Outside of perhaps the Nets, the Suns have been arguably the most active team in the first week of NBA free agency, agreeing to a max offer sheet with Eric Gordon, a four-year contract with Goran Dragic, and a three-year deal with Michael Beasley. Considering how large the offers to each player are, the Suns clearly intend to make use of their cap space this summer. Let's take a look at just how their finances add up.
Heading into the offseason, the Suns have the following guaranteed salaries on their books:
- Marcin Gortat ($7,258,960)
- Josh Childress ($6,500,000)
- Channing Frye ($6,000,000)
- Jared Dudley ($4,250,000)
- Hakim Warrick ($4,000,000)
- Markieff Morris ($2,005,560)
The salaries for those six players amount to $30,014,520. The Suns also have a cap hold for first-round pick Kendall Marshall worth $1,599,300, and Sebastian Telfair has a non-guaranteed contract worth $1,567,500. Telfair's deal is believed to be partially guaranteed for $550,000, so if we add that partial guarantee and Marshall's cap hold, we're at $32,163,820.
Now, the reported agreements for the Suns' three free agent targets are as follows: Gordon for a four-year max contract, Dragic for four years and $30MM, and Beasley for three years and $18MM. Gordon's maximum salary for 2012/13 is expected to be $12,922,194, and if the reported totals for Dragic and Beasley are accurate, it's hard to imagine first-year salaries of less than about $7MM and $5.7MM, given the maximum 4.5% annual raise.
If we add those three admittedly tentative figures to the Suns' total, we're up to $57,786,014 for 10 players. A rookie-minimum charge for the 11th and 12th roster spots would take the Suns up slightly over the $58.044MM salary cap, but our numbers are speculative enough that we'll assume Phoenix just barely squeezes everyone under the cap.
While everything seems to work out perfectly for the Suns, there's one other factor to consider — restricted free agents Robin Lopez and Aaron Brooks. Phoenix submitted qualifying offers to each player, which means their cap holds are still on the team's books. $7,156,505 for Lopez and $5,041,730 for Brooks (note that those are the amounts of the players' cap holds, rather than the qualifying offers). Those figures would push Phoenix well over the cap threshold, which wouldn't be permitted if the team wanted to use its cap space on agreements with the aforementioned three outside free agents.
If the Suns were to renounce Lopez, Brooks, and their other free agents (including Shannon Brown), they'd probably be okay, but that would mean losing Bird Rights for those guys, and reducing their chances of re-signing them. Is there any way to avoid that? Well, Phoenix still has the amnesty provision in its back pocket, and could clear $6.5MM in cap room by using it on Josh Childress, or $4MM by using it on Hakim Warrick. But that still might not be enough to accommodate Lopez's cap hold, and paying money for a player to leave the team seems a little out of character for the cost-conscious Suns. A trade to create some cap flexibility is also a possibility, though we've yet to hear any rumors surrounding Phoenix players.
It's impossible to totally pin down what the Suns' plan is until the moratorium ends and we get a better idea of just how the team intends to manage its books. But based on the reported agreements to date, it appears the Suns' chances of retaining their own free agents like Lopez, Brooks, and Brown have diminished. There's still a chance for plenty of manoeuvering this week, as we saw yesterday with the Nets, but it wouldn't surprise me if we heard within the next few days that the Suns have withdrawn their qualifying offers for Lopez and Brooks.