The most dangerous time in the NBA season is upon us next
week and fans all across the country especially here in
Phoenix should be afraid. Be very afraid!
Free agency is fool’s gold in this league, always has
been, always will be. Outside of Shaq to the Lakers
the current rules were put in place) and LeBron and Chris
Bosh taking their talent to South Beach, it is almost
impossible to build a championship team through free
agency. You can add pieces to a solid core, but more often
than not, teams overpay marginal players and place high
expectations on them only to see them fail.
This year, we’ll see a lot more of the same as the free
agent class, outside of Deron Williams, is
garbage. There are a lot of role players looking to be
paid like stars and teams willing to give them that chance
to be a star. Like I said — fool’s gold.
The Suns need not be reminded of the offseason that was
Josh Childress, Hakeem Warrick and a trade for Hedo
Turkoglu. This year it will be wise for the Suns to sit on
their money, sign players to one-year contracts and
maintain cap space while improving their draft position.
The worst thing to do in this league is to try and remain
mediocre. You become not good enough to compete for a
title and not bad enough to get a top-five pick. The Suns
one of many teams in that boat right now.
Take Oklahoma City for instance. They drafted Kevin Durant
when they were still in Seattle, but instead of trying to
win with a veteran roster and maintain mediocrity, they
got rid of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Durant wasn’t
ready to be a star at that time; his shot selection was
poor and his defense was atrocious. So they sucked — and
it got them Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Now they
are the top team in the Western Conference. By being bad
for a few years they put themselves in a position to be
good. It’s common sense, really.
But too often, teams are unwilling to suck it up.
to be a bad basketball team and take their lumps.
Unwilling to hit rock bottom. The worst thing you can
do is spend cap space on marginal role players, but it
happens all the time.
Just a few years ago, with $20
million in cap space, the Detroit Pistons spent it all on
Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva and they have been
regretting it ever since.
The Chicago Bulls, when they
couldn’t sign Tracy McGrady, wasted money on Brad Miller.
When they couldn’t get LeBron James or Dwyane Wade they
wasted money on Carlos Boozer and are stuck with his bad
How quickly do you think the Knicks would give
back Amaré Stoudemire if they had a do-over? They’d do it
in a New York second. They got a good half season out of
STAT on a five-year contract. Not that Stoudemire was a
marginal role player. He was a very good player, but not a
superstar and injuries had taken their toll to the point
where the Suns had no interest in guaranteeing anything
more than three years on a deal.
One year the Knicks spent
a fortune on Larry Johnson, Allan Houston and Chris
Childs. End result — no title.
Good teams are built through the draft and solid trades.
See Duncan, Parker, Ginobili in San Antonio. See Durant,
Westbrook and Harden in OKC. See Kobe, Bynum and Gasol
(trade) in Los Angeles. Even the Celtics won a title
through the draft. They drafted Al Jefferson and Delonte
West and used those picks to net them Ray Allen and Kevin
Garnett. If West and Jefferson had not panned out and
weren’t so highly-coveted, they could have never gotten
Seattle and Minnesota to make deals with them. Plus, by
going 24-58 in 2006-07, they had the fifth pick in the
which they used along with West to get them Allen. So
having high draft picks gives you a much better chance of
drafting an impact player or parlaying that pick into a
good player via trade.
The message to the Suns this year is simple: be careful.
There are some decent players in free agency, but none
outside of Williams worth spending big dollars on.
Landry is a good player, big, strong, tough. But he has
knee problems and is best suited to be the sixth man on a
good team; not a starter on a bad team. Chris Kaman is a
mid-range shooting big man who can’t play defense and is
as soft as tissue paper. Randy Foye is a nice role player
off the bench. Lou Williams is that typical combo guard
who can score but he doesn’t get anyone else involved in
the offense, doesn’t make anyone around him better. Even
their own Robin Lopez isn’t worth the mid-level exception
and anyone who signs him will end up regretting it — I
Ramon Sessions disappeared in the playoffs for the Lakers.
Raymond Felton is a disaster waiting to happen. He’s
rarely in shape and single-handedly ruined the
Portland Trail Blazers and caused Nate McMillan to get
fired. O.J. Mayo will get $8 million plus per year from
someone, but let’s hope it’s not Phoenix. He came off the
bench in Memphis for a reason, and is not worth the big
dollars he is seeking.
Even a guy I really like — Ersan Ilyasova, a 25-year old
power forward who can rebound — is not
going to be worth the money he will get (likely in the $8
to $10 million range.) Ilyasova needs to be the fifth-best
player on a team. But at $10 million per year, he will be
expected to be the first, second or third-best. He is an
average shooter who can’t create his own shot and
struggles defending in the low post. I love him at $5
million a year because he has a knack for rebounding. But
double that salary, and it’s double trouble.
The object for the Suns isn’t to reward middle-of-the road
players with undeserved contracts. That only leads to
winning enough games to prevent you from getting into
position to draft a franchise-changing player with a top-
The goal is not to be mediocre. So resist the temptation
to sign marginal role players and instead save the cap
space until a gem comes along. Sign players to one-year
deals like they did with Shannon Brown last year. Bite the
bullet for a few years, take your lumps, but in the
process, put yourself in position to draft high in the
lottery — or trade those high lottery picks for some real
If things are going to change around here, that is the way
it is going to happen. It’s not going to happen by
fielding a team of overpaid role players.