In the early days of this month's NBA free agency, back before LeBron James knocked over the first really big domino, Phoenix Suns sharpshooting big man Channing Frye signed a four-year, $32-million deal with the Orlando Magic. The contract was reasonable for a player who contributes much-needed floor spacing without sacrificing interior defense. The only unfortunate news, really, was that a quality player would be going to a team without much hope of contending, although Frye will certainly make Orlando a better squad.
Still, in moving from Phoenix, Frye is leaving behind more than just a basketball team. He grew up in Phoenix, attended the University of Arizona before being drafted in 2005, and reached a new level of success with the Suns after joining the team in the summer of 2009. On top of all that, last season Frye bounced back from a serious heart issue that kept him out of the entire 2012-13 season to earn this new money. When he did so, it felt as if he was reigniting his career in his true home.
"The question I always ask is 'would you take a hometown discount?'" Frye told Burns and Gambo Wednesday onArizona Sports 98.7 FM. "People say that, it's just absolutely ridiculous. Because the thing that happens is someone takes a discount. Let's say the market says they're worth $10 million and they take $5 million. The next day they get traded, so they're like 'well dang, why did I take $5 million if you're just going to trade me?'
"Think about it, our careers are short-lived. So why not go somewhere where you're going to be extremely appreciated, where you're going to be part of the future? People just say 'take a discount,' why? I'm 31. Why would I do that? I'm not asking for $15 million a year -- I'm not crazy. The market dictated what was going on and I took the best deal." [...]
Despite his healthy new contract and his new role with a young team in Orlando, Frye was somewhat surprised that the Suns didn't do more to keep him in orange and purple.
"A little bit, but you know what? I'm not going to agree with everything that they do and I don't know what goes on behind the scenes," he said. "I really love the guys that I played with. I love (head coach) Jeff (Hornacek) and I love the training staff. [...]
"You know, I just wanted to grow with those guys and it just didn't work out that way," he said. "Hey, no hard feelings, no bitterness, it's just an opinion that I have. I'm not going to agree with everything they do, and I don't think I should, it's just something that happened and that's kind of why I'm in Orlando."
Frye's position makes a lot of sense. He has made approximately $35.3 million over nine years — this new contract nearly doubles that amount over less than half the time. Crucially, he also just faced a health scare that put his career and life in jeopardy, so it's understandable that he would want to maximize his earnings while he still has the opportunity to do so. In this context, the idea of a hometown discount would seem a little silly, because it gets in the way of much bigger issues for Frye and his family.
At the same time, the Suns weren't obligated to compete with Orlando just because Frye has a compelling story and talents that make such a contract reasonable. He will be missed for many reasons, but the Suns are not forcing themselves to contend now and don't have much reason to spend $32 million on a player who turned 31 in May. They wanted him back at the right price, but a splurge would have gone against general manager Ryan McDonough's belief in maintaining flexibility and building for the future.
Coincidentally, that approach is also why Frye's reasoning could become more common among all NBA players, save superstars with near-total control over their own futures and outlying teams like the San Antonio Spurs. In an era in which more general managers appear to prize flexibility above all else and players change teams with increasing regularity, a mid-tier free agent like Frye must know that there's a decent chance he will be traded over the life of his contract. While that doesn't mean he should conceive of the deal as with the NBA rather than the Orlando Magic, it also wouldn't be a huge surprise to see general manager Rob Hennigan trade Frye over the first half of the contract. Plus, as Frye says, he believed that McDonough could do the same. If more teams want the ability to nab a superstar and/or tank when the timing is right, then quality veterans like Frye are almost always potential trade chips. Why wouldn't that player consider such possibilities when looking for a long-term deal? Like front-office executives, they have to assess their own risks.
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