Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 11/28/11
Now that mulling several roster issues for the 2011-12 Phoenix Suns seems to be a legitimate enterprise, you may be wondering which players are available. Before checking our list, let's rewind to last year's lottery Suns and consider the deficiencies. Yeah, wow. This wasn't exactly a roster built for an extended playoff run. And the team won't have much time to make upgrades for this season. Kansas power forward Markieff Morris was drafted to supply some grit in the lane, so -- paired with sniper Channing Frye -- Phoenix seems sort of prepared to enter the season along the baseline. Remember, Marcin Gortat arrived from Orlando a turned into a double-double (Polish) machine. Small forward could be settled if -- as expected -- the Suns do enough to bring back unrestricted agent Grant Hill and Hill wants to return. Josh Childress and Mickael Pietrus are lined up to supply depth, with the latter also working in at two guard. That's where the review of free-agent candidates begins. With the Suns expected to waive Vince Carter (and 14 million of the 18 million on the last year of his contract), Jared Dudley and Pietrus are what's left at shooting guard. The franchise and its fans love Dudley, who certainly would do a fine job in the starting lineup. But his value as a sixth man working the two and three spots probably exceeds his worth in the starting lineup, suggesting the Suns could take a big look at the free-agent market. Here's what they would see on the unrestricted list: Jamal Crawford, Anthony Parker, DeShawn Stevenson, Shannon Brown, Michael Redd, Sasha Vujacic, Willie Green, Roger Mason Jr., Jason Richardson and Josh Howard. It should be noted that J.R. "I'm Stuck In China" Smith would join the list if he manages to inspire his new employer to ignore his contract and bless his NBA return. While some of the names on this list might present reasonable options, the salary-cap parameters of the new collective-bargaining agreement remain uncertain. Richardson would be welcome, of course, but his market value and presumed interest in joining a serious contender (the Chicago Bulls have been mentioned for months) make his return to Phoenix seem unlikely. The restricted-free-agent list yields Marcus Thornton, Nick Young, Arron Afflalo, Marco Belinelli and Reggie Williams. Afflalo, a popular prospect around the league, probably would have any offer sheet matched by the Nuggets. Thornton, Young and Williams are volume shooters who probably would love playing alongside Steve Nash, but the next CBA probably wouldn't offer enough cap relief to make their acquisitions feasible. Well, Williams probably could be had without breaking the bank. We'll have to stay tuned. With Nash still under contract (and still registered as the sun, moon and stars of the franchise), any point-guard search would be made to find a replacement for Aaron Brooks. Brooks, you may have heard, jumped the lockout gun by signing with a team in China about a week before the tentative accord between owners and players was achieved. Unless he just ditches that team and it subsequently fails to enforce his contract, Brooks will be in China into March. The Suns do have a solid defender and playmaker in Zabian Dowdell, but his spotty shooting makes a cursory look for someone else very predictable. The unrestricted options include Carlos Arroyo, J.J. Barea, Acie Law, Mike Bibby, Earl Boykins, Anthony Carter, Pooh Jeter, Ronnie Price and Earl Watson. Yeah, it's a good thing the Suns aren't looking for a starter. COULD AMNESTY BE THE BEST POLICY? Hey, what about that expected amnesty clause in the new CBA? Well, numerous reports indicate it'll be in there, although nobody has a clear notion of how it will be applied. Each team probably will be allowed to wipe away only one contract -- now they need to know if the particular contract must be decided upon this season or at any time during the length of the new CBA. While amnesty enables teams to take that nasty contract off their cap, the player still must be paid. Many Suns fans wouldn't mind getting the amnesty ball rolling by dumping Carter. But that would be a waste of a good amnesty move; Carter can be waived and someone else (Childress, Pietrus or Hakim Warrick, for example) chosen for amnesty removal, making Phoenix a potential free-agent player right away. It also should be noted that the above list of free agents can expand with amnesty "victims" joining the pool of available talent. Harvesting this crop, however, may not be as easy as making an offer. A bidding or lottery system of amnesty-player signing could be put in place to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers, for example, from offering minimum contracts to good (but previously overpaid) players who won't mind the small deals because they're still banking those big contracts. Weekend conjecture had Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Baron Davis and Washington Wizards forward Rashard Lewis as potential post-amnesty targets for the Lakers. Although the Suns figure to make some additions when free agency opens next month, they're expected to be digging in for a bigger signing bonanza next July. We'll see if some of the cap room cleared will be used to keep Nash, who may be the only chip the Suns can play (other than great winter weather) to attract a big-name free agent. TWO AND THROUGH? The timeline for draft-eligible talent is another CBA item with an uncertain near future. While some insiders expect the next draft to remain the same (players must be 19 years old and one year removed from high school), the NBA has been seeking a 20-and-two format. "On one hand, that would make my job easier," one league talent evaluator told me over the weekend. "I'd have another year to watch a prospect, so, in theory, I'd have a better idea of how he might perform as a pro. But on the downside, we (his team) probably will be fairly high in the lottery ping-pong race, and the 2012 draft class looks very promising ... if the current freshmen are allowed to come out. If not, the draft will get a lot more ordinary."
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