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Phoenix Suns 2012 Free Agency Plans Busted By New CBA

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The Phoenix Suns had a plan. They were going to marshal their resources and maintain their flexibility and have a lot of cap space available in the summer of 2012. They could use that money to land a big time player in free agency when several top stars hit the market and rebuild the Suns to their place as one of the most successful NBA franchises.

The team has talked about this in the past and it's still being hinted at elsewhere in the media as being part of the current thinking.

There's a problem with this plan, however, those stars won't be hitting the market in 2012. 

The new CBA has changed the way star players will move.

No longer with guys like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul be able to force a sign-and-trade like LeBron James did. They won't be able to walk away from a city they want to leave with their max contracts in hand thanks to the new agreement and its restrictions on extend-and-trade and sign-and-trade transactions. 

Ken Berger from CBS Sports explains:

If Paul wants out, he can't take LeBron or Melo route - NBA - Basketball
The extend-and-trade arrangement that Anthony used to get to New York with a three-year, $65 million extension technically is still allowed -- but with an important hitch. Such deals can total only three years under the new rules,..

Sign-and-trades also are allowed, but all such deals can only be four years in length with 4.5 percent annual raises. The star-friendly rules that got James and Bosh to Miami with six-year deals at max dollars are no longer there for Paul.

This all means that if the likes of a Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Dwight Howard want to get the full max contracts they deserve, they have two options:

1) They can stay with their current teams and use their Bird Rights to get the full five-year deal with 7.5% annual raises, or

2) They can pressure their teams to trade them at least six months before they become free agents. In other words, this up-coming class of max "free agents" would need to be traded in January 2012 if they are going to leave at all and it's far from clear they even want to leave despite many rumors to the contrary. 

That means we won't be seeing the big rush like in July 2010 unless top guys are willing to take significant pay cuts to pick exactly which team they want to play for. And if they do that would they really come to Phoenix instead of going to a team like the Clippers or Bulls that already has another big star on the roster?

The chances of that happening are slim at best.

Where this leaves the Suns, barring a change in strategy, is with a lot of money to spend in 2012 and the very real possibility there won't be any top name players available to spend it on. When that happens, teams are often prone to overspend on lesser or players or are forced to sign short term deals and try and rebuild from a position of mediocrity. 

NBA history has not been kind to teams that have tried this approach. 

The teams that have the best chances of landing those top guys have attractive trade assets right now. Teams like the Clippers, Rockets, Kings, Timberwolves, Pacers and even the Lakers can put together enticing trade packages with the Hornets or Magic to try and land Paul or Howard. The Nets aren't likely to let Williams go after giving up so much to get him last summer.

It's much more feasible now for those incumbent teams to call the bluff of their star player and force them to leave $25m on the table. That was always an option for the Denver Nuggets with Carmelo Anthony or the Utah Jazz with Deron Williams. Those teams ended up making exactly the kind of trade that it will likely now take to pry away a star and the Suns don't have the pieces to make that least it doesn't look like they do.

It's not an attractive scenario facing Sun's President Lon Babby, but one reason he was brought in was to use his experience as an agent and lawyer to quickly asses the impact of the new CBA and chart a new course for the team based on the new landscape. 

Babby and the Suns are not yet able to comment on the new CBA so we will have to wait a few more days to find out what they are thinking. Saving money in hopes of landing a star free agent in 2012 is hopefully no longer the plan, unless they see a completely different scenario unfolding than the one described above.

Of course, it's not like there a lot other good options out there either but that's why Babby gets paid the big bucks and he certainly is smart enough to have seen this coming.

[Note by Seth Pollack, 11/30/11 7:05 PM MST ]

Seeing a lot of negative reaction to this story. The reality is, this wasn't a bad plan and the Suns certainly had NO idea what the new CBA would look like. Imagine, for example, the season had been lost and the new CBA required teams to dump salary fast. The Suns would have been perfectly positioned to take advantage of that in 2012. 

Its wasn't a bad plan. What happens next is what matters.