Suns face uncertain future in wake of blockbuster trade
The Phoenix Suns thought the off-season acquisition of Hedo Turkoglu would help ease the pain of the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire. Instead, Turkoglu’s struggles to find his comfort zone with the Suns coupled with Stoudemire’s impressive play for the New York Knicks of late only threw salt in the wound.
Understanding that the team was 12-13 with no improvement in sight, management cut bait with Turkoglu and cast the future of the Suns in doubt.
With the departure of Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Earl Clark for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus, Orlando’s 2011 first-round pick, and around $3 million, the Suns appear to be teetering on the precipice of entering full-fledged rebuilding mode.
Teetering is the correct word, however, because while the Suns have made significant changes to their roster, this is not a prototypical rebuilding move. They acquired cash and a first-round pick but also acquired a good deal of established talent in the process.
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Carter, although not nearly what he once was, is still a capable scorer, and with a pass-first point guard next to him in Steve Nash for the first time since he played alongside Jason Kidd in New Jersey, he may very well pick his scoring numbers up to the 20-point range. If that turns out to be the case, then Carter for Richardson is a virtual wash.
The Suns also have one of the NBA’s top medical staffs, having rejuvenated the careers of Grant Hill and Shaquille O’Neal and managed Nash’s chronic back issue for seven years. If any team has a chance of returning Carter to relevance, it would be Phoenix.
Pietrus has had success in the NBA, averaging 9.4 points per game for the Finals-bound Magic during the 2008-09 season. He is a capable three-point shooter and versatile wing defender but will have to battle fellow reserves Jared Dudley and Josh Childress for time at shooting guard or small forward.
Gortat is the most important piece for the Suns. He will give the team an added inside presence to pair with Robin Lopez.
It is no secret that Phoenix’s biggest weakness is its inability to rebound due to a lack of size, and when your top rebounder (Channing Frye) is pulling down just 6.2 per game, that places a heavy burden on the defense to get multiple stops each possession. With the addition of Gortat, teams with big frontcourts (Memphis, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston) will not be able to exploit a wafer-thin Phoenix front line.
But Gortat is not just a big body; he is a quality NBA big man. He only got about 16 minutes per game as Dwight Howard’s backup, but he could start at center for a number of NBA teams. He will be a huge upgrade from Earl Barron (23.4 percent field-goal shooting as a 7-footer) and Garret Siler (a big body but extremely raw) as far as Suns big men go.
This trade may turn out to be very beneficial for the Suns in the short term, but the Suns could also be just a few more losses away from much more drastic changes.
Rumors have been swirling about a Steve Nash trade since the season began, and if the Suns do, indeed, enter a rebuilding phase, keeping Nash and fellow veteran Hill around seems unlikely. Neither player has expressed a desire to leave Phoenix, and team president Lon Babby, responding to a question about Nash’s status, told reporters during a press conference after the trade that “Steve Nash is the sun and the moon and the stars of this franchise.”
Clearly the Suns have no desire to trade either player as both have become synonymous with the franchise and are icons in the community. Dealing them would be devastating to the team and the fan base; however, out of respect to their contributions to the team over the years, consulting each player about his desire to stick around would be the least the Suns could do.
Also taking into considering the significant trade value each player has in possible deals, and their days in purple and orange could be numbered.
Nash tweeted the following after hearing the news of the trade: “Everyone wish Jason Richardson the best in Orlando. Great player and great teammate! He will be missed. Damn.”
That does not sound like a player who is particularly thrilled with the direction of the franchise. That sounds like a player who has gone through three major mid-season trades in the last four years, a player who has grown tired of seeing his friends (Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Leandro Barbosa, Richardson) leave the organization, a player who is feeling the burden of having to rebuild team chemistry every time the franchise goes through a state of flux.
And the Suns probably have a ways to go before stability returns. Carter is guaranteed just $4 million next season, meaning he most likely will be jettisoned in a cost-cutting move rather than pay him the $18 million he would be owed if Phoenix picked up his team option. That will leave the Suns with money to spend but little to spend it on this summer in a fairly weak free agent class.
Also, Phoenix now has 11 bona fide rotation players but not nearly enough minutes to go around. That means that another trade is likely, probably netting draft picks and cap relief in return. The most logical candidates on the trading block would be Pietrus, Childress, and Dudley, with Pietrus’ contract ($5.3 million this season and next) the most appealing to offer.
But the futures of Nash and Hill are the most complicated, and with them, the future of the Suns. The three are inextricably linked to each other, meaning that a change in the status of one will provide a better indication of the future of the others — for better or for worse.
By: Eric Lorenz
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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