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State of the Cap: Phoenix Suns

Wed, 07/02/2008 - 5:58pm

By Josh Redetzke

7/2/08

2008/09 Phoenix Suns Payroll: $72.4 million
2008/09 Estimated NBA Salary Cap: $58 million
Roughly: $14.4 million over cap

The Good:
After four years in Phoenix, Steve Nash still hasn't broken down or started showing his age. He only missed one game this season and managed to keep his numbers steady, averaging 16.9 points and 11.1 assists. What really makes Nash special is his fantastic shooting percentages. 50.4% from the field is very nice for a point guard, but 47% shooting from the three point line is downright ridiculous. Nash also hits 90% of his free throws, which comes in handy down the stretch. At $25.4 million over the next two years, Nash continues to be one of the best deals in the league.

The Suns were relieved when Amare Stoudemire returned from surgery the previous year and had a monster season. Now, they must be bouncing off the walls. Stoudemire played what was arguably the best season of his career in 2007-08. He scored 25.2 points, grabbed 9.1 rebounds, shot an incredible 59% from the field, and swatted an impressive 2.1 blocks per game. His highlight-reel dunks were back and he improved his jump shot quite nicely. Phoenix owes Stoudemire a handsome sum over the next three years ($49 million), but when it's being paid to one of the best power forwards in the league, it's worth every penny.

Two of the Sun's role players give them excellent value for the money. Not only is Raja Bell the team's defensive stopper, he has also shot over 40% from the three point line during his career. Think Bruce Bowen with more versatility on the offensive end. Bell will make just $5 million next season and $5.25 million the following season. An even better bargain is veteran Grant Hill. For the first time since the 1999-00 season, Hill appeared in 70 games (yes, you read that right). His numbers were efficient as always; 13.1 points, 5 boards, nearly 3 assists, and 50% shooting. Hill is a perfect compliment on this team and for only $1.9 million next year, the Suns get a real steal.

The Bad:
It's fun to say you have Shaquille O'Neal on your team. But when you have to actually watch him play and cut his checks, it's not as fun anymore. The Diesel made a big splash by coming to the desert and he rebounded pretty well as a Sun, averaging 10.6 per game. However, he isn't quick enough anymore to be much of a shot blocker, his offensive moves are clunky, and he is still a horrible liability at the free throw line. For the right price, Shaq is definitely worth having on your team. For $20 million each of the next two years, Shaq is a giant salary cap hog.

When Stoudamire came back from his injury, Boris Diaw's numbers predictably dropped. They continued to drop this season as well, putting him squarely in the overpaid category at $9 million a year for the next four years. Diaw is certainly a versatile talent and one of the best passing forwards in the game, but he is almost too unselfish and seems content to just move the ball around instead of being more aggressive with his scoring opportunities. After Marion was traded, Diaw appeared to play a little better. Perhaps a full season without the Matrix will ignite a turnaround.

The Future:
The Phoenix Suns, as we knew them, are gone. Even though they were winning a crazy amount of games and going deep in the playoffs most years, the team decided to completely shake things up with the Shaq trade. Then, when they lost to a great Spurs team in the first round (hardly a bad thing), they felt no need to retain Mike D’Antoni, a coach that won 70% of his games the past four seasons. Call me silly, but I just don’t get it. Do they really think Terry Porter is capable of getting them over the hump? I would have had a little more patience and taken my chances with D’Antoni.

The top six players in the rotation are all signed for at least the next two years, so the window of opportunity for a championship is small. If Shaq truly has nothing left in the tank, the Suns aren’t going anywhere in the postseason. Drafting Robin Lopez certainly made sense considering O’Neal hasn’t played in more than 61 games since 2004-05. If Phoenix makes any kind of big move, it might involve Leandro Barbosa. His stats were down a bit from last season, although they are still quite good for the $6 to $7.5 million he’ll receive each of the next four years, which makes him a valuable trade asset. If the Suns start slow, they might be forced to pull the trigger on a deal to try and salvage what time still remains for this contending team.

Free Throw:
Apparently, Shawn Marion didn't learn anything from Joe Johnson's exodus to Atlanta. Johnson wanted to be "The Man" on his own team and get paid accordingly. Since then, Johnson's Hawks have never won more than 37 games while the Suns haven't won less than 54 in the same span. Now Marion, supposedly jealous from all the attention being heaped on Nash and Stoudemire, decides to complain to the point where management ships him off to a rebuilding Miami team where he has a better chance of being "The Man". What is the lesson here? Careful what you wish for.

Grade: B-

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