As if on queue, with the All-Star break approaching the Suns are once again near the top of the rumor mill looking to trade away a valuable asset for questionable return. Two years ago it was Shawn Marion for Shaq. Last year, Raja Bell and Boris Diaw for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley. This year Amare Stoudemire for … well, if it happens it will certainly be for something less valuable than Amare.
The Shaq trade resulted in a year-and-a-half of controversy, disappointment, and finally a fire sale. At least the Cleveland Cavaliers seem to be benefitting from Shaq’s presence. The Richardson and Dudley trade resulted in a few clutch games but mostly missed shots followed by turnovers in crunch time. Add in the fire sale expulsion of Kurt Thomas three years ago, and the trend suggests that there is little hope that an actual Amare trade will do anything to help the Suns. The best result would be merely minimizing losses in the form of how many players could be bought out and/or how many “expiring contracts” can be assumed.
The irony is that in the Suns most recent game, a victory against Golden State, the five players who made a difference were Goran Dragic, Robin Lopez, Earl Clark, Channing Frye, and Louis Amundson. Three were players drafted by the Suns (Dragic, Lopez, Clark) and the other two were free agent signees (Frye, Amundson). Players who the Suns recently traded for were either on the bench or long since departed to other franchises. What does that say about Suns GM Steve Kerr’s and Suns majority owner Robert Sarver’s collective ability to negotiate trades? Not a whole lot.
The ghost of 2008-09 is still chasing this 2009-10 team. Forty-five games into this season and the Suns are only one game ahead of last year’s pace (26-19 versus 25-10). If the Suns trade away Stoudemire, it’s possible the team may win only 8 to 10 more games the rest of the way and finish well below .500. Fans may not be happy with the current Suns, but an Amare-less lineup would turn the Suns into a team barely better than the New Jersey Nets.
Like any blogger, I do my share of armchair coaching. But this time. I’ll be more direct. Instead of trading Amare, the Suns should focus on what they intended to do in the offseason: play better defense, get younger, and compete with more energy. Stick with the core three veterans: Stoudemire, Steve Nash, and Grant Hill, and add players who fit the mold, i.e., some of the ones mentioned above.
Dragic is clearly the best defensive guard on the roster and he is a high-energy, sticky defense, never-give-up type of player who should be paired with Nash in the backcourt. Jason Richardson can continue starting. He does best when it doesn’t matter: at the beginning of games and the end of blowouts. However, the majority of minutes should go to Dragic, who can either relieve Nash at point guard or pair up with him at shooting guard.
The Robin Lopez Experiment as a starter has worked out better than expected and could very well be a long-term solution to pairing a legitimate big-man center with Stoudemire at power forward. Lopez surprisingly has great hands, which serves him well in a pick-and-roll offense. He also has a soft shooting touch as evidenced by his improving short-range shot and free-throw shooting (8-8 against Golden State).
Clark is a fumbling, bumbling rookie, but he’s still the best defensive wing player on the bench and he has length, something the Suns have been lacking all season. He has a nice shooting stroke that will become more accurate with more playing time.
In order for the Suns to break out, it requires a major change. And this change needs to start with the front office realizing that a trade will not help the team in the short or long term. The roster can be reworked with players already under contract. Expensive contracts, like Jason Richardson, and likable intelligent players, like Jared Dudley, may suffer in the makeover. However, the season is at a very critical juncture. For the team to turnaround their fortunes, it’s time to rely on players that were hand-picked by coaches and management: Dragic, Lopez and Clark. After all, it was Kerr, Sarver and Gentry who selected these players in the draft for a reason. It is now time for them to trust their judgment and try to wins games with their draft picks making major contributions.