The NBA is returning! As a fan, I can think of no better news to receive over Thanksgiving weekend. (Although the invention of calorie-free pumpkin pie or news that canned cranberry sauce adds years...

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With the new CBA all but agreed upon and the lockout finally ending, the discussions can finally leave the courthouse and return back to the arena!  The shortened 66 game 2011-2012 season is now rapidly approaching with the beginning of training camp and free agency slated to begin on Dec 9th.  This is only about two weeks away from now, and about two weeks after that will be the start of the regular season on Christmas Day...So expect a flurry of activity as soon as the flood gates open and teams look to shore up their rosters quickly.  The Phoenix Suns will also undoubtedly be participants in the forthcoming feeding frenzy that is rapidly approaching, so where exactly do they stand right now and what are their options?

One of the more popular notions is that the Suns will seek a trade by using their most valuable asset of all, Steve Nash.  However, with Nash being just about the only draw left to generate revenue through merchandising and ticket sales, it's hard to believe that Sarver would entertain the idea of allowing Steve to leave before his contract is up.  So assuming that Steve Nash remains in Phoenix this season, who are some of the players the Suns could be looking at to either trade for or sign using their available exceptions to help make them better?

 

As our own prolific writer Mr. Alex Laugan pointed out earlier, the new CBA classifies the Phoenix suns as a Cap Team because we currently have a payroll between $58-70 million with the eight players who are currently under contract (Nash, Dudley, Childress, Warrick, Frye, Gortat, Lopez, Pietrus) plus Carter's $4mill buyout, as well as cap holds of an additional $18 million for free agents and rookies we have yet to sign (Grant Hill, Aaron Brooks, Markieff Morris, etc...).  This means that the only way we can add players to our roster is through trades, one Mid-Level Exception, one Bi-Annual Exception, Bird-rights Exceptions, and Minimum Salary Exceptions. 

This means the Suns can throw any top-tier free agent signings out of the window.  Free agents like Nene, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, and Samuel Dalembert are all likely to command substantial salaries or look to play with possible contenders...So they probably aren't realistic options for the Suns and they will not be mentioned below.  Instead, if the Suns want to acquire a nice complementary piece to help out their aging superstar, they will have to get creative using the above options.  There are still plenty of ways to bring in talented players that could help the Suns return to their winning ways...Here are a few of the names the Suns could realistically be interested in and why:

 


Free Agents (Unrestricted and Restricted):

**Sign-and-trades could also be used on free agents in order to bypass using the exceptions

 

Aaron Brooks (PG, RFA) - the Suns have made a qualifying offer on Brooks and will retain his rights if he comes back from China.  This is a very weak free agency for point guards, so Brooks is likely their best bet to back up Nash this season.

Sebastian Telfair (PG, UFA) - If Aaron Brooks stays in China or is offered more money elsewhere than the Suns are comfortable paying, he could be the next best option.  He would also come relatively cheap and could be signed using either a Bi-Annual Exception or part of the MLE.

Arron Afflalo (SG, RFA) - Signing Arron Afflalo would probably be the best move the Suns could make this year, realistically, other than re-signing Grant Hill.  Afflalo possesses the perfect skill set for Phoenix's offense, and the Suns are in need of another SG to help fill the void of Jason Richardson.  Denver may not let him get away though.

Shannon Brown (SG, UFA) - Brown offers something that the Suns were desperately in need of last year, a spark to their offense.  His athleticism and explosiveness would help bring back some life to a team that is still searching for a replacement for Marion and now J-Rich.  It's hard to say if he would fill the role of a starter fort the Suns or if he would be better suited to come off the bench like he did in L.A., but he can be a difference maker that the Suns so desperately need.

Grant Hill (SF, UFA) - This is a no-brainer.  The Suns could use the Bird-Rights exception and both parties seem interested in continuing the relationship...That is if Boston or Miami doesn't try to steal him away.

Josh McRoberts (PF, UFA) - McRoberts is a player who could be on the verge of a breakout year.  He's only 23 years old and since being drafted in 2007 he has continually improved each season in nearly every category.  Last year with the Pacers he averaged just over 20min per game for the first time in his career, and put up some respectable numbers:  7.4pts & 5.3rbs while averaging a .547 FG% and shooting a respectable .383% from beyond the arc as well.  He has a skill set that would be very complementary to the Suns' style of offense, and could be had for less than the MLE.

Glen "Big Baby" Davis (PF/C, UFA) - One thing Big Baby doesn't lack is passion and energy, two qualities that both the Suns and the fanbase greatly admire and covet.  Davis was a very effective bench player for the Celtics during his time there.  He is an able scorer and rebounder and he can also provide some much needed defense in the post as well.  Phoenix may be interested in Davis if they plan on trading Robin Lopez.

 

* Possible Amnesty Clause casualties who could be on the Suns radar, for the right price, if they are released:  Mehmet Okur (C), Marvin Williams (PF), Beno Udrih (PG)

 

 

Possible Trades for players currently under contract: 

(Disclaimer...This is pure speculation/rosterbation.  These are not actual rumors, but rather guesses at possible moves based on needs of this team and players who are rumored to be tradable by other teams.)  p.s. The trade machine works but pay no attention to the Hollinger's Analysis portion which appears to be on the fritz.

 

Robin Lopez, Mickael Pietrus, and a 2nd round pick for Michael Beasley - The Suns are looking to move Pietrus who has not been a good fit, and Lopez after his less than stellar season post back injury and the addition of Gortat.  Minnesota already has Kevin Love and now Derek Williams so Beasley will likely be the odd man out.  Lopez still has trade value as a young 7-foot plus player with untapped potential, and Pietrus could add scoring and perimeter defense for Minnesota.  Beasley gives the Suns a dynamic scoring threat to pair with Nash and added rebounding that Phoenix needs from the forward position.  This trade works for both teams.

 

Robin Lopez & Hakim Warrick for OJ Mayo - Memphis has been looking to trade OJ Mayo who has been a poor fit, and Phoenix would like to trade Lopez who is still young and semi-valuable and Warrick who has not found a niche with the Suns but who could fit with the Grizzlies for a team looking to add more size and scoring.  Memphis would get a young, defensive 7-footer with potential and highlight-reel dunker, and Phoenix gets a young and talented starter at the SG position who can create his own shot and play efficient defense.  This trade could help both teams.

 

...and last but not least

Robin Lopez, Jared Dudley, and Mickael Pietrus for Monta Ellis - Ok, this is a bit of a stretch but let's look at it.  It's no secret that Ellis and Curry haven't been a good fit on the floor together, and when they are the two best players on the team, that creates a problem.  Rumors have surrounded Golden State in regard to the possibility of shopping Ellis, and although new head coach Mark Jackson claims to want to keep him, doing so wouldn't make a lot of sense.  Many other teams are reportedly interested in Ellis, but Phoenix may have the right mix of players to get a deal done. 

- Why does it help Phoenix?  Because Ellis is one of the most prolific scorers in the league and can create his own shot.  This is important to help take some of the pressure off Nash in the coming season as well as give the Suns a star player after Nash retires.  Phoenix appears ready to move on from Lopez after acquiring Gortat last season, and Pietrus has not been a good fit.  Losing Dudley would certainly hurt, but the addition of an elite scorer like Ellis would be a move that the Suns couldn't pass up.

- Why does this help the Warriors?  Other than Biedrins the Warriors don't have a legit big man, and Robin Lopez fills this void.  This would let them move David Lee back to PF which is his natural position, and if Lopez returns to pre-back injury form they could have a top WC big man who is perfect for their style of play.  The addition of Jared Dudley would be another huge benefit for them, giving them scoring and 3-point shooting as well as energy and defense.  Mickael Pietrus was successful during his time in Golden State and his return would likely be welcomed and could help them with scoring and defense from the wing position.

 

 

These are just a few of the possibilities that the Suns could consider, and there are many other options that will be looked at as well.  Like the free agent signings above, none of the most highly sought after trades were considered, because the Suns are not a realistic destination at this point for players like Josh Smith, Chris Paul, or Deron Williams.  Instead, the Suns are much more likely to trade for complementary pieces like the ones mentioned above...but they can still make marked improvements with the right deal.  If these trades don't appeal to you, then feel free to propose your own in the comment section below.  Let the rosterbation begin!!!

[Note by Wil Cantrell, 11/29/11 8:49 AM MST ]

Sorry to pop in here and pollute 7-footer's pristine post, , but I thought this nice list of both restricted and unrestricted free agents could assist the "rosterbation" process:


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Or better yet, does it matter?

Aaron Brooks is signed with the Guandong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association through the 2012 season (regular season ends Feb 15). Because the CBA has restricted NBA players from playing unless they waive their right to opt out of their contract for the 2011-2012 season, we can safely assume that Brooks will be in China until at least mid February. 

So, what do we do? We all know exactly what we have in Steve Nash, and Suns fans also are aware of the value of having a capable backup point guard to rest Nash during (increasingly longer) stretches of the game. Because the shortened NBA season will by necessity include more back-to-back games this year, it's even more important to have that PG-2 spot filled before the season begins on Dec. 25. 

Zabian Dowdell, a hardworking but underwhelming guard, currently owns the PG-3 spot with pride but as Seth points out, without significant improvement he's not going to be reliable given potential big minutes on the floor. 

Free agency presents a few alternatives, such as Ronnie Price or J.J. Barea. Price is a quick, undersized guard with great athletic ability who sits third on the Jazz depth chart behind Devin Harris and Earl Watson. Juan Jose Barea is a diminutive guard that we know too well. His energy is unmatched and his decision making is getting better and better with increased playing time in Dallas. 

What do you think, Bright Siders? Can Zabian Dowdell hold the Phoenix Suns back point guard position until late February, or does it even matter? 

Poll
Is Aaron Brooks the Answer at the point guard #2 position?

  373 votes | Results


How can you stay mad at a lovable face like this?

The previous five months have been extremely frustrating for NBA fans. Until owners and the NBPA reached a handshake agreement early Saturday morning to end the NBA's lockout and start the season on Christmas Day, the prospect of losing the entire season was alarmingly real. After the entertaining and successful season the league just completed, blowing up this season was incomprehensible, but it almost happened.

The buildup and then collapse of one negotiating session after another, and mishandling of both the negotiating and public relations strategies by each side, had reached the point of absurdity. Hardcore fans watched and grew more and more dejected and angry while casual fans didn't even bother to follow. The current world economic situation made the squabbling of overpaid players and overly wealthy owners appear even more ludicrous.

With training camps scheduled to start on December 9th and a 66-game regular season December 25th, only 16 regular season games have been lost. Also lost was the NBA's summer league, extended free agent signing period, training camps and preseason. In their place will be a little over two weeks of combined FA signing, camps and preseason. From a calendar standpoint, about two months of meaningful basketball were missed by fans.

We've shared plenty of angry and frustrated words about the lockout on this blog, many written by me. Now that it's over, how long do you hold on to that bitterness or indifference brought about by the events of the lockout? Are you ready to let it go right now and fully embrace the Suns and NBA? Or will it take a little coaxing, maybe a thrilling Suns victory or two or additional time, to win you back? Will you continue to attend games if you had previously? Buy NBA League Pass if you live outside Phoenix? Buy NBA apparel?

Speak up, Suns fans. Our lockout coverage will soon be wrapping up, and the real league news will be coming hot and heavy over the next few weeks.

Poll
Did the lockout change how you'll behave as an NBA fan?

  383 votes | Results


Basketball is BACK!  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Let's take a look at the new (tentative) CBA to see what the Suns can do this season with their roster.

First, we must establish where the Suns fit into the new rules. Are they a Room team, a Cap team or a Tax team? This determination is made at the beginning of free agency, for the purposes of the rule set they must follow throughout free agency and into the season (with some specific exceptions outlined in the CBA).

Where are the Suns today, and what can they do in this abbreviated free agency and trading period?

 

A Room team is one whose salary cap number slides under $58 million. These teams can spend up to that 58 million cap. After that, they can only use Bird, minimum-salary and a new 'Room Team Exception' (2.5 million) to exceed it.

A Cap team is one whose salary cap number fits between $58 and $70.3 million. These teams are limited to using exceptions only: the new Mid-level (starting at 5 million, with a 4 yr max), bi-annual (starting at roughly $2 million, 2 year max), Bird Rights re-signings and veteran-minimums. Caveat: those who are less than 1 million away from the 70.3 can only offer a mid-level that keeps the team less than 4 million over 70.3 after the transaction is complete. Same is true for sign-and-trades.

A Luxury Tax team is one whose cap number is more than $70.3 million. These teams are even more limited in their spending (this was the main crux of that last month of the lockout). But since the Suns are not in this category we can discuss those rules in a different story.

Where are the Suns? Check out this excel sheet (click to enlarge)

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The Suns, despite having only $50.7 million in guaranteed commitments this season (assuming the 4 million to release VC), have another 18 million in "cap holds" that place them squarely in the Cap team group.

"Cap holds" are those expired contracts that remain as holds on the team's salary cap so they won't circumvent the cap rules by allowing all their contracts to expire, then sign $58 million worth of new talent and THEN exercise Bird Rights to re-sign their old players. "Holds" are usually bigger than the last contract amount (Hill and Brooks are 200%, for example) to further dissuade this practice. Teams can renounce these players at any time, but that renounces their ability to exercise Bird Rights (longer contract, larger raises) on them.

So, the Suns are a Cap Team even though they only have 8 guys under guaranteed contracts.

This means the Suns can supplement their 8 signed players using only the following options:

 

  • rookie deals (Markieff Morris)
  • the new Mid-level exception ($5 million to start * 4.5% raises on year 1 salary * 4-year maximum = $20.675 million total)
  • bi-annual exception
  • minimum-salary exceptions (Lawal, Siler, Dowdell) 
  • trades (regular trades involving any of the 8 signed players, including sign-and-trades and extend-and-trades)

 

This means that the most the Suns can offer any one player, unless they execute a sign-and-trade or extend-and-trade is $5 million in year 1. Look at the fringe-starter market for the Suns this offseason. This is true for most of the league, however, and is down about 20% from last year ($5.85 million to start, on Chilly's contract).

While sign-and-trade and extend-and-trades are still allowed, they are only allowed with shorter contracts like regular free agents. (Example: Amare actually signed a free agent contract with New York, not a Bird Rights contract, so that sign-and-trade would be allowed. Example 2: Carmelo Anthony, however, signed a full Bird Rights extension in conjunction with his trade to New York. In the new CBA, he would have been limited to 3 new years at 4.5% raises versus 4 new years at 7.5% if he'd stayed in Denver at least 6 months afterward.)

Assuming sign-and-trades and extend-and-trades become less attractive to star players or restricted free agents, you can probably rule out restricted free agent Marc Gasol coming to Phoenix (as an example). 

Otherwise, if you're looking for the Suns to acquire a star, they would have to make a big trade. And since their second-biggest contract is only about $7 million a year, the Suns would have to package multiple players to acquire that star.

The good news on trades is that a Cap Team or Room Team can now have a 50% difference on matching salaries (plus $100,000, up to $5 million difference in real dollars). This is better than the old CBA, which allowed up to only 25% difference in salaries. Now, a $7 million player(s) can net a $10.6 million player(s).

Expect a lot more trades this year than in prior years, especially since most of the league is made up of Cap Teams.

Rosterbation, here we come!

Poll
Day Two Post-Lockout Question: Will the Suns make BIG changes, or LITTLE changes in abbreviated free agency?

  489 votes | Results


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