Thursday, February 07, 2008

Bewildered By The Suns: What the Shaq?!;
Why Are You Selling Your Draft Picks?!

My initial reaction to the Shaq trade was similar to the "What are the Suns thinking?!" sentiments expressed quite well by John Hollinger and Adrian Wojnarowski and many others around the web.

That is still my prevailing opinion overall. That said, my thoughts about Phoenix acquiring Shaq are similar to what I think about Dallas potentially giving up Devin Harris for Jason Kidd: I definitely think that these are bad deals for the long-term interests of the franchises, and probably not great for the short-term either, but in terms of just 2008 - with everything so completely wide-open - there is at least something in the back of my mind wondering if these Hall of Famers might be able turn back to clock one last time after being revitalized with a fresh start and a chance at being thrust back into championship contention out of nowhere.

As always, I enjoyed listening to Hubie's analysis of the deal during his appearance on the Mike Tirico Show on ESPN Radio. He went through the pros and cons of the deal for Phoenix - pointing out that the biggest question mark will be how Amare is able to match up with 4s in the Western Conference on the defensive end, and also noting that the team may have trouble adjusting to Shaq on offense because they are used to playing with the middle of the floor opened up.

But I thought he captured the potential upside of the deal for Phoenix pretty well right here:
    No one guy can still play Shaq one-on-one, if he's healthy, that's a big if. Because if he's healthy, and you've got to double-team him, OK, this changes everything now. This would be a great move. But the question: can he give you the 28-30 minutes at this pace?
That's the question on offense: has Phoenix acquired a player who can not only draw a double-team from the low post, but also has the ability to skillfully pass out of it to well-spaced shooters, cutters and penetrators?

And on defense, as much as they will miss Marion's versatility, will the addition of Shaq help them shore up their interior D, where they've gotten killed in the playoffs in recent years?

I am especially dubious about the defensive question, curious about the offensive one. In the end, all of the answers about how Phoenix fares during its Shaq years may come down to this one question: How healthy and motivated is Shaq?


In terms of the long-term impact on the Suns, I've touched on this before, but I don't really understand what Phoenix is doing, and think they are fixing to drive themselves off a cliff in the not-too-distant future.

Here are the ages and salaries of their players:
Nash - 33 - $11.4m
Hill - 35 - $1.8m
Shaq - 35 - $20m
Amare - 25 - $13.8m
Diaw - 25 - $9m
Barbosa - 25 - $5.6m
Raja - 31 - $4.8m
Skinner - 31 - $770k
Piatkowski - 37 - $1.2m
Marks - 32 - $770k
Strawberry - 22 - $427k
Tucker - 23 - $932k

It is an exceedingly thin roster, dependent on some guys with some serious injury histories. And a fairly old roster got even older, trading 29-year-old Marion for Shaq, who's about to be 36.

Owner Robert Sarver is committed to keeping his team under the luxury tax. That's fine, lots of teams are operating under that constraint, including the Spurs - hasn't stopped them from winning multiple championships.

I just don't understand why, if this is your m.o., you would want to sell off draft picks as Phoenix has done, instead of actually doing the opposite and maximizing rookie contracts, which are by far and away the best value contracts in the NBA.

It's actually somewhat remarkable to me that Phoenix has been able to stay in championship contention as they've gone into cost-cutting mode and shed guys like Kurt Thomas, their only solid interior defender. They certainly haven't done much to add to the roster, though they were fortunate to sign Grant Hill to a minimum contract.

Below are the guys that they've missed out on having on their roster by selling their recent draft picks. I think that Phoenix would be much better positioned to transition into the future and, although D'Antoni likes to keep his rotation tight, I also think these players could have possibly provided the extra push to get Phoenix over the top in 2008, esp. in terms of providing depth in case of injury.

2005 DRAFT - 21ST PICK ($1.27m in 2007-08)
Picked Nate Robinson, traded to New York
[Note: It gets worse. Commenter Meta points out below that this pick was acquired in a trade that sent the 7th pick in 2004 (Luol Deng) for the 21st in 2005, the 31st pick in 2004 (Jackson Vroman) and Bob Sarver's favorite: cash considerations.]

Take a look at the guys drafted 21-30
21. Nate Robinson
22. Jarrett Jack
23. Francisco Garcia
24. Luther Head
25. Johan Petro
26. Jason Maxiell
27. Linas Kleiza
28. Ian Mahinmi
29. Wayne Simien
30. David Lee

The Suns could have pulled one of these names out of a hat and the odds are they would have gotten a good prospect who fits their system and provided excellent value for the pick.

2006 DRAFT - 21ST ($1.37m), 27TH PICKS ($980k)
Picked Rajon Rondo, traded to Boston
Picked Sergio Rodriguez, traded to Portland

Phoenix has had trouble filling the role of backup point guard with someone who can effectively run the team (allowing Barbosa to stay in his one-man wrecking crew combo guard role), a role which will only get more vital as Steve Nash starts to creep into his late 30s. Marcus Banks was a bust at $4m/yr. and something of a travesty considering how many opportunities they've had to fill this role at ~$1m/yr. via the draft.

First, you had a few guys on the 2005 list above. Then, I'll grant you that Rondo probably doesn't fit with PHX because he's been a poor shooter, but perhaps Sergio would thrive playing for a Euro-minded, fast-breaking coach, with Nash as a mentor.

And beyond that, Marcus Williams (22), Kyle Lowry (24) and Jordan Farmar (26) were all available in this range in 2006 as well.

2007 DRAFT - 24TH, 29TH PICKS
Picked Rudy Fernandez, traded to Portland
Picked Alando Tucker, signed

The 24th pick in 2007 is the one that I think they'll regret more than any other down the road. Rudy Fernandez and Tiago Splitter (drafted 28th by the Spurs) are two international prospects with contract issues that made them not immediately available, and pushed down their draft stock. Both players are lottery talents.

I can't even express how well I think Rudy would fit in with D'Antoni and the Suns. The athletic 6-6 Spaniard loves to get out and run, the guy can fly, and he can shoot, too.

Splitter, a Brazilian playing in Spain, is an athletic big who's an active defender - I thought he was impressive at the FIBA Americas tournament last summer. I really think he'll help give the Spurs some much needed youth and athleticism at the 5 when he comes over, and think he would have been a really nice fit for Phoenix, too - he would have shored up their interior defense, and although he's not a terribly skilled offensive player, he could get out and run with the Suns and clean up with a few buckets on fast breaks and rebounds.

Either one of these guys would have been a nice addition for Phoenix in 2008-09 and into the future.

Of course, Phoenix has already traded its first-rounders in 2008 and 2010 to Seattle, so the beat will go on. Hopefully, for their sake, they'll be able to find more vets like Grant Hill who are willing to take minimum contracts, before Shaq's monstrous contract comes off the books in 2010.


At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank goodness I am not a Suns fan. Reading that list of missed opportunity draft picks is downright depressing. Giving up international players that they would not even have needed to bring over and pay right away is particularly mind boggling.

I actually think it goes beyond the money-saving issue. There are other ways to save money. More likely someone in the front office (D'Antoni?) philosophically does not believe in building through the draft, or does not want to bother to do the scouting and due diligence needed to make informed draft decisions.

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Luca said...

I totally agree. I think the Suns are focusing too much on the short term (this season and the next one) and in doing so destroying any chanche to be competitive for the next 6-7 years. I just don't get it. There's something wrong between the Owner, the GM and the Coach, not sure who's winning, but I feel D'Antoni could be out sooner then later.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger meta said...

You left out the best one:

In 2004 the Suns drafted and traded Luol Deng to the Bulls for peanuts. (

The team as it was constructed before the Marion debacle, in addition to Deng would be a hands-down favorite to win the title.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

Meta: Very good point. That pick they got did turn into the 21st pick in 2005, but still Luol Deng/7th pick for the 21st pick is a poor deal.

At 10:53 PM, Blogger John said...

Raptors/Spurs!!!! What a game it was!!!

Funny this is both Manu & Calderon will be missing the All-Star

At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I called it last year when they traded/gave away Thomas and the draft picks, and nothing they've done since has remotely changed my mind - that 2010 pick will be a lottery pick for the Sonics...

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