Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns

What the Suns should do when the lockout ends

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This is the latest installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Up next is the Phoenix Suns. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last season: Just one year removed from pushing the eventual champion Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals, the Suns took a few steps backward by finishing out the 2010-11 season in mid-April, with a record of 40-42 that wasn’t even good enough to get them back to the playoffs. The reasons for the decline are obvious, of course. But that doesn’t make the lost season any more palatable for Suns fans.

Amar’e Stoudemire was lost in free agency, after the team refused to give him the max deal that he was able to get from the Knicks. The team tried to fill the void left by Stoudemire’s departure with Hedo Turkoglu, Hakim Warrick, and Josh Childress. It was clear fairly early on that Turkoglu wasn’t going to provide enough help, so he was dealt in mid-December to the Magic for Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat. Gortat turned out to be a nice surprise, and Carter was serviceable at times. But the bigger issue was sending Jason Richardson to Orlando, because the Suns largely struggled to replace his consistent scoring on a game-by-game basis for the remainder of the year.

Changes since we last saw the Suns: The only official change to the Suns roster happened on draft night, though there are likely plenty more on the way once the lockout is resolved and the free agency period begins. Phoenix used its 13th overall pick in the draft to sign Markieff Morris, a big man who the Suns believe can provide immediate help on the defensive end of the floor. The Suns talked about his intangibles and toughness on draft night, and if the team’s brain trust is correct in that assessment, Morris could be a nice rebuilding piece for the future.

When the lockout ends, the Suns need to: Make some hard decisions, and stick with them.

The Suns’ best players, while still productive, are on the tail ends of their careers. Steve Nash is still one of the top point guards in the game, and if the Suns want to continue to compete, then they need to sign him beyond next season, when his contract is slated to run out. The team has been adamant about not wanting to trade Nash, and has said that they would only do so at his request. Nash himself has said multiple times that he wants to stay in Phoenix, and that things like stability and camaraderie are just as important to him at this stage of his career as the opportunity to win a championship.

If both player and team are on that same page, the Suns need to fortify their roster with capable complimentary talent that can help Nash and the Suns challenge with another run in the postseason. That means delaying the rebuilding process for a couple of years, and making some short-term decisions that would enable Phoenix to win now. The thing is, the Suns don’t have a lot of room for error here. They’ll need to guess right on their next wave of trades or free agent signings, and can’t afford to make yet another mid-season trade that changes the continuity of the team and provides little short-term hope for success.

As we mentioned, although there haven’t been any changes to the roster since the end of last season, you can bet that they’re coming. Vince Carter will be bought out of his contract, and likely won’t be back unless he is willing to take somewhere in the neighborhood of a minimum deal to stay in Phoenix. Aaron Brooks is a restricted free agent, and depending on how the new collective bargaining agreement is structured, it would be easy to see him begin the new season elsewhere. Mickael Pietrus struggled with injuries the latter part of the season, but even before then, he didn’t provide the team with anything more other than a quirky locker room personality, so he might be another player that the team will look to replace via trade.

If the team does indeed decide to keep Nash beyond next season, they’ll surely want to keep Grant Hill as well. Hill, even at this late stage of his career, has been the team’s best one-on-one defender, and is stellar at getting out on the break and finishing at the rim when the team is pushing the tempo, i.e., doing what it does best. Hill is a free agent right now though, so the decision on him — while certainly tied to the one on Nash — will need to be made sooner rather than later.

It all comes down to the decision to either play in the present or for the future for the Suns heading into next season. Keeping Nash and building around him for another chance to compete would certainly keep the fans happy, but on the flip side, he’s a huge asset that could bring back long-term value for the team if it does decide to go the rebuilding route. The team’s glue guy, Jared Dudley, concisely summed up the toughness of this decision in a recent interview with us.

“It sounds good to trade the franchise player and try to get something back, but sometimes the stuff you get back isn’t that good and then you’re in for a long haul to try and get back up to the top,” he said.

And therein lies the dilemma for your 2011-12 Phoenix Suns.

Jazz guarantee more than $1 million to No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy, a rare commitment to someone drafted so low

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18:  Joel Bolomboy #21 of the Weber State Wildcats handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In the first five years of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, two players drafted in the 50s received a $1 million guarantee the same offseason they were selected.

This year, the list has doubled.

The Cavaliers guaranteed $1 million to No. 54 pick Kay Felder, and No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboyjust signed by the Jazz – will get even more.

Bolomboy’s $600,000 salary this season is fully guaranteed, and $452,625 of his salary next season is guaranteed, according to Basketball Insiders. That’s a grand total of $1,052,625 guaranteed on a three-year contract.

Only Tornike Shengelia (No. 54 pick in 2012 from Nets) and Kris Joseph (No. 51 pick in 2012 from Celtics) got more as players picked in the 50s who signed the same offseason under the current CBA. Both received two fully guaranteed seasons.

Bolomboy successfully leveraged a salary-cap environment relatively more favorable to second-rounders than first-rounders. If Utah didn’t make him such a favorable offer, he could’ve accepted the required tender and become a free agent within a year – with numerous potentially offering him a contract. The Jazz, with more cap space than they know what do with, probably didn’t mind paying Bolomboy a little more to secure him at what’s still a low rate for the next three years.

This likely wraps up any preseason competition in Utah for a regular-season roster spot. Bolomboy becomes the 15th Jazz player with a guaranteed 2016-17 salary, so he’ll almost certainly stick beyond the preseason – another plus of this contract.

This gives him security as he tries to develop into a player worthy of a second – presumably higher-paying – NBA contract.

Report: Hawks told Paul Millsap they won’t trade him

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 06:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks is introduced prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 6, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks tried to trade Paul Millsap this summer, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.

After agreeing to terms with center Dwight Howard, Atlanta wanted to put Al Horford – not Millsap – at power forward. But Horford was also a free agent, and he left for the Celtics. So, the Hawks settled for keeping Millsap.

Apparently, they’ll stick with him.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

according to sources near the situation, Millsap has been assured he’s not going anywhere.

Teams often tell a player he won’t be traded. They don’t always mean it.

Most players perform better when they’re not worried about being dealt, ironically, increasing their trade value. Of course, trading a player you told wouldn’t be traded could infuriate him – but that’s no longer your direct problem. He’s gone at that point.

Millsap can opt out next summer, when he’ll be 32. Does Atlanta want to pay him $149 million over the following four seasons? It might take his max to retain him. Millsap is a two-way star, and plenty of teams will covet him. But there’s major risk in paying someone that old.

It could be better to trade him preemptively, especially if the Hawks take a step back and want to continue their youth movement. They already traded starting point guard Jeff Teague for a first-round pick to elevate 22-year-old Dennis Schroder. Howard would be a curious fit, but exchanging Horford for him was already puzzling.

If Howard is providing the best-case scenario of help and Schroder is ready for his bigger role, sure, ride it out with Millsap. But if Atlanta’s season goes south before the trade deadline, I’m not so sure the Hawks will honor their reported commitment to Millsap.

Report: Thunder almost definitely won’t trade Russell Westbrook this season

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook negotiated himself a raise of more than $8 million and chalked it up to loyalty.

Is the feeling mutual?

The Thunder can trade Westbrook six months after he signed his contract extension, which make him eligible to be dealt Feb. 4. The trade deadline will be a few weeks later.

Would Oklahoma City trade its franchise player during that narrow window?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to the situation say the Thunder’s view on Westbrook is to see what he can do as the single focal point of the team and plan to keep the noise out of the equation until next summer.

sources close to the situation have said, there is almost no scenario in which the Thunder look at trades with Westbrook this year.

Building around Westbrook is certainly the Thunders City’s first choice. According to this report, they’ll give that route at least a full season to work.

But is there truly no worst-case scenario for the season’s first few months that would convince Oklahoma City to abort the plan early?

The Thunder became accustomed to winning big with Kevin Durant. It’s one thing to know they’ll take a step back after his departure to the Warriors. It’s another to live it every day.

Oklahoma City doesn’t want to lose Westbrook in 2018, when he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. One reported plan is trying to sign Blake Griffin next summer, and that would certainly require Westbrook’s continued presence.

It’d also likely require the Thunder winning at a reasonable clip next season. Griffin probably isn’t leaving the Clippers for a crummy team, even if it’s to his native Oklahoma.

Winning will also be a key ingredient in persuading Westbrook to stay. Absent that, the other way to get value from him is trading him, and he’ll be more valuable if traded in February. Teams will covet the extra half season and playoffs with him on the roster.

Of course, that also applies to the Thunder. If Westbrook can help them reach the postseason and maybe even make some noise in it, they’ll gladly ride him.

But if the playoffs become a far-fetched dream by the trade deadline… I’m curious just how devoted Oklahoma City remains to Westbrook in that scenario.

Did the Clippers change their name?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers helps Chris Paul #3 get up from the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Clippers rebranded themselves with a new logo and uniforms last year.

Did they also give themselves a new name?

Mike Chamernik of Uni Watch:

The Los Angeles Clippers not only changed their name, but they did it a year ago. No one has seemed to notice. Yes, they are still known as the Clippers. The L.A. Clippers.

L.A.

As in, that’s their location name. Not just an abbreviation.

The proof is everywhere. The Clippers refer to themselves as the L.A. (or, sometimes LA) Clippers on their own website, and on their various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. NBA.com refers to them as the L.A. Clippers in stories, transactions listings and site menus, even when mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers (who still go by the full city name). And now, ESPN.com has all references to the city name as LA, both on the team’s page and in standings and schedules.

One of my key pieces of evidence is the team’s media guide (PDF), which says copyright L.A. Clippers.

Chamernik presents a compelling list of evidence, but the Clippers’ silence on the issue – they didn’t return his requests for comment – is odd. Teams usually trumpet any rebranding with grandiose announcements and contrived rational.

Look at this line from the Clippers’ new-uniform announcement: “In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.”

If they want to be L.A. rather than Los Angeles, why didn’t the Clippers tout their edgy and modern new name style? That’s more believable than silver lining representing the collective optimism of the fan base of one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports.

Whatever peculiarities have accompanied the rollout of this apparent renaming, the proof is in the pudding – and that seems to say they’re the L.A., not Los Angeles, Clippers.