PHOENIX — Recently, the Phoenix Suns have turned in drastically different ball games against very different teams. Just last week they’ve blown out the Los Angeles Lakers at home, then...

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If I simply post a poll asking for knee-jerk reactions to this idea of the Phoenix Suns signing Andrew Bynum this summer, I am pretty sure the results will be the same as if I spent six hours researching and writing an impassioned article about it.

So I'm going to split the difference.

The sitch

Bynum will be an unrestricted free agent this summer after being traded to Philadelphia last offseason in the Dwight Howard trade. He has not played a single game all year while recovering from knee issues, and just last week had season-ending surgery to clean up both knees.

The statistical history

Andrew Bynum is a huge man. Clean 7'0", 285 pounds and arms so long they might just touch his kneecaps without bending at the waist. He is a major presence defensively and on the glass, and his ability to catch-and-flush on offense without dropping the ball below his head is quite remarkable.

The stats don't tell the whole story on Bynum. He is a major force, a top-3 NBA player at his position and a likely All-Star in any season he's healthy.

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The injuries

Only once has Andrew Bynum made it through an entire NBA season without missing a game due to injury, and that was six years ago.

Last year was his second-most healthy season, playing 60 of 66 games and making the All-Star team in the West.

The big injury is this year, and it's made Philly a little frustrated.

The cost

Here is the problem. While every NBA team would love to offer Bynum a make-good contract that doesn't guarantee much money, the trick will be to outbid the next-closest team in a league full of owners that want to outbid each other.

Someone will likely offer Bynum a max guaranteed contract, which would start at $16.4 million and could be as long as 4 years with 4.5% raises.

The only team that could offer the 5th year is Philadelphia, but I am skeptical that they would offer a full-guaranteed contract for five seasons to Bynum. With the new CBA, that's less than Amare got three years ago.

But let's speculate for a bit here. Bynum will likely be un-insurable for his knee issues, same as Amare was. Let's guess that no team will offer the max.

Here's what a team CAN do to lower it's guarantees:

  • Offer some of the $16 million a year as "un-likely" incentives. "Unlikely" incentives (a) do not count against the cap and (b) only get paid if the player reaches that goal. This gets tricky. "Likely" is anything the player has done recently. "Unlikely" is something he has not done recently. Unlikely bonuses can only be 15% of the player's salary in any one year.
  • Make year 4 a team option (each contract can only have 1 option year on a vet contract). This would make the commitment shorter if the team were ready to cut ties after three seasons.

Here's what a team CANNOT do to lower it's guarantees:

  • the team cannot make year 1 or 2 a team option; the option can only be the last year of the contract.
  • the team cannot offer a big bonus over and above the max salary in any one season
  • the team cannot offer a mutual option (both have right to terminate)
  • the team cannot have more than one option year

In the end, all it takes is one max, guaranteed offer to trump all these shenanigans.

Should the Suns outbid their brethren to get their All-Star caliber player? Should the Suns be the team that offers the fully-guaranteed contract?

Poll
Would you give Andrew Bynum a 4-year max contract to be the Suns next All-Star?

  394 votes | Results

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1. Goran Dragic

Weekly Average: 13 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals in 35 minutes of play

At times, it appears Dragic is the only player that's still really trying to win games. There are other players who give a consistent effort, but none like Goran who still seems mentally and emotionally invested in this team and this season.

2. Luis Scola

Weekly Average: 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assist in 27 minutes of play

Has someone told Luis yet that this team isn't making the playoffs? While the majority of the team is already mentally in off-season mode, Luis is playing some of his best basketball of the year. Scola put on a show against Dwight Howard in the 4th quarter holding him to zero points while scoring all 14 of his points and carrying the Suns to a huge win. I gave Dragic a small edge for his overall play this week, but Luis was right there with him.

3. P.J. Tucker

Weekly Average: 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist in 26 minutes of play

Tucker has not only continued to play hard and give his all on defense, he also found a way to contribute offensively this week and really stepped up his rebounding as well. Tucker is another player who continues to give his all regardless of the standings or score of the game.

4. Wesley Johnson

Weekly Average: 13 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal in 32 minutes of play

Wes played fairly well this week overall, but had a horrible game against the T-Wolves shooting just 2/12 and registering just 7 points in 22 minutes of play. However, it wasn't like he didn't try...He had a lot of good shots and even nice drives to the basket that just rimmed out...It was just one of those games. All in all, Wes had an ok week, but compared to the rest of the team, he was pretty good.

5. Jermaine O'Neal:

Weekly Average: 9 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 1 assist in 22.5 minutes of play

Jermaine O'Neal only played two games this week after injuring his calf against the Wizards, but he has been one of the few bright spots of this team when he's been on the court.

6. Jared Dudley

Weekly Average: 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 steal in 20 minutes of play

Dudley had a good game against the Lakers before developing flu-like symptoms that rendered him ineffective against the Wizards and kept him out of the T-Wolves game altogether. Dudley is another one of the players on this roster still trying to compete, and when he's not playing there is a noticeable difference in the quality of play.

7. Hamed Haddadi

Weekly Average: 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block in 13 minutes of play

Haddadi is what he is, a very big body in the post who can give you quality backup minutes with a few points and rebounds. There's nothing flashy about Hamed, but he's been a welcome addition to the team and is helping out when given the opportunity.

8. Kendall Marshall

Weekly Average: 5 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds in 16 minutes of play

Marshall had his best game of the season when the Suns needed it most going 4/6 from the field and scoring 11 points vs. the Lakers, while managing to dish 5 assists and grab 5 rebounds as well. However, he was a non-factor against the Wizards and not great against the T-wolves, but I'm more inclined to chalk up his ups and downs to being a rookie rather than a lack of effort.

9. Markieff Morris

Weekly Average: 5 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal in 18 minutes of play

Markieff had a bad week. On one hand, his 9 points and 8 rebounds against the Lakers was a solid contribution that helped the Suns pull of the win, but his zero effort against the Wizards earned him a calling-out by head coach Lindsey Hunter on the post game press conference...not a good sign. Keef responded with an ok showing against the T-Wolves going 3/6 from the field for 7 points while grabbing 4 rebounds in 20 minutes, but it's not a good omen when the head coach is openly criticizing our second-year player for his effort and heart.

10. Michael Beasley

Weekly Average: 8 points, 4 rebounds in 16 minutes of play

Beasley was flat out awful over the first two games of the week, going 6/18 from the field and playing with no intensity whatsoever on defense. After Hunter benched him for the second half against the Wizards, Beasley responded with at least a decent offensive showing against Minnesota, scoring 11 points on 5/9 shooting. But still, his defense remained poor and it seems like he is just going through the motions out there like more than half of the other players.


So there you have it. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments below!

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At some point, this had to happen. When your beloved stars get old and/or injured together, a team's front office has to decide whether to ride them into the sunset or to cut them loose (with or without ceremony).

In the case of the Phoenix Suns, Steve Nash and Grant Hill (and Amare Stoudemire before that), the team went with the former. Nash and Hill did not want to go anywhere, and no one in the league was willing to give up comparable value in exchange for them anyway. So they decided to let Nash and Hill's contracts expire before starting over completely.

Year One of Rebuilding?

"I would argue we were letting the Nash-Hill era run its full course and now have started anew," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby says.

The Suns entered last summer with only a handful of middling contracts on the books and a boatload of cap space to spend on free agents. But the market lacked stars. And with the near-misses on playoff appearances, the draft wasn't going to yield a star either.

They played it safe, signed short contracts and tried to catch lightning in a bottle with a young free agent or two, but mainly they acquired draft picks to start their rebuild in earnest. In fact, the Suns now play their youngest rotation since 2005 and have 6 first-round picks coming in the next three years.

Well all was said and done, they replaced 9 of the 13 guys on the roster before opening night. And have replaced two more since then. A true upheaval.

Midseason, after a 13-28 start punctuated by playing the oldest guys on the roster, the team and coach decided to go their separate ways.

At this point, the rebuild was truly on.

Or is it Year Three of Rebuilding?

Others would argue the rebuild began the moment the Suns entered playoff-less purgatory, which would be three years ago in 2010 when Amare Stoudemire left the only team he had ever known for $100 million guaranteed by the Big Apple.

Suns fans loved Amare and the team loved him. They gave him a max contract the moment they were allowed to, in the summer of 2005, mere weeks before he went down for microfracture surgery and missed a whole year of basketball. Then they offered another in the summer of 2010, but this time only guaranteed $75 million of $96 million. All he had to do was play a bit over half the available minutes over the first four years to guarantee the other $20 million.

Since then, the Phoenix Suns have been a shadow of themselves. Nash got older and no new stars were acquired to replace the ones lost in Amare, Marion and others.

The Suns put up "a good fight", played an old rotation (29.6 years old in 2011, 29.2 years old in 2012) and came up just short of the playoffs twice while Nash and Hill's contracts ran out.

Did the Suns start rebuilding in 2010? Or did they just try to stay competitive for a while longer than, in hindsight, was justified?

If the Suns had squeaked into the playoffs in either of those years, would this even be a discussion?

Youth Movement?

The playing rotation a year ago was, collectively, 29.2 years old. I calculated this number by multiplying each rotation player's age by the minutes they played in March 2012. Every minute of March 2012 was played by a 5-man unit that was about 29 years old.

To put this into perspective, the median "age" of all NBA playing rotations in March 2013 is 26.1 years old. Last year's Suns were three years older than this, yet could not make the playoffs. To make the comparison even worse, the median age of all lottery team rotations this March is 25.1 years old.

This spring's Suns rotation is right at the median - 26.1 years old. They are playing some older guys - O'Neal is 34 and Scola is 32 - to bring that "age" up, but otherwise most of the players are young. Dragic, Beasley, Johnson, the Morri, Marshall and Garrett are all at or under that median age.

Still, a 26-year-old rotation is not actually that young.

Houston and Cleveland's playing rotation this March is only 24.4 years old. Charlotte's is the league's youngest at 23.5. The only other lottery (non-playoff) team with an older playing rotation than the Suns this March is Dallas (a whopping 29.6 years old, same as the Suns in 2011).

But the Suns ARE younger than they have been in eight years.

And you can expect next year's team to be even younger than this one. Next year, the Suns will likely replace three "older" rotation players with rookies in their late teens or early 20s.

But the problem with playing a team full of young guys is that you have no one to lead them by example. No one to set the bar high on concentration and performance on a consistent, night-in night-out basis.

"It really changes from week to week, from game to game," Babby said. "Even within a game there are good stretches and bad stretches. We were up 5 in Houston and then Goran gets his third foul and we give up a 20-2 run. We don't know how to steady that, how to stop it. It's from playing a lot of young guys."

The Suns have a couple of veterans who work extremely hard, but they are either not the best off-court leaders or they are not talented enough to show the young guys that hard work pays off in game-winners and All-Star berths.

While the Suns wait until summer to continue the rebuild, what can they accomplish in these final weeks of a lost season?

"Still looking for progress - the same as it's been," Babby says. "We are looking for consistent effort from the young guys. We watch practice and see how they carry themselves and looking for focus and consistency there as well as during the games."

Next year promises to be a tough year as well. As you get younger, the wins are harder to come by. In fact, the only NBA teams with a playing rotation younger than 26 who are projected to make the playoffs this season are Houston, Golden State and Indiana. The other 13 playoff-projected teams are much older, with a median age of 28.1 years old.

But next year is a huge unknown.

Lon Babby's contract runs through the end of July 2013. GM Lance Blanks' contract runs through 2014. Managing Partner Robert Sarver has let people go short of their contract many times, so that doesn't mean these guys stay in their positions.

But if Sarver believes this is Year 1 of a solid rebuilding plan that includes 10 draft picks in the next three years and no albatross contracts, he just might let it ride.

The front office has made more good decisions than bad ones when you look at each transaction individually. All of their draft picks are defensible, and were generally graded well by pundits (see Seth's article on this topic here). It's just that when you're picking at 13, 14, 15 each season it's hard to find that next star.

Most of their trades and signings have been okay. A few have been busts, to be sure. But they were all "safe" low risk/reward efforts.

But this group has done nothing spectacular, and Suns fans are tired of waiting for that to happen. We are patient, as long as it doesn't take too long. Stars have all disappeared and no new ones are coming down the pike.

Fans are frustrated. Players are frustrated. The front office is frustrated.

To a Suns fan, the future looks bleak. Bleaker than ever. The Sun appears to have set.

As for Babby, he's just taking it one day at a time until he and Sarver have that conversation about contract extensions after the season ends in April.

"I have made some notes in a journal that I keep," he says. "So that when I sit down with Robert I'm not going on what happened that day, but on what happened all along. And hopefully Robert will do the same."

Looking at it from a big-picture point of view is tough to do sometimes, especially when you're riding the roller coaster of wins and losses throughout the season.

"Keeping emotions in check from game to game," Babby says of the toughest aspect of his job. "Not getting too high or too low. That's been tough and something I will have to learn."

PHOENIX – Twice in a row have the Phoenix Suns lost – no, gotten walloped – by teams draggling like torn nets on the bottom of the NBA’s riverbed. After they made a respectable score out of a...

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