It doesn't make sense for the Suns to go into this off-season with Robin Lopez as a restricted free agent.

As if losing to the Raptors at home last night wasn't bad enough, Suns center Robin Lopez got himself ejected from the game in the second quarter due to another of his failures at temper control. It was a new low for Lopez in a season that had started so well for the Suns big man. He showed enthusiasm and commitment by showing up on the first day players were allowed back at team facilities as the lockout was ending, looking and sounding physically and mentally rejuvenated.

Lopez was so impressive in preseason that there was talk of competition at starting center between Lopez and Marcin Gortat, even though Gortat had clearly won the job down the stretch last season. Then Lopez took advantage of the opportunity provided by Gortat's injured thumb to score 22 points to go with 7 rebounds in the season opener against the Hornets. Despite a Suns loss, he was the team's player of the game.

Unfortunately, that game nearly a month ago was his finest moment of the season, by far. And now the Suns will not sign Lopez to an extension by today's deadline, making the 4th year player a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

In the Suns' current situation, the lame duck status of their backup center doesn't make sense for either party. It's time to aggressively shop Robin Lopez and trade him for the best available return before March 15th's trade deadline.

It's not surprising that neither the Suns nor Lopez are all that interested in a deal right now. The Suns' primary focus has been to avoid salary commitments after this season, in hopes of a major push in July's free agent market. Lopez is a former starter and talented player who finds himself in a position where he has virtually no chance to start given the emergence of Gortat. The Suns don't want to invest too much in a backup, Lopez must think he's capable of being more than a backup; there's no deal to be made. (More on the rules of restricted free agency in the NBA can be found here.)

Of course, come July it's unlikely that this dynamic changes any. Centers are at a premium in the NBA, especially young and athletic ones, and it's a virtual certainty another team will offer Lopez more than the Suns are willing to pay a backup. The Suns also figure to have several irons in the fire this July, looking for talent at shooting guard, small forward and power forward, at least. If Steve Nash decides to sign elsewhere or retire, the Suns will be in for a complete roster makeover and the only starting position that will be relatively set will be Gortat at center.

In short, the Suns will have a long to-do list this off-season and re-signing Lopez to back up Gortat will be a very low priority.

What kind of offers can Lopez expect to see? In one example, the Warriors signed Kwame Brown to a 1 yr/$7M contract this past off-season. You don't think Lopez could command a salary in that neighborhood, or a longer-term one? And if so, why would it make any sense for the Suns to match the offer? If they didn't, Lopez would walk and the Suns would get nothing in return. Trading him now would at least net some return, minor though it might be.

Most importantly, Lopez hasn't done anything this season to warrant the Suns keeping him. Sure, he looks healthier and has regained much of his lost athleticism, but that isn't helping his production any. Let's look at his career stats:

2008-09 20 PHO NBA 60 7 10.2 1.2 2.3 .518 0.0 0.0 .000 0.8 1.1 .691 0.9 1.1 2.0 0.1 0.2 0.7 0.5 1.6 3.2
2009-10 21 PHO NBA 51 31 19.3 3.4 5.7 .588 0.0 0.0 1.7 2.5 .704 2.0 2.8 4.9 0.1 0.2 1.0 0.8 2.3 8.4
2010-11 22 PHO NBA 67 56 14.8 2.7 5.3 .501 0.0 0.0 1.1 1.5 .740 1.2 2.0 3.2 0.1 0.3 0.7 0.7 2.1 6.4
2011-12 23 PHO NBA 17 0 14.2 1.6 3.5 .475 0.0 0.0 1.5 2.1 .743 1.1 2.2 3.3 0.4 0.1 0.6 0.8 2.5 4.8
Career NBA 195 94 14.5 2.3 4.3 .532 0.0 0.0 .000 1.2 1.7 .716 1.3 2.0 3.3 0.1 0.2 0.8 0.7 2.0 5.8
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 1/25/2012.

Through 17 games, he's actually producing even less in nearly identical minutes per game than last year, shooting less often and less efficiently. The one stretch of his career that gave the Suns a glimpse of what a playing-to-full-potential Lopez can do started about 2 years ago and lasted only about 2 months. Are we to hang on to that and ignore the rest of his 3+ year career? No, of course not. Lopez has had his opportunities and he hasn't succeeded at anything close to an acceptable level of consistency. Time to part ways.

None of us truly know what other NBA front offices would be wiling to give up for Lopez. A first-rounder would be great, a second-rounder would be a little tough to swallow but probably tolerable. Or the Suns might be able to pick up another low-priced contributing player, or dump a salary on a trade partner. None of those options are too exciting, but much better than the option to hold Lopez now and watch him walk for nothing in July.


Epilogue: The NBA's Circle of Life

Robin Lopez was selected by the Suns with the 15th pick of the 2008 draft, a pick acquired from the Atlanta Hawks along with Boris Diaw and the 21st pick in the 2006 draft (used to select Rajon Rondo, who was immediately traded to the Celtics) in exchange for Joe Johnson in an August, 2005 trade.

Johnson had been acquired by the Suns in a February, 2002 trade with the Celtics, along with Randy Brown, Milt Palacio and the 2002 #22 pick (used by the Suns to select Casey Jacobsen) in exchange for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk.

Rogers had signed with the Suns as a free agent during the 1999 off-season and had a nice career as a role player in Phoenix, including winning Sixth Man of the Year in 2000 while making 44% of his 3s that season, 4th best in the league.

Delk was a Suns free agent signing before the 2000-2001 season and became a solid contributor as well, averaging double figure scoring as a guard backing up Jason Kidd. He scored 53 points in a game at Sacramento on January 2, 2001.

So, this asset of Robin Lopez originated with two shrewd free agent signings, one in 1999 and one in 2000. Soon we'll find out who, if anyone, is the next link in this chain.

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PHOENIX — Much has changed about the Phoenix Suns since Steve Nash signed as a free agent before the 2004-05 season yet one constant had remained: the Suns always beat the Toronto Raptors. Not...

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Oh LB! Why did you have to do that post-game interview?!?!? (AP Photo/Matt York)

It was such a promising start. The Phoenix Suns had a 14-point lead against a road-weary team that had lost 8 consecutive games in the NBA and 14 consecutive games to the Suns since 2004.

Sounds good, right? Wrong. The Suns suddenly decided they were tired. Tired from a 5-game road trip that ended less than 24 hours earlier. Tired from playing against tough teams in the Eastern Conference on their turf. Tired from ending the trip against a tough Dallas team with Shawn Marion hitting big 3s.

The Suns made a late charge, pulling within 2 points with 22 seconds left, but it wasn't quite enough after the horrible second and third quarters. With Frye and Morris playing terribly, and Lopez ejected, the Suns had to play Hakim Warrick and Grant Hill at the 4 throughout the run. Not a good combination down low, no matter how lame the Raptors rebounding is.

At the end, the Suns just didn't have the juice, losing 99-96. At home. Against a bad team. Ugh.

Read on, if you have an ounce of nostalgia in your soul...

For the Raptors, their big producers were Andrea Bargnani (36 points, 6 rebounds, and a big hit on Grant Hill to knock him out of the game) and Leandro Barbosa (19 points including 3 big 3-pointers to cut the first-half deficit, 2 rebounds, a steal and a block).

LB after the game, on Suns Live, saying what he misses the most about Phoenix:

(after a long pause) "The fans was really great for me, man. The fans was unbelievable, and I miss that. It was 7 years here, and 7 great years for me in my life and my career and I can't forget about that. And definitely my teammates, and the organization too that helped me, you know, to be where I am right now, so I... I miss... I miss a lot in Phoenix." (LB looked like he was about to choke up at this point as Mark McClune wrapped it up and wished him well with his new teammates)

Sniff...(grabs kleenex)...(checks the internets to confirm, yes, Barbosa is an unrestricted free agent this summer...)

Anyway, excuse me, I digress.

Back to the game recap!

This was a night for young legs, and the Suns' young guys failed to show up

  • Robin Lopez ejected after 4 minutes of play, with the Suns up 14 points.
  • Markieff Morris' 16 minutes produced only 1 rebound and 4 points
  • Shannon Brown's 16 minutes produced only 7 points and 0 rebounds or assists
  • Sebastian Telfair missed 4 of his 5 shots
How about the "kinda young" legs?
  • Dudley did NOTHING until the last 37 seconds, hitting his only shot to pull the Suns within 4
  • Frye did NOTHING with only 3 points and 3 rebounds all night
  • Hakim Warrick did okay on 17 points and 4 rebounds. But the Suns played poor defense with him on the court
So who did well? The OLD guy, of course
  • Steve Nash with nearly a triple-double - 17, 14 and 7 rebounds
Gentry had this to say about Lopez' ejection:

Robin Lopez Ejected For Bumping Ref; Suns Not Offering Extension - SB Nation Arizona
Instead of backing Lopez or giving a neutral response when asked what happened during the game, Gentry said: "I don't know. I don't really give a shit to tell the truth. You have to talk to him about that."

Those were not the words of a supportive coach. Lopez was unavailable to the media after the game.

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Bring it in the second half, Suns!

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