You have to give the Phoenix Suns front office some major props (like the gifs in the comments on the open 'Holy Crap The Suns DID Something!' thread last night, which was better than any fireworks show in the valley by the way) for being able to convince a marquee free agent to choose Phoenix as his muse to get a max deal.
Frankly, the Suns may simply turn out to be a pawn in this deal, tying up more than half their cap space until July 14. By that time, it's entirely possible that all the good, young backup plans (O.J. Mayo, Goran Dragic, etc) will be off the market, leaving the Suns with dregs for their efforts. It could very well be that Gordon wants to stay in New Orleans, and will help bring that city back from the depths of Chris Paul's wake.
However, this thingy with Eric Gordon rings more solid than that to me. It's entirely possible that Gordon really does want to leave New Orleans. Or, at least wants to make his OWN decision on where he plays next season.
"Basketball is basketball, it doesn't matter where you play," Gordon said in an interview with sportingnews.com last month. "The trade was something new for me, there were a lot of new situations for me. Hopefully, my next situation will be my destination for a long time."
When I read this comment last month, it struck me that Gordon was not committed to New Orleans. Not exactly sure why that's the case, but it is what it is.
It could just be a case of posturing. Gordon turned down a 4-year, $50 million extension offer a few months ago from New Orleans. He wanted more money and who can blame him? Why give up $8 million if you don't have to? Especially if you can get it by simply letting another team buy you dinner and make a poster in your honor?
But could it also be that Gordon really wants control of his own destiny? I don't buy the theory that Gordon wants to be in Phoenix to be closer to his brother who plays at ASU. Yet, I do believe the theory that Gordon wants the right to pick his own team. He doesn't want to be beholden to the team he was "offloaded" to as the returning piece in the Chris Paul trade.
A "long time" to 23 year old Eric Gordon is probably the length of this 4-year contract. Or, at least 3 years of it before wanting another max contract (which, in the new CBA, is best gotten by declaring free agency and THEN re-signing with your team or another team, rather than an extension). But to Suns fans who miss the days of having max-contract caliber players around, that's preferable to the current alternative.
Speaking of Suns fans, let's talk about ourselves for a moment. I know, it's hard, but let's try it anyway. The commitment from Eric Gordon -- one of the best young shooting guards in the league -- represents the first sign of a turning point in our psyche about this team.
For the first time since 2004, the Suns front office surprised us in a very pleasant way. Not since 2004 have the Suns actually acquired commitment from a coveted free agent to join their ranks as he is entering the prime of his career. Whether this works out or not, the Suns succeeded where many of us assumed they would fail: they got Eric Gordon to choose PHOENIX.
This proves a few things that we Suns fans doubted:
- When Lon Babby wants something, he can get it. Few of us believed that Phoenix was still a destination for free agents, but this commitment proves Babby right.
- When Robert Sarver is asked to pony up some serious dough, he will do it. This is the THIRD max contract that Sarver has offered in the past 8 years, and he has always been unafraid to spend more money than half his brethren in the ownership ranks.
- By expressing serious interest in the top, young free agents on the market while not throwing big deals at mid-level players like its Christmas, the Suns front office is fulfilling the promise they made to us even though we weren't listening: they will "keep their heads about them" while working tirelessly to improve the team.
They rolled out the red carpet, made posters and cardboard cutouts for show. Yet you have to believe they also said all the right things in all the right ways to Eric Gordon to convince him of their future direction with him as the cornerstone.
The master of smooth moves
Lon Babby, an outrageously successfiul lawyer and player-agent, is quite good at what he does. Earlier than anyone in the NBA, the Suns identified what many NBA GMs now believe was the second-most talented player in the draft (Dion Waiters).
So how in the world could the draft's second-best player possibly drop to #13 overall? There was only one longshot chance: convince that player to refuse to work out or interview with any other teams, even though he's giving up salary to do so (#2 pick gets FOUR TIMES the salary that the #13 pick gets).
Ludicrous! Preposterous! No way a player throws money away, right? Yet somehow, Babby did it. He convinced Waiters' agent to tell his client to sit tight for a month. In the end, it didn't work. Cleveland took Waiters at #4, beating out Portland (#6, #11), Golden State (#7) and Toronto (#8) for his services. After the draft, word began to spread to reporters that several GMs had Waiters right behind Anthony Davis or close to it.
So the gamut did not work, but at least Babby and Waiters' agent tried it. Can't fault him for that. Worst case, he gets a player who should go #13. Best case, he gets a steal.
Now, Babby is going to try it with Eric Gordon. Coming in to this, New Orleans floated rumors that they would match any offer to Gordon, even up to the max. Of course this is true. Why give away an all-star talented player for what turns out to be a reasonable contract (Joe Johnson will still make almost TWICE the money as Gordon in the next 4 years)?
Yet, Babby is going to try it anyway. He figures the only way to get Gordon out of New Orleans is to convince New Orleans that Gordon would pout, complain and otherwise be a cancer on a max contract. A terrible recipe for a young team that prides itself on hard work and team play, modeling itself after Oklahoma City.
"After visiting the Suns, the impression the organization made on me was incredible," Gordon said in a statement through his agent, Rob Pelinka. "Mr. Sarver, Lon Babby, Lance Blanks, the front-office staff and Coach Gentry run a first-class organization and I strongly feel they are the right franchise for me. Phoenix is just where my heart is now."
That's a nice start, but not nearly enough to convince New Orleans that he is a lost cause. If Gordon really wants out of the Big Easy, he and his agent will have to ramp up the rhetoric in the next few days to much higher proportions. He has to make New Orleans take "match the offer, keeping Gordon here for 4 more years" off their own table. Not an easy task.
Gordon and his agent have 8 days to convince New Orleans to either let him go for free, or to initiate real sign-and-trade discussions with Phoenix. He has to threaten to simply sign the Qualifying Offer, pout on their bench for a year, generally "kill the glee" while potentially poisoning a young, impressionable team, and then leave for nothing next summer.
If New Orleans actually believes that might happen (or worse yet, they match a max offer and get FOUR years of "glee killing" for $14.5 million a year), then they ought to do a sign-and-trade with Phoenix. Or failing that, just keep the cap space and let him go. Not an easy pill to swallow, but definitely better than cyanide.
A lot of Suns fans would trade any player or players on the Suns roster to facilitate getting Gordon in the valley. However, it's New Orleans who must feel the pressure to complete a deal.
If I'm the Suns, I don't offer every good asset to the Hornets. I don't offer Gortat + Dudley + picks. Plus, I'm not sure the Hornets really want those guys. Gortat is good for two years, for a team ready to win now (which could suddenly, possibly be the Suns). Same with Dudley.
I would offer a sign-and-trade back of Robin Lopez instead of Gortat. Lopez is young (24), tall (7'1"), has a nasty streak and has not yet reached his potential. In the past, OKC GM Sam Presti wanted Lopez. Is it possible that New Orleans GM Dell Demps, who comes from the same San Antonio front office as Presti, sees potential in Lopez next to PF Anthony Davis?
Lopez is likely to command $7 million per year on the open market. But maybe he takes a bit less to be the starting center on an up and coming team next to a potentially dominant PF (Davis).
I would also consider giving up PG Kendall Marshall (who New Orleans liked in the draft) before Suns fans get attached to him, or maybe Markieff Morris (but not both). The Suns could sign Dragic to play PG for 4 years, making Marshall a bit more expendable. And with the Suns looking at Michael Beasley at PF - who is only 1 year older than Morris - that might mean Morris is expendable too.
I would NOT give up future picks. New Orleans is in the drivers seat, but its quite possible the steering wheel is locked and the brake pedal broken.
With both Phoenix and New Orleans under the salary cap, this can be a one-sided trade in either direction.
Start with Lopez for Gordon. Then offer Lopez + Marshall/Morris for Gordon.
No matter what, the Suns need to acquire Eric Gordon to facilitate a quick rebirth. And Babby working closely with Gordon and his agent just might do the trick.