tax would have another added advantage over the tax teams.
However, a hard cap or at least a tax that works as a hard cap, would have been better for Phoenix.
In addition, the shorter extend-and-trade rules won’t affect the Suns at the beginning at least since they don’t have any such player to deal nor the assets to bring home a major extend-and-trade candidate.
2. How does the deal impact the Suns’ summer of 2012 plans?
Seth Pollack feels the the new CBA throws a wrench in the Suns’ future plans. I’m not so sure.
Yes, it is now even more difficult for the Suns to land one of the Big Three of Dwight, CP3 or D-Will, as Seth explains, but that was very unlikely to happen anyway. They always would have had to take less money to come to the desert and there always were better options for them.
Seth notes that it’s never good to have lots of cap space to spend but no big name player to use it on because teams often are “prone to overspend on lesser players” in such cases as we saw in 2010 with the Suns, but I’m optimistic the Suns will have learned that lesson.
Cap space is always valuable, and there are certainly attractive players beyond the top three, particularly in the restricted free agent realm. With teams potentially fearing the adverse affects of the new luxury tax, talent could be available in trades in return for cap space as well.
To me the plan should always have been to build through the draft and supplement with that cap space, and I don’t see this deal changing that in any significant way.
3. What will the deal do for the Suns’ free agency plans this year?
It shouldn’t do much. Aside from re-signing Grant Hill and shopping for a wing scorer perhaps, the Suns would be wise to save their money for next year, which seems to be the plan if Hill is their top priority.
They don’t have much cap space this year, so regardless of the rules the Suns weren’t likely to be players in any system.
4. How does the new CBA affect Steve Nash’s situation?
It could make him easier to trade since non-taxpaying teams can now take on “up to the lesser of 150 percent plus $100,000, or 100 percent plus $5 million of the salaries they trade away,” as Larry Coon writes. Before teams over the cap, not the luxury tax, could only take on 125 percent plus $100,000. In theory this will open up some more options and will make it less complicated to match contracts to make a trade work.
The Suns could also theoretically take on more salary in any potential Vince Carter trade if they wanted to pick up a useful asset in return for providing that instant cap relief, although such a move could push them into the tax.
The new extension-and-trade rules aimed at preventing another Carmelo Anthony situation shouldn’t affect Nash much because although players can only sign for two additional years in an extend-and-trade, it’s doubtful a team would want to sign Nash for anything longer than that. After all, he will turn 40 during that second additional year.
5. What was Sarver’s involvement in the lockout?
This is a question I cannot wait to have answered by the Suns’ owner himself.
At Brad Casper’s introductory news conference, Sarver said, “I can say that eventually when it’s over the facts of my role and my involvement will come out, and I look forward to that happening. I’m prohibited from commenting about it, but as you know don’t believe everything you read.”
Sarver was vilified for being among the most hardline of the hardliners and reportedly made the strange comment of saying his “wife had asked him to bring back the middle level exception in a designer bag.”
But in recent weeks we learned that Sarver and Gilbert “have not been as hawkish in the negotiations as they have been portrayed,” courtesy of CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, and then ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote a couple days before the lockout was resolved that Phoenix along with win-now teams like the Lakers, Heat, Magic and Celtics were among the teams pushing hardest for a deal in principle.
That just doesn’t jibe with the image of Sarver that has been drawn throughout the negotiations, as one would think the Suns would be among the last teams pushing for a deal alongside big money teams like that based on Sarver’s prior portrayal.
It will be interesting to find out if the villainous reports were exaggerated or if the Suns’ owner merely experienced a change of heart near the end.
6. How will the Suns use the amnesty clause?
I have already publicized my thoughts on the amnesty clause, and they remain largely the same after we learned that the amnesty clause will remove 100 percent of a salary from a team’s cap (although of course it must still be paid in full) and that the player must currently be on that team’s roster with a contract signed under the prior CBA.
In essence it lets a team wipe out one mistake made before the current rules were put into place, and it can be pocketed for later use as well. This is too bad for teams that have managed their caps well (although I’m glad it can only be used on current players so a big market team can’t buy talent in return for wiping out a small market team’s mistake), but should eventually be put into play by the Suns, who have three potential candidates.
Mickael Pietrus seems like a poor choice unless some compelling immediate benefit can be derived from waiving his $5.3 million expiring contract. Otherwise, he could be traded for an asset to a team needing cap space or just play out this season before providing that cap space to Phoenix.
For me, therefore, it comes down to Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress. Warrick has two years and $8 million of guaranteed money left (and a team option for $4 mil the year after), and Childress four years and $27 million.
It makes sense to keep both guys this season and make the decision next year when every cent of cap space will be at a premium. If Childress proves to be an effective rotation player, then you shave off $4 million of Warrick’s money. If Childress is a bust, then you kiss his final three years and $21 million goodbye. Either way the Suns will be able to reverse one of their 2010 mistakes (if Childress indeed ends up being a mistake), to accrue more cap space for their big summer of 2012.
The other interesting aspect of the amnesty rule that is that any team with salary cap (not luxury tax) space can submit an offer consisting of as much room as they have under the cap for a waived amnesty player. The winning bidder will then take on the player’s contract for the amount bid, and the waiving team will be on the hook for remainder of the contract.
This likely won’t be an option for Phoenix this season, but it definitely will be next offseason. That could be a time the Suns could nab an overpaid but productive player at an affordable price with some of their cap space.
7. Will Lon Babby find any loopholes?
One of the reasons the Suns hired Lon Babby as their president of basketball operations is because he is a long-time lawyer and agent adept at analyzing complicated contracts, which is exactly what this new CBA is.
Babby has now had a year on the job to get his feet wet, and the Suns will expect him to take advantage of some of these new rules to give them some sort of a competitive advantage. We will soon find out if this lawyer can help the Suns see something that the average GM glosses over.
8. What happens to Aaron Brooks now?
Aaron Brooks could not have worse timing. A week after signing a one-year deal with a Chinese team that includes no escape clause, the league is back in action.
What we know is that Brooks is likely gone until at least March, when the CBA playoffs end.
I’m not quite sure what will happen at that point. For now the Suns have a $5,041,730 cap hold on their cap for Brooks, which is 250 percent of his previous salary, and have extended a $2,976,636 qualifying offer. The Suns could always renounce his rights if they needed the cap space (which they won’t if they indeed are not players).
To me the most logical scenario would be for Brooks to re-sign with the Suns for the rest of the year when he returns to the States and then for the Suns to make any long-term determination on him next summer.
For now Brooks can lament his lost shot at restricted free agency for the time being as he will toil away in China for a few months instead of playing in the NBA.
9. How does Dudley’s extension look in light of the new CBA?
Jared Dudley signed a five-year, $21.25 million extension that could be worth as much as $22.5 mil with incentives at the start of last season, a contract that seemed like a sweetheart deal for the Suns at the time.
But JD was cognizant of the changing labor landscape and the fact that role players like him just weren’t going to get paid like they used to.
If Dudley was going to test the restricted free agency market this offseason instead of awaiting the first year of that extension he could have taken a four-year deal for $20.45 mil from a non-taxpayer or a three-year deal for $9.27 million from a taxpayer (or more if a team felt he deserved better than a mid-level salary).
Dudley may have left a few dollars on the table in terms of average salary, but if he was concerned with long-term security he could not have done any better. With teams likely to be cautious when spending on role players anyway, perhaps Dudley took one look at this potential new labor landscape, considered his happiness in Phoenix and then decided to sign on the bottom line on a deal that looks as fair as ever now.
That’s because the deal looks good from the Suns side as well, assuming Dudley continues to produce at the clip he has the past few years. Locking up players long term is only bad if they underperform, and Dudley should be able to outproduce the $4 million plus he’s owed on a contract that gives the Suns an important piece of their future at less than the average annual (non tax) mid-level price.
10. Would the new max rules have kept Amare in Phoenix?
It certainly won’t help the Suns now, but they would have had a better shot at keeping Amare Stoudemire last summer because the New York Knicks would have only been able to offer him a four-year deal with 4.5 percent raises rather than a five-year deal with eight percent raises as was the case under the old CBA, according to Coon’s breakdown.
The Suns were only comfortable guaranteeing the first three seasons of Stoudemire’s contract, but they could have offered a more lucrative first three years than the Knicks. Perhaps at that point they could have gotten creative with that fourth year and STAT would have been more amenable to it since there wouldn’t have been $100 million sitting on the table in front of him in the Big Apple. That is, assuming he was genuinely interested in returning in the first place.
It won’t help the Suns now with nobody even close to worthy of a max deal, but if the Suns luck into a star in the draft down the road the new rules should make him easier to re-sign than Amare was.
ESPN’s Chad Ford and John Hollinger broke down how the new CBA affects each and every NBA team. Their analysis of the Suns is below:
"How it helps: The amnesty rule will give Lon Babby a chance to undo a disastrous summer that saw owner Robert Sarver throwing away money on free agents like Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick.How it hurts: The Suns were another team pushing hard for major changes to the CBA. They didn’t get them, and now it looks like there will be a long rebuilding process ahead in Phoenix.The lockout also cost them Aaron Brooks, who inexplicably signed a deal in China with no NBA out just a week before players and owners reached a tentative agreement.Immediate impact (this season): No CBA can undo the damage Sarver has done to the team in the past few years. In an attempt to save money, he gutted one of the most exciting teams in the league and is left with a roster of middling, overpaid players and Steve Nash. Nash is leaving sooner or later and the Suns will have to seriously consider moving him now if they want anything back.Long-term impact (future seasons): Ehhhh. The Suns have Marcin Gortat going forward. But the rest of the team? It’s going to be a frustrating few years for fans."