After a cinderella year both for himself and the team, the Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic gets a trophy for his work.
After the entire Phoenix Suns team displayed Most Improved Team characteristics all year long, their star point guard Goran Dragic received the individual Most Improved Player Award.
The Suns had many candidates on their roster for Most Improved - Gerald Green nearly doubled his career scoring average (15.8 vs. 8.0). Markieff Morris led all reserves in double-doubles (11), points off bench and rebounds off bench. Eric Bledsoe was the early leader for most improved before hurting his knee in December and finished the year as a max-contract shoe-in. The list goes on and on.
Gerald Green finished 4th, getting 16 first-place votes, and Markieff Morris was 10th.
But it was Goran Dragic who put up a season that only two league MVPs and two All-Stars have ever approached. Dragic became only the fourth player in league history to score 20 points per game, dish 5 assists per game, shoot 50+% from the field and 40+% from three-point range.
Only LeBron James (once), Larry Bird (three times) and Jeff Hornacek (1991-92 - All-Star) and Chris Webber (1995-96) have ever matched those numbers in a season. Webber only played a few games that season, so he would not have qualified for any awards.
Collecting 408 of a possible 1,134 points, Dragic received 65 first-place votes from a panel of 126 sportswriters and broadcasters throughout the United States and Canada. Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers (158 points, 13 first-place votes) and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (155 points, 16 first-place votes) came in second and third, respectively. Players were awarded five points for each first-place vote, three points for each second-place vote and one point for each third-place vote received.
In the past year, Dragic has been named to the All-Tournament team for Eurobasket 2013 as one of the two best guards in the tourney, got married to his longtime girlfriend and saw his child come into the world healthy and happy.
Now, he has some NBA recognition for stepping up his game better than ever before. He did not make the All-Star game, but he is the MIP and might make an All-NBA team as well.
Cue the Dragon!
Channing Frye and Emeka Okafor count nearly $21 million against the Suns cap this season and both may be free agents on July 1. Okafor's contract expires on June 30, and Frye can opt out of his final year as well. That means the Suns cannot include them in trades.
The Phoenix Suns want to rejoin the NBA elite in the very near future, and they have assets to burn - cap space to take on salary, youth on rookie contracts and six first round draft picks in the next 15 months.
Any incoming All-Star free agent or trade acquisition would join two rising stars at the guard positions - Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe - and a coaching staff that maximizes the skill sets on the roster. The Suns were supposed to win less than 20 games last year, but got 48 wins instead. Even more impressive, when both guards started the team went 23-11.
It's no wonder the Suns now see themselves as a premier destination for difference-making free agents, and a premier trading partner thanks to their available assets.
Could the Suns entice LeBron James to leave Miami for a younger team that could be a contender with his services?
Could the Suns entice Minnesota to trade them Kevin Love for their bevy of assets?
Could the Suns do both?
Very unlikely. In fact, incredibly unlikely. But as least the Suns are in the game. They are major players in that game.
Trade season re-opens for every team the day their season ends. For 14 NBA teams, including the Suns, that was last Thursday. The Suns could conceivably concoct a trade for Kevin Love right now, since Minnesota is also out of the hunt. They could even fold in lotto-bound Detroit in a three-team trade (hypothetically shipping Josh Smith to Minny, Love to Phoenix, and Suns assets to both places to even the score).
But trades are rarely made right now. Many people will point to the NBA Draft as the time trade season really begins. However, as you put together your trade packages, there are few Suns players you have to leave out because they cannot be traded.
Okafor cannot be traded. The last day on which he could have been traded was in February at the trade deadline. After that, players with expiring contracts - or those that could expire at the player's discretion - cannot be traded before their contract runs out.
Teams are free to make trades again once their season has ended, but cannot trade players whose contracts are ending or could end due to an option or ETO.
Okafor is not a trade chip. Moving on.
Frye could become an unrestricted free agent if he wants this summer because he has a player option for next season at $6.8 million. He has until June 23 to decide whether to pick that up - three days before the June 26 NBA Draft.
At that point, one of three things will have happened:
Extensions to contracts that are not rookie scale contracts (i.e., veteran extensions) may be signed up to June 30, the day before the player would have become a free agent.
A contract that contains an Early Termination Option (ETO) cannot be extended if the ETO is exercised (ending the contract early). A contract with an option can be extended if the player opts-in. A contract with an option can also be extended if the player opts-out, as long as the extension adds at least two new seasons onto the contract (excluding any new option year) and the salary in the first year of the extension is not less than the salary in the non-exercised option year. See question number 58 for more information on options and ETOs.
While Frye would really love to take door #3 - signing an extension now - that's probably the least likely scenario. The Suns love Frye's contributions, but it's hard to commit to multiple years of at LEAST $6.8 million per year.
Most likely, the Suns will want the market to set the price, either this summer or next summer.
If Frye opts out this summer, by June 23, then he becomes a free agent. The Suns can retain his Bird Rights by accepting a cap hold of $9.6 million in place of the $6.8 million. That means the Suns will need to keep $9.6 million under the new cap until his contract situation is resolved.
But that cap hold effectively negates the value of Frye's Bird Rights. Bird Rights allow a few things: ability to exceed cap by re-signing, higher raises and one more year. There's no way the Suns will want to give Frye bigger raises than anyone else can offer, or more years. And the Suns will want that cap space gobbled up by a hold that's probably twice as big as the Suns will want to pay him per year.
If Frye opts out, the smartest thing the Suns can do it renounce their Bird Rights to him. The Suns can still re-sign Frye, but not to anything exceeding the cap and not for bigger raises.
If you want to re-sign Frye to a 3 year contract for $5 million per year, for example, you don't need Bird Rights to do it.
No telling what Frye will do, but if he opts out the Suns will likely try to re-sign him to a lower annual salary while not having that big cap hold during early free agency.
In the meantime, the Suns cannot trade Frye.
Most of us know the Suns cannot trade Bledsoe or Tucker unless it's a sign-and-trade as a restricted free agent. However, I keep hearing comments from Bright Siders about one or both of them being included in a Love deal.
That could happen, but only in a sign-and-trade and only after July 1. There won't be any Draft deals with Bledsoe or Tucker in them.
The Suns have publicly claimed they will match any offer for Bledsoe, unless he signs a lesser deal directly with the Suns beforehand. The Suns would love to get him on a contract without the RFA offers, but rest assured that would only be for a contract equal to or smaller than anyone else can give him.
P.J. Tucker wants to return, and he's already talking about going to summer league on July 11 "as long as his contract is worked out". My guess is he signs something reasonable as soon as the clock strikes 12:01 on July 1.
Either way, neither can be included in a trade until after July 1, and even then only in a sign-and-trade situation.
All three are on non-guaranteed contracts for 2014-15 season with varying guarantee dates but the Suns have a minimum of the first two weeks in July to include any or all in a trade with the receiving team having the option to release them. They add up to about $3 million in non-guaranteed deals between them.
This really helps in trade talks, since the salary cap is everything.
Everyone else on the team is fair game in a trade.
I guess it's technically a report card if you only got graded in your worst class.
As frequent readers of Bright Side of the Sun have come to know, the three point shooting adventures of Ish Smith were a bit of an obsession of mine in the late stages of the Suns season.
Those of you who have been around this site long enough may also be aware that both Suns history and awful shooting performances from members of the Phoenix Suns are two of my more significant basketball interests. Those two were first married together back in December of 2010 following the incredible 12 game reign of Sir Earl (of) Barron. I'd strongly suggest taking a quick flip through that slice of heaven, but if you have a life I can effectively boil it down to three points for you:
Three and a half years later those bullets haven't changed.
So with those points in mind, when assignments for Suns player report cards were being doled out I was the natural fit for Ish. Now a lot of people are going to go into a deep analysis of the key contributions for the player they are covering.
This will not be that.
Anyway - I watched every single Ish Smith three pointer this season (the NBA Stats website is truly incredible) so you didn't have to. I've even got a full log of his attempts, including the game situation, play development, and exactly how he missed it (in what critics are calling the worst word document ever produced).
So here's a look at Ish Smith's three point shooting in the 2013-14 season in a nutshell:
Now you're probably all like - "That seems really bad, writer guy with an obvious pseudonym, but give me some context." Well like I did for Earl Barron, let's compare to the history of the Suns franchise:
Of those 557 individual seasons - 232 times a Suns player has attempted 20 or more three pointers in a season. This includes Suns legends like Michael Beasley, Zarko Cabarkapa, Ronnie Price, Joe Crispin, Jalen Rose, the horrible rookie version of Goran Dragic, Josh Childress, and even Ed Nealy.
Which of those 232 players shot less than 10% from three on their 20+ attempts?
Kevin Johnson (1988-89) - 2/22, 9.1%
Johnny High (1980-81) - 2/24, 8.3%
Ish Smith (2013-14) - 1/23, 4.3%
Just those three.
Meaning Ish Smith is the only Phoenix Suns player to ever shoot less than 8% from three point range on a minimum of 20 attempts. He's also the only Suns player to shoot less than 6.3% on a minimum of 10 attempts (Josh Childress in 2010-11 had previously set the bar when he went 1/16).
Once you drop below 10 you find some comfort in that Cedric Ceballos missed each of his 9 attempts in the 1993-94 campaign.
Basically Ish has the worst three point shooting Phoenix Suns season ever from someone who thought it was a good idea to shoot threes other than by accident or because it was required.
So how about league wide? That's certainly sure to give Ish some company, right?
Well it does!
In the 35 years since the NBA adopted the three point stripe, 20 different players have shot more than 20 three pointers in a season and shot less than 5%. That list includes Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Calvin Murphy, and Dennis Johnson - along with slam dunk champion Spud Webb and noted ironman/Casanova AC Green.
But when you lower the bar a little further you see just how special Ish's three point shooting was this season. Of any player to attempt 23 or more three pointers in a season, a mere 9 brave souls have shot less than 4.4%. They are:
Randy Smith (1980-81 Cleveland Cavaliers) - 1/28, 3.6%
Calvin Murphy (1979-80 Houston Rockets) - 1/25, 4.0%
Hedo Turkoglu (2012-13 Orlando Magic) - 1/24, 4.2%
Sedale Threatt (1985-86 Philadelphia 76ers) - 1/24, 4.2%
Dennis Johnson (1989-90 Boston Celtics) - 1/24, 4.2%
Ish Smith (2013-14 Phoenix Suns) - 1/23, 4.3%
Terrell Brandon (1991-92 Cleveland Cavaliers) - 1/23, 4.3%
Calbert Cheaney (1993-94 Washington Bullets) - 1/23, 4.3%
Jerome Kersey (1986-87 Portland Trail Blazers) 1/23, 4.3%
To drastically oversimplifiy, Ish had one of the worst 3 point shooting seasons by any NBA guard in the last 20 plus seasons of NBA basketball. For that he will now take his place atop the Suns terrible shooting Mount Rushmore with Earl Barron.
Bonus fun fact - if you go to Basketball Reference right now and run a filter for the above stats they will show that Smith attempted 24 three pointers on the season. If you're an avid reader of the Bright Side comments section (and why wouldn't you be) you'll note my quixotic campaign to get the third shot here changed from an incorrectly listed three pointer (as it currently is here) to the appropriate 5 foot runner that it was.
See, I'm not totally mean, nobody probably ever would have noticed that shot being listed as a three pointer if some blogging weirdo hadn't pointed it out (h/t to Suns Digital Manager Greg Esposito who emailed the NBA to get it fixed. Here's a Twitter recap).
*As a side note, Archie Goodwin threw his hat in the ring for Mount TerribleShooter as he's one of just 22 players in NBA history to attempt 36 three pointers in a season and hit less than 14%. Here are all his rowdy friends - which include Michael Jordan. So pretty much Archie = MJ.
Fully realizing that was about 1,000 words about 1 bad aspect of Ish Smith, I figure I should throw in a few hundred words on good things. So here are some nice things about Ish:
Ish Smith is a journeyman who won't crack a PG rotation already overloaded with Dragic, Bledsoe, Marshall and even Diante Garrett.
The Suns also are unlikely to blink an eye if they need to release any or all of Malcolm Lee (884K), Kravtsov (1.5 mil) or Ish Smith (900K) to get down to 15 players by the regular season.