Looking for more firepower from the shooting guard position and more toughness to the team, the Suns acquired prolific scoring guard Jason Richardson from the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday in a five-player trade.
The Suns sent disgruntled guard Raja Bell, forward Boris Diaw and guard Sean Singletary to Charlotte for Richardson, second-year forward Jared Dudley and a second-round pick in the 2010 draft — one in which the Suns don’t own a first-round selection.
The deal still must be finalized by physicals and it will leave Phoenix four players short for tonight’s game with the Los Angeles Lakers (Shaquille O’Neal is also out to attend a family funeral). Forward Alando Tucker was activated for the game, but isn’t ready to play as he recovers from knee surgery.
The deal doesn’t do much for the Suns financially and they remain over the NBA’s luxury tax. Bell makes $5 million this year and $5.25 million next year, while Diaw is in the second year of a five-year, $45 million deal that pays him $9 million annually. But Richardson will swallow all that savings with three years left on his deal that pays him $12,222,222 this year, $13,333,333 next year and $14,444,444 in 2010-11, when O’Neal comes off the books and the Suns will have several money decisions to make.
General manager Steve Kerr said the deal was strictly a basketball decision — one designed to add fresh air in the dressing room and regain some of the togetherness that has defined the Suns over the last five years.
“The move gives us a 20-point scorer in the backcourt in Richardson and a good, young versatile forward in Dudley,” Kerr said. “Plus, we needed to shake things up a little. I really felt like the chemistry of the team was lacking. We needed to make some changes. I was very happy to find this deal out there.”
Richardson is a big-time shooter with endless range, a player who can create his own shot and has been regarded a hard-nose defender during his career. He was very unhappy to be traded to Charlotte after leading Golden State to the playoffs in 2007, and figures to be rejuvenated by being back in the Western Conference and back on a contender.
In his last game with the Warriors against the Suns (March 30, 2007), Richardson tied a franchise record with eight 3-pointers and scored 36 points as Golden State scored 45 points in the first quarter and rolled to a win.
“He’s well-versed in the up-tempo style playing for Golden State and he’s someone who will fit right in with this team,” Kerr said. “He’s an explosive, athletic guy who is very happy to be a Sun and that’s important for our team.”
Bell was a team leader and first-line soldier for coach Mike D’Antoni during his first three years in Phoenix — and the system helped expand his offensive game to complement his reputation as a tenacious defender.
But Bell made no bones about his displeasure with some of the changes under new coach Terry Porter this season, and his production on both ends of the floor was down in the first 22 games of the season. He was scoreless in 18 minutes against Utah on Saturday, but bounced back with 14 points and seven rebounds in Tuesday’s win over Milwaukee — which turned out to be his last as a Sun.
He was averaging 9.6 points a year, his lowest since the 2002-03 season, even though he was making almost 47 percent of his 3-point shots. Two weeks ago, Porter stopped a Phoenix practice in the middle and ordered his team off the floor — and sources said Bell was the object of his ire.
A day or two later, the Suns began serious discussions with the Bobcats, with the talks finally heating up over the weekend.
“Raja was a great player for us and he helped us win a lot of games while he was here,” Kerr said. “But there is no question he was unhappy about the changes (under Porter) and how he was fitting into the plans. It wasn’t a good marriage from that standpoint. It was time to make changes.”
Diaw came to the team under a cloud as part of the August 2005 Joe Johnson trade which many Suns fans opposed. But the versatile Frenchman man won them over with a great 2005-06 season, stepping in for the injured Amare Stoudemire, helping the Suns to the Western Conference finals and earning the NBA Most Improved Player Award.
That season earned Diaw his $45 million contract, but when Stoudemire returned Diaw’s role and effectiveness waned and the deal was looked at as a mistake.
“Boris’ contract just didn’t fit into our salary structure,” Kerr said. “I feel much better paying Jason Richardson to play 35-40 minutes a night as a starter than to pay Boris to come off the bench and play a limited role.”
The 23-year-old Dudley, the 22nd overall pick of the 2007 draft out of Boston College, is a 6-foot-7 small forward who has the strength and ability to play the power forward spot as well at 225 pounds. He made seven starts with Charlotte this season and could play a bigger role down the line with Grant Hill in the final year of his contract with Phoenix.
His rookie deal has him slotted to make $1,222,320 this season and $1,307,640 next year with a team option for $2,151,068 in 2010-11.
The Suns also dealt Singletary, who was obtained this summer from Houston, and now have two weeks to fill his roster spot. Kerr said the Suns will likely sign a veteran backup point guard — rookie Goran Dragic continues to struggle behind starter Steve Nash — and that player will likely command a veteran minimum’s salary.