Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said he wanted to be careful with the Suns cap situation, to allow for a measured rebuilding process that might include one-sided trades where the Suns could absorb a bad contract in order to get a valuable asset (draft picks, young players on cheap contracts, etc). At the least, the Suns wanted to strike on the right players, rather than overspend on middling players.
OKC built their juggernaut by piling up losses (they had top-12 picks for 6 of 7 seasons until 2009-10) and cap space. They used that cap space in 2007 to absorb Kurt Thomas' $8 million salary in exchange for 2 low #1 draft picks. Those Suns picks were ultimately used to draft PF Serge Ibaka at #24 overall and C Cole Aldrich at #11 overall (acquired by trading their own #21 and the Suns' #26 to New Orleans for the #11 and Morris Peterson's $5 million salary). To recap, that's absorbing $8 million in one year and $5 million in another for the rights to a lottery pick and a perennial contender for Defensive Player of the Year.
Sounds like keeping some cap space is a good, measured approach right?
Well, that measured approach lasted all of 4 days.
While Steve Nash was jetting off to LA, the Suns secured commitments from the first 3 players they targeted this summer. Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic and Eric Gordon all agreed to play for the Suns after free agent visits.
The damage? Adding in first-round pick Kendall Marshall, the Suns have committed nearly $28 million in new money for the 2012-13 season.
The problem? The Suns only had a little less than $26 million available to spend, and that's ONLY if they renounce their rights to ALL of their unsigned free agents, including young center Robin Lopez. Whoa.
What does this mean? Hit the jump.
For starters, don't dismiss the problem just because New Orleans will likely match on Gordon, freeing up half that committed money. The Suns still need that cap space on July 11 to even offer Gordon the contract in the first place. In addition, neither Beasley nor Dragic (as far as we know) were told their offers were contingent on Gordon being matched. All three will be signed on July 11. Marshall's cap hold is there on July 11 too, regardless of whether he signed a contract yet or not.
Second, don't count on any TPE from the Nash trade. There is no TPE (traded player exception) for sending Nash to LA for nothing because the Suns are under the cap. The TPE is only granted for teams over the cap sending a player to a team that's under it. Suns had a TPE for the Kurt Thomas and Amare Stoudemire trades, for example, because they were over the cap at the time. Not so, in the Nash trade. Suns just have the salary cap space he leaves behind, which was spent already.
Anyway, back to free agency, where the Suns have already overspent. Unless the Hornets match the Gordon offer AND Dragic and Beasley wait until July 14 to sign their contracts after Gordon's money is freed up again. But that's a game of losers poker. You have to play to win, and that means assuming New Orleans won't match.
They need to rid themselves of at least 2 million in salary by July 11 (unless the Suns work out a sign-and-trade instead, that includes current players heading out to New Orleans) in order to sign all three guys that day.
The easy answer is to use the amnesty clause on either Josh Childress ($6 million this year, $21 million over next 3 years) or Hakim Warrick ($4 million this year, nothing guaranteed beyond that). Amnesty removes the players's salaries from the salary cap calculation, but all the money is still owed to the player on the original schedule.
It sure helps that LA gave the Suns $3 million in cash yesterday, going a long way to completely paying for a Warrick amnesty. Now that the Suns have Frye, Morris and Beasley at PF, the Suns definitely do not need Warrick anymore. And with the LA/Nash money, it would only cost $1 million to make Warrick disappear and to pay for all their commitments (as opposed to still costing $18 million to make Childress go away).
The bummer of amnestying Warrick already is that takes one more round out of the barrel for future moves. Yet, amnesty only helps if you are UNDER the cap, and this month may be the last time the Suns will be under the cap again for years. No use waiting to use Childress' bigger contract for more space. It does not help if you're over the cap.
So, all signs point to an amnesty of Hakim Warrick next week because it's the easiest option.
And even then, there's just enough under the cap for their current commitments. And not enough for Robin Lopez, or Aaron Brooks, or Shannon Brown, or Grant Hill or any other unsigned Suns free agent. The Suns would get the newly-created "room" exception of $2.5 million, given to those teams under the cap who max out the $58 million cap. That might get them a backup 2-guard.
Good news: if New Orleans DOES match the Gordon offer sheet, the Suns do have the ability to UN-renounce players to get their rights back (this is allowed in the case of an offer sheet). So, Lopez and/or Brown or Hill can get their Bird Rights back if the Suns want them.
The only other option is to trade a veteran into someone else's cap space. Armed with extra first round picks, you could envision someone taking on Warrick or Frye with the carrot being a low first-round pick being thrown in to seal the deal. But I suspect the Suns would rather not give away assets in a salary dump anymore, even low first-round picks.
It's possible the Suns will include current players in a sign-and-trade with New Orleans for Eric Gordon, making the net salary increase on Gordon less than $12.9 million this season. But right now the Hornets are dead-set on simply matching the offer sheet to Gordon and thanking the Suns for doing all the work. Again, the Suns still have to create the space to make the offer in the first place, before New Orleans matches it and frees up the money again.
Congratulation, Suns fans! The Suns went out and spent every penny they had. Again.
Here's the Suns vision of an ideal 2012-13 lineup.
If New Orleans matches on Gordon, you'd better hope O.J. Mayo is still looking for more money than anyone's willing to offer yet. But that's almost 2 weeks from now.
When I first heard the news of Nash's departure I was floored. Not that he was leaving, I'd pretty much accepted that. I'd even made a bet (which I intend to collect on) that he was leaving in Nash's postseason player evaluation back on May 14th. It was the destination that was discomfiting. Nash was going to the Los Angeles Lakers.
A whirlwind of thoughts and emotions ensued. How could Nash go to the Lakers? How could the Suns let him go to the Lakers? How could the pride and joy of Phoenix become an instrument of their mortal enemy? There are 28 other teams that would be less repugnant to Suns' fans. The Mavericks had been in the mix and nobody batted an eye. What happened to the win-now Knicks and the Shumpert package? What became of the golden parachute offered by Toronto?
Then I was struck with an afflatus. I was going to go to bat for MVSteve just like he went to bat so many times for the Suns. Even if I don't completely agree with the decision he just made, I defend the totality of his character and his place as one of the great all-time Suns both on and off the court.
Jump it for more discussion on Steve's exodus.
The move isn't completely without precedent. The Suns have dealt with the Lakers before. They have facilitated the egress of stars in the past. They have made deals with the devil.
In 1994, the Suns traded Cedric Ceballos to the Los Angeles Lakers for a first round draft pick in the 1995 draft that became Michael Finley. Ceballos averaged 21.7 points and 8.0 rebounds a game for the Lakers the next season.
Before the 1996 season, the Suns traded Charles Barkley to the Houston Rockets. The very same Rockets that had knocked the Suns out of the playoffs in 1994 and 1995 on their way to consecutive NBA championships.
There seemed to be varying levels of mutual disinterest from both parties. The whispers suggesting it was time to move on were practically deafening. The Suns had either made an insulting offer or none at all according to various rumors. Nash's decision to go to the Lakers wasn't vindictive or spiteful. If the Suns had decided to play hardball, he could have been really petty and joined the Lakers by way of an exception to ensure the Suns got nothing. That didn't happen. It was an amicable split.
The Suns didn't want Nash. It was time for both sides to move on. The Suns could have forestalled this eventuality by trying to sign Nash in advance of the free agency period. They didn't.
Nash had the right to go where he wanted as an unrestricted free agent, but the Suns didn't have to acquiesce to Steve's sign and trade request. They could have stonewalled him. They could have dictated that they would work with any other team in a sign and trade. They didn't.
In light of Nash's overall contribution to the Suns and in the interest of cultivating comity into the future, the Suns gave Nash what he wanted and got something in return. Sometimes when you love someone, you have to let them go.
Steve was a good soldier while he was here. He didn't manipulate his way out of town or become a disruption as we've seen from so many others around the league. He didn't stage a coup to hold the franchise hostage and force his way to a destination of his liking. He played out the contract he signed, even though he was laboring to carry a misfit roster on his broad shoulders during the gloaming of his career.
Steve did what just about any of us would have done in his position. Steve did what was best for him and his family. The Lakers gave Nash an opportunity to win a championship. They gave him a contract that, financial compensation aside, signifies a degree of veneration. They enabled him to stay close to his family. He gets to live in an attractive metropolitan area, which he has an affinity for. The move makes sense on every level if you take the Suns/Lakers rivalry out of the equation. What other team affords Nash such a degree of accordance with this particular set of criteria?
In the end, it was a mutual respect for each other that ended up tipping the scale and Nash got what he wanted. The Suns got something better than the trade exception they received as a parting gift from Amare's departure. Maybe it wasn't the happiest ending ever scripted, but compared to recent fiascos involving peregrinating stars I think both sides comported themselves admirably.
There is a tendency to lionize star athletes that sets fans up to be disappointed. When a player is set upon such a high pedestal it is hard not to topple. Nash is human. He is not infallible. This is just a simple case where what was best for Steve Nash wasn't best for Suns fans. Steve chose Steve.
Nash leaves a legacy in Phoenix that the next generation of Suns' players will be hard pressed to live up to. He was loved by the organization, fans, and teammates alike. The Suns should be keeping his seat in the ring of honor warm. Jared Dudley offered this on his former floor general:
@SteveNash has not only been a the Best but the most unselfish player I ever played with. I only wish him the Best. He's deserves everything— Jared Dudley (@JaredDudley619) July 5, 2012
I have years of refulgent memories of Nash as a Sun that this latest incident won't tarnish. Am I disappointed that things turned out this way? Hell yes. Am I happy that Nash is a Laker? Absolutely not. Will it be surreal to see Nash playing alongside Kobe Bryant? Nauseatingly so. Does turning in his orange for gold make Nash a turncoat? I don't think so. He's still Two-Time to me.
Statement courtesy of ESPN.com
Steve Nash statement
For the last 8 seasons I've been blessed to play for a team and a city that has embraced me and that I have come to call home. This is a tough business and the only thing constant in life is change.
After talking with (owner) Robert (Sarver) and (president of basketball operations) Lon (Babby) we've agreed that it's time for both of us to move in new directions. I approached them and asked if they would be willing to do a sign and trade deal with L.A. because it is very important to me to stay near my children and family.
They were very apprehensive and didn't want to do it. Fortunately for me, they reconsidered. They saw that they were able to get assets for their team that will make them better, assets they would not have otherwise had and it made sense for them to do a deal that helps their team get better.
I couldn't be more grateful to the organization and Robert in particular. I know how hard this was for him and that fact that he was able to help me and my family in this way ... it means a lot and says a lot about his character. I will never forget this gesture. Above and beyond.
The Phoenix Suns are an amazing organization and fans should be excited about their future. I hope the Suns win a championship some day soon for all the amazing fans and wonderful people in the organization.