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Welcome to the fourth piece of the 2010-11 Phoenix Suns Player Evaluations. We here at Bright Side of the Sun have assembled an opinionated and seemingly educated cast of writers to put together alternative views on the players, front office, and coaches. Your favorite and least favorite Suns will no doubt get plenty of attention, and the fuzzy compliments or scathing criticism they deserve. Unless we're talking Garrett SIler. Nothing but love for the purest example of the effects of gravity...Onward, playas:

I'm going to be blunt. Robin Lopez was a major disappointment this season. He sucked. Big time. We all know this, so I'm not going to go into depth on his player evaluation for the 2010-11 season. He got an F, we know that. Besides, with the exception of a few games, there was nothing exciting about Lopez's season anyway.

Instead, I'm going to determine why it is he regressed, his true potential, if he has what it takes to reach it, if he can reach it and why the Phoenix Suns should trade him.

Regression, oppression, depression...

"I can't put a finger on why it is he regressed this season."-Gentry

Well G, I can. He regressed due to injury, lack of confidence, team chemistry and high expectations.

First off, let's not forget that Robin was putting up around 12 and 7 for about 30 games as a starter last season, while providing good defense and average rebounding. It was pretty much his break-out year. I'd also like to note that the Phoenix Suns were a top 5 rebounding team in the league during that stretch all thanks to Lopez and his boxing-out abilities. I'm not one for stats, but here's a good one;

The Impact and Development of Robin Lopez

"The Suns "pre-Robin" were -2.29 in rebounding differential, which ranks around 26th in the league.

Since Robin has entered the starting lineup, the Suns have a +3.68 rebound differential which ranks 2nd in the league. That's a swing of +5.98 in rebound differential. THAT'S HUGE!!!" -Seth Pollack

Yes, that was quite the impact and it's also something that needs to be kept in mind when evaluating and determining Lopez's worth and potential.

Although, as we know, Robin took quite a fall this season due to the injuries and to the loss of Amare Stoudemire which East Bay Ray has already expounded upon.

However, I would like to add that Lopez, throughout most of his career (including college) has enjoyed the luxury of playing besides an inside-scorer who took pressure off him, so I have to ask the question, can Robin Lopez be an intimidating factor in this league without Amar'e Stoudemire, Brook Lopez...? When he played his best basketball it was next to a scoring big-man, so I also have to ask, is Robin one of those guys that needs to have certain players around him in order to be productive or can he learn to adjust his game without them?

Now you may say, "Beavis, where are your stats to back this up?".  Don't need em. It's no secret that throughout his career, Lopez has usually played poorly in 10-15mpg or rarely seen the court at all when he didn't have a scoring big next to him.

Then you've got the high expectations.

Phoenix Suns Season Preview: The Bigs

This season I look for Lopez to continue his maturation. He had a great second half of the season in '09-'10 but in '10-'11 we'll need to see that kind of play consistently for the entire season. I completely expect him to make another jump, cut down on some of the silly fouls, take a little more care of the ball and really make an improvement in the pick-and-roll game with Nash. If there is any player on this team that can make it so we're not crying over the loss of Amare at the All-Star break it would be Lopez.- Watdogg10

I assume this was the popular belief among Suns fans including myself. However, Lopez did the exact opposite and made us cry over the loss of Amar'e even more. Many of us were hoping he could become an all-star or at least a borderline one. Instead it was Marcin Gortat who stepped up and became that man. However, he came at the expense of J-Rich and Barbosa/Hedo. It wasn't fair for us and even the team to place those kind of expectations on Robin. He wasn't ready for it, he was only 22 and still recovering from injuries. We expected him to help carry this team, unfortunately the burden we placed on him was too heavy and it broke his back, legs, spirit, confidence....

What is Lopez's Potential? Can he reach it? Does he have what it takes?

Robin Lopez can become a good, athletic, defensive center in this league with a nice, but not great offensive game.  Robin-lopez_medium

I don't see him ever becoming a good rebounder, but I do expect slight improvements in the future. I see him as an exceptional, starting center at best, but not an all-star.

I expect him to improve as long as he works hard, but I think his injuries will keep him from reaching his ceiling. We must ask the question, will Lopez ever regain his athleticism? To those who don't remember, this was him 2 years ago. Now look at him. He's slow, clumsy and runs like an old man. I'm afraid his back will give out every time I see him on the court.

I am not sure if Robin has what it takes to reach his potential. There were many times in the past season where he looked soft and like he just didn't care. He used to call himself the "Enforcer". He used to talk about how badly he wanted to be the defensive anchor for this team and to do the things they needed him to do, like rebound.... What happened to this burning desire and undeniable passion? I don't see it anymore and that makes me question his mental toughness. However, the jury is still out. I don't believe it's fair to judge his work ethic after one bad year where he was plagued by injuries. The true test to his character will be how he responds next season. I don't know what to expect from him though, but that doesn't matter anyway as the Suns should trade him.

Why the Phoenix Suns should trade Robin Lopez

You know who Robin Lopez is and I have reminded you of who he was. I've shown you the good and I've shown you the bad. I've analyzed it, I've evaluated it, I've Googled it, I've Wikipediaed it and have come to to the conclusion that it is best the Phoenix Suns trade him while they still can.

First, he's only proved that he can be a force when paired with a scoring big. In fact, I don't think he's ever gotten used to playing without one.

The main reason though is that he's injury prone. He broke his foot during training camp of 09 which kept him out for a couple months, then this injury and of course the back spasms which I fear he'll have to deal with for the rest of his life. I'm afraid he'll never fully regain his athleticism and even if he does, what's to stop him from getting hurt again? That back will always cause problems from time to time. Yes, Nash suffers from back problems too, but he's got an amazing work ethic, diet and strategy to keep it from holding him back.  Plus, he's a PG. A 7-footer with back spasms scares me much more.  Just look at Oden, Ming, Bynum.... Big guys are just much more prone to injury. Robin Lopez isn't worth the risk and he even if he makes a comeback next season he's still not worth the cash teams usually dish out to players after a good year, because what if he goes and pulls a Tyson Chandler the year later? This team has got enough bad contracts to worry about.

What's the point in keeping him when he could help the Suns land a player such as Josh Smith or Paul Millsap? Yes, teams will look at his injury history, but if he's an add-on (not a throw-in) to a trade than I don't see why they wouldn't take him? Group him with a 1st round pick, Pietrus/Warrick, Aaron Brooks and with good negotiating the Suns could get a really good piece back. Or, if the FO decides to think smaller, they could deal him for someone like OJ Mayo if they're willing to take that risk. Of course, I'd prefer that the FO thinks big.

Despite the bad season, he's still a young, 7-footer with a lot of potential and so he does have value, because when healthy and paired with a scoring big-man he can have a positive impact on your team. Other than the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz, I'm sure there are more teams out there who would be interested in him for those very reasons.

So you see? This is why the FO featuring Babs and Blanks must sell Lopez as an add-on and not a throw-in to a trade because he really does have value and it is higher than most would think. It'd be a failure if they are unable to get an upgrade in return.

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Now you may ask me, "Beavis, if the Suns don't think Lopez is worth the risk than why it would any other team think he is?".

Well, it's common logic. We all screw up at some point. Someone is going to get desperate and make a bad choice. Someone is going to gamble and lose out big time. If the Suns keep Lopez and he produces next year, someone is going to give him a contract they'll later regret. 

Now on the other hand, some teams might just be willing to take that risk and that's all good because they may need a center. Nothing wrong with that. It really just depends on how much cash they give him. You don't want to overpay for a young big with a history of injuries. So let's say Robin produces 8 and 5 next year, I wouldn't go out and give him a Gortat like contract.

The Phoenix Suns just don't need Robin Lopez. It'd be unnecessary for them to take that risk. They already have their guy in Gortat and they've got Frye. They need a Power-Forward. Guess what though? There are teams out there who do need centers, so why not use Robin as bait to get that PF? Sell him, just don't sell him low . 


Three teams face game 5s with 3-1 deficits today, and two of them will try to stay alive on the road as underdogs. Good luck to them, but I suspect the 76ers and Nuggets will have plenty of time to plan tropical vacations after tonight. I'd love to see the Grizzlies finish off the Spurs, but I have to think the Spurs have 1 more win in them.

Notes:

The folks at Pounding the Rock are defiant that the Spurs aren't finished yet.

Fans at Peninsula is Mightier figure the Heat will jump on the 76ers early and never look back.

Our old friend Dogburt at Welcome to Loud City is confident in a closeout win for the Thunder as well.

Keith Smart was let go as head coach of the Golden State Warriors today, after one season in which the team improved by 10 wins, from 26 in 09-10 to 36 this year. This story contains some supposed candidates to replace him. Also, for what it's worth, Ric Bucher threw out the name of Phil Jackson for the job on ESPN Radio this morning, as it seems a foregone conclusion Jackson will leave the Lakers after this season. Apparently, Jackson has family in the Bay Area. Feel free to give this crazy rumor more conversation than it deserves.

Tonight's Games:

Philadelphia at Miami, 4PM, TNT. Heat lead series 3-1

Memphis at San Antonio, 5:30PM NBATV. Grizzlies lead series 3-1

Denver at Oklahoma City, 6:30PM, TNT. Thunder lead series 3-1

GO!!


Three teams face game 5s with 3-1 deficits today, and two of them will try to stay alive on the road as underdogs. Good luck to them, but I suspect the 76ers and Nuggets will have plenty of time to plan tropical vacations after tonight. I'd love to see the Grizzlies finish off the Spurs, but I have to think the Spurs have 1 more win in them.

Notes:

The folks at Pounding the Rock are defiant that the Spurs aren't finished yet.

Fans at Peninsula is Mightier figure the Heat will jump on the 76ers early and never look back.

Our old friend Dogburt at Welcome to Loud City is confident in a closeout win for the Thunder as well.

Keith Smart was let go as head coach of the Golden State Warriors today, after one season in which the team improved by 10 wins, from 26 in 09-10 to 36 this year. This story contains some supposed candidates to replace him. Also, for what it's worth, Ric Bucher threw out the name of Phil Jackson for the job on ESPN Radio this morning, as it seems a foregone conclusion Jackson will leave the Lakers after this season. Apparently, Jackson has family in the Bay Area. Feel free to give this crazy rumor more conversation than it deserves.

Tonight's Games:

Philadelphia at Miami, 4PM, TNT. Heat lead series 3-1

Memphis at San Antonio, 5:30PM NBATV. Grizzlies lead series 3-1

Denver at Oklahoma City, 6:30PM, TNT. Thunder lead series 3-1

GO!!


We’ve looked at the good and the bad, and now it’s time for the meat and potatoes of what went wrong for the Phoenix Suns this past season. There were clearly no shortages of...

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In the span of one year, Robin Lopez went from emerging young stud center who was going to save the day by coming back from his injury to play in the WCF, to the player who was set to be Nash's primary pick and roll partner to help replace Amare Stoudemire's production, to erratic starter, to Marcin Gortat's backup and finally, to being bumped from the rotation in favor of undrafted rookie Garret Siler.

That type of fall is similar to what happened to the real estate market a few years ago. Down, down, down. You wonder if you've reached the bottom yet, don't want to sell low, and aren't sure if you should sell at all. Value's going to go back up at some point, right? Those same questions apply to Lopez. I'm here to tell you he bottomed out last year, and that this is no time to sell. Hold on to Robin and build him back up. It's the smartest move.

It all comes back to his back.

The elephant in the room is obviously Lopez' health. He was diagnosed with a bulging disc in his back in March, 2010 and the exact extent of his injury seems like it has been shrouded in mystery since. When he came back in game 1 of the WCF last year to score 14 points and gather 6 rebounds, then scored 20 in game 3, it looked like his problems might be behind him. Then he was held scoreless in the last two games of that series, and didn't quite look right from the start this season.

Head Coach Alvin Gentry acknowledges that Lopez lost some of his athleticism, specifically leaping ability, but sounded hopeful that he was regaining it. On some nights this past season, he looked fast and agile, other times slow and clumsy, and I don't think anyone knew which version we'd see from game to game. The official word from the team is that Lopez is healthy, and his struggles are primarily the result of non-health issues.

So, why the decline?

In his end of the season press conference, Gentry used the word "regressed" and the term "sophomore slump" (never mind that this was Lopez' 3rd season) to describe Lopez. He also noted that Lopez is only 23, and seemed willing to excuse some of his struggles as growing pains. I won't give a lot of statistics here, because they only confirm what you saw watching him play, but suffice it to say that Lopez' production fell sharply across the board.

From what I saw, it was a combination of physical and confidence struggles, and the absence of Amare Stoudemire that caused Lopez' disappointing season. He thrived playing next to an all-star PF in Stoudemire. When Stoudemire left as a free agent, not only did Lopez lose a teammate who drew defensive attention away from him, he also had a lot more responsibility put on him. Lopez was counted on to pick up a good deal of Amare's lost production, and he simply wasn't physically or mentally prepared to do it yet.

The Gortat factor

Watching Marcin Gortat develop into a strong starting center after he was acquired in December was one of the few positive developments of the season for the disappointing Suns. However, my theory is that his presence wasn't good for the development of Robin Lopez. When Gortat came to the Suns, many fans thought it would help Lopez by lighting a fire under him. But, Lopez didn't need a kick in the pants, he needed a calm voice in his ear reassuring and encouraging him. There wasn't a lack of competitive fire or effort, there was a lack of confidence that came from being in a position for which he wasn't ready because of his immaturity and lost athletic ability.

Where Lopez wasn't physically or mentally ready to be a dependable starter, Gortat was more than ready. He commented that he felt like he was in a cage backing up Dwight Howard in Orlando. And, where Lopez is a sensitive sort with fragile self-confidence, the 27-year old Gortat is full of bravado and aggressiveness. In hindsight, it isn't much of a surprise that Gortat took control of the center position but, as he did, Lopez seemed to retreat further and further into his shell. He needed to be stroked a little, and instead he had his replacement brought in. It must have felt like Gortat was a schoolyard bully who stole his lunch money on the playground.

Let me be clear. I'm not blaming Gortat at all. He did exactly what I'd expect and want him to do in seizing his opportunity, and I have never been shy about expressing my admiration for the Polish Hammer. This is only a theory, it can't be proved either way, but I feel like the presence and success of Gortat sunk Lopez' confidence even further based on his body language and continued decline late in the season.

What now?

After this year, which started with mammoth expectations, to be eventually unfulfilled, and ended with a disheartened player, frustrated coaches and fans ready to pull the plug on Lopez, what are we are left with? A 23-year old, 7-foot backup center who, despite what his injury cost him, still has some nice athleticism for a big man and comes at the bargain price of under $3M for next year. He struggled mightily, but also showed flashes of effective play. If I was another NBA front office, I'd be looking at Lopez as a potential low-risk reclamation project if the Suns have given up on him and I could get him for cheap. But, aren't the Suns in a position where a low-risk, young, talented reclamation project would be nice for us to have, too? And, hey look! We've got one! Why give him away for peanuts?

Of course, we should trade Lopez if he's a key piece in landing us the upgrade at PF or SG we need, but trade him for a non-premium draft pick, or an older player who is only a small upgrade (like we did with Goran Dragic)? No, thanks. Going into next season, Lopez won't have those heavy expectations weighing on him, and we can hope that his strength continues to improve. All we'll need from him will be to play 15-20 minutes a night as a backup center, and work on his consistency. There's no reason he can't be a starter again at some point. Most of his career is ahead of him, and he hasn't come close to peaking yet. From an organizational standpoint, continuing to give up on young players is no way to grow a winning team.

I'm sure a lot of fans hate the idea of seeing Lopez flail and fumble around for the Suns any more. But, you know what would be worse than that? Giving up on him after all the investment we've made, and then seeing him make plays like this for another team.


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