Since this is my first post or comment, I would firstly like to say thanks to the BSOTS owners, writers and members of the community for providing countless hours of witty and engaging baskteball articles and discussions! I've been lurking for quite a while now (since the Dragon came back to his lair) and it has become my routine to check BSOTS first thing in the morning. I would especially like to recognize the great article by Dave King, which was as a big inspiration and foundation for this fanpost.
Having said my hellos, down below are some of my thoughts for the upcoming summer. I'm still new when it comes to the new CBA, BSOTS & online basketball discussion, so I'd appreciate all the comments and corrections, and I apologise in advance for any errors. Thank you for your time and effort in replying.
Since it's a fairly long post, just to give a quick list of some of its content:
discussion on what I'd do with our current players,
which players I'd consider going for as our main targets (Bosh, Vucevic, alternatively Gibson, perhaps Monroe),
comparisons (shot charts, defensive impact, rebounding, contract situation, basic stats) of those 4 players, our main frontline players (Markieff, Plumlee, Frye), Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol (purely for comparison of stats, not as trade targets)
which big name players I wouldn't go for (Love, Melo, P. Gasol, Hayward, Deng, Stephenson)
which role players I'd target (one veteran big man, perhaps either O'Neal, Martin or Humphries, and Zoran Dragić)
which quality/cheap(er) role players are either UFA or RFA in case the FO decides to gut the team in pursuit of a big name
my ideal lineup and how it works out cap-wise
BIG CHANGES OR SMALL CHANGES?
I would be ok with staying basically the same team for the upcoming year, with the addition of picks. I would love to see how this team would fare next season, given the opportunity of having a full summer&training camp under Hornacek, Longabardi & co., without late arrivals through trades and without lingering health issues from previous years. I'd also be comfortable knowing we'd wait for the 2015 FA market with lots of great assets and cap flexibility.
The first reason being that it would give us a better picture of the abilities of current players and what the team needs to become a bona fide contender. Given the age of most of our players, time is on our side. The second reason is that as it stands now, the 2015 FA market looks like it will have lots more quality player than the upcoming one. So if Bledsoe leaves, I won't be devastated (see more at the end of the post to see what I'd do and what our cap situation would be).
I understand, however, that because of Bledsoe's free agency making only small changes isn't a realistic possibility, unless by some miracle he'd play out the remaining year of his contract. Since it's fairly inevitable that there will be big changes, it is first important to briefly recap what most of us viewed as the biggest weakness of this Suns' team towards the end of the (regular) season that ought to be addressed in the offseason, and what are to me the biggest variables going into the offseason.
Biggest weaknesses to address in the offseason:
Scoring in the post
Lack of experience
Lack of established role players off the bench in case of injuries or shooting slumps
THE THREE BIG VARIABLES
The first big variable to take into account when making plans for the offseason is whether by any miracle the Suns move to the top 3 in the draft lottery and get Minnesota's pick as well. If that happens, things change considerably, but for now I'll leave the (im)possibility on the side. Another possibility is that McAwesome manages to package draft picks and other assets into a top 5 or top 7 draft pick.
Second big variable is what will happen with Bledsoe. I'm still not sold on giving Bledsoe the max contract (that he's eligible for), especially given his potentially reccurrent/long-term health issues with his right knee meniscus being operated for the second time and relatively small sample of games as a starter. Furthermore, uncertainty as to how much he truly wishes and loves being a Sun makes me wonder how he'd react if the Suns have one or two bad years. Will he want to stick around and work hard to turn things around, or will he become disgruntled and eventually demand a trade?
Personally, I believe giving him a max contract with starting around 14m/year is too much to pay for an unproven and potentialy less-than-happy player with potential health issues. But if the Suns' physicians give the green light, you won't find me on the floor in a foetal position upon hearing the news, but rather sitting behind a computer with the slightest of eye-twitches welcoming the next half a year or so of anxiety.
Since the FO seems intent on matching any reasonable offer (http://arizonasports.com/41/1700392/Phoenix-Suns-Babby-Right-now-team-plans-to-match-any-offer-made-to-Eric-Bledsoe), for the purposes of this article I'll assume that he'll be signed to the max contract, after we will have signed our FAs and completed other trades.
The third big variable is whether Chris Bosh decides to exercise his early termination option and become an unrestricted agent. In the fanpost, I discuss both possibilites.
WHAT TO DO WITH CURRENT PLAYERS
Goran Dragic and Alex Len are the only two players, considering the totality of circumstances, that I wouldn't trade for any of the realistically available main target players mentioned in this post. Any other player I would be, with a heavy heart, willing to include in a trade under the right circumstances, but again, I would prefer the team to stay the same as much as possible, and would rather we focused on using current and/or future draft picks to get the players we need.
Having said all that, I would personally like to see the following:
We keep Frye for this year, if he picks up the player option. His game this season suffered due to his heart health issues last year and the resulting lack of proper physical and basketball preparations before&during the season (http://www.brightsideofthesun.com/2014/4/10/5596996/phoenix-suns-channing-frye-nominated-for-nba-sportsmanship-award). That leads me to wonder how good his first part of the season would have been if he was healthy the previous season, and if his game wouldn't have worsened so badly in the second part of the season if he didn't have fitness/fatigue issues due to his previous health issues. Perhaps his 3pt accuracy wouldn't have declined so much in the last few months, perhaps he would be able to play more minutes with more energy devoted to defense and rebounding.
So if he picks up the option, it will be good to see a more realistic year from him. If he plays well, we have his Bird rights for the following year, and I hope that familiarity and other more or less basketball related factors will go a long way towards ensuring a good deal next year. If he doesn't play well, it gives the FO flexibility to adjust the next contract offer accordingly, perhaps this time with a team option, or perhaps declining to give a contract at all, instead of being stuck with an unreasonable contract that would be difficult to trade
If by any chance he would wish to opt out this simmer in order to get a longer contract, I would make it clear in advance we'd only do it if the structure of the deal (considerably lower salary, perhaps more performance-related incentives instead of base salary, team option,...) would reflect what has been going on with his career lately and the fact that while he's important to the team (his pick&pop with the Dragon being among the most effective plays in the league, his effect on spacing by forcing opposing centers to guard him on the perimeter and freeing up the lane for penetration&slashing), he is not paramount to the team. I believe what he'd demand could be well used to find a big who would suit the team even better, especially on the defensive end.
We keep Len as our second center and our future franchise center. Len has shown lots of improvment in the second part of the season, when his health improved and he finally had the opportunity to spend more time in training. It is important to consider that due to his injuries, he has not yet had a normal offseason with the Suns, which must have additionally impacted his game once he returned to full health. What he has shown suggests that with time, he might become an elite two-way center in the league. For now, he isn't ready to be the #1 center on a contender, but he will be a great backup this year.
Given what I've just written about Len, it is important to bear in mind that Plumlee most likely will not be the #1 center of the Suns in the long. Again, if I could, I would stay pat this year and leave this great bunch of team-mates together to give the NBA another year of excitement (#inSunity), but if I'm forced into making changes, my cold, black heart looks at the mirror, mirror on the wall and identifies Plumdog as one of the candidates to be included in a trade, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he will be 26 years old on the 1st of September, having played his first full season in the NBA, and will be entering what is essentially his sophmore NBA season. The Suns, if they want to compete for the title in the next two or three years, cannot wait for Plumlee to become an elite big in the next season and a half, especially because the future is not Plumlee, but Len. Secondly, his trade value after a great 1st season is perhaps as high as it will get, especially considering his remaining years on a rookie contract, and I would rather cash it in now than to see him hit the sophmore wall and decline in the next season and have his value significantly decreased, much like Golden State have seen with Barnes this season after a stand-out playoff performance. While Barnes was a lottery pick and will turn 22 end of May, Plumlee cannot be such a long term project to warrant a risk of such a missed opportunity.
So if Plumlee can be a part of a trade that nets the Suns a player who can immediately be (one of) the missing piece(s) to a true contender, especially a significant upgrade at the center position and addresses the above mentioned rebound and/or interior defence weakness, I would be hard-pressed to find rational objections against it.
Moving onto PJ Tucker, I would tend to agree with many that an extension in the area of 4.5m per year would be acceptable to the Suns. Any more than that and I start to think that we would be overpaying him, unless his offensive game, especially ball-handling, really improved in the off-season, and would have to start wondering if the Suns are better off without such a contract. Especially since paying him more than that would, in my quasi-ideal lineup scenario, mean we'd be over the luxury tax line.
He has shown sufficient potential to warrant exercising the team's 985.000$ option. With the return of Green, Barbosa and Goodwin, he would be a great 6th guard for the team, developing as an important piece for the future.
I believe that given the 3 1st round picks and improved conditioning of Frye and Plumlee (if they stay with the team), the Suns would be better off not using Shavlik Randolphs's team option, saving 1,2m$ in cap space and playing time for other players.
Channeling my inner Grinch, I unfortunately would have to say the same about Dionte. Other players have simply played better than him, so with six better guards and incoming multiple draft picks, the team would be better off without him, unless there'll be a remaining 15th roster space for him without the Suns passing up a better role player or a long-term project to fill it.
The Morris brothers have both shown exceptional improvement in this season, and are both under contract for next year at 3,$ apiece, which represents a very good price. While I am more impressed with Markieff's progress, there have been plenty of evidence to show that one of the reasons might be that he gets to play with his twin brother and would be better off by not having his brother traded. Given that Marcus has played well, though not as well as Markieff, and that at the moment Suns do not have many options at the small forward position, the decision to keep both of them seems good. So I look forward to seeing them next year, unless they will have to be included in a trade that would net the Suns a player that would immediately represent a missing piece to the Suns' transformation into a contender.
I'd like to keep Barbosa for at least another year, with a team option for the second year. Given his circumstances (played well once he settled, has missed games due to injuries and is 31 years old after just coming back from playing in Brasil), I believe a 1m/2 year deal would be fair and beneficial to both sides.
The penultimate player to be reviewed is the Green Grenade (props to whomever on BSOTS came up with the nick, I can't find it at the moment), who has one year left on his 3.5m$/year contract. At such a price, he's a steal, and hopefully this year he'll be as dunktastic as this year, and perhaps more, given that he'll have the whole offseason with the team and the coaching staff. If one can wish too much, one would hope he will improve his defense & ball-handling.
We finish off with the Dragon, who has been simply outstanding this year. Luckily he's under contract at a bargain price for such a player.
COMPARISONS OF MORRIS, FRY, PLUMLEE AND SOME OTHER PLAYERS
Basic stats&attributes comparison (composed via Espn Player Stats)
Contract comparisons - composed via http://hoopshype.com/salaries.htm
Key: Player Option / Team Option / Qualifying Offer / Amnestied
Defensive impact comparison
Defensive impact: "Statistics measuring the impact a player has on defense, including blocks, steals and protecting the rim, which measures the opponent's field gold percentage at the rime while it is being defended. Rim protection is defined as the defender being within five feet of the basket and within five feet of the offensive player attempting the shot."
"Rebounding Opportunities: The number of times player was within the vicinity (3.5 ft) of a rebound. Measures the number of rebounds a player recovers compared to the number of rebounding chances available as well as whether or not the rebound was contected by an opponent or deferred to a teammate."
Markief Morris shot chart
Channing Frye shot chart
Miles Plumlee shot chart
Chris Bosh shot chart
Nikola Vucevic shot chart
Taj Gibson shot chart
Greg Monroe shot chart
Kevin Love shot chart
CHRIS BOSH AS THE PREFERRED FA TARGET
If Bosh opts out, I'd go with him as our main FA target. He can play the 4/5, he's an often underrated rebounder, fast and mobile, would be great for spacing, can play in the post and off the ball, fits great personality wise, would be a great mentor to the team, especially the big men, has championship experience, and would hold his ground defensively, especially against the 4s and the likes of Aldrige, Ibaka and Griffin.
If we can get him without breaking the bank (for around 20m in the 1st year) and for 4 or 5 years (depending on what, if any, sort of a deal would be possible with Miami, perhaps if Okafor's expired contract can be used in any way (I really don't know about this, looking forward to someone chiming in. I' fairly certain the answer is no) or for some other consideration), it would be great.
Considering the risks, if he were to really drop off significantly in the later years or wouldn't work out, he can still be used in a trade, as I'm sure many teams would still be interested. However, he seems the type of player who will age well, since his game isn't based on athleticism, but rather on skill, so hopefully he'll become vintage instead of old, just like Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki have. His style of game suits the Suns, so I see little danger of him not working out.
Also, as in Miami, he would not have the pressure of being the clear #1 option and having everyone depend on him, but would rather share that with two outstanding clutch players, Bledsoe and Dragic. Furthermore, the Suns would enable him to be more included in the offense, being much more attuned to his strenghts, unlike in Miami, so I'm hoping that will be another reason for him to consider joining the Suns.
Plus, I imagine by now, after being underrated and underappreciated for so long, especially if the Heat don't win this year, he'll be eager to get out of Miami and happy to join a franchise such as the Suns and especially with such a great fanbase.
CARMELO, LOVE, LANCE & CO. - WHOM'S WHO OF WHOM NOT TO GO AFTER
If Bosh doesn't opt out, I'd have to admit I don't have a strong preference as to who we (I say "we" because it's easier than saying the Suns every single time:)) should target among the other big names being mentioned. I do, however, feel strongly against going after some players:
In my opinion, I would vote against aggressively pursuing him for four main reasons (more explained later when talking about Vucevic). Firstly, he has shown thus far that his defensive capabilities and/or willingness are below par and make him a liability that the Suns cannot afford in a conference with so many great power forwards.
That questionable willingness ties into the second reason, his personality. He has shown a concerning lack of team spirit, willingness to do and change his game in whichever way the teams needs it to have the best chance of success. Not only that, he has failed to consistently show that he is that clutch player who will come through as a true #1 option would.
Thirdly, his post game (not to mention his postgame interviews&reactions) leaves a lot to be desired (http://grantland.com/the-triangle/breaking-down-kevin-loves-post-game/), making him quite a "one"-dimensional player on the offense (outside shooting and rebounding).
Last on this short list of reasons, since he is not even a RFA this offseason, the Wolves would understandably demand a King's ransom from any team willing to acquire him. Give the above mentioned and other reasons, I am unwilling to gut the team in order to get him.
SPEAKING OF HAVING TO GUT THE TEAM
As a pure baskteball fan, I am truly sad that we will never see what the New York Knicks could have done had Marshmellow not forced a trade from Denver to NYK, thereby contributing to NYK gutting their team to get him. Had Melo truly wanted to win, he would have waited a while and signed as a free agent, and the Knicks could have either kept Wilson Chandler, Gallinari, Mozgov, Felton & their 2014 1st round pick or used them in a trade to get pieces more suited for a team with Melo. So that's one of the reasons why I truly question his personality, his drive to ensure he will do whatever (within reasonable limits) he has to, on and off the court, in order to help his team win.
I'm not seeing Melo giving up that 5th year in order to sign with the Suns, so the Suns would be forced to give up valuable players and assets in order to get a player who claims that at this point in his career winning means more than money. Even with Chicago, he still seems unwilling to "settle" for a measly 16m in the 1st year, which the Bulls could offer without having to trade Taj Gibson (http://espn.go.com/espnradio/chicago/play?id=10567954 ), which would give them a formidable starting lineup of (hopefully finally healthy) Rose, Butler, Melo, Taj, Noah.
This ties into my second reason, my concern for the apparent unwillingness to play hard defense throughout the season. Suns are and will be a good enough defensive team only and as long as all 5 players on the court will give their blood, sweat and tears on the defensive end on the court. Unfortunately I don't see Melo as being that player, and I regret that, because as a basketball fan I'll wonder for a long time what Melo could have achieved with a different mindset, given his undeniable talent.
That leads me to my third concern, how his lack of team spirit would affect his willings to play in an offense where two other players would be in control of the ball most of the time, to have to play off ball a lot, to fight&set hard screens, in a team where, at least for now, Dragonblade are the undisputed leaders of the team.
I imagine that if the Suns don't perform up to his wishes in the first or second season, when he'll turn 31 or 32, still without a championship, I wonder how long will it last until he'll demand a trade, change of coaches, teammates, and all in all disrupt the chemistry of the team. Especially considering the fact that he's leaving the Knicks, unhappy in a situation that has in many ways been contributed to by his own decision to force a trade to the Knicks instead of going there as a free agent (or through a summer S&T). So much for perseverance and taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions.
Lastly (would I that I had more space to write, not as a bitter fan, but a sad basketball fan) he'll turn 30 come end of May. Granted, basically the same age as Bosh, but I see several crucial differences. They have very different personalities, and I see Bosh doing much more on and off the court to help the team, including recognizing the effects of his age. Furthermore, Bosh will have at least two rings when/if he'll sign, making him much more patient with the Suns potential lack of success in the beginning. Thirdly, I wonder how much defense Melo will be willing to play when he turns 32, 33, 34. And I hope Suns' fans will never have to wonder about this question with Melo in a Suns uniform.
First of all, shooting guard and small forward positions don't represent the Suns' main weaknesses. PJ is among the best defenders, rebounders and 3pt shooters at the SF position and Lance won't be replacing Dragic or Bledsoe
Secondly, he has the potential to cause a nuclear meltodown to the Suns' team chemistry, given his personality and the relative lack of experienced veterans on the team.
Thirdly, he still relies a lot on having the ball to create and contribute to the team's offense, and with Dragonblade I find it better to have a more 3&D SF than a ball-handling heavy SF like Stephenson.
Furthmore, unless he stays in Indiana where he would probably have to give them a considerablee discount to let them stay under the luxury tax line, he will attract big contract offers. The risk/reward ratio in his case, considering the structure of the Suns at the moment, is very high.
Lastly, if this were to go bad, it would go bad spectacularly. If and when that would happen, I don't see him having that much significant trade value left, especially given the limited amount of teams where he would still be expected to have a chance of success (teams with lots of veterans and a strong coach), thus severly limiting the potential for recouping losses via a trade.
The only Gasol I would want to go for is currently playing for Memphis (incidentally, he'll be a UFA in 2015). Pau is too old, would probably demand a contract way too high for his current and especially future production, and he would be a big defensive & chemistry liability, without bring enough in the offensive department to make the risk worthwile.
As much as I like his play from his Chicago days and for his off-court humanitarian work, it is again firstly important to note that the SF position isn't a priority for the Suns. Furthermore, Deng has just turned 29, and I don't see him justifying his demanded salary (though the rejection might have been more to the length factor, but perhaps the height played a part of it as well - http://sports.yahoo.com/news/luol-deng-rejected--30-million-extension-offer-from-bulls-before-trade-to-cavs-073843211.html) in the years to come. Neither is he worth 10m+/year now, especially not given what we have in PJ. The upgrade over PJ would not warrant the big gap in salary and impact on the cap, especially given that we hold PJ's Bird rights and can sign him after we'll be over the cap, while Deng would eat up lots of cap space that I would rather put towards getting other players, who will more assuredly be the missing links in the Suns' quest for the title.
Off the big(ger) names floating around, Gordon Hayward is one of the most puzzling to me. I honestly do not know what to expect from him if he were to start as the SF. Given that he's a RFA, he would have to be offered a massive contract to be pried away from the Jazz, or the Jazz would have to receive assets in return for a sign&trade in addition to Hayward's contract. Given that PJ Tucker is a known quality for a reasonable price, Hayward an unknown for a very high price, and that the SF position wasn't the biggest problem this year, and my generally cautious approach, I'd rather devote resources to pursuing other players.
While I like him as a player that he is now, given his age&the situation in Memphis, I see him staying there and I wouldn't want to give him a long and huge contract in order to lure him away from the Grizzlies.
THE MONROE DOCTRINE?
So which of the big names in the FA, if not any of the above mentioned? Monroe comes to mind. It's up to the FO to determine whether he could make the neccessary adjustments (especially vastly improving his defense and mid/long-range shooting) over the 5, 6 months remaining 'till the start of next year. Given the logjam in Detroit's frontline, I don't think they'd demand as much as other teams for their RFAs. Without having such insight & skills of evaluation into how much a player of his type can change as the FO, experts or more experienced posters on BSOTS, I'd err on the side of caution and not rush into going all-in on Monroe, but rather pursue other options first while keeping an eye on Monroe.
FOR PETE'S SAKE, JUST CHOOSE SOMEONE ALREADY
Ok, ok, if I you'd make me choose, under the threat of David Khan replacing McAmazing as the Suns' GM, which of the above players to go after, I'd say Randolph first (and deal with the later years of his contract later), Monroe second, then Love, followed by Hayward. Monroe, because Detroit would demand the least in a trade, so the risk is in some ways the lowest. Have I mentioned how Meloncholic I get about what Anthony could have been? I even start making country-song-whistling-sad puns as a coping mechanism.
FOCUSING ON TRADES RATHER THAN THE FREE AGENCY
Given that the current crop of big names in FA isn't all that appealing to me, with the exception of Bosh (*let'stamperabittogethimtooptout* cough), I'd try to use all the assets to get one or two suitable big names via trades, and if not possible, not trade (& gut the team in the process) just for the sake of getting a big name. Honestly, Dragic&Bledsoe might not be big names in their reputation, but they certainly play like two All-stars (Western conference All-star level, of course).
So rather than chase big name names for big names' sake, I'd rather make sure we surround Dragonblade with quality players, through FA or Trades. The Suns have the advantage of cap flexibility, good contracts and draft picks, which enables them to get what they need not only in trades between two teams, but also three teams if neccessary.
Having said that, there are a couple of names I'd like to throw out for discussion.
Perhaps I'm biased as a European from the Balkans, but I truly think getting Vucevic would be a great move going (power) forward and center.
I've explained the need of an upgrade at the 5 spot, and I believe Vucevic would be a great upgrade, both immediate and long-term. The biggest question is whether or for what price would Orlando *we-currently-have-only-the-downwards-part-of-the-roller-coaster-rides-available* Magic be willing to part with him, and would Phoenix be willing to pay?
In many ways, I respect the Orlando for rebuilding the way they have been. They have won games against excellent teams, have not embarassed themselves the way some teams have, they have a sharp new GM and have made some excellent trades in the wake of the whole Dwight Howard-Stan Van Gundy nightmare era (http://grantland.com/the-triangle/why-nikola-vucevic-could-be-the-next-marc-gasol/). All in all, I hope to see them emulate the success of the Suns going forward. So unfortunately I think they'll likely demand an exorbitant price or just flat out refuse Phoenix's offer. Furthermore, he has claimed he would like to stay in Orlando (http://fansided.com/2014/04/18/nba-rumors-nikola-vucevic-wants-to-return-to-orlando-magic-next-season/#!EY2Jk )
Notwithstanding what I've just written, I'm hoping several factors swing the decision into making the trade happen. If Orlando is planning to continue tanking (depends partially on what happens in this year's draft where they hold their own pick and the less favourable of NYK's and Denver's picks) for at least one more year while waiting for the Miami Heat to hopefully fall apart.
If that happens, Vucevic might be getting too good for Orlando's panzer, and trading him in exchange for a multitude of less developed draft picks/young assets, that would help another year of thanking while strengthening/not weakening the team in the long run.
Furthermore, he's eligible for an extension this summer, but he'll become a RFA in 15/16, and if he'll demand a trade, they might be forced to trade him. Considering that, especially if they're also thinking of tanking another year, it might be better to trade him now, get great long-term assets in return and give the tank an extra shift in the gearbox.
On the other hand, they risk trading him later, when they'll be under pressure, losing him for a dime on the dollar, getting either tanking-benefecial assets in the middle of a new win-now course or getting win-now assets when deciding to (re)commit to rebuilding, or paying through the nose to match the offer(s).
The potential problem with his eligibility for an extension is that he might be looking for a bigger extension than they're willing to offer, especially if they'd prefer to see how he develops for one more year. If he for example demands a Larry Sander-esque salary (11m), they might be reluctant to pay him that much in at this moment. But they then risk him changing his mind later and demanding a trade or even a higher salary. So perhaps that will be another factor why they might decide to rather trade him for great assets and delay the difficult decision as to how much to pay a developing player coming off his rookie contract.
Lastly, there's a chance that Orlando will select a center with their pick this year and will decide that it makes Vucevic a bit more expendable.
I'd be willing to pay quite a high price, especially since our late 1st round picks aren't all that useful on their own, unless we can package them for a star player (such as Vucevic is/will be) or for a very high draft. So I'd be willing to go as high (and I shan't be offended should you think I'm high as you're reading this) as to give Plumlee, Smith, 2 this year's 1st round picks (including our own) and another 1st round pick (this or future, perhaps the 2015 Lakers') and this year's 2nd round pick. This might be enough to convince them, especially if they think they might package those assets with the rest of them to get a superstar (http://grantland.com/features/orlando-magic-rebuilding-plan-superstar-search/) or another top 3-5 pick. But I think I might need a 2x4 on what I'm offering in return, I think I still struggle with weighing the worth of 1st round picks properly, and looking forward to learn.
A BETER PLAYER/DEAL FOR THE SUNS, ESPECIALLY IN COMPARISON TO A KEVIN LOVE TRADE
Why all this? I've been reading a lot of people saying they want to trade for Kevin Love. I think Vucevic will soon be very close (or close enough for our needs) to Love in terms of offense, with a much better personality and better defensively. So I'd rather get him now, when he's still cheap and will be much cheaper even after getting his second contract. We can also get him for much less than we would have to pay for Love, he would be a RFA (unlike Love who can opt-out) and would probably be more eager to stay in Phoenix than Love (who's been rumoured to be wanting to go LA, because he spends most of his offseason time there and for other reasons), because he's European and doesn't have such strong ties to any particular US region, because of the Yugoslav(Dragic)/Slavic(Len) connection, because he might not be under such win-now pressure as Love is, and for other reasons.
Not only is the contract/trade situation better, but from a basketball viewpoint as well. He has been great from mid/long-range, as shown in his shot-chart, and he has been brilliant in rebounding. Those are also the two main offensive benefits of having Kevin Love on your team, which is to say, two benefits of having Kevin Love on your team.
Since Vucevic, who was NBA's player of the week in March 24-30 (http://www.orlandopinstripedpost.com/2014/3/31/5567724/2014-nba-player-week-march-nikola-vucevic-tim-duncan), plays the center position, he has been improving his post play as well (http://www.orlandopinstripedpost.com/2014/4/8/5586466/nikola-vucevic-2014-nba-stats-orlando-magic-three-point-jacque-vaughn). In my opinion, he is and will continue to improve (http://www.magicbasketball.net/2013/01/18/what-is-nikola-vucevics-ceiling/ , http://orlandomagicdaily.com/2013-articles/nikola-vucevic-learning-040213.html ) as a more versatile offensive player than Love, even though he might never reach Love's level of 3pt shooting. And that's not a problem, because Phoenix does not need a PF/C shooting 3pts as proficiently as Kevin Love.
Not only is he comparable/better offensively, his development will make him considerably better than Love on the defensive end. Love's lack of quality defense is widely known (http://grantland.com/the-triangle/the-question-of-kevin-love/), but perhaps more appalling is his apparent lack of effort on the defensive end. On the other hand, Vucevic has been working on improving his defense, has shown significant signs of being an above average defender (http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2013-10-17/sports/os-orlando-magic-houston-rockets-1017-20131016_1_nik-vucevic-howard-orlando-magic , http://orlandomagicdaily.com/2013-articles/nikola-vucevic-learning-toughness-103113.html , http://orlmagicstuff.com/articles/oms-2013-14-year-in-review-nik-vucevic ) and has also gone on record a while ago as saying his goal is to become a better defensive player, so that his "team can be better" ( http://www.magicbasketball.net/2013/10/17/player-profile-nikola-vucevic/ , http://www.nba.com/magic/cohen-quote-and-analysis-10113-2 ), which also goes to show something about his (basketball) personality. All in all, he would be a great player to join the Suns, not just in comparison to Love, but to any other realistically available player.
All this gives me reasons to be optimistic not only about his further improvement on both ends on the floor, but that he would already, while being 2 years younger than Plumlee, be significant improvement over the current Suns' frontline. He would vastly improve our rebound, provide a more consistent and versatile offense without messing up the spacing or team's chemistry/locker-room, and provide equal or better defense (even excluding the effects of his defensive rebounding).
While he is not and perhaps never will be a defensive anchor of Duncan's, Gasol's or Davis' caliber, such are extremely rare to acquire. The Suns are lucky they have one in the making with Len. Until then, the Suns would be better of not trying to acquire one at all costs, but rather focus on improving other areas. Vucevic can be a good enough defender at the C position while we wait on Len, especially with the right defensive schemes, while his excellent offense and rebounding will help to mitigate his shortcoming of not being an elite defender. Luckily, the current Western playoff teams aren't heavily populated with elite offensive centers, especially those too massive for Vucevic to guard, with perhaps the exception of the Grizzlies. Jordan isn't Jordan on offense, Robin Lopez, Dalambert, Pekovic, Splitter, Perkins/Ibaka and Bogut don't seem to be unguardable for Vucevic, while he has shown that he can hold his ground against Howard. Luckily, Cousins' Sacramento and Davis' New Orleans don't seem to be playoff-bound just quite yet.
Another great thing about Vucevic is that he will be able to play both the PF and the C position. In the Montenegro national side, he has already played the PF position with Pekovic being the center. So while he'd start his Phoenix career more as a center, he would with Len's progress be able to slowly move to the PF position, and perhaps one day we will get the Solar Powered Twin Towers with Vucevic/Len. And if by any chance Len doesn't develop as we hope or at least not as quickly, Vucevic is an excellent big to have as a "backup".
Disclaimer: I haven't seen as many Orlando games as I would have wanted to be able to give a really reliable judgment on Vucevic, so I hope to hear more from people who have, even if only to burst my Disneyworld bubble.
If we can't get Bosh, then I'd try to grab Taj Gibson for PF. As for his availability, Chicago might be forced to trade or amnesty him if they try to pursuit Melo as a FA. Larry Coon has said on a Chicago podcast that he doesn't think Chicago lands Melo without losing Gibson in the deal) (http://espn.go.com/espnradio/chicago/play?id=10567954 , Larry Coon on a Chicago podcast). In case of being amnestied, getting Taj would become much easier, but that's unlikely, given that they'd probably use the provision on Boozer and try to trade Taj. However, there's a chance they might be able to use Boozer's expiring contract in a trade instead.
If not, I believe they'd be willing to find a way to let him go and take on as little salary as possible, in order to get Melo. I hope someone will enlighten me whether this is true under the CBA (I've gone through it - http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q83 , http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/page/CBA-111128/how-new-nba-deal-compares-last-one , http://www.sheridanhoops.com/2011/11/28/two-new-trade-rules-in-the-new-cba/ , ... several times, but still not sure), but I think Phoenix being a non-taxpaying team in a trade for Gibson only has to send 3m worth of assets the other way for the trade to be legal under the CBA? If it's true and it doesn't have to send assets worth much closer to Taj's 8m contract, it would hopefully be feasible to to find a way to use the multitude of smaller assets (easily waivable/optional contracts and especially picks, perhaps even future ones, to make things easier for Chicago). It could even involve a third team.
Perhaps a trade of Smith, Christmas, Indy's 1st and 1 2nd round pick. Again, I'm not sure if it flies under the CBA, which I think it does, so I look forward to hearing from more knowledgeable posters.
Another uncertain option would be to trade Frye and a pick or picks for him. It would help with Chicago's lack of offense, provide Chicago with extra cap flexibility (1 year remaining vs. 3 years), giving them a better shot in the 2015 FA sweepstakes, where they would have "only" Rose and Noah under contract (as it stands now). And Thibs can surely make Frye fit into his defensive schemes (while "schemes" is a decent sinister sounding word, but I still can't shake the feeling I should have used something more ominously sounding for what he does on defense), and I imagine his offensive prowess would be very welcome. So perhaps sweeting the deal with a 2nd round pick would tip the scales in favour of the trade.
Alternatively, I imagine it would be possible (please correct me), if Frye were to find another team, for Chicago to persuade him to not use his player option, thus giving Chicago needed cap space (for Melo) and Frye the chance to lock up a longer contract somewhere else, but sadly not Phoenix. That scenario would then be a good reason for Chicago to do the trade.
As to why go through the trouble of getting him? He:
would be a big upgrade on the defensive end (though I wouldn't be the first to be fooled by the excellence of Thibs' defensive schemes in making most players look great on defense), hardworking, strikes me as a real team-first player (used to sharing minutes with Boozer, coming off the bench)
has a great midrange game for a PF and is a good candidate to further expande his outside game in the offseason, so he wouldn't mess up the spacing too much,
has a good contract (8m til '17, when he'll turn 32 at the end of the season)
is used to playing in clutch time (http://espn.go.com/blog/marc-stein/post/_/id/2074/sixth-man-of-the-year)
Zach Lowe of Grantland has voted for him as the 6th man of the year (http://grantland.com/features/nba-awards-season/), and Marc Stein has endorsed him as well. A pairing of Gibson&Markieff Morris would be great to have at the PF spot.
VETERAN BIG MEN AHOY!
I would try to get either Jermaine O'Neal, Kenyon Martin or Kris Humphries as 3rd string bigmen to produce quality minutes, leadership and mentorship for Len, Morii & co. All are UFA, Martin might not be in NYK's plans. O'Neal, who has really impressed me in GSW, might like to come back to the magical healers, where he wouldn't be required to play too much like he has to in GSW. Humphries at the moment doesn't seem to be very much needed in Boston's plans, especially if they decide to trade Rondo or gut the time even further with Rondo still on it and go for another year of tanking. However, he would probably demand a much higher salary than Martin or O'Neal.
PICKING (UP) A SF/PF LOTTERY TICKET
Depending on what happens everywhere else (especially if for example we have to trade the Morii for Love or if we manage to swing a trade for a top 5-7 pick using our current picks) and who'll be the Best Available Player remaining at #14, I'd want to use the #14 pick to get a SF/PF in the draft. No point in investing in another big C project with Len on board, better to go for a longterm project at SF/PF, because at the guard spots we're set with Goodwin as a long-term project. Much has been written on BSOTS about which players to draft, and since I haven't watched that much NCAA, I'll leave it at that.
If we're looking for another backup SG/SF, I wouldn't be the first one to strongly suggest giving a thought to making moves to get (the rights to) Zoran Dragic, the 6' 5", 24 year old who's currently playing in Spain/Euroleague for Malaga for the 2nd year. In Euroleague, Lil' Dragon (not Lil' D, 'cause there'll be a lot of defense from him) has averaged 22.9 minutes, 10.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists and .7 steals in 22 games (http://www.euroleague.net/competition/players/showplayer?pcode=003514&seasoncode=E2013). In the Spanish championship, he's averaging 19 minutes, 10 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1. assists in 24 games. (http://www.acb.com/jugador.php?id=252)
According to the latest news in a language that I speak (http://www.rtvslo.si/sport/kosarka/po-odlicnih-predstavah-zeli-malaga-podaljsati-sodelovanje-z-dragicem/329581 – Slovenian article) that I've seen, his contract expires this summer, but Malaga has a two-year team option. If they use it (and it looks like it will), the buyout clause is set at 500.000$, which is slightly below the limit for being charged to the team's salary (http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q76 ). However, I have come across a Spanish article, where he has, according to Google translate, said that he would love to play with his brother in the NBA, but that for now he's focused on finishing the season with Malaga (http://www.blogdebasket.com/2014/03/13/zoran-dragic-apunta-%E2%80%9Cdecidir%C3%A9-en-verano-si-me-voy-la-nba%E2%80%9D?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+blogdebasketcom+%28Blogdebasket.com%29 ).
Of course, the younger of the two brother has shown he shares the Dragon genes. I've watched him play a lot at the European championship and this year's Euroleague, and I think he'd be a great cog in the Suns championship team. Again, I might be heavily biased, but I believe him to be an excellent rebounder (as we know with college players, rebounding translates well to the NBA), great and tenacious defender, hustle player, good at penetrating and slashing, with decent-to-good outside shooting and willingness to improve, and a crunch-time player. Not the best ball-handling ability, but again, hardworking attitude and willingness to improve.
At the very least, I'd want to him to be a part of this year's summer camp and to let him show what has changed since he played 4 games for the Houston Rockets in the 2012 NBA summer league (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoran_Dragic). Here's a couple of links and videos:
Euroleague MVP of the week, begining of March 2014, for performance against Anadolu Efes with 24pts, 4-6 3pt, 4 steals, 3 assists and 3 rebounds (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4W3hPKV-Es ).
Official Euroleague video about the Dragic brothers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMspiCLnSpo)
Dragic brothers vs. Italy, group stage at the 2013 Euro c'ships in Slovenia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECH7FfEzBjY , Zoran #12)
for full videos of Slovenia (including Zoran Dragic) playing at the 2013 European championship, search for "eurobasket 2013 slovenia" on youtube. I especially recommend the game vs Greece.
Some other good and cheap role players
Some other good/decent, (hopefully) cheap and realistic options for role players and/or projects, if we'll have to give up lots of players in a LovEsque trade: Nando de Colo (RFA, Toronto), Jan Vesely (UFA, Denver), Aaron Brooks (yes, Aaron Brooks, UFA Denver), DeJuan Blair (UFA, Dallas), Jordan Hill (UFA, Lakers) and Ed Davis (RFA, Memphis).
Getting legendary bigs to train future legendary bigs
Whatever else happens, I would love to see we get the best possible coaches/trainers for our young big men, including retired NBA greates, such as Hakeem. Hornacek is great for our guards to learn from, but I'm sure the frontline would benefit greatly from being taught by retired NBA big men, willing to impart knowledge in sunny Arizona.
SEMI-IDEAL LINEUP AND HOW IT WORKS OUT CAP-WISE
To slowly bring this to an end, the best realistic scenario I'm hoping for is the following 15-man roster:
Barbosa/Lil' Dragon/Frye/our SF, PF pick/Martin or O'Neal
As pointed out in the abovementioned recent article by Dave King, the Suns have 30.44m in guaranteed salaries (thus not including Smith, Barbosa, Christmas, Randolph), cap holds of 6.57m for Bledsoe, 1.15m for PJ and 3.70 for 3 1st round picks (if they end up being #14, #18 and #27). That gives a total of 41.86m. According to Larry Coon (http://cbafaq.com/blog/?p=304), the salary cap for 2014/2015 is now projected to be 63.2m, which would give the Suns 21.34m to spend on free agents, if Bledsoe and Tucker were to sign their extensions after the FAs have been signed and if Frye wouldn't opt-out of his last year player option before the FAs would sign.
So the timeline for my ideal lineup would be to sign Chris Bosh for 20m (around what he is due to receive from the Heat in 14/15). This would bring us up to the salary cap. After that, we could, if I understand the CBA correctly (http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q25), use the non-taxpayer mid-level (MLE) exception to sign up one or multiple free agents to a total of 5.3m for the first year of the contract(s). This would probably be the only chance to add Humphries if we're over the cap, given that this year he got 12m. Another chance to sign FAs would be the minimum salary exception, which can be used to sign a FA to a contract of up to two years for 2m/year. Unlike the MLE, it can be used for any number of players , for 2m/year each. So we could use the minimum to sign either O'Neal or Martin. But let's say that we'd be a bit frugal and use the minimum to sign O'Neal or Martin, and Dragic.
That would leave us at 62.2m (existing 8 players, plus cap holds, plus Bosh), plus 2m for one of the big men, plus let's say 1.0m for Lil' Dragon (the 500k$ doesn't count against the cap, as per http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q76 ), which would put us at 65.2m. Givin Barbosa a contract with 1m on its first year, putting us at 66.2m
Then, let's say we trade away Plumlee, (team option on) Ish Smith (I know, I know...) and Washington's and Indy's picks for Vucevic, who's due 3m (but can be signed to an extension this summer). So we take on 3m in salary while giving away 1.15m for Plumlee (Smith's wasn't calculated in before) and around 2m worth of cap holds for the #18 and #27 picks (for cap holds/rookie salary see http://basketball.realgm.com/nba/info/rookie_scale – it's for 2013, but still useful for approximation), which means the new salary roll will remain basically the same.
So we're still at 66.2m. Let's say we take on 4.5m for PJ Tucker and 14m for Bledsoe, while subtracting 7,72m of their cap-holds. It would mean we end up with a salary roll of 76,98m. The luxury tax line is projected at 77.0m, so the Suns would, if my mathcrobatics have come through correctly, squeak just under the tax line.
THIS LINEUP FROM A BASKETBALL POINT OF VIEW
The starting lineup would feature Dragonblade, a very good 3&D player with the heart of a lion, Chris Bosh, and a very young&cheap European PF/C, who's one of the leading rebounders in the league, good in the post and excellent from midrange, while not a defensive liability and improving steadily.
The bench would feature the experience Goodwin, Green Grenade, Marcus and Markieff Morris and Len, a formidable second five, with the Brazilian Blur, Frye, a veteran big man, lottery pick in one of the presumably best drafts in a long time and the younger brother of Goran Dragic rounding up the 15-man roster.
This would address most of the weaknesses – rebound, veteran presence with championship experience and deep&experienced bench, while maintaining all of this year's advantages. The weakness that would not be fully addressed remains the lack of an immediate defensive anchor in the post. While that is true, they are at a premium, the closest thing to one being reasonably available is Taj Gibson (the prospect of Omer Asik's 15m (8m cap hit), offensively challenged, 1-year rental does not entartain me). Unless the FO figures out how to get not only get both Bosh and Gibson, but also how to use them together effectively, I would rather go with Bosh, and really on our coaching staff and the continued development of our players, including Len and Vucevic, to make sure our defense will be great come playoff time next year.
SOME WHAT IFs
If, however, Bosh isn't available, I'd try to switch Bosh with Taj, or if Taj isn't, move M.Morris to the starting line-up, our lottery SF/PF & Frye (or Humphries, if Frye is gone) to share the rest of PF minutes.
If Vucevic or any other upgrade quality centers aren't available, stick with Plumlee&Len and preferably add O'Neal as the third C.
If PJ Tucker leaves, try to get H. Barnes from GSW, Batum (more of a dream, but who knows what they might be smoking when the phone rings), Hayward or Deng (if reasonable contracts/trades). Potentially Ariza (UFA, Washington), Aminu Al-Farouq (UFA, NO). Combine with M.Morris. Get Zoran Dragic to try-outs this summer.
THIS IS THE END: Eric Bledsoe Departure Survival Kit
If Bledsoe leaves, then it changes things a lot.
It opens up an option of waiting 'till the 2015 FA market before making big changes, since there will be sufficient cap space in the summer of 2015.
If we were to sign PJ Tucker to a 4.5m/year extension, Lil' Dragon to 1m and the draft picks (we could select one or two foreign players and leave them to be developed overseas), while having Frye use his player option, it would leave us with a salary roll consisting of 30,44m (guaranteed contracts for 8 players) + 4.5m for Tucker, 3.7m for 3 draft picks, 1m for Zoran, 2.3m for Ish and Christmas, and 2m for a veteran big man or Randolph (1.23). So that would mean a salary roll of roughly 44m$ for this year. And still I'd be confident that, with the benefit of healthy players during the offseason&training camp, further development of current players and added players via draft&FA, it'd be enough to set the league alight in the 2014/2015 season and set a new Twitter trend of #insunity.
After that, in the summer of 2015 (http://hoopshype.com/salaries/phoenix.htm), we'd basically have the option of having a completely free salary roll, with the exception of 4.5m for PJ Tucker, 7.5m player option by the Dragon (if he wants more, he can sign after the FA/trade), around 4m in 3 2014 1st round picks, cap holds of let's say 2m for 2 1st round picks (if we get either the Lakers' top 5 protected or the Wolves' top 13 protected, plus our own), 4.3m qualifying offers for each of the Morri brothers. We'd also have a 3.8m team option on Len and 2.1m team option on Plumlee, plus let's say a 3m cap hold for Green (who'll be an UFA). Potentially we'd also have a player option for Lil' Dragon for 1.5m.
Since I'm not very good at calculating cap holds for free agents (they are explained in http://www.cbafaq.com/salarycap.htm#Q38 and other questions), I took a very cautious approach in figuring them out. So if we drive to the heart of Onthesafesideland, let's conservatively say we'd have around 43.2m (in contracts or cap holds) for a core of Dragic, Green, Tucker, Morri brothers, Plumlee, Len, Z. Dragic, 3 of our 2014 1st round selections and 2 1st round picks. If the salary cap would still be 63.2m, that would leave us with 20m in cap space for free agents, plus a multitude of great assets, including probably at least 2 1st round picks, and perhaps three if the Wolves finish 14th or better. And after we're done with the draft and free agency, we'd be able to resign the Dragon and the Morii brothers to go (further) over the cap. I'd say that's a good foundation for McHealer & co. to work wonders with in the summer of 2015.
Thanks to all of you for your time, attention and comments that you've given to this fanpost, I hope you have enjoyed the read and that you'll have a nice day and rest of the holidays!