This summer, the Phoenix Suns did not sign any free agents. Not one. For the first time in, like, forever, an NBA team refused to take the bait of filling a hole with an overpriced, veteran NBA free agent.
Free agency has been the lifeblood of NBA since its inception in the late 80s, especially the Phoenix Suns. In fact, it was the Phoenix Suns who signed the NBA's first ever free agent in the summer of 1988. Tom Chambers, 29 at the time, signed a long-term contract on July 1 to help shape a Suns renaissance that lasted nearly a decade.
But this summer, despite owning the worst roster - top to bottom - in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns refused to stem the tide by signing a free agent in their prime who could potentially lead the Suns to the playoffs.
Instead, the Suns sat out the spending frenzy and traded veterans for youth and draft picks. They now will approach training camp with 15 players on guaranteed contracts totaling about $52 million dollars, 10 of whom are on rookie contracts.
The Suns entered the summer with about $7 million in cap space, two first-round picks and nine guaranteed contracts for next season. Of the 9 players already under contract, only three were on cap-friendly rookie deals. The Suns only free agents were minor players - Wesley Johnson, Shannon Brown, Hamed Haddadi, Jermaine O'Neal and Diante Garrett. Everyone else was a veteran on free-agent/market-rate deals.
On the surface, there wasn't much to work with. Their cap space was barely larger than a midlevel deal - the worst contract in basketball, but one dotted all over the Suns veteran roster.
Enter new GM Ryan McDonough
"Walking in there, the main thing I wanted to do is upgrade the talent," said McDonough to the Boston Globe recently. "And do it in a fashion that was sustainable for the long term. I didn't want to try to take any shortcuts or try any quick fixes."
McDonough leaves his first summer having brought in nine new players, exporting seven. In the end, 10 of 15 roster spots for 2013-14 are occupied up by cap-friendly rookie deals with the promise of three more coming next summer.
All that maneuvering leaves the Suns in the same spot they started - with just under $7 million in cap space - but with a much younger roster.
On the surface, the Suns are set up quite nicely for the 2014 off season. The Suns will enter next summer with
Next off season, the Suns have committed guaranteed money to only three veterans (Goran Dragic, Channing Frye, Gerald Green), totaling $17.8 million. Every other contract is a rookie-slotted contract. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin are guaranteed $4.8 million total, while 9 other players are on either team options (4), qualifying offers (4) or non-guaranteed money (1).
Assuming the Suns keep the four kids on their cap-friendly team options - Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Kendall Marshall and Miles Plumlee - around another year (I know, a big leap) and draft three more first-rounders next summer, they project to have about $22-24 million in cap room.
But some big names are free agents this time. LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony could all unrestricted. DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors and Greg Monroe could all be restricted. Every one would get a max deal in this NBA.
From the Suns perspective, Marcin Gortat, Eric Bledsoe (restricted), Vyacheslav Kravtsov (restricted), Shannon Brown, Malcolm Lee and P.J. Tucker all become free agents. Gortat, Brown, Lee and Tucker will be unrestricted, meaning the Suns don't have the right to keep them just by matching someone else's offer.
One option is to re-sign Eric Bledsoe and Marcin Gortat to market-rate free agent deals.
Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Suns can simply let the market dictate his price and match whatever offer he gets. According to Amin Elhassan, formerly as Asst Director of Basketball Ops for the Suns, Bledsoe is worth roughly $8 million a year right now. If he plays very well next season, that number could rise to as much as $13 million per year.
Gortat will be a 30-year old veteran center who is still in his prime as a player, and likely still better than Alex Len, Miles Plumlee and Kravtsov put together. If the Suns want to make the playoffs in 2014-15, they will need a veteran center who is healthy and productive enough to play 82 games at 30+ minutes per game. Per Elhassan, Gortat should command about $8.3 million per year as an unrestricted free agent.
Amin Elhassan ranks Gortat and Bledsoe as the 17th and 19th best free agents available next summer. The players ahead of Gortat are largely restricted free agents from the 2010 draft (meaning, won't be available just for money) or over-the-hill, overpaid stars. Oh, and LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony too.
Elhassan, on Gortat at 17: Stuck in Dwight Howard's shadow to start his career in Orlando, Gortat was a player we targeted in 2010 when I was a member of the Suns' front office. We knew he was a tremendous rebounder, something we desperately needed at the time, and felt he was underused on the offensive end. Since coming to the Suns, Gortat has continued to clean the glass and shown that he's a good finisher with great timing in pick-and-roll situations with either hand. Additionally, he has exhibited better-than-expected touch from about 15 feet. On the flip side, he's not a creative scorer in the post and lacks the ability to carve out space or improve post position. He's also an average defensive player.
Gortat has, at times, an overinflated sense of who he is as a player, but he's still a very solid option as a starting center, especially if paired with an elite power forward. Plus, he's probably been one of the most appropriately salaried players in the league. A three-year, $25 million deal (AAV: $8.3 million) would continue to give him raises over his past salary while maintaining affordability.
Elhassan, on Bledsoe at 19: Bledsoe can look at his time in Los Angeles two ways -- either he was held back by lack of playing time behind Chris Paul or he was saved from overexposure. Either way, we'll find out whether he is indeed the star talent many have speculated he is (including LeBron James, who is represented by the same agent) this season, as Bledsoe will get a ton of minutes playing for the rebuilding Suns. He's an elite athlete at the point guard position, and an explosive scorer out of pick-and-rolls, but he still needs to show the ability to run a team offense. Defensively, he has all the tools to be a terrific on-ball defender but needs to bring more consistency, particularly in weakside rotations.
Phoenix has until Oct. 31 to extend Bledsoe's contract, and it's actually in both parties' best interests to do just that: The catch is they'll each have different valuations. Based on comparable point guard deals signed this offseason (Brandon Jennings' three years, $24 million and Jeff Teague's four years, $32 million), an appropriate valuation would be four years, $32 million (AAV: $8 million).
Elhassan projects those two to make $16.3 million between them. If Bledsoe plays well, his number will rise. Signing those two guys alone might eat up most of the Suns money, leaving only the dreaded midlevel equivalent for a new player.
Of course, I don't expect this exact scenario to happen. The Suns will make more trades between now and then, shifting the landscape even more.
Yet, it's interesting to note that just KEEPING THE TEAM TOGETHER would take almost the entire salary cap to do.
For his part, McDonough has more tricks up his sleeve than simply re-signing the guys he already has.
"One of the exciting parts about the job," he said to the Globe. "With the draft-pick situation, with the salary-cap situation and the market, being an attractive destination, I can see a pretty clear path to get the team to the level that fans are used to in a couple of years, without having to try to rebuild forever."
The Internet has created a vortex in which opinions, takes, and thoughts are dismissed as "hating," trolling," or some other black and white, close-minded jargon. Asking questions has become faux pas to the point where surface value concepts are taken and accepted as full truths.
Take Michael Beasley, who has a combination of both apologists and detractors.
There have been plenty of apologists that want Beasley to make it because he is a good guy in general. Nobody speaks ill of Beasley the person, but Beasley the player, that has been a different story since his jump from the NCAA to the NBA.
It is easy to dismiss Beasley as a lost cause who is a cancerous element in the locker room that has regressed in terms of on court impact year-after-year. The latter may be true, and in fact it can be proven with a simple glance over the metrics. However, the problem with Beasley has always been about the internal factors that are widely ignored when discussing his issues and future. His talent and issues are discussed ad nauseam. He has made numerous mistakes over the years. There is no questioning that. Those are again, facts.
Over the years Beasley has been given chance after chance to "turn things around" when a chance to actually turn things around might have been all that he actually needed.
The pressures of the NBA were known almost immediately for Beasley, from Frederick, Maryland to getting shipping off to Manhattan (Kansas) and eventually to South Beach to play in the NBA for the Miami Heat. Before his second season in the league he checked himself into rehab for psychological (and potential drug) issues. He checked himself in rehab. The NBA requires a minimum of 30 days in a facility for drug related issues, which is a proverbial drop in the bucket for the reported issues he was having.
What was wrong with Beasley taking a few months, or even a year, to get his mental faculties in order?
In an interview Beasley's father, Michael Sr., referenced pressures of being a father and playing in the NBA that were weighing on his son's shoulders. Those are all excuses, but both valid reasons for Beasley to take proper time to get his life on track. Channing Frye just took a year off of basketball for a heart issue that is diagnosable. For Beasley, his issues are not. Everything comes full circle as he signed with the Heat, nearly six years after they drafted him No. 2 Overall in the 2008 NBA Draft. The training camp contract will allow Beasley to compete for a roster spot and a chance to play for a team that does not need his services.
A training camp invite is far from "battling for rotation minutes and shots," but regardless Beasley is offered another chance. It is another chance, ironically, from the team that originally should have given Beasley the opportunity to step away from basketball, like he could (should) be doing this summer.
There are numerous examples of stars that rose too fast, fell from grace, and never recovered because they did not take the time to put their lives in perspective.
Many of them were unable to get back on track, but the few who did, had to go through a period longer than 30 days to resolve their issues. Is Beasley a drug addict? Unlikely. Is Beasley a manically depressed individual that needs counseling and closed door therapy? Again, unlikely and another extreme conclusion, but he has displayed the symptoms of being somewhere in the middle.
Robert Downey Jr. is a very similar example to where Beasley is at today. He has a different medium, but both are celebrities with similar pressures and doors open to them to make mistakes.
As individual amateurs in their medium Beasley is the equivalent to a star in The Mickey Mouse Club and Downey Jr. would have been a McDonald's All-American on the hardwood. They each have talent and displayed it at a young age, despite what Mark Deeks writes here on the myth of Beasley's talent. Talent is not the question. They each have (had) it. The one advantage that someone like Downey Jr. had was that he saw his bottom, reached it, admitted he was there, and then spent years to get his mental faculties in a position to turn his potential into tangible results.
Getting away from the art can ultimately be the best tool for the artist. In Beasley's case, getting off the court for a year, or as long as it takes, might be better than two-a-day practices and shooting jumpers. After five training camps basketball might not be the answer. It is the easy answer, but those are not always the right answers. It has been nonstop basketball for the better part of a decade for Beasley; some change in that routine might benefit Beasley the person.
Is Beasley capable of making the jump from hyped prep star to disappointment and then to superstar?
Nobody thinks that Beasley is a few years in rehab away from having his Tony Stark moment and taking over the NBA once back. That is not the point.
As this hits full circle with Beasley finding his way back to the Heat for training camp the question is whether this is a responsible decision by him, his circle, and the team. It is clear that 30 days in rehab did not do the proper justice for Beasley. It is clear a move to Minnesota and a change of scenery was not the answer. The exclamation point was added when a big contract, opportunity to star again, and all the coddling one person could ask for was not enough to tap into that talent.
Beasley is not the Tony Stark to LeBron James' Hulk, Dwyane Wade's Captain America, and Chris Bosh's Thor in this scenario. This is not an apologist take on Beasley or another "hater" launching bullets from a cap gun with no meaning. This is just the question that needs to be asked that is not being asked.
Is this the responsible decision for Beasley and the Heat or should he be focusing on himself away from basketball?
Time will tell but as the pattern has shown over the years, there is not a situation that has benefited Beasley the person, the player, or given him what he needs to be successful. The solution could be as far away from basketball as possible.
It is not just that the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers are in the same division and have to play each other four times a year, they are also making moves that make sense with each other. They are helping each other out. They are almost acting jovial with each other.
How is this happening?
The teams orchestrated a trade with one another to help improve the Clippers shooting (one of their biggest weaknesses) while sending the Suns a dynamic, young, athletic prospect -- three of the biggest weaknesses for the team last year.
Steve Perrin from ClipsNation joined the podcast this week to preview the Clippers and the lofty expectations they have. Through all the drama, trades, and moves made by the team; are they better and ready to contend for a Championship? The Clippers have great thing going with star talent, hope, have a winning culture, and are becoming a model franchise.
How did that happen?
Click here to listen to the podcast: Phoenix Suns Podcast Episode 37 with Steve Perrin
More from Bright Side Of The Sun: