Channing Frye arrived to Phoenix after a middling first few years in the league. He had attended the University of Arizona, and fit in with the pick and roll mentality of the juggernaut Suns offenses of the mid to late aughts. Frye and his fellow Suns signees of the summer of 2009 really excited the local fanbase.
Since that summer, Frye as become a beloved member of the local community, a well known fixture in the Phoenix sports world that has helped maintain interest in the Suns between eras, finding success with Nash and Stoudemire, as well as Bledsoe and Dragic. The man even plays with dilated cardiomyopathy, despite having to sit a whole season out! Suns fans love Channing, and rightly so.
Purely in basketball terms, it is similarly hard to find a problem with what he is doing on the court. As a Sun, his ORtg (points scored per 100 possesions while he is on the court) has never dipped below a solid 106, a number that would have ranked eighth in the league this season according to ESPN's Hollinger Statistics. This season, more than half of his shots came from behind the arc, good for an effective field goal percentage (basically, a percentage weighted for the value of threes) of 54. His usage was slightly up from his peak years in Phoenix, all per Basketball Reference.
Suns management will be challenged in the upcoming week or so with a decision on Channing Frye. They face the very difficult proposition of weighing cap flexibility, market strength, and loyalty into a quick resolution during what is perhaps the most chaotic week of their entire work year.
Luckily, while Channing Frye is a fairly singular talent and invaluable local philanthropist, he is not irreplaceable on the court. There are a few guys in this year's summer talent pool that could be a viable substitute as an ingredient in this new version of Suns basketball.
Remember, we are looking here for guys who are dynamic floor spacers capable of banging down low on defense. They don't necessarily need to be able to play both the 4 and the 5, because although Frye was asked to do that at times next to Markieff Morris this season, it is a rare commodity, and with guys like Alex Len and Alec Brown on board now, we have slightly more depth down low coming into 2014-15.
Without further ado, your Channing Frye Replacement All Stars;
Pros: Patterson was last seen shooting 39 percent from three as a valuable component of a deep Raptors rotation in the 2014 playoffs. He had nearly identical stats to Channing this season after being traded to the Raptors. He had offensive and defensive win shares both around 2.0 and a PER of 16.2, three full points higher than Frye. Patterson was absolutely dominant in the playoffs, with a true shooting percentage of 65, less turnovers, and more rebounds. Slightly thicker than Frye, more of a bruiser defensively.
Cons: Suffered in a Kings system in which he wasn't as much of feature offensively. Low career rebounding numbers, more of an oversized 3. Young but not necessarily athletic. Doesn't really get to the line, doesn't knock down the free throws he does get. Might get confused with fellow Phoenician Patrick Peterson, cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals.
Verdict: We'd love to have this guy. Brings a slightly different skill set and less versatility than the Buffet of Goodness, but could maybe give us some spot minutes at three if we lose Mook or PJ. He shoots the lights out, did well in the spotlight of the playoffs, and provides young veteran leadership for a team even younger than he is. Toronto might be swamped with overpaying to keep Lowry and Greivis Vasquez, so a signing somewhere in the $6-8 million range for a few years might be too high for them. The familiarity he has with Dragic and Mook shouldn't hurt either.
Pros: He is a stretch five. Though slightly bigger and slower than Frye, this in itself is a commodity. His shooting has improved throughout his career, topping out at a 55% eFG this year on an under-performing Cavs team. He is a better rebounder and passer than Patterson or Frye, with 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per 36 minutes for his career. He can be a triple double threat on some nights, but is comfortable in a smaller role as well, as he was with Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young early in this decade. Solid block numbers despite iffy effort on defense.
Cons: Obviously, the iffy effort on defense. His actual field goal percentage has also never been above fifty, despite only 15% of his attempts coming from three over his entire career. Doesn't get to the line a lot for a center, and turns it over a fair bit (about two per game). Basically, you'd love to have this guy if all he's relied on for is spot up shooting and rebounding, but if he's a centerpiece on either side of the ball, you're in trouble.
Verdict: Not too sure. The price tag will be high, as several contenders and upper- echelon playoff teams have expressed interest, and they are sure to garner his excitement more than the Suns. He is an unathletic big who offers little versatility. I'd pass, and I think McDonough will.
Pros: Shot very well, right on par with Patterson and Frye, in a weak Charlotte offense. Top notch ball handling and passing skills for a big man, boasting more than four assists and a 22% assist ratio (percentage of field goals assisted by a player while he is on the floor) this year. Subtly athletic and quite springy on his feet. Suns fans would surely be excited to have a guy like this:
Cons: Not much of a scorer at all, someone with very low usage, relied on more for his distribution and dribbling skills. A guy who can run the break, dish it in the post, and shoot open jumpers when given the opportunity, but not someone who will ever be an integral part of an offensive system (13.4 usage rate this year).
Verdict: Would contribute to the already mesmerizing energy of our young Suns core, but I'm not convinced this is the perfect guy to be counted on to fill in for Channing entirely. His production is nowhere near what we were getting out of the four spot last year, and we've already seen what happens when Markieff is overextended on offense. However, this is a guy that could come in on a shorter, cheaper deal and perhaps be a fourth big, replacing some of the skills that PJ brought last year.
Suns fans have every reason to believe that Frye will be back. Flush with cap room and young assets, the front office has a large host of options heading into the summer. However, the new brain trust of McD and Hornacek have shown eagerness to part with "culture" guys in order to bring in players they want (see: Jared Dudley to the Clippers, summer of 2013).
This doesn't bode well for the Suns, and if the asking price for one of the premier stretch big men in the league gets to high for them to swallow, these options become real possibilities. The importance of these types of players in the league today cannot be understated. Reports are out today that the Pacers have come to terms with Euro forward Damjan Rudez on a three year deal worth approximately $6 million.
These are the same Pacers hell-bent on shirking any sort of unnecessary salary in order to maintain flexibility under the cap and retain Lance Stephenson. If a team in this position cannot escape their own captivation with a player of this skill set, then we all can assume Frye will be wanted badly by many teams.
Alas, it seems that the market is fairly halted until the Big Three sort out their mess and Melo chooses his new residence. The Suns have time to wait, think, and decide later. We are in an enviable position to land any one of these guys, so we are understandably entrenched in this waiting game as well.
We all hope that a beloved figure like Channing will be donning the white and orange again next year, but it is a matter of patience and priority that the front office will have to wade through in the coming weeks. Pray, beg, sing, do a rain dance. Whatever your chosen method of pleading with higher powers happens to be, do it. Maybe the basketball gods will smile upon the Suns this year.