Author: Rob Mahoney


Hakim Warrick eyes a bounce-back year for himself and the Suns

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Every NBA team has lofty aspirations by the time training camp rolls around, and it seems that even the league’s holding pattern couldn’t quell the preseason optimism of a particular spokesman for a landlocked team.

The Phoenix Suns aren’t in the best of shape. They haven’t had a chance to make any significant additions to their roster, and are left with the same crew that ranked 25th in defensive efficiency last season. There’s a reason, after all, why trading Steve Nash and blowing up the roster is a topic worthy of discussion; without considerable young talent, free agent additions, or even some token change within the roster, there’s no need to even ponder the Suns as a potential contender. They’re firmly entrenched in the middle glut of the Western Conference if they hold on to Nash, and potentially a cellar-dweller if they deal him.

Things aren’t exactly looking up in Phoenix. Yet Hakim Warrick still has his eye on a playoff spot for the Suns, which would be a reasonable, incremental gain for a team that’s lacking in more considerable upward mobility. From Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic:

“We definitely think we can be better. The game of basketball comes down to two or three possessions here or there and we could be a playoff team. As the season went on, we got more comfortable.”

In the first season of a four-year, $17 million contract (the fourth year is a team option), Warrick had his lowest scoring average since his 2005-06 rookie season with Memphis. Warrick, 29, averaged 8.4 points and 4.2 rebounds despite averaging 12.1 points over the season’s first 25 games. His playing time of 17.7 minutes per game was also his lowest since he was a rookie.

“I really want to get out there,” Warrick said. “I’m excited to play better because I know I can play better. I didn’t have the season I expected and that I know I can have. I want to go out and prove that I can do better.”

Can Warrick be better this coming season? Perhaps, but not because his production had somehow regressed. Warrick’s per game stats did, as Coro notes, drop a bit, but only because his minutes played per game were the lowest since his rookie year. Warrick was who he always has been: an athlete good for about 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, a flighty defender, and a decent finisher. We saw precisely what we’ve seen from him throughout his career, which is exactly why it would be within reason to expect more. They typical athletic forward may not be expected to make a jump at 28, but for a dunker playing a prominent role alongside Nash? The uptick in field goal percentage was nice (Warrick posted a career-high .511), but Warrick was poised for a more comprehensive improvement by playing with the game’s premier playmaker.

Maybe he’s still due for that bump, or maybe Warrick will return to the NBA court as-is. Regardless, any projected improvement can only take the Suns so far. The team’s problems are more complex than Warrick playing poorly or playing well; until the Suns seriously rethink their roster construction, they’ll have little chance of doing more than sneaking into the playoffs, if the hyper-competitive Western Conference even allows that possibility.

Shane Battier may be looking for more money than the Grizzlies are willing to spend

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One
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Shane Battier isn’t quite the defensive force he once was; even the plus-minus data that illustrated his worth to teams like the Houston Rockets — not to mention made him the subject of Michael Lewis’ renowned piece for The New York Times — has turned on him of late, leaving Battier as merely a competent defender with an above average three-point stroke. He simply isn’t suited to defend elite players on a nightly basis anymore, even though his skills certainly warrant a regular place in a high-level rotation. Some playoff club out there will do well for themselves by giving Battier minutes, but that club may not be his most recent team, the Memphis Grizzlies.

From Ronald Tillery’s Memphis Edge blog for the Memphis Commercial Appeal (via Yahoo’s Scoop du Jour blog):

I’ve heard (and this is not fact) that Battier is seeking a contract starting at the mid-level exception (or around $5 million). I’ve also heard the Griz aren’t willing to pay that. So Battier is absolutely right when he says we’ll have to wait and see what the new CBA looks like. No one knows what the exceptions will be if there are any at all.

Battier was a nice fit in Memphis, but he’s not essential there. Tony Allen can do a lot of the defensive heavy lifting, and O.J. Mayo and Sam Young are competent defenders 0n the wing. Plus, Rudy Gay…well, there’s always room for improvement, right?

So the fact that Battier and the Grizzlies aren’t quite seeing eye-to-eye on this rumored annual salary isn’t the greatest tragedy, nor is it in any way the downfall of last year’s fun and surprising Memphis team. All of the core pieces are still in place, and with Gay returning to the rotation in the coming season, minutes for the remaining wing players would be slashed anyway. Allen is due regular burn as one of the league’s top perimeter defenders, while Young and Mayo sop up what’s left of the minutes in reserve. Gay led the Grizzlies at 39.9 minutes per game when healthy last season, and accounting for that amount of playing time requires concessions elsewhere. Battier — as a non-essential component and an unrestricted free agent — is the logical choice.

Meanwhile, every club with a need for a 3-and-D wing player (and really, who couldn’t use an extra one coming off the bench?) will likely be calling up Battier once free agency officially begins. It remains to be seen whether $5 million is an appropriate figure for Battier on this year’s market, but it’s not a ridiculous mark for a solid complementary player.

Heat uniquely positioned to take advantage of possible amnesty clause

Miami Heat v Dallas Mavericks - Game Three

In addition to the free agent bonanza that will take place following the conclusion of the lockout, there is now a distinct possibility that an amnesty clause — akin to the 2005 Allan Houston Rule — will release even more players back onto the open market. For those unfamiliar, such an exception would allow teams to cut one player on their roster without facing any luxury tax penalty for that player’s contract. And, unlike the 2005 amnesty rule, the proposed clause would also remove the cut player’s salary from the team’s salary cap figure. It would functionally wipe clean the entirety of a player’s contract, save for the tiny penalty of the team actually having to pay it. The players would still be guaranteed whatever money is left on their deals, but for the purposes of the team’s moves with regard to the cap and the tax line, those contracts would no longer exist.

A slew of formerly overpaid players would then be added to the free agent market. There are plenty of interesting talents in the league overlooked because of their considerable financial dues, and contending clubs would likely be able to make a run at one or two contributing players with their salary cap exceptions alone (should such things still exist under a new CBA). That kind of free agent influx would help one team in particular; Brian Windhorst of’s Heat Index explains:

This week the Portland (Ore.) Oregonian reported that there’s a consensus among owners to include another amnesty clause in the new CBA that would help clear space in what are expected to be more restrictive salary caps. Of course no one can predict the future but the signs continue to indicate the new deal will have some sort of amnesty option in it.

That’s where the Heat would come in. They would be an attractive destination for players who might be released under such a clause. Because of the free agents they signed last summer, the Heat probably are out of any bidding wars for free agents for the near future. But players who are “amnestied” are likely to sign cheaply, probably at whatever the veteran minimum would be, as they would not have lost any money from their previous contracts.

The Heat need a big man, a point guard and always could use shooters. They can make calls and recruit all they want but signing big-ticket free agents like Nene, Tyson Chandler or J.J. Barea is a pipe dream. But what about getting Rashard Lewis, Baron Davis or maybe even Brandon Roy for cheap? These are all instant candidates to be released under a new amnesty provision and all, in their own ways, could help the Heat.

No team would be more attractive to prospective free agents than Miami, and an amnesty clause would flood the market with more talent in the Heat’s price range. They still may not find their dream point guard or center to bolster their rotation, but there would be far more players capable of immediately contributing as a member of the Heat lineup. In addition to the aforementioned Lewis, Davis, or Roy, the Heat could potentially make another run at Brendan Haywood, look to sign Chris Andersen, spring for either Mo Williams or Chris Kaman if the Clippers choose to cut salary, or even fall into Jose Calderon. Any of those players could significantly impact Miami’s performance on one end of the court or the other, and that’s not even considering the impact this influx would have on the wider free agent pool — nor the potential for the Heat to wipe the $24 million owed to Mike Miller over the next four seasons off their cap figure.