Suns Roster 2009: Drops

Now that the season is over, we should waste no time in thinking about the future of the Phoenix Suns. After all, the team finished the season on a high note and even with all the uncertainty facing the team in the offseason, there are many positive developments that fans can take away from 2008-09.

First and foremost is that the Suns have found a coach. Alvin Gentry still has the term, “interim” next his title, but the Suns would be foolish not to renew Gentry for the coming season and beyond. He has stabilized the team and the players are responding to his coaching. Furthermore, even with a key injury to Amare Stoudemire, Gentry’s win percentage as Suns head coach (18-13, .581) is better than his predecessor’s (28-23, .549).

The Suns are also fun to watch again. Sure, the run-and-gun offense has its critics, but no one can deny that the last 31 games of the season have been enjoyable even with all the ups and downs.

Finally, for the first time in years, the Suns appear to have an effective bench comprised of young players who have gone through noticeable development. Give credit to Gentry for putting his interim job on the line. He trusted unproven talent that many had given up on. The emergence of Jared Dudley, Goran Dragic, and Robin Lopez is proof of the masterful job Gentry has done in not only giving the new guys meaningful court time but also instilling confidence in his players.

Over a series of three posts, we are going to examine the Suns current roster and predict, or perhaps wish, which players will not be returning, are in limbo, and will definitely return. Today’s article focuses on who will be dropped by the Suns.

“Dropped” is perhaps an inaccurate term. As you will see, it is not as simple as dropping a player when guaranteed contracts are involved.

Stromile Swift
(’08-’09 salary: $380,612, ’09-’10 salary/status: Free agent)
Appearing in 13 games for the Suns, Swift has not shown much to warrant his return for next season. His best game was a 10 point, 12 rebound, 1 blocked shot game in a win over the depleted Washington Wizards. He also had 12 points and 6 rebounds in a blowout loss to Portland. The rest of his appearances offered little excitement. What stands out most to me is that even as a 9-year NBA veteran, Swift is not a fluid offensive player. For a team that routinely puts up 120 points this is a problem especially since Swift is not an in-the-trenches, hustle-play type of player. His best asset is his size. For a team severely lacking in size, the only way Swift can possibly return to the Suns is if Stoudemire cannot come back from his eye injury, or the Suns cannot draft or sign a free agent big man.

Shaquille O’Neal
(’08-’09 salary: $20,000,000, ’09-’10 salary/status: $20,000,000)
As much as I have advocated keeping Shaq, I will concede that he will be gone before the beginning of next season. Even coming off a great revival season, there are two things about Shaq that the Suns front office cannot stand: his huge contract and his lack of mobility on defense. And if there are two common themes that have characterized the Robert Sarver/Steve Kerr era, it is the tunnel-vision quest to cut payroll and the holy grail search for a better defense.

The Suns will shop very hard to trade Shaq. However, it’s his $20M price tag that will make it difficult for the Suns front office to find an offer they can live with. But as the saying goes, desperate people do desperate things. And I don’t see the Suns hesitating very long in lowering their expectations to get a deal done.

So there you have it. Only 2 players out of the current 13 will definitely not be back next season. This is somewhat surprising given the amount of personnel changes the Suns have made recently. For a team that for so long talked about being committed to “keeping its core intact” the Suns have had considerable turnover.

When you think of names like Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Raja Bell, and Boris Diaw you probably believe they are core players, and yet they are all gone. And when you add to this list the departed role players who made an impact such as Quentin Richardson, Eddie House, James Jones, Kurt Thomas, and Tim Thomas, you come to realize that the Suns have constantly been in transition even when they were averaging 58 wins from 2004 to 2008.

I am not advocating that the Suns should have kept anyone specific from the above list of players. But what is obvious is that there is a pattern of the Suns making annual major roster changes. This pattern must be broken for the Suns to establish stability and focus on getting better as a team.

The next article in this three-part series will focus on players who equally may or may not be back with the Suns next season.

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