Hey guess what? It's about that time for NBA Blogger Previews, organized by CelticsBlog every year in late September/early October.
We have no friggin clue whether there will be a season or not, but for now let's just sit on the floor, cross our legs, close our eyes, touch our thumbs to our forefingers, and pretend for a few minutes that there WILL be a full season. When the lockout ends, NBA front offices will face a whirlwind free agency period, followed by a quick training camp and then the season will be upon us before we can take a breath.
So what happens to the Suns when the gun goes off and it's time to fire up the season?
Team Name: Phoenix Suns
Last Year's Record: 40-42
Key Free Agents: All but two guys are under contract for the 2011-12 season: SF BAMF Grant Hill (Unrestricted) and backup PG Aaron Brooks (Restricted)
Team Needs: All-Star talent, regardless of position
1. What are your team's biggest needs this offseason?
A future. What else can I say? The roster is loaded with pretty good players (hereinafter known as 'PGPs'), but no one or two players who can put the team on his shoulders and carry them to the playoffs. I can't think of anyone on the roster that would earn the following quote: "No one can stop him. He's a beast!" without being immediately followed with snickers, winks and hearty guffaws.
This team, and its fans, need a future. There are no long playoff runs in this roster. It's time to start over. Whether that's in 2011 (or whenever the lockout ends) or 2012, it needs to happen soon.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths & weaknesses?
Biggest strength: With a front office, coaching staff and 12 of 14 returning players under contract for the 2011-2012 season, you'd think the biggest strength would be continuity. The Suns, theoretically, could hit the ground running while other teams stuggle with new players and/or coaches during an abbreviated training camp and preseason. Thanks to a high level of familiarity, the Suns could pull out some extra early wins and stay in the playoff picture all season.
Biggest weakness: But alas, this won't will happen with the Suns for three big reasons.
- While the coaching staff remains intact, a new defensive coordinator (Elston Turner) was added this summer to completely change half of what the Suns do on the court. So much for familiarity. Terry Porter was the last guy to attempt this maneuver.
- Not one of the returning players is better than the 3rd or 4th-best player on a real contender. You don't win tight games without big-time talent to close it out.
- The front office will most certainly want to shake up the roster. How much change is the only open question. Tweak it, trading a couple of players (Lopez, Pietrus) for marginal returning talent? Or blow it up completely, by trading Nash and others too?
3. If there is no season in 2011-12, how is your team set up for 2012?
Actually, it's logical that the second-best possible outcome of the lockout is to cancel the whole 2011-12 season (assuming deals expire as currently scheduled). Only 5 contracts are guaranteed into the 2012-2013 season at this time (Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley, Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick and Josh Childress), 6 if you include rookie Markieff Morris.
By letting the 2011-2012 season and those other contracts expire before playing another game, the Suns don't have to make knee-jerk decisions like re-signing Nash (extension) and Hill (unrestricted) to multi-year contracts out of loyalty and a false sense of "doing the right thing". Without re-signing Nash and Hill, the Suns would enter the summer of 2012 with boatloads of money available to start over (under $30 million committed).
Of course, starting over requires free agents to choose the Suns over another team during a bidding war. Would the lure of "quality pieces around me" (Gortat, Dudley, Morris, Childress, Frye, lottery pick) draw a star PG like Deron Williams to lead them out of the desert? With Williams and a new SG around that core, the Suns could compete.
But the BEST possible plan for the long-term future of the franchise is to end the lockout now, trade Nash away for youth, let Grant Hill go and suffer a 60-loss season. This would give the Suns a top-5 pick in a loaded draft, plus a handful of helpful players AND boatloads of money to sign a new star. If all goes well, the Suns could have 2 young All-star talents just 9 months from now. Of course, this is the riskiest option because you're basing decisions on assumptions and conjecture.
4. If you could make one change the NBA's new CBA, what would it be?
That all teams could buy out contracts for say 1/3 or 2/3 of the remaining value, in order to get a player off their books that they no longer want. The NHL has a similar "out" in their CBA. This way, the player gets a significant cash windfall AND can sign with someone else, while the team can start over within a reasonable timeframe. Guys like Gilbert Arenas, Eddy Curry, Tracy McGrady and Rashard Lewis would no longer handicap their team for years.
4. If the NBA's new CBA includes an amnesty clause to help teams get under the cap, how should the Suns use it?
There have been rumors for months that, if the NBA got a hard cap, the new CBA would include an amnesty clause to pay off a bad contract AND clear it completely from their salary cap (which is different than the last time, when Michael Finley became available when he still an all-star).
If this were available, who would the Suns cut?
First of all, take note that the Suns have NO egregious contracts on their roster. Sure, all the guys are signed for at least year, but few if any are dramatically overpaid compared to a replacement player. The Suns have no Curry, Jeffries, Arenas or Houston on their roster to provide immediate, significant relief and the chance to sign better players for less money.
The worst contract in terms of 2010-2011 value would have be Josh Childress. He is a backup/backup SF, but is on the books for 4 more years and more than $26 million. Yet this coming season is only $6 million, and Childress has historically (pre-Greece) been worth what used to be called the midlevel exception. If Grant Hill leaves and Jared Dudley spends as much time at SG as SF, the Suns will need some solid minutes from another SF. Is Childress worth $6 million then? Probably. But then he can't shoot a lick...
Hakim Warrick is another option. He really doesn't fit into the Suns future and might not get many minutes next year with Morris in the fold, but then again he has NBA experience and is only guaranteed $9 million over the next 2 years. Can the Suns really replace him with better talent for less money? Maybe. Maybe not.
Other options? Only Gortat, Dudley and Frye are signed beyond next season and each's contract is well worth the production level.
So, it's down to Childress, Warrick or neither.
If I had to choose between Childress and Warrick, I'd keep Childress. Warrick just has too many weaknesses.
And, that's your Suns (off)season preview!