Suns have cap space, but weak free-agent class, plan for patience make an instant fix appear unlikely.
By THE SPORTS XCHANGEFS Arizona
Suns fans have suffered through three lottery seasons in the last four years waiting for the team to have the cap space to sign a free agent to replace the departed Amar'e Stoudemire.
But in his state-of-the-team address at the end of the season, director of operations Lon Babby made it clear that the Suns are in no rush to exercise their new flexibility. That means the team might be patient, make its No. 13 selection in the draft and continue to try to scratch and claw its way into the playoffs.
For a fan base that has seen its team go to the Western Conference final three times in the last seven years, that's not a comfortable prospect. It will be seen more as another penny-pinching move by owner Robert Sarver than a smart move from an organization that wants to rebuild the right way.
"We worked hard to put ourselves in this position, to have this kind of flexibility, to have a range of opportunities," Babby said, "but I am absolutely determined that we are going to be disciplined in how we approach this, because we cannot get ourselves right back in the same spot that we were in by doing bad contracts, not assessing value properly, not making the right choices in terms of personnel."
The Suns wasted their money trying to quickly replace Stoudemire with the likes of Josh Childress, Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick -- all with disastrous results -- and don't want to make those mistakes again, especially with this year's free-agent pool looking particularly shallow. But they haven't drafted well enough to build, and trades like Goran Dragic and a draft pick for Aaron Brooks aren't going to get it done, either.
The Suns needs scorers. They need defense. They need athletes. And if Steve Nash leaves, they'll need a point guard and a leader. That doesn't sound much like a playoff team, let alone a contender.
With no valuable pieces to deal and no real young stars to build around, the Suns' direction moving forward isn't clear -- except to Babby.
-- Sebastian Telfair came into the season fighting Ronnie Price and Zabian Dowdell for a roster spot as the backup point guard but ended it as a solid member of the rotation and a player the Suns are high on.
Telfair is under contract next season at a nice number ($1.57 million), and Price will be headed elsewhere as a free agent. The question is what the Suns will do with Aaron Brooks, who spent last year overseas and is the only remaining chip from the ill-fated Goran Dragic trade in 2010. Of course, the situation remains in flux while Steve Nash contemplates his future.
-- Markieff Morris had a strong beginning and end to the season but struggled mightily in between. Director of operations Lon Babby called Morris "an excellent choice not only where we picked him but for what we needed."
Babby added, "He gave us a measure of toughness. It was a very successful pick. He has a heck of a lot of work to do this summer. When you factor in that he didn't have a training camp or a summer league, he had a really fine first season. He had inconsistencies and then hit a gully there for a while but pulled himself back out of it."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"As the pressure builds to do something, you get teams to make some very bad decisions, and we're not going to do that. I'm not going to sell false hope. We're going to move forward and we're going to build this thing brick by brick." -- Lon Babby, Suns president of basketball operations.
-- F Josh Childress did something this season that is very hard to do: He played 491 minutes over 34 games without making a free throw, setting an NBA record for the most time on the floor without making a single shot from the line. To be fair, Childress got to the line only once all season, missing his two tries against New Orleans on Feb. 1.
-- G Steve Nash's future with the Suns is still unclear, but his future with the Canadian Olympic team is secure, as Nash was recently named the general manager of Team Canada. Nash played for Canada in 2000 and 2004, with the team never finishing higher than seventh (2000), but will be looking to guide the 2012 team to a better finish, although he will not take the floor.
-- F Grant Hill and Steve Nash are close friends but aren't a package deal. Babby seems confident that even if Nash leaves for free agency, the Suns would remain a good option for Hill, who finished the season unable to recover from arthroscopic knee surgery but has committed to playing next season at age 40.