With the Suns season winding down quickly the talk has already turned to the summer's trade activity and deals the Suns might do to get better be it a quick fix or a totally rebuild.
We will get into that more on this site as the weeks roll on but in the mean time rumors are already flying so here's my guide for how to process and interpret the various things you might hear or come across over the next few weeks and months.
1. 0 What the Suns need
This is obviously the number one priority. It doesn't matter who wants to play where or what team might want what player, any deal has to make sense for the Phoenix Suns and that means two things: Salary relief and players that fit.
1.1 How the Suns can cut payroll
The Suns financial situation has been detailed and the bottom line is cutting at about $10m to $12m* from the roster.
Given the players under contract the Suns have for next year the only way to do this is to trade with a team that is under the salary cap. Not the luxury tax line but the salary cap which is projected to be about $57m.
I am no CBA guru but I did consult with the great CBA FAQ and my understanding is that if the Suns trade with a team over the cap they have to give up a contract of equal value. There is the $125% rule which allows a team to take on a contract of greater value then the one they are giving up but that doesn't help the Suns who are trying to reduce payroll. A trade of this type therefore defeats the purpose entirely.
All of this goes out the window if a team is under the salary cap. Memphis and Detroit for example both only have about $39m in signed contracts on their books next year. That means they will be $18m under the cap. We could in theory trade Shaq to Memphis for $18m in cap space and only take back about $3m in contracts.
The point here is to focus on those teams with cap space. We can make trades with them to get draft picks and cheaper salaries.
Pretend that Oklahoma ends up with the number 2 pick in the draft and the Suns are 14th. The Thunder already have a ton of young players and what they want is a veteran big man. We could trade them our #14 pick and Amare for their #2 pick and maybe their #1 pick in 2012.
In this case the Suns would save Amare's $16.3m for next year but of course would have to sign the #2 pick to a rookie deal of $3.7m per the CBA's rookie scale. Net savings to the Suns would be about $12.6m.This example has other issues but ignore those for now for the purpose of understanding the cap math.
As you can see, there are any number of possible combination with any number of teams, but the key things to look for are:
a) Which teams are under the salary cap and by how much. You can refer to this great tool to check that out. Any team over the cap is not a likely trade partner for the Suns
b) Who's drafting where and what their needs are
c) What deals that Suns could do with teams that are drafting early, have a lot of young players already and are under the cap
If you hear a rumor about the Suns trading any big salaries to a team the first thing to do is check if they are over or under the cap and by how much. If they are over the cap you can pretty much forget it from a salary cut perspective.
The only reason to trade for equal contracts is to get a player that the Suns think is a better long term fit which bring us to the second point: Fit and Need
1.2 What the Suns want
This one gets tricky. As we've said before, the one thing the Suns have failed to do is establish and organizational vision and build towards it. Are you going to be a high tempo team with mediocre defense or are you going to emphasize defense and build around a few great scorers. Or any other possible combination.
Right now, it is not clear at all which direction the Suns will go. If I had to guess, and this is only a guess, I would say that Gentry will come back and Kerr will not. If that happens, the Suns will want to push the tempo but also get better defensively.
Frankly, I am not a proponent of any one style as much as I am a believer in setting a direction and sticking to it. The Suns have not done that over the past few years.
Until they do make some key decisions it is impossible to say what the Suns could or should do. The exception to this is super stars. If you can get your hands on a GREAT player you build around that player and adjust. I don't see that happening with the Suns. No one is going to trade a GREAT player to Phoenix and there are no GREAT players on the free agent market this summer and even if they're were the Suns couldn't afford them.
The best chance at getting a franchise player is to draft in the top 2 of this draft. Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio are the only two players that have that potential and neither of them is a sure thing like LeBron. In the top five there are a few other good options like Jordan Hill or even Thabeet or Harden. Remember that great young players still suck at the NBA level for a few years. There's a reason the Thunder have 55 losses. Young players don't win in the NBA.
The priority to me isn't who gets traded (especially when you consider Shaq, Nash or JRich) but who you can make a deal with and what they are interested in.
Amare is another matter because he's young and going to need a contract extension soon which complicates his situation along with his injury. I think he will be harder to move then Shaq or Nash. Moving JRich will be a long shot based on finding a team that has both a high draft pick AND is under the salary cap AND needs a scoring two guard. Maybe Toronto or Minnesota? It's just too soon to say until we see the draft order.
To complicate matters more, the CBA expires in 2011. It would not make sense for the Suns to sign a big long term deal with a free agent as it is widely anticipated that the new agreement will favor the teams more. Young players, draft picks, or short term deals are going to be the norm for the next year or two. Of course, other teams are thinking the same thing which leaves Amare in limbo. The Suns certainly can just let it play out and see if he chooses to opt out at the end of next season in the middle of a buyers market. A year ago, it was almost certain that Amare would opt out in 2010 but now, it might make sense for him to squeeze the final year out of his current deal just like Shawn Marion did.
Finally, any deal has to replace the out-going player with an incoming one. If the Suns were to trade Shaq they would need to get a big man coming back either in the form of a cheap contract or a draft pick. If the Suns trade Nash then a point guard should be part of the mix. The only exception is if JRich gets traded because he's easily replaced with the current Suns roster and there are plenty of two guards to fill the end of the depth chart.
2.0 Consider the source
When you hear rumors related to Suns potential trades you have to consider the source. Not everything from ESPN is reliable and not everything from a blog is unreliable. You have to use your own experience and judgment to assess credibility. Has this source been right before? What corroboration do they offer?
A big clue for me is if the deal described makes sense. People say a lot of things. If someone told me something interesting I would probably write about it but if it didn't make sense I would also say so.
There is no scoreboard to check to see who's rumors are more true then others so just remember that a rumor is a rumor because it is not a fact.
That said, it is pretty easy to tease out the difference from rumor and speculation. You are going to see a lot speculation presented as rumor. There's a difference.
A rumor is something said by someone who is in position to know something. Often these are undisclosed sources. That's a rumor.
A blog (or Sam Smith) writing about how a certain deal might make sense is not a rumor. It is speculation. Speculation is interesting. It sparks ideas. We do it here all the time. Nothing wrong with speculation. Just don't make the mistake of considering it a rumor.
In summary here's a handy guide for evaluating the various rumors, speculation and noise you are going to hear over the next few weeks and months.
- Is the information rumor or speculation. If rumor consider the source
- Is the rumored team under the salary cap
- Where is the rumored team drafting and what are their roster needs
- Evaluate the other teams needs and what they can give the Suns in the way of salary relief, young cheap players, draft picks and how those pieces replace the out-going player
- Ignore all that and just wait and see because none of this matters as we don't have any impact on the actual decision
* The Suns can cut about $6m just by not exercising the team option for the final year of Nash's contract. If they do this, they get nothing back in return and are still on the hook for about $7m next season. I don't think they will do this. I makes more sense to pickup the option and keep Nash or pick up the option and trade Nash. Not picking up the option makes the least sense.