It appears that, above all else, money talks. And the Phoenix Suns offered a lot less than the Orlando Magic offered, causing Channing Frye to bolt the desert for the greener pastures of Orlando.
He said that 2013-14 was one of his favorite seasons ever, and that his joy was all about the process and the team more than wins on the scoreboard. He even ranked the 2013-14 team as his second favorite team ever (presumably just behind the 2010 Western Conference Finals team).
But Frye opted out of his 2014-15 option for $6.8 million and then two days prior to July 10, the first official day to sign with clubs, Frye left his home town team by accepting a fully guaranteed 4-year, $32 million contract with the Orlando Magic.
So why didn't he re-sign with the Suns?
You'd hope it would be about more than money, but so far that's what it appears to be.
"The question I always ask is 'would you take a hometown discount?'" Frye told Burns and Gambo Wednesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "People say that, it's just absolutely ridiculous. Because the thing that happens is someone takes a discount. Let's say the market says they're worth $10 million and they take $5 million. The next day they get traded, so they're like 'well dang, why did I take $5 million if you're just going to trade me?'
"Think about it, our careers are short-lived. So why not go somewhere where you're going to be extremely appreciated, where you're going to be part of the future? People just say 'take a discount,' why? I'm 31. Why would I do that? I'm not asking for $15 million a year -- I'm not crazy. The market dictated what was going on and I took the best deal."
"Hometown discount" vs. "extremely appreciated"
I love Channing Frye and everything he stands for, at least I thought. And I have ZERO problems with him taking the highest offer out there.
Definitely, take the highest offer.
Never take a discount unless you're forced to. Always, money talks. I'm all for that. There should be no hometown discount. Period.
But this is where I differ from Frye: "extremely appreciated" is not all money. You can be "extremely appreciated" is ways more than dollar signs.
But that's what free agency is all about. Dollar signs. The most dollars = the most appreciation.
If you're taking the highest bid, just take it and be happy and proud about that. Don't come up with that "they didn't appreciate me" crap.
Frye to Coro just after accepting the Orlando offer, and before he came admitting it was all about the highest offer:
"I felt like (the Suns) were saving money for other things," Frye said to Paul Coro of azcentral.com. "They were not close enough to me to take it seriously, which makes sense. It's a business.
"You have to be somewhere you're wanted. I felt like the guys who have been there for years became a side note."
"Phoenix was preoccupied with other things," Frye said. "I wish them luck, but I made the right decision. I feel like we had something really awesome going. I didn't want to leave it because I was really close with those guys."
Well, sure they were preoccupied with other things. The Suns were preoccupied with LeBron James. Everyone was, if they thought they were in the running.
But the Suns did want Channing back. He wasn't considered a side note. He wasn't ushered out the door with a pat on the butt.
The Suns wanted him back, though definitely at a lower number than $8 million a year for 4 years.
"I can say that we visited with him in Portland before free agency started," Suns basketball operations President Lon Babby told me. "We prepared a very thoughtful video of all the reasons why we wanted him to stay in Phoenix. We presented him with a book tracing his career back to his earliest high school days.
"I can't speak for him. I don't think that he really meant that we didn't express desire to bring him back. I think it was more he may have been commenting on the contract and the circumstances, something like that.
"We have a great deal of respect for him. We understand he's an important part of what we did. We made an effort to bring him back and he made a decision to make a terrific offer in Orlando. That's part of the business."
All this talk means one thing: The Suns wanted Frye back, but at a much lower price than Frye got from Orlando.
"No hard feelings about him accepting it," Babby continued. "We made a strong effort to sign him before he exercised his option in an extension. We were limited by the rules of what we could do, and he decided not to do that and become a free agent. You know I think it worked out well for him. I wish him well and he'll do well in Orlando."
The Suns opinion of 'strong effort' and Channing's opinion of 'strong effort' are vastly different, apparently. We have no idea what the Suns were offering, but clearly it wasn't in the same ball park of what Frye got from Orlando.
However, if the Suns were working within the confines of the CBA when offering an extension, as Babby indicated to me, here are the rules:
- Extensions always include the remaining seasons of the current contract (which actually includes 2013-14 and 2014-15), so the Suns could only go three years into the future
- The starting salary can be any amount up to 107.5% of the final year of the prior contract ($6.8 million here)
- Subsequent years can increase or decrease by up to 7.5%
So, reading the tea leaves of Channing's comment "they were not close enough to me to take it seriously" indicates that the Suns were offering a lesser amount per year in 2015-16 and 2016-17 than Channing is currently making and certainly one less year than Channing really wanted.
Again, we don't know specifics. Maybe it was about the years (4 vs. 3) into the future. Maybe it was the money per year. Maybe it was both.
Really, if the Suns had offered to keep his salary the same ($6.8 million) or slightly increased it, would Channing have said he couldn't take it seriously? Especially if offered prior to his opt-out, which happened in the third week of June?
No. So my guess is the Suns offered what amounted to a two-year extension through 2016-17 at a substantial discount. And that's where Frye's pride got hurt.
Were the Suns right to offer a lesser amount to Frye than $32 million guaranteed over the next four years?
I'll tell you that at the end of the season, I saw no way the Suns would want to bring Frye back at his current salary ($6.8 million) let alone giving him a raise. I was hoping for something in the range of $5-6 million per year in the new years of the deal.
I also didn't want the Suns to commit more than two extra years, considering Frye's age already at 31.
However, I may be alone in that sentiment. The Suns will definitely miss Channing Frye. He was a unique player for this system, being able to spread the floor AND defend big men in the post.
ESPN lists Frye as one of the best signings of the summer.
Who knows if the Suns made a huge mistake in not paying $32 million to keep Frye. They replaced him with a guy who will likely produce a LOT less and accordingly make a lot less money (Anthony Tolliver). Tolliver isn't nearly as big as Frye and can't be counted on to defend the other team's 7-footer in the post.
The Suns will miss Frye, for sure.
"Channing got a great offer," GM Ryan McDonough said. "And I think he felt like it was best for him and his family to take it at the time it was offered. We wish him well going forward."
Did the Suns low ball Frye? Did they lose another free agent because they valued the contract more than the player?
The Suns lost Joe Johnson in 2004 and 2005 (yes, twice) because they didn't make him feel appreciated enough. To this day, team owner Robert Sarver says that was his greatest regret in his first few years with the Suns. He thinks if he'd handled the negotiations differently, JJ might have stayed and been happy in Phoenix.
The Suns lost Amare Stoudemire in 2010 because they offered an NFL-type contract (nearly $90 million, but only about 60% guaranteed against injury) whereas the New York Knicks guaranteed all five years 100%.
And those are just the big names the Suns lost to higher bidders after having been Phoenix Suns for years. It's important to note the Joe and Amare were both considered heavy overpays throughout the lives of their new contracts, but is that small consolation to having lost the player entirely?
Sarver says he's learned his lesson. But he and his management team let Frye go with the same unrequited love feeling.
Now the Suns have an even bigger problem, potentially, with Eric Bledsoe. The Suns have currently offered Bledsoe a contract at the top of his market as a point guard: 4 years, $48 million. It's higher than Steph Curry got, when he signed as an injury risk in 2012. It's the same that Kyle Lowry got this year, and Lowry has proven himself for four more years than Bledsoe has.
But just like in 2004 and 2010, it's not necessarily about being right. It's not entirely about being the cooler head, and not offering a fully guaranteed max deal just because you don't have to.
The Suns need to keep Eric Bledsoe in the fold, and they need to do it with Bledsoe's pride intact.