PER Diem: Feb. 16, 2009
With Terry Porter on his way out and Amare Stoudemire perhaps right behind him, the Suns are in complete disarray.
PHOENIX -- Peek outside and there's a steady flow of luggage and taxis heading toward the airport; turn back inside and my hotel room looks like a tornado hit. That can only mean one thing, ladies and gentlemen: It's the Monday after All-Star Weekend.
I'll be sticking around for a couple more days to poke around and see what's going on with the Suns, so let's start right there. Phoenix finally confirmed what everyone had already known for days, whacking Terry Porter and promoting assistant Alvin Gentry, a dragged-out situation that made a mess of the Suns' efforts to host All-Star Weekend (which, I'll reiterate, was about the most pleasant and well-put-together in memory, even if a couple of the outcomes smelled fishier than week-old tuna).
Here are John Hollinger's top five NBA observations for Monday. Insider
- Detroit to land Amare and Shaq?
- Lee staying put at the deadline?
- Kings looking to deal
- Raptors plan on signing Marion
- Toronto a long shot to make the playoffs
That should stem the bleeding, at least; Gentry is a former Mike D'Antoni lieutenant who saw how this group played at the end of last season with Shaq in the middle, and for as long as he has the current group together he should be able to get more out of them than Porter did. Mind you, there are some real limitations on the roster, especially on the defensive end. But it sure seems like investing more offensive responsibility in the Nash-Stoudemire combo makes sense, and that there are ways for Shaq to get his touches without compromising the output of the Suns' other two stars. Phoenix is only sixth in offensive efficiency after leading the league the past four years.
Meanwhile, the forgotten man in all this is Jason Richardson, who averaged a measly 13.8 points in January and is getting far fewer shots than he did in Charlotte. One observer told me of a recent game in which the Suns ran pin-downs for Richardson on the first two plays of each half and got buckets and then never went back to that play the rest of the game.
The original plan was for Richardson's 3-point bombs to space the floor for the others to do their thing, but that works a lot better if Nash is pick-and-rolling and then flipping the ball out to the corner when he gets into the paint. Richardson took over seven triples a game last year in Charlotte while leading the league in 3s; this year he's barely averaging four attempts per night.
But Gentry might have this crew for only a couple of days. Phoenix is over the luxury-tax line and projects to be over next year's line as well, which is why the Suns have pursued a trade of Stoudemire that would, at the very least, get them under next year's tax line. Getting them under this year's line would help as well, but that's probably just a pipe dream unless the Grizzlies get back in the mix.
I've heard a lot of questions about why the Suns would trade Stoudemire, and it all gets back to the money equation. Phoenix is slated to pay $75 million next year for a fringe playoff club. The idea is to get back enough expiring contracts to get the Suns some cap flexibility going forward and, more importantly, get the team out of the tax next year. They want to do this with as little negative impact to the product on the floor as possible, obviously, which is why picking up somebody like Chicago's Tyrus Thomas also appeals to them.
Readers have asked me why Phoenix wouldn't wait till summer to move Amare, but the options narrow considerably by then. In the summer, it's no longer possible to trade Stoudemire for deals that expire this year, and for Phoenix to drop salary for 2009-10, he'd have to go to a team that was either under the cap or had a massive trade exception. With fewer potential trade partners, the odds of the Suns getting quality offers narrow considerably.
Ultimately, there's still a chance they go in they stand pat; I heard chatter from one league source this weekend that the Suns really might hang on to Stoudemire if the bids for him don't improve, and that it wasn't just a smoke screen by Phoenix to get better offers. But that's risky business, and it might ultimately prove too dicey for owner Robert Sarver's tastes.
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
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