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July 5, 2012, 03:18 AM ET
Phoenix’s Possibilities

by Kevin Pelton

As the rest of the nation celebrated the Fourth of July, Phoenix Suns fans mourned the loss of star Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers in a sign-and-trade deal all parties agreed to Wednesday. In reality, though, the Nash era had already ended in Phoenix. The question was merely where the two-time MVP would continue his career–and what, if anything, the Suns might get in return.

Wednesday dawned with Phoenix fans dreaming of Iman Shumpert coming from New York in a sign-and-trade deal. Instead, the Suns will get no players from the Lakers, only draft picks–first-round selections in 2013 and 2015 and second-round picks in 2013 and 2014. That scenario might not be quite as bad as it sounds, though the numbers show Phoenix would have been better off had Nash decided on the Knicks instead. Let’s take a look at both alternatives, starting with a New York sign-and-trade.

Year          13   14   15   Tot

Shumpert     2.9  3.5  5.2  11.6
Douglas      1.8             1.8
Harrellson   1.7             1.7
Jordan       0.0  0.0  0.0   0.0

Total        6.4  3.5  5.2  15.1

To get Nash a deal similar to the one he signed with the Lakers, the Knicks would have had to trade Shumpert, Toney Douglas, Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan to the Suns. Obviously, Shumpert is the prize. After a solid rookie season, our three-year WARP projections show him as a three-win player over the next couple of seasons before emerging as a five-win contributor during the final year of his rookie contract. Even if we temper that projection with the fact that Shumpert will likely be slowed next season by his recovery from a torn ACL, Shumpert’s future remains bright.

The other newcomers could have had value, too. SCHOENE is surprisingly optimistic that Douglas will bounce back from a poor 2011-12 campaign, and Harrellson’s pick-and-pop game would have fit in well in Phoenix. Note that only one year of their projections is included because they will become free agents next season, and presumably be paid close to market value. Also, Jordan did not play enough as a rookie to generate a projection.

The actual deal the Suns swung with the Lakers doesn’t look nearly as good over the next three years, though it could pay off in the long term.

Year          13   14   15   Tot

Cap Space    2.1  0.3  0.6   3.0
2013 pick         0.5  1.1   1.6 (3.1)
2015 pick                        (6.1)

Total        2.1  0.8  1.7   4.6 (12.2)

Phoenix does save a bit of salary by dealing Nash into the Lakers’ trade exception. That $5.2 million difference should be worth about two wins, depending on how the Suns use the extra money. (By my math Phoenix could have made their subsequent signings of Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic either way, as long as they came after the New Orleans Hornets matched the Suns’ offer sheet for restricted free agent Eric Gordon.)

Note that the 2013 first-round pick Phoenix got is actually the worst out of Cleveland, Miami and the Lakers because of the Ramon Sessions deal. That means the pick is almost certain to be at the very bottom of the first round; I’ve projected the 27th selection, which is fairly optimistic all things considered. For 2015, I got very optimistic and projected the 15th overall pick for an aging Lakers squad. With those assumptions, the cap space plus the three-year value of the first-round picks (the second-rounders will likely be so late as to be inconsequential) surpasses Shumpert, though Douglas and Harrellson still make New York’s offer stronger overall.

Of course, Nash could have signed with a team under the cap (like Dallas or Toronto) and left the Suns with nothing in return. While getting only draft picks may seem disappointing, they will give Phoenix’s rebuilding effort a small boost.

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