Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.
Rookie Contract Option Decisions
Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
The Suns didn’t land LaMarcus Aldridge, but they did pull off a surprise that helped put them in play for Aldridge in the first place. They convinced Tyson Chandler to head to Phoenix, enticing him with a four-year deal that will pay him $13.585MM in 2018/19, when he’ll be 36. It’s a risky financial commitment to a center whose health made the Thunder skittish enough to void a trade for him more than six years ago, but he’s been relatively injury-free since. Last season he averaged a double-double for just the third time in his career, a sign that he’s not yet in decline. He also comes in as a respected leader, and former No. 5 overall pick Alex Len, whom Chandler displaced from the starting lineup, has expressed on multiple occasions that he’s on board with the move and eager to learn from Chandler’s mentorship. Chandler’s presence helped Phoenix’s case for Aldridge, who admires the 14-year veteran.
The Chandler signing nonetheless presents a conundrum for the team going forward, with Len becoming eligible for a rookie scale extension next summer and the end of his contract coinciding with the midpoint of Chandler’s. Big men with promise have always been well-compensated when they’ve hit NBA free agency, and unless Len is particularly disappointing over the next year or two, the Suns will probably have to give him at least as much as they’re giving Chandler. Dave King of SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun suggested to us that the best-case scenario involves Len eventually taking over the starting job from Chandler, and King points out that the projected rises in the salary cap will make Chandler’s contract count for a lower percentage of the cap than it does now. Still, the Suns could end up with a hefty amount of money committed to non-stars at the center position.
A more immediate concern is at power forward, where the true feelings of Markieff Morris are hard to discern. He said in early September that “My future will not be in Phoenix,” a few weeks after publicly demanding to be traded. When training camp began at end of September, his rhetoric had turned 180 degrees, and he’s continued along that tack ever since, seemingly ready to continue with the Suns and without his brother. However, Marcus Morris, whose trade to the Pistons touched off the controversy, raised serious questions Friday about whether his brother truly does want to remain in Phoenix.
It seems as though the Suns could have averted all of this had they not pulled the trigger on the move before receiving any commitment from Aldridge that he would sign into the resulting cap space. However, GM Ryan McDonough said he would have executed the trade, which shipped out Morris along with Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger, even if he knew Aldridge wasn’t going to come to Phoenix. Indeed, the move didn’t create enough room by itself for the team to accommodate the max deal it clearly would have taken to sign Aldridge. It opens playing time at small forward for T.J. Warren, the 14th overall pick from 2014, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic pointed out to us, and it freed the Suns of their obligation to Granger, whom the Pistons waived. Still, it cost the team Bullock, the 25th overall pick from 2013 who had an impressive preseason in Detroit, and it angered, if only temporarily, a key player under contract through 2018/19. Time will tell, but a strong chance exists that the cost of the trade will ultimately outweigh the benefit.
Likewise, it’s too early to judge Phoenix’s decision in February to offload a package that included a protected first-rounder from the Lakers and 2014 18th overall pick Tyler Ennis in exchange for Brandon Knight, but the Suns did what they had to do this summer to protect that investment, coming to terms with Knight on a five-year, $70MM deal as soon as they were allowed, and perhaps even sooner. Knight only played 11 games for the Suns the trade, but the Suns nonetheless saw fit to secure him for the long term at the same rate they committed to Bledsoe last year. Bledsoe’s name emerged in trade rumors amid conflicting reports, but it never appeared as though any move was ever close, and the Suns seem eager to duplicate the success they had with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic as dual point guards in 2013/14. Knight’s game can fit with Bledsoe’s, as Troy Tauscher of Fansided’s Valley of the Suns examined in an interview with Hoops Rumors, so it would appear to be Jeff Hornacek‘s responsibility to make that happen.
Hornacek must do so without the benefit of contractual security beyond this season, since the Suns didn’t pick up his 2016/17 team option or sign him to an extension. Steve Kauffman, Hornacek’s agent, reportedly engaged in an odd dialogue on an Iowa State fan message board denying that Hornacek turned down an opportunity to interview for the school’s coaching job, though Hornacek, who played at Iowa State, had made it seem as though he remains committed to the Suns. Regardless, the future is in doubt for Hornacek, who burst onto the scene with a 48-win season in 2013/14, his first as an NBA head coach.
The pressure is also on Mirza Teletovic, who’s started slowly on his one-year deal, a contract he chose over reported multiyear offers from the Nets, Kings and Bucks. The 30-year-old entered the season as the team’s second-best power forward, making his difficulties especially troublesome for Phoenix, given the question marks about whether Morris, the starter at the position, truly wants to stick around. Sonny Weems, another offseason signee, isn’t delivering either, at least offensively. Weems has pointed to his defense and decision-making as qualities that make up for that, but Hornacek elected not to take him off the bench in Sunday’s game. Teletovic only saw six minutes in that contest.
Devin Booker isn’t seeing much playing time, either, but that’s not a surprise for the still-developing shooting guard who just turned 19 two weeks ago. This year’s 13th overall pick can shoot as well as just about anyone, having nailed 41.1% of his 3-pointers at Kentucky last season and 40% during summer league play this past July. It’s the rest of his game, particularly his ability to drive to the basket and play defense, that needs attention, as Charlie Adams of Hoops Rumors wrote, and a fair chance exists that he’ll be honing those skills on D-League assignment this season.
Booker, unlike Hornacek, Teletovic and Weems, isn’t under immediate contractual pressure to perform, and that’s the case for many in Phoenix, where expectations beyond simply grabbing the eighth playoff spot are low. The Aldridge chase shows the Suns have long-term goals that transcend what they’ll reasonably be able to accomplish this season, so McDonough, with three extra first-round picks set to come to Phoenix between now and 2021, is surely eyeing the future. Owner Robert Sarver, seemingly more willing to spend than in the past, is nonetheless itching to return to the postseason, and, if Aldridge’s interest is any indication, maintaining a strong supporting cast will be critical if the team is to succeed in landing a marquee free agent. This season’s Suns need not contend, but they have to compete.
Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.