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In this episode Nate Parham (@NateP_SBN) joins the conversation to talk about numerous topics revolving around the WNBA (check out Swish Appeal), the Phoenix Suns, and the Golden State Warriors (check out Golden State of Mind).

This week we explore the 2014 WNBA All-Star Game, the second half of the season with what to expect, Kevin Love trade rumors, Steve Kerr a head coach, and the Team USA Select Squad that includes one Sun and two Warriors on the roster. Big things happening in the world of basketball in the Valley so let's get to it:


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There are more than a few reasons for the gulf between the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe’s camp when it comes to his value as a restricted free agent. I went over the details a few days ago,...

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The Phoenix Suns now have 15 players on their roster, all of whom will want playing time next year. How will the Suns work that out?

Only three players on the projected 2014-15 Phoenix Suns roster will be paid more than $6 million next season. Those three - Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas - comprise a "three headed monster", coined by coach Jeff Hornacek, as combo guards rotating a two-pronged attack from both sides of the court at the same time.

Conversely, the other 12 players -- three of whom are projected starters -- will each make less than $6 million next season. Sounds like a recipe for disaster right? You can't win with such low-paid players, right? Wrong. The Suns parlayed an even more disparate mix (just two active players over $3.5 million) into 48 wins last season, only missing the playoffs to injury woes. Still, the Suns finished the season with the most wins by a non-playoff team in more than 30 years.

Can the Suns repeat their success again? Or can they do even better?

Player swap

Last year, the Suns only high(ish) paid players were Goran Dragic ($7.5 million) and Channing Frye ($6.4 million). That's paltry compared to most of the NBA.

Since the end of the season, the Suns have lost F/C Frye (28 minutes per game) and PG Ish Smith (14 minutes per game), while adding Isaiah Thomas (34.7 mpg last year) and Anthony Tolliver (20 mpg), along with two more first round draft picks.

On the surface, that's a 42 mpg swap for 54 mpg, not even including either draft pick.

But even more lopsided is that big-minute player swap came from two very different positions. Can the Suns handle adding another high-minute player to the guard rotation?

Two-point-guard lineup works

The Suns implemented the two-point-guard system last year with great success, racking up a 23-11 record when Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe started in the same game. Despite playing at a height disadvantage, the 6'1" Bledsoe and 6'3" Dragic were a plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions when they played together.

In fact, Bledsoe was part of the top 5 three-man Suns lineups last season (all plus-7.6 pp100p or higher) while Dragic was in 8 of the top 13 three-man lineups (all plus-3.2 or higher).

But unfortunately injuries took a toll, as the pair only played 884 minutes together, just 22% of the possible minutes in 2013-14. Bledsoe missed 39 games with two different injuries, while Dragic missed six but was hobbled with ankle woes in a number of other games.

When one of the pair was out, the Suns started 6'8" shooting guard Gerald Green. Green had a career year (15.8 points, 1.5 assists per game), but is not a primary ball handler. With only one guard capable of running an efficient offense, the Suns went just 25-23 causing them to miss the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.

Enter Isaiah Thomas

Thomas played point guard for a really bad Sacramento team last year, but his name is dotted all over the Kings best lineups per 100 possessions. Thomas was not the Kings' problem last season. He put up Dragic-esque numbers of 20.6 points and 6.3 assists per game with an overall plus-9.4 points per 100 possessions (that's versus the times he wasn't on the court. In pure terms, the Kings were plus-0.2 points versus opponents with him out there vs. minus-9.6 with him on the bench. Yes, the Kings were bad.)

He now joins a Suns team as their (likely) third highest-paid player without an obvious starting spot waiting for him. Is that a problem though?

Not if you consider that the Suns needed a second point guard to execute their attack the 78% of the time one of Dragic or Bledsoe were unavailable last year.

With the three guards at Hornacek's disposal, it will be much easier to sustain success.

"We feel it just gives us another weapon if something happens with Eric or Goran with injury, and not lose a beat," coach Jeff Hornacek told me after the press conference.

Let's see how that shakes out.

Game of Minutes

"We talked about it," Hornacek said. "We talked about how it was going to affect peoples' minutes, how we would play it. But again we still go into training camp with the guys that are here and are going to play."

If Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas play all 96 guard minutes, that's 32 minutes each. Each of Dragic (35.1), Bledsoe (32.9) and Thomas (34.7) played more than 32 minutes each game last year. Just by numbers, none of them can play the same minutes in 2014-15 as long as they take the court as a threesome all year long.

For Dragic, that may be a blessing as he got run down by the end of the season with all the minutes. But he won't need to drop too many though. He played a solid 33 per game in 2012-13 and finished stronger than he started, scoring 16 points along with 9.5 assists in 36 minutes per game in the second half.

Bledsoe clearly had never played so many minutes per game before - never exceeding 22 per game as a backup in LA - but he's arguably the best returning player for the Suns and will get plenty of minutes as the starting point guard. But he missed half the season with a knee issue and finished with only the 8th-most minutes on the team.

Thomas played his most minutes of his career last season, averaging nearly 35 per game, but figures to take the biggest hit in minutes behind the incumbent starters. To get a change of pace in the lineup for floor spacing, like Gerald Green, or size, like P.J. Tucker or Archie Goodwin, some minutes have to be squeezed from the three guards at the top of the pecking order.

Hornacek thinks the Suns can figure it out on a game to game basis.

"I think they will all be affected a little bit," he explained. "Like we did last year, when guys are going good they will be in there. We've explained it to them that some nights you're going to have it, some nights other guys are going to be hot and you're going to ride with them and maybe that game you don't play as much. The next game you might be the hot guy and you play some more."

Green and Thomas the most affected

Over the course of the year, if there are no injuries, you'll see a drop in total minutes from all three of the top guards. Dragic and Bledsoe will see the smallest drop, while Thomas and Green will inevitably see the bigger hit.

If you assume 30 minutes per game from Dragic and Bledsoe (60 total), that leaves 36 for Thomas and Green to share. Clearly, each has earned more than an 18-minute-per-game role.

Thomas started 54 games a year ago, playing 34.7 minutes per contest. Green just finished his best season of his career, playing all 82 games and starting 48 of them while playing 28.2 minutes per game with 15.7 points per game and making 40% of this threes.

But still Thomas, with the four-year contract and high-scoring profile, will likely take the bulk of those 36 minutes. Where does Green go? To the bench? Or to the small forward spot?

"He could," said Hornacek of the 6'8" Green taking some small forward minutes. "Or he could play the 4 with the three guards. That would be fun."

Hornacek is highlighting the tectonic shift here. Once Green is considered for some small forward minutes, what of the current glut that's already there?

P.J. Tucker is the team's starting small forward, and can't be taken off the floor without a shotgun. And, he just got a big new contract. Marcus Morris is entering his contract year and had the fourth-highest three-point percentage on a team that thrives on making threes. And then there's rookie T.J. Warren, the #14 overall pick in last month's draft.

All four of those guys, including Green, sharing just 48 minutes a night? Collectively, they played 131 minutes a night last season (Warren with N.C. State).

You have to assume Warren won't see any time as a rookie, and that Marcus Morris will shift to the power forward position on many nights. Still, that leaves a few minutes for Morris at the 4, a few minutes for Green at the 3 and Tucker getting the bulk of the time.

Now, on to power forward.

At PF, you have Markieff Morris (28 mpg last year) and newly signed Anthony Tolliver (20 mpg) and Marcus Morris (22 mpg). None were starters, but all were key role players last year. Squeezing them into 48 PF minutes will be difficult. All of them will make almost exactly the same money ($3 million per year) and all are in contract years. The Morrii will be restricted free agents, while Tolliver is only guaranteed for $400,000 in 2015-16 which makes him basically an expiring contract.

Hornacek knows it will be a mix and match game, and hopes that if the team stays the same they will come back with the same attitude as last year.

"Our guys were good about that last year," Hornacek said. "It makes it easier on us coaches that they understand that and respect that. They know that's the best chance we have for winning, the hot guys staying in, and they cheer for each other and that's what's great.

"As a player," Hornacek continued. "That's an environment you want to be in."

"I'm a fan of basketball and I watch a lot of basketball," Isaiah Thomas said at the press conference. "The Phoenix Suns were a team that I watched a lot last year. There was a lot of excitement. The guys, they seemed like they played for each other and with each other. They just had fun out there. Everybody counted the Phoenix Suns out and they won 48 games. I want to be a part of something like that.

"Even playing on the court against the Suns, there was really no arguing," he said. "There was just wanting to play, wanting to have fun and wanting to win. I wanted to be a part of something like that. The direction it's going is forward."

This year is not last year

"The sum was greater than the parts this year," Lon Babby said at the closing press conference in April. "But things change. Contract change, players want to demonstrate that they have improved. I always say its like another school year. It's not the same each year."

Last year, only Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker were in true contact years and they didn't have to worry about their minutes. Each played as much as they could handle. Frye ended up choosing to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but didn't have the pressure to perform because he could otherwise have picked up his 2014-15 player option.

This year will be different. Dragic, Green, Morris, Morris and Tolliver will all be fighting to earn their next contract, and yet all are fighting for minutes too. Dragic could lose time to Thomas and/or Bledsoe. And we've already covered the logjam among the other four, who all make about the same amount of money.

Let's hope next year the Suns are just as happy with sharing minutes as they were last year.

Casual NBA fans might not remember Anthony Tolliver for his shooting, or for his roles on the long list of teams he’s played for. They might remember that he was in the wrong place at the wrong...

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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.

At the end of the 2013-14 season, former Phoenix Suns power forward Channing Frye said that he wanted to work out an extension with the Phoenix Suns.

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."

Strong effort

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.

Frye's contract

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."

Low balled?

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.

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