Offseason Outlook: Phoenix Suns

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts


Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • 1st Round (13th overall)
  • 2nd Round (44th overall)

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $41,038,578
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $947,276
  • Options: $2,170,465
  • Cap Holds: $40,617,769
  • Total: $84,774,088

The regression of the Suns this past season was easy to see coming, in some respects. Phoenix’s 2013/14 squad overachieved markedly after it appeared bound for the dregs of the Western Conference, particularly after the Marcin Gortat trade. The Suns took a risk in the offseason, loading up the backcourt with a four-year sign-and-trade deal for Isaiah Thomas and finally, after a protracted negotiation, a five-year contract for Eric Bledsoe. Both moves came in spite of the presence of Goran Dragic, who was entering the final season of his deal before a player option, and in spite of the team’s decision to draft Tyler Ennis 18th overall. It shouldn’t have been a shock when Dragic made it clear he wouldn’t re-sign and that it would be in Phoenix’s best interest to trade him.

Courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy USA Today Sports Images

It was nonetheless surprising to see the Suns not only accommodate Dragic but also, in separate deals, ship out Thomas and Ennis, too. They took in Brandon Knight, but he’s set for a fat raise in restricted free agency this summer, unlike Thomas or Ennis, neither of whom can elect free agency until 2018. Knight is probably a more valuable player than either of them, but it’s almost certain that he’ll command more than the two of them will make put together next season. The Suns laid a lot on the line to acquire Knight and it would be unseemly for the team to just let him walk away in free agency after he made it into only 11 games post-trade, as I argued when I looked at Knight’s free agent stock. The position that Phoenix seems to be in strengthens the leverage that agent Arn Tellem has. Several GMs told Michael Scotto of SheridanHoops during the season that Knight would be worth $12MM a year, and it would take only one GM to drive his price even higher than that.

At least Knight appears uninterested in subjecting Phoenix to the protracted drama that played out prior to the Bledsoe signing last year, and Knight also told the Suns that he doesn’t mind playing with Bledsoe, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic wrote. The interest in a new deal between the Suns and Knight is mutual, though there are no guarantees. The Suns would be able to clear maximum-level cap room if they don’t bring back Knight, and GM Ryan McDonough said as the season ended that the team would be aggressive in pursuit of a star. McDonough has made it clear that he thinks highly of Knight, but if the price isn’t right, there are other options. The weather is indeed warm in Phoenix, but it remains to be seen whether there would be enough on the roster without Knight there to attract top-tier free agents to a team that just finished 39-43 and in 10th place in the Western Conference. The Suns, devoid of all but Bledsoe from their once-crowded stable of point guards, would need more than just the insertion of a star to truly contend.

A steal at No. 13 in the draft wouldn’t necessarily help this summer, but it would better Phoenix’s chances in the coming free agent frenzy of 2016. Kansas small forward Kelly Oubre has high upside and would help give the Suns more punch on the wing if he pans out. Kentucky shooting guard Devin Booker, if he’s available, would give the Suns the dead-eye three-point threat they lack after a season in which they finished 20th in three-point percentage. Texas center Myles Turner would probably be worth the gamble here, while Will Sammon of Hoops Rumors suggests the Suns as the best fit for Frank Kaminsky in his profile of the Wisconsin center. Both would serve as alternatives in case Alex Len doesn’t live up to having been the No. 5 overall pick in 2013. Our Eddie Scarito suggests another small forward, Arizona’s Stanley Johnson, in the Hoops Rumors Mock Draft, and he’d surely be a local favorite.

Phoenix will probably use free agency to address whatever need it doesn’t take care of in the draft. The Suns could wait to re-sign Knight and keep his cap hold at nearly $8.9MM to lend themselves greater flexibility, though that would be tricky with the threat of an offer sheet from another team looming. The Suns, with their existing guaranteed salaries, would have close to $55.9MM on the cap with a new deal for Knight at a starting salary of $12MM, the cap hold for the 13th pick, and a pair of roster charges for open roster spots if Phoenix were to strip down and renounce its other free agents. That figure would rise to about $58MM if Danny Granger opts in.  That’s $9.1MM away from the league’s $67.1MM cap projection, well shy of max-level flexbility, but fodder enough for some intriguing additions.

Danny Green could swing to small forward and would shore up Phoenix’s long-range game, though it may well require most, if not all, of that $9.1MM to snag him. Mike Dunleavy would be a cheaper option who could do the same if the Suns can tempt him away from the Bulls. Amar’e Stoudemire had an “extremely high” interest in rejoining the Suns before he signed instead with the Mavs after his buyout from the Knicks, so he seems obtainable for depth inside. Still, Phoenix and Brandan Wright have mutual interest, according to Coro, though Wright’s bloated cap hold of $9.5MM makes him a candidate to be renounced. That doesn’t mean that the Suns wouldn’t re-sign him, but rather that Phoenix would be more likely to do so via cap room or an exception instead of his Bird rights.

Kevin Bradbury, the agent for Gerald Green, offered a few vitriolic remarks in response to Jeff Hornacek’s criticism of Green’s defense, and the swingman at the time was unsure if the Suns wanted to re-sign him after a year in which his minutes dipped sharply. Green said at season’s end that he had a conversation with president of basketball operations Lon Babby that left him optimistic that the Suns want to bring him back, so he, like Wright, may well eat up roster room and salary that would otherwise go to outside free agents. Green’s $6.65MM cap hold isn’t as large as Wright’s, but it’s quite conceivable the Suns renounce Green, too, and circle back to try to re-sign him at a smaller number. There would also be value in keeping those cap holds and operating above the cap. Staying above the cap would give the Suns access to the $5.464MM mid-level instead of the $2.814MM room exception, and since the Suns have a $5.5MM trade exception, they could in essence have two mid-level exceptions. They couldn’t use the trade exception to sign anyone outright, but they could use it to acquire a player via sign-and-trade, floating an offer of a heavily protected second-round pick or a longshot draft-and-stash prospect at a team that’s going to lose its free agent anyway.

Whomever the Suns sign won’t move the needle much if they re-sign Knight at market value, so trades are the primary vehicle for Babby, McDonough and company to make a significant upgrade. The trade exception wouldn’t be enough to acquire a marquee player, but it could help the Suns facilitate a multiplayer deal involving a star. The trade market is nonetheless so far devoid of stars, particularly since DeMarcus Cousins seems off-limits. Roy Hibbert, if he opts in, and Lance Stephenson, Hibbert’s former Pacers teammate, might be among the most noteworthy names in play via trade. Stephenson’s recalcitrance would be a difficult sell to a front office that made its standards for personal and professional conduct clear in the press release announcing Michael Beasley‘s departure from the team two years ago. Hibbert could lift a middle-of-the-pack Suns defense as ranked by points per possession data, but the Suns may not be enthusiastic about trying to accommodate his more than $15.514MM salary with Len still developing.

The Suns seemed on the cusp of jumping into the Western Conference elite a year ago, but that would have required a lot to break their way. Phoenix instead took a step back this season, but the team is still better off than where it seemed to be at the beginning of 2013/14. The realistic goals this summer involve hanging on to Knight at a price that’s a cut below the max, making marginal upgrades to weak spots on the roster, and maintaining flexibility for the whirlwind summer of 2016, when the salary cap zooms skyward. Accomplish all of that, and the Suns will have a realistic shot to become a title contender by opening night in 2016.

Cap Footnotes

1 — The Suns waived Beasley in September 2013 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next three seasons.
2 — McNeal’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he remains under contract through July 21st.
3 — The cap hold for Granger would be $2,492,400 if he opts out.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post.

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