http://www.azcentral.com/sports/sun...e-under-lon-babby.html#comments#ixzz260hEIm1wTechnically, the final six acquisitions the Suns made came between July 15 and Aug. 15.
Truly, the idea behind roster renovation had been in the works since December 2010 when the Suns opted to begin clearing their payroll books by trading Jason Richardson rather than signing him to an extension.
Seven months after a third conference finals appearance in six years, the Suns moved Richardson to Orlando in a six-player deal to begin setting up this summer's $23 million of salary-cap space. From that point until this summer's whirlwind of events, the Suns protected the space while straining to be a playoff qualifier -- without success.
"As much as we hated to admit it because we loved what this team represented, it was like watching the sands fall through the hourglass," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said. "They were falling and the sand was getting smaller on the top. You could see time passing. Now we think we've turned the glass over. We don't know what we have in the top but at least we have time and a bright new day."
For two years, the franchise has been clouded by questions of whether they had a plan, what they would do about Steve Nash, whether they could attract free agents and where the franchise's level of financial commitment was to win a championship.
The general plan has shown to be getting younger and maintaining flexibility for this summer's moves and the future. The final plan did not include Nash, whose parting had to do with the Suns feeling they could not bring him back and have enough salary-cap space to acquire what they needed.
They acquired free agents they targeted: Michael Beasley, Goran Dragic and Jermaine O'Neal. Their move to sign Eric Gordon to a maximum-level offer sheet, only to have it matched by New Orleans, was as much about displaying their willingness to spend as it was the slim hope that the Hornets would let him go.
Point guard puzzle
Having the cap space to reboot the franchise first required the Suns to be cautious last year with one-year contracts to Grant Hill, Shannon Brown and Michael Redd. The walk from the end of a second consecutive lottery team to this fresh start felt like bare feet on broken glass for some because Nash's departure was the first step.
"We spent many hours with him on the topic of, 'How could we bring you back and what combination of players would work for you and work for us to give us the financial flexibility to pay you and pay the players we're interested in?' " Babby said. "If Steve came back, we felt like we needed a high-end backup. You'd have Bassy (Sebastian Telfair) but he was only under contract for another year. You had to invest in Steve and another point guard. When you begin to do the math, it becomes obvious that it was investing too much in one position."
The Suns had chances to trade for point guards on draft day but passed, partly because of their affinity for top draft pick Kendall Marshall (who e-mailed Suns brass with his desire to join the team).
What the Suns did decide around draft time was that they would pursue a combination of free agents, featuring Beasley and one of the market's top point guards. The mix came out of hours of meetings of "creative tension" in a room the brass had sealed off from the outside world after arriving in 2010.
The schematic was complicated because Gordon was a restricted free agent. Gordon committed to Phoenix on the third day of free agency, the same day Dragic visited. The Suns' hope of landing him was based on his declaration that his heart was in Phoenix and a fourth-year player option that would put the heat on New Orleans sooner.
Gordon could not sign it until July 8, and Phoenix had to wait a week because New Orleans had three days to match, two days for a physical and two days to decide on the physical. With money tied up and Beasley and a point guard in the works, the Suns considered an amnesty waiver for Josh Childress to relieve the team of his cap hit but swallow the remaining $21 million. Beasley and Gordon alone would have left barely $4 million of cap space to fill several spots.
The Suns put cutouts of visiting free agents in hotel lobbies, made them books showing their pasts and futures, gave them videos of a day in their Phoenix lives and put their names on the arena marquee with a red carpet rolled out to First Street. Beasley had shut down his recruiting process after the Suns made him their July 1 priority and committed on the night of his visit. After the Nash trade agreement on July 4, Dragic also committed.
"This feeling kept somehow being repeated to me of, 'Why would anyone want to play here?' " Babby said. "I couldn't get that because it's always been a destination place."
Dragic agreed to less than he had been asking because he wanted to return, a sentiment that was evident when he visited with Suns players and staffers before and after each game against Houston last season. There was some internal push for Raymond Felton, but Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver favored Dragic, just as he pushed for Luis Scola, via an amnesty waiver that came the day after New Orleans matched Gordon's offer sheet.
The Suns expedited the Gordon process by sending Trennis Jones, a basketball operations special assistant, to Houston with Gordon so that he could sign the offer sheet and be close to New Orleans. Jones saved a day of transport by making a same-day, in-person delivery to New Orleans, starting the clock on that weeklong waiting time.
That day went to picking up Scola, a credit to basketball administration director Trevor Bukstein's payroll acumen. The Suns made an offer just over what every other team could do except Cleveland, which did not enter one.
Lopez at the center
The Suns' process started with a July 1 proposal to Robin Lopez, who told them of his desire to be a starter. From there, the Suns kept room for his $4 million qualifying offer while withdrawing a qualifying offer on Aaron Brooks.
"We always said we wouldn't trade Robin unless we got a first-round draft choice," Babby said.
Minnesota already had talked to Phoenix about taking on a contract because of its need to clear space with an offer out to Nicolas Batum. That wound up melding with New Orleans' interest in Lopez for a three-team deal that sent Wesley Johnson and a conditional first-round pick to the Suns.
"Had we played an entire season to get a No. 2 (overall, where Beasley went in 2008) and a No. 4 (where Johnson went in 2010), that would've depended on the bounces of lottery balls and you could never be sure what you're getting," Babby said. "At least we have the pedigree of those picks. Hopefully, their talent ultimately vindicates where they were picked."
The Suns' final signings of Jermaine O'Neal and P.J. Tucker to veteran's minimum deals rounded out the roster. Almost $8 million of cap room remains for an in-season move. It would be about $14 million of space if they hold onto it for next summer.
"We want to compete for championships every year, but you have to recognize there's a process," Babby said.