To Steve Kerr: How to Not Screw up the Suns

Based on the title, you might think that this post will be about the past, as in the past trades made by Suns’ GM Steve Kerr. Actually it is not. I am following advice from Kerr himself and not looking back, but forward. This post is about what the Suns should do in the offseason.

However, I will regress just set the scene. After last year’s playoff series loss to the Spurs, I wrote an email to Kerr using the Suns’ website contact page. I begged him to keep the team together and keep Mike D’Antoni as coach. I pleaded that the future of the team was with a starting front line of Shaq, Amare Stoudemire, and Boris Diaw as Triple Towers.

Obviously, Mr. Kerr never bothered reading my email. And that brings us to this post. If any of you out there are reading this article, it would be at least one more person than who read my last message to Kerr. I’m getting at least a 100 percent improvement on this one.

Mathematically, yes, the Suns can still make the postseason. Practically speaking, last night’s loss to the Mavericks has eliminated to Suns from the playoff race. Honestly, the Suns have actually played pretty well throughout this current five game losing skid. Yet, it is painfully clear that the loss of Stoudemire has been cataclysmic as far as registering wins versus losses. The Suns need to continue to finish out the season with pride, play hard, and try to win as many games as possible. It will set the tone for the future.

First and foremost, let’s forget about the concept of “blowing up the team” and starting over. In order to dismantle a team, first there must have been a stable roster to begin with. The Suns have already been blown up. Only three players remain from that magical 2004-05 season: Stoudemire, Steve Nash, and Leandro Barbosa. Only six remain from last year: Stoudemire, Nash, Barbosa, Shaq, Grant Hill, and Alando Tucker. Even more turnover will only ensure a further downward spiral. Instead, Suns management should keep this current team together for one more shot at glory.

Despite his defensive weaknesses and despite his personality flaws, Stoudemire is one of the best scorers in the game. Most importantly, he is a finisher, a closer, someone you can give the ball to at critical moments of a game to make something happen. There are only a few players who fit that description, and none would be available to the Suns via a trade or free agency for next year. Kobe? LeBron? Pierce? Wade? Duncan? Not a chance.

How about trading Stoudemire for a lottery pick? Terrible option. No one in his right mind would bet the future on the 2009 draft lottery, one that is best described as “weak”. By keeping Stoudemire, the Suns hold on to a sliver of hope for a championship. By trading him, there will be no hope at all.

The Suns should also keep Nash and Shaq. Both have contracts that currently go no further than next season, clearing substantial salary cap space for two seasons from now. Nash is another closer and is still popular with the fans. And with the return the to uptempo offense, his stats are falling in line with the previous four seasons. From a basketball perspective, the Suns are also better off keeping Shaq. In the last 12 games, the team has proven it can run with Shaq in the lineup. Throw in a healthy Stoudemire and instead of being 6-7 under Alvin Gentry, the Suns could be 10-3 or even 11-2.

Ultimately, my advice to Steve Kerr is to do the most difficult thing of all: make no major changes. The team’s three best players should remain as well as most of the other players under contract: Barbosa, Lou Amundson, Jared Dudley, Robin Lopez, Tucker, and Goran Dragic. Given his productivity, Barbosa is a bargain at $6.6M per season. As a 12th man free agent signee last offseason, Amundson is an absolute steal. Dudley is a contributor. Lopez is a mobile big guy with potential. Tucker has a great locker room/practice court presence and an affordable contract. Dragic may or may not succeed but he would be too expensive to get rid of at this point.

The one player who the Suns should consider trading is Jason Richardson. The general rule is that any guard who gets paid more than $10M per season must have the ability to dominate the ball when needed and win games for his team. At an average of $13.3M per season for three seasons, Richardson has proven to be greatly overpaid. He is a tremendous athlete who can score in big bunches. Yet, despite all his abilities he cannot take over a game and lead his team to victory. The Suns’ acquisition of Richardson seemed to make sense at the time. And like many, I was in favor of it when it happened. But after 40 games, I admit that my analysis was off the mark. It will be difficult to move Richardson who still has a big multi-year contract. The Suns would not be able to get comparable talent in return. However in terms of needs, the Suns could really use a dependable power forward or center. Using Richardson as trade bait to fill a need could have tremendous benefits for the Suns.

As mentioned in my previous post, based on current contracts, 2010-11 is guaranteed to bring dramatic changes to the Suns’ roster. Like virtually every other team in the NBA, 2010-11 is the season Suns management needs to target for any overhauling plans. The free agent class is a who’s who of superstars. Therefore, the Suns need to keep the current team mostly intact for one more season not only because there is a slim chance that they can go deep in the playoffs next year, but also because any dramatic moves now might eliminate much bigger possibilities in two seasons. A knee jerk reaction by Kerr this offseason could destroy any hopes for this franchise for many years to come.

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