The eve of the NBA draft produced another long day of whispers, rumors and outright categorical denials — but left the Suns standing in place with today’s 24th and 29th overall picks and few remaining opportunities to improve that stance.
The Suns are still intrigued by the prospect of acquiring the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Kevin Garnett but will not deal Amaré Stoudemire to make it happen. They are still interested in securing a top-10 pick in today’s draft but have all but exhausted the list of possible dance partners. They are still anxious to reduce the looming luxury-tax penalty the NBA charges teams with high payrolls, but there are other cards to play before the draft begins at 4:30 p.m.
Despite working out two more lottery hopefuls — North Carolina’s Brandan Wright and Florida State’s Al Thornton — Wednesday morning, a Suns source said that chances of getting into the top 10 were “dwindling,” reduced to long-shot status.
The most likely move isn’t very sexy — moving center Kurt Thomas to the Charlotte Bobcats along with a draft pick. But it would erase Thomas’ $8.1 million player option from the books and get the Suns within shouting distance of wiggling under the league’s dollar-for-dollar luxury-tax threshold.
If Charlotte retains the No. 8 pick (the Bobcats also pick 22nd), it would likely be more interested in a future first-round pick in any Thomas deal than a third selection today. The Suns wouldn’t be willing to part with Atlanta’s 2008 first-round pick, which they own, but have their own pick to dangle.
That would leave Phoenix with two picks today and a chance at a scorer (Marco Belinelli, Morris Almond, Alando Tucker) or point guard (Petteri Koponen, Aaron Brooks), although the possibility of one pick being dealt remains distinct.
Most of the Wednesday gossip swirled around scenarios that would ship Garnett and his massive salary ($22 million plus as much as $6.75 million in trade kickers) to Arizona — with Stoudemire’s name circulating the rumor mill.
While new Suns general manager Steve Kerr said last week that no one on his roster is untradeable, sources say their stance that Stoudemire would not be moved in any Garnett trade has never wavered — be it Boston, Minnesota or Atlanta. That didn’t keep ESPN and other media outlets, however, from reporting that a three-way trade with the Timberwolves, Hawks and Suns — one that would put Garnett in Phoenix, Stoudemire in Atlanta and draft picks and expiring contracts in Minnesota — was on the fast track toward completion.
Sources confirm that the rumors were strong enough to induce Stoudemire to place a phone call to his former Suns teammate, Atlanta guard Joe Johnson, to talk about a possible reunion with the Hawks.
Late Tuesday evening in New York, site of today’s draft, the Hawks were telling members of the national and Atlanta media that the framework for a Stoudemire deal was vetoed by management because it would put the Hawks over the salary cap.
Blame landed on a name familiar to Suns fans: former Hawks majority owner Steve Belkin. Still embroiled in a lawsuit to regain control from his former business partners that dates back to the controversial Johnson trade in the summer of 2005, Belkin retains the right to halt any deal that exceeds the cap.
Kerr said he had a grand total of one conversation with the Hawks about a trade, and Stoudemire was never part of the conversation.
“All of these reports of blockbuster trades involving us are so far-fetched; I’ve chosen not to comment on them,” Kerr said. “Most of them are complete nonsense, and those with a kernel of accuracy aren’t even close.
“But when you hear that we were taking about trading Amaré … wherever that came from, it’s totally wrong.”
2007 NBA Draft
ESPN coverage begins at 4 p.m. today