NBA Free Agency opened with a bang last night, and the salary landscape did indeed shift as expected. While most of the overnight signings have simply been comprised of players re-signing with their incumbent teams, the devil is just as much in the details as ever.
Nicolas Batum (Hornets), DeMar DeRozan (Raptors), Hassan Whiteside (HEAT), Andre Drummond (Pistons) and Bradley Beal (Wizards) all have agreed max or near-max deals to remain with their teams. Restricted free agent Jordan Clarkson, a second round pick just two years ago, stayed with the Lakers for $11 million per year rather than playing the market and letting another team create a crazy contract offer like the one Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik signed a few years ago in Houston.
These days, max deals START at $23.5 million for the first year, or 25% of $94 million cap, for players with 0-6 years of service (DeRozan, Drummond, Beal, Whiteside). Remember when two years ago, Bledsoe's max starting point was under $14 million per year? Me too.
At the next level, players with 7-9 years of experience like Nic Batum can start at $28.2 million per year, or 30% of the cap. And finally, someone like LeBron James with 10+ years of experience can command $32.9 million in the first year.
Team-changers so far include Timofey Mozgov (to Lakers, $16 million per year), D.J. Augustin (to Magic, 4 years) and Ish Smith (to Pistons, 3 years, $6 million per year). Terms for Augustin have not been reported, you can expect they are lucrative. The Knicks are so far down the path on a $18 million/year deal for Joakim Noah that he's already participating in sales pitches to targets like Eric Gordon and Courtney Lee. Just this morning, Jeremy Lin agreed to a $12 million/year deal to run the Nets as the starting point guard next year.
Chandler Parsons has definitely decided not to return to the Mavericks because they didn't want to commit to a max deal, two years after dumping the Rockets for the same reason. Parsons already has a max offer from Portland in hand (starting at $23.5 million per year!), and will consider options with them and other teams on Friday. Evan Turner has a half-dozen suitors already, as do Dion Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova.
Kent Bazemore has several suitors too, though so far the reported list contains only Houston and the Lakers. Bazemore's reported asking price on opening night is $20+ million per year.
Parsons is incredibly injury-prone. Turner, Waiters, Dellavedova and Bazemore are career role players. Yet, it appears they are going to get 8-figure salaries to play basketball.
Where does this leave the Phoenix Suns?
Exactly where they were 24 hours ago - nowhere near the playoffs and, for the first time in three years, nowhere near the top of the free agent market.
Instead, the Suns are focusing on a small handful of second and third tier targets. Some might consider their #1 target, as has so far been reported, as a fifth tier target.
That's it, Suns fans.
That's the only reported "communication" the Suns have made since the opening bell of free agency last evening at 9PM AZ time. Of course, that's doesn't mean the Suns literally only called one player. Leaks <> reality. The reality is that the Suns likely contacted several players, but none of the top ones with the most clued-in reporters breathing down agents' necks.
Rumors of Suns contacts with lower-tier players will begin to matriculate as the days go by and media begin to turn over the smaller rocks.
This one, on the surface, is a head-scratcher. The easy answer is that the Suns need him for veteran leadership, along the lines of Ronnie Price, for an extremely young Suns team.
Yet Dudley, whose stat line last year was 8 points per game (42% on threes), 3.5 rebounds and 2 assists and a steal in 26 minutes per game, is likely to command a LOT more money than Ronnie Price.
While Price will likely play on the veteran minimum, or something close to that, Dudley can reasonably expect to get $10-12 million per year. I mean, if Delly is getting 10+ and Baze is getting 20+, you can bet Sarver's bottom dollar that Duds is getting 10+.
Why would the Suns give Jared Dudley $10+ million per year to play babysitter to the kids when they already have Ronnie Price and P.J. Tucker in line for that?
And speaking of Tucker, isn't Dudley basically just another P.J. Tucker, whose contract for next season is a relatively paltry $5.3 million?
And if you're adding Dudley to the mix, aren't you either guaranteeing a trade of the cheaper Tucker or more talented T.J. Warren just to pull at reminiscing fans' heart strings for a year?
This makes no sense right?
Dudley is now a power forward
While it makes no sense to add Dudley to the small forward mix with Tucker and Warren, you need to consider that Dudley simply isn't a wing player anymore.
For the past year plus, the 6'7" Dudley has been filling the role of power forward in the modern NBA. According to basketball-reference.com, Dudley spent 94% of his court minutes at the PF spot last year.
We know from previous research that b-ref positions players based on height in their lineups, meaning that Dudley would have been categorized as the SF if Washington was playing two taller players at the same time. But in fact, Washington had Dudley as their second-tallest player 94% of the time. And you know what? He was a net-positive on the scoreboard during those minutes.
Before you start derogatorily start calling him fat Dudley, scroll back up to look at the picture of Duds in Washington last year when he was playing power forward for them on a nightly basis. He looks quite slim, as a matter of fact.
Dudley, who just three years ago made himself a quality two-way shooting guard, is just redefining his game to match what the NBA needs.
"What it is, is the game, because it's being so soft, spacing is at a premium," Dudley said. "Because you can't put your hand on them so now people are able to space the floor. So that's what it is. If anything, if they change the rules and are able to get more physical, then it'd be different."
There's no room in the NBA these days for the post-up four man. He either has to be able to hold up at center, or has to be able to command tight defense on the three point line.
Dudley does exactly what the NBA is designed for - stretch the floor on offense, and bang around on defense.
The Suns drafted the two best stretch-four prospects this year with Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, who are perfectly sized and positioned to thrive in a league that needs it's big men to be long-range threats.
One day, those guys will be better than Dudley by a long shot. But until then, a guy like Dudley is a perfect candle-holder to light the way on how to succeed in today's NBA.
Career alignment with kids
Not only does Jared Dudley bring a great enthusiasm and leadership to a team, as well as a tailor-made stretch four game, his career arc is perfectly aligned with a team trying to develop young big men.
Dudley is 30 years old. He knows this is his last big contract. He's going to want to go to a team where he can contribute in many ways. And he's self-aware enough that he knows his NBA days are numbered. Dudley has never complained about minutes, and he won't start now.
And hopefully for the Suns, he wants to be a mentor to young NBA players as he fades out of the game in the coming years.
Why not Terrence Jones or Marvin Williams?
If the Suns are looking for a power forward who can soak up minutes until Bender and/or Chriss earn them, why not sign a guy who can actually produce more than 8/3/2 in 26 minutes?
Why not sign a Marvin Williams or a Terrence Jones who could easily double those numbers, if not triple some of them?
I'll tell you why.
It's because Marvin Williams and Terrence Jones would double or triple the stats of Dudley in similar minutes. One could easily imagine Williams or Jones posting 16/6 or 16/9 numbers in 25-30 minutes per game next season. I know I can.
But that's exactly why you don't sign these guys.
Marvin Williams, 29 but just now coming into his own, is still trying to prove himself and will want big minutes for years to come. Terrence Jones, just 24, will definitely want that starting job and big minutes for years to come.
But the Suns don't need another guy whose ceiling is probably 15/6 on 25 minutes per game taking up the power forward minutes and potentially grumbling about their role and their playing time. If you recall, the Suns recently had Markieff Morris for that.
I, for one, want something better than Markieff Morris, Terrence Jones or Marvin Williams at my power forward position sometime in the next 1-2 years. And I'm willing to subject myself to watching something less productive than those three in the meantime.
There's historically a 60% chance that you get a significant player in the Top 8 of every draft. The Suns just drafted two of them in Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.
Why would you kill their chances at development by putting a guy in front of them who wants just as many minutes as he can get? That's like signing Tyson Chandler to a 4-year deal to compete for minutes with your 22-year old starting center.
Enter someone like Jared Dudley. Or David West, for that matter. Or someone else on the downside of their career, as long as they know their minutes will decline every month or so that they are on the roster.
The only way I bring in Marvin Williams or Terrence Jones to hold the fort until one of Bender or Chriss earns the starter role is if they are sitting around in a week without a contract, and agree to an outsized one year deal. But no way do I commit to 4 high-salary years to any power forward on the market.