The Suns have made a substantial money-saving trade, sending center Jake Tsakalidis and forward Bo Outlaw to Memphis for guard Brevin Knight, center Cezary Trybanski and forward Robert Archibald.
In a separate deal, the Suns acquired DeMarr Johnson, a free agent who spent last season on the Atlanta Hawks' injured list after being involved in a life-threatening car accident.
The major deal Monday involved two players who got regular playing time in recent seasons: the high-energy Outlaw and the lumbering Tsakalidis. The major reason for the deal is that the Suns are losing money, and Outlaw has two years and about $13 million left on his contract.
The trade will save the Suns about $2 million for this season, including about $1 million in the NBA's dollar for-dollar-luxury tax on high-payroll teams, Suns president Bryan Colangelo indicated.
Assuming the break-even point for NBA teams is roughly the estimated luxury-tax threshold of $55 million-$56, the Suns, the Suns could still lose about $20 million for this season.
But the trade frees up about $6.5 million that would have gone to Outlaw in 2004-05. And that, along with the expiration of Tom Gugliotta's heavy contract after this season, could get the Suns under the luxury-tax threshold in '04-05, Colangelo indicated.
Yet in giving Outlaw up, the Suns are losing one of the better bench players in the NBA. His frenzied playing style had made him a fan favorite among Suns fans.
By contrast, "Big Jake" has been a work in progress ever since he joined the Suns out of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. He has battled injuries in his three years with the Suns and generally failed to play at more than a backup's level.
Often, he seemed to slow to keep up with the young, athletic Suns.
Tsakalidis had one year left on his rookie-scale contract. The Suns had planned to decide on whether to offer him a new contract after the current training camp ended.
The trade would seem to weaken the Suns' bench at the front-line positions.
The Suns are hoping this isn't the case. They could be right if rookie Zarko Cabarkapa, veteran Tom Gugliotta and young center Jake Voskuhl — the three players whose minutes figure to increase — can come through.
"We're excited about Zarko," Colangelo said about first-round draft pick from Serbia-Montenegro, who at times dazzled the Utah-based league for young players in July.
And after watching Gugliotta work out the past month, "It was evident he is healthy and able to contribute," Colangelo said.
The Suns plan to rotate starting centers, with graybeard Scott Williams and Voskuhl usually getting the call, coach Frank Johnson indicated.
"We've really got to take it easy on Scott," Johnson said.
Voskuhl, who blossomed last season, praised the outgoing players, saying, "It's tough losing two guys like that. They were great to be around.
"This is an organization that knows what it's dong. . .They're not here to lose money. . . But this is the tough part of the business."
But, as in the past, the Suns often will use three forwards along the front line, with the rising Amare Stoudemire often playing the role of a nominal center, flanked by a combination of Shawn Marion, Cabarkapa or Gugliotta, Johnson said. Marion and the rising Joe Johnson, normally a guard, also can play the "four" spot in a pinch, the Suns coach said.
In return for Outlaw and Tsakalidis, the Suns are getting Knight, one of the NBA's better backup point guards, who is in the final year of a contract that pays him about $5 million.
Knight, however, is coming off a disappointing, injury filled season. If he can stay healthy, he could take the heat off starter Stephon Marbury, one of the NBA' s most heavily used players, and the Suns could bring along rookie Leandro Barbosa slowly, the Suns indicated.
Barbosa struggled in summer-league action in Utah. In Trybanski, the Suns appear to be getting the latest in a long line of journeyman centers. He is 7-foot-2 and is the first Polish player to compete in the NBA. He is in the second-year of a three-year deal that pays him about $2 million this season.
"We don't know a whole lot about him," Colangelo said. "But we know he's 7-2, is athletic and can shoot."
In Archibald, they are getting a second-year forward out of Illinois, who is a minimum contract player who spent most of last season on the injured list.
"He's tough and nasty," Colangelo said.
As for DeMarr Johnson, "He needs to get stronger, but he can make plays," Frank Johnson said.
The Suns now have 15 players under contract; all but DeMarr Johnson's is guaranteed. Only 12 will make the Opening Night active roster.