The moment Channing Frye opted out of the final year of his contract and left $6.8 million on the table, it was a slightly worrisome moment for most Phoenix Suns fans, but most figured it was just a necessary step toward restructuring his deal. Such a move would not only provide him with more long-term security in his hometown, but also give the Suns more financial flexibility to make moves this summer.
At least one of those two things is still true for Phoenix now.
Not many would have guessed another team was going to give Frye $8 million per year in what will likely be his last major contract, but the Orlando Magic were willing to do so yesterday when they offered him a four-year, $32 million deal. That’s a lot of money to fork over to a 31-year-old who really only does a couple of things really well, but because the Magic were so far below the salary floor, the contract doesn’t hurt Orlando very much.
But for the Suns? Frye’s absence might hurt a little more than the casual fan would think.
After missing the entire 2012-13 season due to a heart condition, Channing Frye’s return to the court to play all 82 games in 2013-14 was something special. He averaged 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43 percent from the field and 37 percent from 3-point range.
Considering 5.3 of his 9.5 field goal attempts per game were from downtown, Frye’s percentages are pretty respectable.
Part of what made Frye such a dangerous pick and pop option was the brilliance of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe coming off those screens, but that beautiful connection worked both ways. Dragic and Bledsoe were dangerous penetrators, but Frye was extremely well versed in setting good screens and sneakily slipping away to look for his shot.
With defenses worrying about covering Frye on the pop or weakside shooters on the perimeter, Phoenix’s blistering backcourt attack had an easier time freezing defenses with simple hesitation moves or pull-up jumpers.
That dimension of Phoenix’s offense will still be in play without Frye around, but it’s undeniably hard to replace a guy who made 38 percent of his 386 3s attempted from the top of the key and the wings, most of which came from pick and pop situations. Marcus Morris is a good outside shooter, but he’s not quite ready to fill the void.
Markieff Morris is sure to see a boost in minutes with Frye’s departure, but he’s most effective making his move from just outside the block, the elbows or in the paint.
Alex Len and Miles Plumlee should also see a boost in minutes, but the Suns would be better off letting Dragic take half-court shots every time down the floor rather than have either of those two shoot the ball outside of 10 feet. Phoenix could be better on the rebounding and post defense fronts in the long run with more minutes going to these two young bigs, since neither of those categories were Frye’s forte, but make no mistake: as currently constructed, the Suns will miss Channing Frye next season.
That’s probably why it’s a little concerning the Suns haven’t really been mentioned in any significant free agency talks since Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported Phoenix was one of a few serious contenders vying for LeBron James through his agent Rich Paul. Offering Gordon Hayward a max contract probably elevates the Suns to playoff status next year, but it wouldn’t make them contenders like adding LeBron/Chris Bosh/Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Love would.
Suns could also offer Bosh max deal now in attempt to lure LeBron to PHX. Houston can’t sign both, but Suns can…plus Bledsoe.
— Sean Sullivan (@SeanSullivanNBA) July 7, 2014
Losing Frye will become a crucial blow should the Suns miss out on the big names in free agency this summer. However, Frye’s departure also makes it easier to lock up restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe to a new deal.
According to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, the Suns are already working on doing just that and with the rest of the league waiting on the LeBron James domino to fall, many suitors might wait too long to provide Phoenix with any competition there. As much as Frye was an underrated part of the Suns’ success last season, the only way for Phoenix to make a playoff push this year is re-signing Bledsoe and keeping him and Dragic together (and hopefully healthy) in the backcourt.
The Suns missed the playoffs by one game in 2013-14 with Bledsoe only playing in 43 games. The LeBron James pipe dream may be a long shot, but Frye’s new mega-deal moves the Suns a touch closer.
For all the Frye fans out there, his choosing the money over playing for his hometown Suns, a team that should be contending for a playoff spot next summer, is tough to swallow. But he’ll be a positive influence on a young locker room in Orlando and you can’t fault him too much for his decision after all he’s provided since 2010.
Remembering the good times, like his back-to-back game-winners in 2011 or his inspiring comeback this season, is the easiest way to reflect on the fact that although he’s gone and the Suns have a hole to fill, Channing Frye is a Phoenix Sun for life.
Thank you for everything Suns fans. These last years have been the unbelievable. I will always appreciate ever minute in the Suns Uni. — Channing Frye (@Channing_Frye) July 7, 2014