Hoops Rumors is looking ahead to offseason moves for all 30 teams. We’ll examine free agency, the draft, trades and other key storylines for each franchise as the summer approaches.
Winning As A Negative
It’s rare that a season in which a team nearly doubles its win total can be looked upon as a negative, but such was the case with Phoenix’s 48-win campaign back in 2013/14. The franchise had won just 25 contests the year prior and wasn’t expected to compete for a playoff spot. But the unexpected success of that squad prompted team management to increase its expectations, overvalue its assets and make a number of questionable roster decisions focused on the present rather than looking toward the future. Phoenix has been a sub-.500 team since that season and are still searching for an on-court identity as a franchise, having seemingly scrapped the point guard-laden approach fostered under former coach Jeff Hornacek with no clear-cut philosophical direction to replace it.
To Rebuild, Or Not To Rebuild?
Phoenix stands at a crossroads this offseason and needs to decide if it believes that a veteran core comprised of Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler is good enough to contend in the Western Conference. If the team’s backcourt can remain healthy, which is in no way a given despite the stellar reputation of the Suns’ training staff, a playoff berth isn’t out of the question next season. But even if the Suns are able to make it to the postseason, the franchise isn’t likely going to be a serious challenger for an NBA title anytime soon. Not without a notable free agent signing or two this summer, at the very least. The other available option is to embrace a full rebuild and focus on surrounding Devin Booker, Alex Len, T.J. Warren and whomever the team selects with the No. 4 overall pick with complementary talent that can grow alongside those players.
One pivotal decision, if you’ll forgive the pun, will be regarding the center position. The team signed Chandler last offseason when it was still in the running for LaMarcus Aldridge. But when the power forward chose to sign with San Antonio, that left the Suns stuck with an aging center with a limited offensive game who may quickly grow disenchanted in Phoenix if the team decides to go the rebuild route. Chandler told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he would take a wait-and-see approach and wouldn’t immediately seek out a trade, adding, “If there is a decision and they want to go young and stay young, then we’ll have that conversation. But we’re not there. I’m happy where I am. I feel like the Suns have a bright future if we continue to build and build the right way. It’s all about building the right way.” With Chandler under contract for three more seasons and Len set to enter the final season of his rookie deal, the Suns may not be too keen on paying both players big money and may need to make a tough call on whom to retain.
The front office will also need to decide if it will continue with a multi-guard approach or go with a more traditional lineup. The jury is still out on whether or not Knight and Bledsoe can be an effective backcourt tandem, plus, the emergence of Booker as a potential star may push one of the two high-priced veterans to the bench or out the door in the near future. Knight still has four years and approximately $56.5MM remaining on his pact and the team is still on the hook for three more years and $43.5MM to Bledsoe, so what Phoenix does regarding its backcourt will go a long way toward determining how much roster and cap flexibility the franchise will have the next few seasons. The most prudent path may be to try and trade one or both of the pair this offseason and rebuild around Booker. Given the amount of teams around the league that need an upgrade at the one spot, the Suns may be able to land a number of valuable assets in any deal involving Knight or Bledsoe.
Is Watson the Answer?
The team decided to part ways with Hornacek during the season and installed Earl Watson as interim coach. Despite leading the team to a lackluster 9-24 mark after taking over, Watson was retained as head coach for next season. It should be noted that Bledsoe was already out for the season by the time of the coaching change, and Knight missed most of the games that Watson coached. While Watson lacks NBA head coaching experience, his background as a player, familiarity with the team’s roster and his strong player development skills were obviously selling points to Phoenix’s front office and ownership.
Watson also has a reputation for having a strong influence on free agents, which helped build his case for keeping the job, along with his work to rehabilitate the trade value of Markieff Morris. Couple that with Phoenix’s defensive improvements down the stretch this season and perhaps his ties to the Klutch Sports Group, the agency that also represents Bledsoe, and the retention of Watson makes greater sense. Soon-to-be free agent power forward Mirza Teletovic cited Watson as a major reason why he wants to re-sign with the team.
The Suns were reportedly poised to pursue Mike D’Antoni even before they fired Hornacek, but a reunion with D’Antoni, who won Coach of the Year honors with the Suns in 2005, obviously never materialized. The team eyed Steve Nash, but the former MVP wasn’t interested. Conflicting reports emerged about Phoenix’s interest in Villanova coach Jay Wright, while the team was apparently fond of Dan Majerle and Luke Walton.
Free Agent Targets
The Suns enter the summer with potentially $33MM in cap flexibility. That amount is dependent on the free-agent decision of Teletovic, who has a $6.6MM cap hold. If the power forward signs with another team it may allow Phoenix enough space to potentially float a max salary offers to two players. However, if Teletovic is to be re-signed, Phoenix would likely have to use cap room to sign him since it only holds his Non-Bird rights. Plus, it could eliminate the possibility of adding multiple top-tier free agents without making a corresponding trade to shed salary.
It’s difficult to predict who the Suns may target given the conundrum the franchise faces regarding going young and rebuilding or trying to forge a playoff team around its current personnel. Either way, the team will need to add a power forward who can score from the outside. Parting ways with Morris may have improved team chemistry and cut down on locker room drama, but it also left the Suns with a glaring roster hole. Teletevic is a solid player, but is far better suited to coming off the bench than starting in the long run. If the team doesn’t hit the reset button, Pau Gasol would be a prime target, though he will likely look to catch on with a team possessing a better shot at the title than Phoenix. More realistic targets for the team would be Chandler Parsons, Derrick Williams and Ryan Anderson. Anderson is perhaps the most intriguing name available, though he will likely command a max salary deal and doesn’t necessarily have the track record to warrant such an enormous annual sum.
The Suns could also use more outside shooters, preferably on the wing. While Booker has the potential to be the next great deep bomber in the league, he certainly shouldn’t be forced to be the focal point on offense at such a young age. Plus, if the team decides to deal either Bledsoe or Knight, Phoenix will need to add backcourt depth. The two best options in this area — Bradley Beal and Evan Fournier — are both restricted free agents, which means landing either would be a tricky proposition and the team would need to significantly overpay in order to scare off the players’ current teams.
Help in this area could also arrive in the form of 2014 first-round pick Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is reportedly set to begin negotiating with the Suns now that his Turkish League season is over. This is the last season that Bogdanovic would be required to sign a rookie contract that would give him a salary of about $5.7MM over four years, which could put a damper on the talks. If he waits until next offseason, Bogdanovic is free to negotiate any amount, starting with his draft year’s rookie salary scale.
Unless the Suns decide to deal away the No. 4 overall pick, the team will likely look to add a scoring power forward with that selection. Phoenix is likely praying that the Celtics, who own the No. 3 overall pick, pass on Dragan Bender, who fits what the Suns need almost too perfectly. Bender will need some time to develop and has the potential to be a disappointment if selected that high in the lottery, but his skill set is simply too tantalizing to pass up. If Boston nabs Bender, or trades the pick to a team targeting the Croatian power forward, Marquese Chriss, Henry Ellenson and Jaylen Brown could be possibilities.
The other area the Suns could look to address at No. 4 is to nab some help on the wing. Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray would be the top two possibilities here, or perhaps Kris Dunn if the team decided it wanted more depth at the point given the injury histories of Knight and Bledsoe. Phoenix also holds the No. 13 and No. 28 overall picks this June, so whichever need isn’t addressed at No. 4 can be handled with those selections. Thon Maker, Deyonta Davis, Malachi Richardson and Domantas Sabonis are all possibilities at the bottom of the lottery for Phoenix.
The Suns face an offseason rife with possibilities as well as potential pitfalls. The team’s three highest paid players all missed significant time this past season due to injuries and may not form a cohesive nucleus when they are on the court together. While Phoenix may indeed be good enough to make the playoffs in 2016/17 if healthy, avoiding a repeat of the short-term success enjoyed by the 2013/14 club should be the team’s primary goal. Unless the Suns are somehow able to lure Kevin Durant to Phoenix, rebuilding around the younger players may be the wisest option for all involved.
- Eric Bledsoe ($14,000,000)
- Brandon Knight ($12,606,250)
- Tyson Chandler ($12,415,000)
- Alex Len ($4,823,621)
- Devin Booker ($2,223,600)
- T.J. Warren ($2,128,920)
- Archie Goodwin ($2,094,089)
- P.J. Tucker ($1,500,000) — Partial guarantee; non-guaranteed portion listed below1
- (Michael Beasley $777,777) — Salary remaining from release via stretch provision
- Total: $52,569,257
- P.J. Tucker ($3,800,000) — Partial guarantee; guaranteed portion listed above1
- John Jenkins ($1,050,961)
- Alan Williams ($874,636)
- Total: $5,725,597
Unrestricted Free Agents (Cap Holds)
- Mirza Teletovic ($6,600,000)
- Jon Leuer ($1,966,500)
- Chase Budinger ($980,431)
- Ronnie Price ($980,431)
- Total: $10,527,362
Other Cap Holds
- No. 4 pick ($3,563,600)
- No. 13 pick ($1,835,200)
- Bogdan Bogdanovic ($996,700)
- No. 28 pick ($990,700)
- Total: $7,386,200
Projected Salary Cap: $92,000,000
- Tucker’s full $5,300,000 salary would become guaranteed on June 30th.
The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this pos