No one should blame the Phoenix Suns for their reluctance to make a commitment to Jason Richardson. The now-Magic shooting guard is 30 years old after all, and with franchise centerpiece Steve Nash in the later stages of his career, it makes little sense to lock up veteran pieces for the long haul.
You should blame the Suns, however, for their reluctance to make a commitment to Jason Richardson after signing Channing Frye for five years and $30 million, Hakim Warrick for four years and $18 million, and then agreeing to ship out Leandro Barbosa’s relatively cap-friendly deal for Hedo Turkoglu’s far more imposing one. It’s as if Lon Babby and Robert Sarver couldn’t quite decide on whether to start disassembling the roster or adding new pieces to keep the team competitive, so they shot for somewhere in the middle. It didn’t make much sense then, and makes little more now, even after Richardson, Turkoglu, and Earl Clark have been jettisoned for Vince Carter, Mickael Pietrus, and Marcin Gortat.
Somehow, Suns’ management drew the line at Richardson, despite the fact that he led Phoenix in points per minute, and was second on the team in PER. Richardson is far from a perfect player, yet in most evaluations he’s still a far more useful contributor than Turkoglu, Frye, or Warrick. Something just never clicked for J-Rich and the Suns off the court, a fact which Richardson insists is due to no fault of his own. From Tim Povtak of NBA FanHouse:
“The trade didn’t catch me off guard at all. I knew when they wouldn’t talk about an extension that I wasn’t going to be there the whole season,” Richardson said before the Magic played the San Antonio Spurs. “They wouldn’t even sit down and talk to us. I kind of figured when they were dodging calls from my agent, something was going to happen.”
Richardson, who is making $14 million this season, was pushing hard for the extension in Phoenix, preferring to avoid free agency this summer. He was riding a strong playoff performance last spring and a fast start this season, knowing his stock would never be higher. In Orlando, he is resigned to the fact that no extension will come during the season, needing to prove he can fit on a team with a dominating center and a handful of guys who all need the ball in their hands.
Orlando could be a fairly ideal situation for Richardson, but as Povtak mentioned, it will be difficult for J-Rich to produce at a level worthy of an in-season extension. Still, it should surprise no one if the Magic choose to retain Richardson, an efficient scorer and prolific three-point shooter, at season’s end. He may not put pen to paper until all the details are hammered out on a new collective bargaining agreement, but Orlando is as logical an off-season landing spot for Richardson as any.