Offseason Outlook: Phoenix Suns

June 13 at 2:28pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Options

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (14th overall)
  • 1st Round (18th overall)
  • 1st Round (27th overall)
  • 2nd Round (50th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $23,642,318
  • Options: $6,800,000
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $3,036,902
  • Cap Holds: $33,997,032
  • Total: $67,476,252

The Suns entered the 2013/14 season as a sleeping giant of sorts, with a wealth of draft picks and future cap flexibility and a warm climate to attract free agents but without a roster necessary to compete in the near term. That giant quickly awoke once the season began, and though Phoenix came up short of a playoff berth, the Suns are positioned to be a team to reckon with for years to come.

The next step in the resurgence of the Suns will almost assuredly come at this year’s draft, as the Suns clutch three first-round picks. GM Ryan McDonough months ago expressed a willingness to package those picks in a trade for a star, and it seems unlikely that Phoenix wants to end up with a logjam of rookies on next year’s roster. The Suns couldn’t find a suitable trade partner for any of their first-rounders at the deadline this year, but draft night will offer ample opportunity. Phoenix also has another pair of extra first-round picks coming its way as soon as next year, giving McDonough plenty of ammunition in his bid to land Kevin Love.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports identified the Suns as a strong candidate to trade for the Second-Team All-NBA power forward, and multiple reports have confirmed Phoenix’s pursuit. The Wolves are apparently more likely to target veterans than draft picks in a deal for Love, but first-rounders are as coveted as they’ve ever been around the league, so perhaps the Suns could involve a third or fourth team in a deal to bring Love to the desert. As tempting as a package built entirely with first-round picks would be to many teams, the Suns would probably have to include a little more to reel in a superstar like Love, even in a multiteam swap. Alex Len, last year’s No. 5 overall pick, would no doubt be intriguing to several potential trade partners, but his appeal is probably too similar to that of the future first-round picks.

McDonough may ultimately be forced to consider including Goran Dragic in a trade for Love or any other superstar. Dragic is coming off a career year, so there’s reason to think that trading him this summer would be a wise choice. Still, the way he thrived and carried the team in Eric Bledsoe‘s absence this past season suggests that his performance had much to do with a proper fit, and that he may have more value as a member of the Suns than he would with any other team. Minnesota, in particular, would probably have reservations about acquiring Dragic because of the presence of Ricky Rubio. Dragic thrived in the same backcourt with Bledsoe this past season, but such a dual point guard attack might not be so successful in a different context. Plus, the Wolves would risk losing both after next season, when Rubio can become a restricted free agent and Dragic can opt out of his contract.

Still, Love isn’t the only superstar whose name has been in trade chatter of late. McDonough is probably more familiar with the Celtics’ thinking about Rajon Rondo than any other rival GM in the NBA, with the possible exception of fellow former Boston executive Daryl Morey. McDonough is only 13 months removed from having been the assistant GM of the Celtics. Much has changed for Boston in that time, since McDonough’s departure for Phoenix predates the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade. Yet if anyone knows whether Danny Ainge is telling the truth when he denies the countless reports suggesting Rondo is on the trade block, it’s probably McDonough, who spent a decade working under Ainge in the Celtics front office.

These days, McDonough has a star point guard of his own with a pending contract situation. Eric Bledsoe didn’t take long this season to prove his value as a top-of-the-line talent. He’d played only 24 games for the Suns when owner Robert Sarver made it clear that the team would match any offer for him in restricted free agency this summer, presumably up to the maximum salary. Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby seconded that stance not soon after, even as Bledsoe was sidelined with a torn meniscus in his knee that limited him to 43 games this season, his first as a full-time starter after coming in via trade from the Clippers. The Mavs and Lakers are eyeing runs at the 24-year-old, with the report about the Lakers suggesting that the purple-and-gold are thinking of overpaying for Bledsoe in an effort to pry him from the Suns. It seems like he’s in line for the maximum salary this summer, and perhaps a max offer sheet would test the resolve of the Suns, who might have sent out repeated warnings that they intend to match all offers to try to soften the market for the Rich Paul client. We’ll take Sarver and Babby at their word and presume that Bledsoe ends up back in Phoenix next season, and if he’s not on a max contract, it’ll more than likely be a deal that’s mighty close to it.

McDonough also has key negotiations with P.J. Tucker, Channing Frye and the Morris brothers on the docket. Tucker wants a raise, and indeed he’s merited a significant one from his minimum salary. He nonetheless feels a sense of indebtedness to the franchise that revived his NBA career, one that seemed long since over when he signed with Phoenix in 2012. The Suns wield the hammer of restricted free agency, but his combination of rebounding and outside shooting will no doubt have other clubs again trying the limits of Phoenix’s resolve to match offers. Tucker also makes for an intriguing sign-and-trade candidate if McDonough makes significant progress in his star search.

Frye is clamoring for an extension even as he possesses a player option next season for a higher salary than the market would probably bear on a new contract. McDonough has expressed interest in keeping the 31-year-old around, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Frye decides it’s worth capitalizing on his bounce-back year by adding seasons onto his deal at reduced salaries that guarantee him NBA paychecks for years to come.

Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris are both up for rookie scale extensions this summer, but even though they’re twins who were drafted with back-to-back selections, there’s a decent chance they’ll start down divergent paths this offseason. Markieff proved the more valuable of the pair this season, playing more minutes, scoring at a more efficient rate and recording an 18.4 PER that was significantly higher than the 14.8 mark that Marcus posted. Markieff finished fourth in the balloting for Sixth Man of the Year while Marcus didn’t receive a single vote. Rookie scale extensions usually end up going to players with greater chances of ending up as stars than either of the Morris twins have, but Markieff seems like a candidate to receive a deal akin to the four-year, $14MM extension that the Grizzlies gave Quincy Pondexter last fall. Marcus appears inextricably destined for restricted free agency in a year, whether or not his brother joins him.

The Suns have missed the playoffs four straight years and five out of the last six, and while it’ll be tough to leapfrog any of the Western Conference’s eight playoffs teams this year, the Suns needn’t improve much to make it back to the postseason. Of course, the point of the playoffs isn’t merely to qualify for them, and the months ahead will determine just how fast and how far Phoenix will go.

Cap footnotes

* — Beasley agreed to a buyout when the Suns waived him in September 2013 in which he gave up all but $7MM of the remaining $9MM in guaranteed salary on his contract, which was to run through 2015. The Suns paid off $4,666,667 of that $7MM this past season. The remaining guaranteed salary is spread evenly over the next three seasons via the stretch provision.
** — Smith’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he isn’t waived on or before July 15th.
*** — Christmas’ salary becomes fully guaranteed if he isn’t waived on or before July 31th.
**** — Okafor’s cap hold will be equal to the maximum salary for a veteran of 10 or more seasons. That figure won’t be determined until July. The figure in place here is last season’s maximum for a veteran of 10 or more years.
***** — Tucker’s cap hold would be $915,243 if the team declined to extend a qualifying offer.

ShamSports and Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ were used in the creation of this post.

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