Suns Roster 2009: Maybes

It is interesting that since Suns GM Steve Kerr publicly criticized the team’s big men for their lack of pick-and-roll defense, many fans have been jumping on the bandwagon stating that the Suns need to trade Shaquille O’Neal for a center “who plays defense.” This is absurd.

Shaq has limited lateral mobility because of his size. As a result, he cannot defend the pick-and-roll like a skinnier player such as Kevin Garnett. However, Shaq is a good defender in the post. To suggest that Shaq doesn’t play defense is missing the point. There are very few centers who can defend both the post and the pick-and-roll well. Dwight Howard can. Yao Ming cannot. But I don’t see calls coming out of Houston demanding that Yao be traded for the likes of Ben Wallace or Erick Dampier.

Kerr has decided that he wants to build the Suns defense around defending the pick-and-roll. Never mind the fact that prior to Shaq coming to town, the Suns were so weak at defending the post, that pundits said the Suns will never win a championship unless they find a good post defender.

You know, “Back to the Future” worked for Michael J. Fox, so maybe it will also work for Steve Kerr. And as I mentioned in my last post, I believe Shaq will be traded in the offseason because of it. It would be a big mistake, but nevertheless I see it happening.

So if Shaq will be gone, who else might be? The rest of this post focuses on players who may or may not be back with the Suns next season.

Matt Barnes
(’08-’09 salary: $1,200,000, ’09-’10 salary/status: Free agent)
The one certainty for the Suns this offseason is that majority owner Robert Sarver will not increase payroll. If anything, payroll will be reduced. This puts Barnes in limbo.

Let’s not forget that the emergence of Jared Dudley at small forward and Louis Amundson at power forward have given the Suns depth at the two positions Barnes plays. This leaves Barnes with two options: accept a minimum contract again with the Suns or look for a raise with a different team.

Time will tell which option pans out.

Grant Hill
(’08-’09 salary: $1,976,400, ’09-’10 salary/status: Free agent)
After playing all 82 games in a season for the first time in his career this season, Grant Hill wants to come back for ’09-’10. He would probably be willing to sign for the minimum as he did two seasons ago.

However, there is a caveat. If the Suns dump their best players and replace them with scrubs, rookies, and washed up veterans, then Hill will likely not want to come back. He won’t want to play for a team locked in to reaching the lottery for the second year in a row. (By the way, as mentioned previously, the Suns traded an unprotected 2010 first round pick to the Thunder.)

So Hill’s future with the Suns is really more about the Suns convincing Hill that it will be worthwhile for him to return rather than Hill proving he is still a viable player.

Amare Stoudemire
(’08-’09 salary: $15,070,550, ’09-’10 salary/status: 16,378,325)
Similar to Shaq, Kerr does not see Stoudemire as a prototypical Suns big man. Just who would actually be the future Suns power forward remains to be seen. Somehow, I think it will be difficult to find a player with career averages of 21.1 ppg, 8.9rpg, and 1.5 blocks, while shooting 54 percent from the field.

Who knows, maybe the Suns will win the lottery so they can draft Blake Griffin. Yet, the knock on Griffin is that he doesn’t have an “NBA-ready” defense. Then again, didn’t Kerr claim that Jason Richardson is a good defender? Perception is reality.

I continue to beat the drum of the “Keep Amare” movement. And this also includes keeping Shaq, Steve Nash and coach Alvin Gentry. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that if the right financial deal comes their way, the Suns will not hesitate to trade Stoudemire, just as they will with Shaq.

The lucky break for the Suns (at least in my opinion) is that equitable deals will likely not be offered for Stoudemire. There are two red flags: his season-ending eye injury and his opt-out clause for the ’10-’11 season. Either factor is a risk that the trading team will not have Stoudemire for the long term. Without any good offers, the Suns will be forced to keep STAT for at least one more year. Fate might actually be smiling on the Suns for once.

With these three players’ future with the Suns in limbo, along with two players who won’t be back, the Suns are left with eight keepers. The final article in this three-part series will focus those eight who appear to be set to return with the Suns for next season.

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