We all know about the rumors concerning the Phoenix Suns trading Amare Stoudemire. Parallel to these discussions is the recent statement made by Stoudemire about possibly actually opting in for next season. It’s been everywhere on NBA news sites but in case you haven’t had the chance yet, here is the link.
Let’s look at this from the Suns management perspective. When it all boils down, it doesn’t make their job any easier or more difficult.
The overriding impetus behind the Amare rumors has to do with value, as in a max contract does not reflect the value Amare brings to the Suns but if he opts out and leaves after this season, the Suns don’t receive any value in return.
In reality, there is no separating these two value concepts. There is little chance that the Suns will land a lottery draft pick in a Stoudemire trade. Either Stoudemire will indicate he won’t re-sign (example: Golden State) or teams will simply not be willing to part with a sure bet lottery pick (example: Philadelphia). This means that in any proposed trade, the Suns will receive existing NBA players, either young or old, for a total combined salary closely approximate to Stoudemire’s.
Let’s remember that above all else, the Suns are looking after their budget. Ideally, they want to get under the NBA luxury tax threshold.
Consider the hottest rumor of the day: Amare to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala and Samuel Dalembert (remember, no draft picks since the 76ers don’t want to trade a guaranteed lottery pick). The reason why many fans and commentators like this trade is because at least the Suns would receive the “best plausible deal for STAT” that they could get. This popular notion is explained in this blog post.
For now, forget the notion that this trade makes little sense basketball-wise (see my previous post) and focus on the financial ramifications. If Amare opts-in for next year, he will make $17.7 million and then become a free agent in 2011. If the Suns trade for Iguodala and Dalembert, their combined salary for next season is $25.5 million. Since this is a 2-for-1 trade, the Suns would be spared the need to sign a minimum free agent to remain at the NBA minimum 13-player roster size. If you add the $1.2 million veteran minimum to Stoudemire’s salary for next season, it comes out to $18.9 million or $6.6 million less than the combined salaries of Iguodala and Dalembert.
Why would the budget-conscious Suns make a trade that would increase their payroll by $6.6 million for next year? Also consider that Iguodala is locked in to his current contract until 2013 at an average of $13.5 million for three years. Factor in the threat that player salaries might see a dramatic reduction with the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) after next season and Iguodala’s contract has the potential to be quite an albatross for cost-cutting franchises like the Suns.
There is another blog post that opines “Why Amare Stoudemire HAS To Opt Out.” Interestingly, the author contradicts his own reasoning by stating that the new CBA could dramatically cut salaries but then suggests the Suns could trade Stoudemire for “one nice player who’s got a long term deal.” This is another way of showing the Suns financially what a noose is and then how to hang themselves with it.
Forget young superstars on the cheap, like Kevin Durant. They are not for sale. Today’s upper-mid or mid-level “nice player” locked in long term is tomorrow’s Wally Szczerbiak or Brian Cardinal. Trading for a long term contract is very risky, especially when average salaries will be decreasing.
If the Suns seek to not increase payroll and not lock themselves into a large, long-term contract, then their other option is to seek the proverbial “expiring contract” of a player whose contract ends at the conclusion of this season. By its nature an expiring contract implies that the Suns would have no interest in retaining the player. For example, the Suns swapped Shaquille O’Neal for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic. Although these two players didn’t have expiring contracts, they were bought out, which has the same effect. Neither player ever donned a Suns uniform.
If the Suns simply let Stoudemire’s contract end and then see him off to pursue other opportunities, the effect on the franchise would be the same as if they traded for an expiring contract. Whether this happens in 2010 or 2011 is all up to Amare. In 2010, either the Suns pay Stoudemire or they pay comparable money to a top free agent. In 2011, salaries may see a dramatic decrease, but the free agent pool will not likely be stellar either.
The only salient point in all this discussion is that the Suns management needs to decide if they want to build a winning team or a budgeted team. If they decide on the latter, then a salary dump trade involving Stoudemire will always be available or they can just let him walk.
If they decide on the former, they will need to pay Stoudemire or some other player who offers at least as much productivity as Amare. Certainly, the Suns have every right to stay within the salary cap, but there is room for one max or near-max contract on such a team. Personally, I don’t see Stoudemire as a max player, but he is near-max. Short of acquiring LeBron, Kobe, Wade, or even Bosh, I don’t think the Suns can do any better than to try their best to retain Amare. Offer him fair money at near-max and let him be the one to choose.