De'Anthony Melton

Suns’ James Jones Talks Rivers, Ariza, Oubre, PGs

League executives were puzzled by the Suns‘ decision to waive both Tyson Chandler and Austin Rivers so early in the season, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. As Windhorst observes, even though the Suns may be tanking and weren’t interested in taking on multiyear money, parting ways with Chandler and Rivers – who were both on expiring contracts – closes the door on possible trade opportunities at the deadline.

In a discussion with Gina Mizell of The Athletic, interim co-general manager James Jones indirectly addressed those criticisms, explaining that Phoenix wants to do right by players. “We should be a place where every party, everyone involved, feels invested and feels connected,” Jones said. In the case of Rivers, Jones said that the team and Rivers’ camp mutually agreed that it “would be best if he found an opportunity that fit him better.”

Jones also weighed in on a handful of other subjects during conversations with Mizell and Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic, so we’ll round up some of his most noteworthy comments here:

On whether it was true that team owner Robert Sarver wouldn’t allow Trevor Ariza to be sent to the Lakers:

“No. Throughout all of this, Robert has been adamant that his focus is on what helps the Suns grow and be the best. That was inaccurate. Actually, if something could have worked out, Robert would have been a huge proponent, just because of that investment and understanding that Trevor and his family are (based) on the West Coast. If we can do right for both parties, it should make sense. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t do something that benefits both parties.”

On what he expects Kelly Oubre to bring to the Suns:

“Exactly what he’s demonstrated in the past. He’s young, but he’s experienced. He’s played in a lot of games. He’s played in the playoffs. He’s had tremendous success against some of the best players in the Eastern Conference, some of the best players in the NBA as a whole. His athleticism, his activity, just his competitiveness is something that, as we look at building the identity of this team, those are the foundational characteristics of all the players that we target. Do they play hard? Do they compete? Are they selfless? Do they sacrifice to win? He embodies that, and that’s why we’re excited to have him.”

On what happened with last Friday’s failed three-team trade involving the Wizards and Grizzlies:

“I’ll leave it as just a miscommunication. Going forward, we’re excited to have Kelly. Through everything, we have Kelly. We have a guy we know fits with us and we’re excited about.”

On the Suns’ ongoing search for an answer at point guard:

“For us, as free agency hit (during the 2018 offseason), you talk about that tier of starting caliber point guards, they chose other destinations that were a better fit and better suited to compete right now. As far as trades, I always say it takes two to tango. That’s not something you can control.

“For us at that position, we need someone who will compete defensively, can be impactful and can play well off our other perimeters… [De’Anthony Melton]’s been doing that and we’ll keep pushing him to get better.”

Suns Notes: Holmes, Melton, Okobo, Canaan

Richaun Holmes has settled in as the Suns’ backup center since Tyson Chandler‘s contract was bought out, as Katherine Fitzgerald of the Arizona Republic notes. Holmes has averaged 7.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG and 1.4 BPG in 15.9 MPG during the month of November. Coach Igor Kokoskov cites Holmes’ biggest asset as something that goes beyond box scores. “Energy is a talent, we always say, and that’s his job,” Kokoskov said. “He helps his team, and for him to understand his role, and just embrace it, is a huge thing for our team.” Holmes, who was acquired from the Sixers during the summer, has a $1.6MM contract that doesn’t become fully guaranteed until January 10th. He’l be an unrestricted free agent in July.

We have more on the Suns:

  • Rookie point guards and second-round picks De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo have been bouncing back and forth between the NBA and G League and it’s proving beneficial, as Bob Young of The Athletic details. The duo has gained experience by playing and practicing at both levels. Melton has appeared in four games with the Suns and five with Northern Arizona. Okobo has seen action in 12 NBA and two G League games. “I think it’s helping me a lot,” Melton told Young. “I trained for it all summer, to be a point guard. I don’t think it matters to me. I’m fine getting off the ball. Down in the G League, I got to handle the ball a lot and really run a team and show what I can do.”
  • Kokoskov expects point guard Isaiah Canaan to quickly find another NBA job, Gina Mizell of The Athletic writes. The team waived Canaan on Wednesday after he lost his starting job. “It’s just a pure business decision,” Kokoskov said. “I wish him nothing but the best, and he’ll be good. I know a lot of teams (will have) interest in him.” The Suns have two open roster spots, which will facilitate a potential trade for a more accomplished floor leader. Devin Booker has been moved from shooting guard to the point for at least the short run.
  • The Suns are one of the teams interested in acquiring second-year point guard Frank Ntilikina from the Knicks. Get all the details here.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 11/10/18

Here are Saturday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

  • Grizzlies rookie Jevon Carter was on the move today, being recalled from the Memphis Hustle, reassigned for the G League team’s practice, then recalled again for tonight’s NBA game, according to a tweet from the Grizzlies.
  • The Thunder recalled Abdel Nader from Oklahoma City Blue, the team announced in an email.
  • The Magic sent rookies Isaiah Briscoe and Melvin Frazier to their Lakeland affiliate for tonight’s home opener, tweets Josh Robbins of The Athletic.
  • The Pistons recalled Henry Ellenson and Khyri Thomas from their Grand Rapids affiliate, according to an email from the team.
  • The Suns recalled rookie De’Anthony Melton from their affiliate in Northern Arizona, the team announced on its website.
  • Jacob Evans has been recalled from Santa Cruz, according to a story on the Warriorswebsite.

Pacific Notes: Chandler, Holmes, Cousins, Gortat

The Sunsbuyout with Tyson Chandler would have helped the team much more if it had occurred during the preseason, tweets salary cap expert Albert Nahmad. The parties have reportedly had a standing deal on a buyout in place for some time, but Chandler was reluctant to commit until he was confident that another organization would pick him up. The consensus is the Lakers will be his next team.

The money saved through Chandler’s buyout could have benefited the Suns in a number of ways, Nahmad notes. De’Anthony Melton, a second-round pick acquired in a trade with the Rockets, was limited to a two-year, minimum-salary deal because Phoenix didn’t have money available for a three- or four-year offer (Twitter link). Nahmad is assuming Chandler will give back about $452K in his buyout, and notes that the Suns waited until just before the start of training camp to sign Melton in the hopes that they could free up more cash.

Unloading Chandler earlier would have also opened a roster spot and would have eliminated the need to waive Davon Reed when Jamal Crawford was signed (Twitter link). Reed, who is now on a two-way deal with the Pacers, is still owed his entire $1.4MM salary from the Suns.

There’s more news from the Pacific Division:

  • The news about Chandler explains why Richaun Holmes was the Suns‘ first choice at backup center in Friday’s game, tweets Gina Mizell of The Athletic. Holmes, who was acquired from the Sixers in an offseason trade, played a season-high 13 minutes.
  • DeMarcus Cousins is expected to have a one-year stay with the Warriors, but GM Bob Myers isn’t giving up on the idea of extending their arrangement, relays Chelsea Howard of The Sporting News. During a recent appearance on the team’s pre-game show, Myers said “options are open” when it comes to keeping the All-Star center. “These type of predictions — good or bad — are pretty fruitless because you just don’t know,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going to be going on on July 1, 2019. You don’t know if it’s going to be better than you think … but it’s not going to be what you think. So, with a guy like DeMarcus, who knows? If he wants to come back, let’s bring him back.” If Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson both re-sign, Golden State would be well above the cap and would be limited to offering Cousins its mid-level exception again.
  • Clippers center Marcin Gortat re-tweeted a message bemoaning the end of his consecutive games streak. L.A. traded for Gortat in June to help offset the expected loss of DeAndre Jordan, but he has averaged just 3.6 PPG and 3.9 RPG and is losing minutes to Montrezl Harrell and Boban Marjanovic.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 11/3/18

Here are Saturday’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:

Pacific Notes: Ball, James, Canaan, Marjanovic

Lonzo Ball is expected to make his preseason debut Wednesday, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, which will also mark his first time on the court with LeBron James as a teammate. The Lakers have been careful with Ball as he recovers from offseason knee surgery, even as they have raved about his progress. Ball and James were both held out of tonight’s contest against the Clippers, but coach Luke Walton plans to use them in the next game against the Warriors.

“That’s one of the things I still need to see that we haven’t had is what lineups look like when both of those guys are playing,” Walton said. “I’m excited and hopeful, but again, we’re going to take it day by day. If any setbacks or whatnot, then we won’t rush it, again. But I would expect Wednesday that happens.”

Ball has received medical clearance to play and participated in full-court, four-on-four matchups with contact this week. The Lakers have been resting James, playing him about 15 minutes in the first half of each of their first three games.

There’s more tonight from the Pacific Division:

  • The Suns‘ inexperience at point guard has been on display through the preseason, notes Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. With no established veterans at the position, coach Igor Kokoskov has been using a committee approach, giving playing time to  Shaquille Harrison, Isaiah Canaan and rookies Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton. The results have been ugly as Phoenix is averaging more than 20 turnovers per game and had power forward Ryan Anderson handling the ball for part of Friday’s contest.
  • Canaan was on the court Friday for the first time since fracturing his ankle in January, writes Cody Cunningham of NBA.com. Canaan, who had 11 points for the Suns in 32 minutes and drilled three 3-pointers, was grateful to be back in action. “I could barely sleep last night just knowing that I would have the chance to play again,” he said. “It just means a lot to me personally and I just give a lot of credit to this organization and to this training staff for doing an unbelievable job getting me, not only back on my feet, but also competing at a high level.”
  • It shouldn’t be hard for Boban Marjanovic to increase his playing time with the Clippers this season, tweets Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. Marjanovic averaged 8.3 minutes in 20 games after coming to L.A. in a January trade, but coach Doc Rivers said all he has to do for more court time is “Just keep being big.”

Western Notes: Suns, McCollum, Jazz, Middleton

The Suns used a portion of their room exception to sign De’Anthony Melton to his first NBA contract, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). Without using that exception, Phoenix would only have been able to offer Melton a first-year salary of $838K. Instead, the Suns were able to bump that figure to $949K. They still have $3.5MM of their room exception available.

Meanwhile, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders indicates (via Twitter) that while Devin Booker‘s new extension with the Suns is projected to start at 25% of the cap in 2019/20, there are triggers in the deal that could push that figure higher. Pincus isn’t sure of the specific details, but reports that Booker could get 27.5%, 28.5%, or 30% of the cap if he meets certain criteria. I’d guess that those criteria are related to whether he earns spots on the first, second, or third All-NBA teams.

Here’s more from around the Western Conference:

  • C.J. McCollum is often the subject of trade speculation, but the Trail Blazers guard tells Michael Scotto of The Athletic that he’d welcome a long-term stay in Portland. “I’m forever grateful for the opportunities they’ve given me and would love to be a Blazer for life,” McCollum said.
  • While it may be a little early to start speculating about 2019’s free agent period, Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune suggests (via Twitter) that Bucks wing Khris Middleton is a player the Jazz like a lot. With Ricky Rubio, Alec Burks, and others on expiring deals this season, Utah could have plenty of cap flexibility next summer.
  • As Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com details, Jahlil Okafor said there were a “multitude of reasons” for him to sign with the Pelicans, calling the decision a “no-brainer.” Keith Smith of RealGM.com (Twitter link) hears that New Orleans was comfortable with waiving Emeka Okafor in part due to how good Jahlil has looked. “He’s in amazing shape, and he’s going hard on both ends too,” Smith’s source said. “Seems like he really gets it now.”
  • The Timberwolves recently announced some additions and promotions on their coaching staff, including Pat Zipfel as an advance scout and Malik Allen and Larry Greer as assistant coaches (link via Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune).

Suns Sign De’Anthony Melton

4:23pm: The contract is a guaranteed two-year, $2.3MM rookie deal, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

4:03pm: The Suns have officially signed rookie guard De’Anthony Melton, the team announced today in a press release. Phoenix now has 18 players under contract, including 14 on guaranteed contracts, assuming Melton’s first-year salary is fully guaranteed, as expected.

Melton, who averaged 8.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG, and 3.5 APG in his first year at USC in 2016/17, was linked to the NCAA’s bribery scandal last year, prompting the Trojans to hold him out of action. He left the program in February and entered the 2018 NBA draft as an early entrant.

The Rockets used the 46th pick to nab Melton, but traded him to the Suns along with Ryan Anderson in the August deal that sent Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss to Houston. During his brief time as a Rocket, Melton made a strong impression at the Las Vegas Summer League, where he recorded 16.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.0 APG, and 3.0 SPG in five contests.

Assuming the Suns don’t trade for a veteran point guard, Melton should have the opportunity to make an immediate impact in Phoenix, where he’ll vie with Shaquille Harrison and fellow second-rounder Elie Okobo for minutes at the point. Isaiah Canaan, who is on a non-guaranteed contract, may also be in the mix.

While most second-round picks who signed NBA contracts this offseason received three- or four-year deals, the Suns don’t currently have cap room or the mid-level exception available, meaning they probably won’t be able to offer Melton more than two years, using either the room exception or minimum salary exception. I explored the club’s contract options for the rookie guard earlier this month.

Suns’ Contract Options For De’Anthony Melton

The Suns acquired Ryan Anderson, a veteran stretch four they like, in their trade with the Rockets last week, but the prize of the deal looks to be rookie guard De’Anthony Melton. Melton was highly regarded by several draft experts and flashed his NBA potential in Las Vegas in July with a strong Summer League performance.

However, Melton remains unsigned, meaning the Suns will have to lock him up to an NBA contract now that they’ve traded for him. And because Melton was a second-round pick, he’s not subject to any sort of rookie scale — Phoenix will have to use cap room or an exception to sign him.

NBA teams have increasingly used either cap space or the mid-level exception to sign these second-round picks, since doing so allows clubs to offer three- or four-year contracts to those players. Nearly all of this year’s second-rounders have signed for at least three years, with only a small handful of exceptions, such as Jevon Carter of the Grizzlies and Alize Johnson of the Pacers.

[RELATED: 2018 NBA Draft Pick Signings]

The Suns’ options for signing Melton are somewhat limited though, since the team has used up its cap room, going over the cap as part of that trade with Houston. Here are Phoenix’s potential avenues for signing Melton:

Minimum salary exception:

The minimum salary exception can be used by any team at virtually any time. However, the exception limits contract offers to two years and – of course – the minimum salary.

Going this route would put Melton on track to reach restricted free agency in 2020, at which point the Suns could match any offer and the Arenas provision would limit other teams’ ability to do a huge offer sheet. This is how the Grizzlies signed Carter.

It wouldn’t be the end of the world to only offer Melton two years, but there’s a chance he’d hit free agency just as he’s starting to hit his stride.

Room exception:

Like the minimum salary exception, the room exception can’t be used for contract offers exceeding two years. The difference is that the Suns could offer more money with the room exception, going all the way up to $4.449MM in year one.

It’s possible that the Suns will go this route, but there’s little incentive to do so. A guaranteed two-year, minimum-salary contract is already a solid outcome for the No. 46 overall pick, so if Phoenix makes a two-year offer, I’d expect the club to stick to the minimum salary exception.

Creating cap space:

Having used cap room this offseason, the Suns have forfeited their right to the full mid-level exception, meaning the only way they can offer Melton more than two years is to do so with cap space. Right now, Phoenix is over the cap, but there are a couple ways the team could sneak back under…

(Note: We’re assuming Isaiah Canaan‘s non-guaranteed deal is a summer contract that doesn’t currently count against the cap. If that’s not the case, he would need to be waived as part of most of the plans outlined below.)

  • Waiving Shaquille Harrison and Richaun Holmes: Both Harrison and Holmes are on non-guaranteed salaries, so the Suns could clear their cap hits from the books by waiving them, creating enough room to sign Melton. The Suns could subsequently go back over the cap by re-signing Harrison and Holmes to new minimum deals, if they want to. This is risky though. Both players would be prime candidates to be claimed off waivers, and the Suns probably won’t want to lose them just to get Melton an extra year or two.
  • Buying out Darrell Arthur or Tyson Chandler: Of the two veteran big men, Arthur looks to be the more likely buyout candidate. If he’s willing to give up the equivalent of his minimum salary, the Suns could reduce his cap hit by nearly $2.4MM, opening about $1.45MM in cap space, more than enough for Melton. Arthur would have to be motivated to get out of Phoenix and would probably need to have a new destination lined up in order to agree to a buyout though.
  • Making a trade that cuts costs: The Suns are said to be in the market for a point guard after sending Brandon Knight to Houston. If they could find a way to make a deal that also reduces their team salary by $2MM or so, it’d be an ideal outcome, allowing them to upgrade their point guard spot while also creating the cap room necessary to offer Melton a longer contract. This would require a willing trade partner and the right sort of salaries though, making it the trickiest of these options.

It may ultimately not matter much whether Melton signs a two- or three-year deal with the Suns. But if the club makes a roster move in the near future that looks designed to trim team salary, Melton’s first NBA contract is probably the motivating factor.

Rockets Trade Anderson, Melton To Suns For Knight, Chriss

AUGUST 31: The trade is official, the Rockets and Suns announced in separate statements.

AUGUST 30: The Rockets and Suns have agreed to a trade, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). According to Wojnarowski, Phoenix will acquire Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton from Houston in exchange for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

Anderson has been on the trade block in Houston for over a year, with his expensive long-term contract having stood in the way of a deal until now. While the Rockets will finally shed the two years and $41.69MM remaining on Anderson’s deal, they’ll take back another pricey multiyear contract — Knight is owed $30.28MM over the next two seasons.

Chriss will earn $3.21MM in 2018/19 and has a team option worth just over $4MM for 2019/20. The Rockets will have to make a decision on that option by October 31 of this year. As for Melton, he has yet to sign his first NBA contract, so Houston is technically trading his draft rights to Phoenix. The Suns will have the opportunity to lock him up once the trade is official.

While the in-the-tax Rockets will save some money as a result of the swap, the on-court implications are even more interesting than the financial ones. Anderson’s impressive three-point range allowed Houston to stretch the floor on offense, but his defensive shortcoming made him unplayable in certain matchups — he didn’t see much action in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors last season, for instance.

In place of Anderson and Melton, the Rockets will be receiving two players with intriguing upside. Knight missed the entire 2017/18 season with an ACL tear, but isn’t far removed from averaging 19.6 PPG and 5.1 APG in 52 games for the Suns in 2015/16. Assuming he’s back to full health, Knight could provide Houston with scoring and play-making off the bench behind Chris Paul and James Harden.

Chriss, meanwhile, has yet to develop into the sort of difference-making big man the Suns hoped for when they drafted him eighth overall in 2016. However, he’s still just 21 years old and has shown flashes of potential during his first two NBA seasons. It’s not clear how he’ll fit into the Rockets’ plans.

The Suns, apparently not ready to bet on Chriss taking significant steps forward, will replace him in the frontcourt with Anderson, a veteran stretch four capable of playing alongside No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton. Phoenix will also add Melton, a 2018 second-round pick who had an impressive Summer League showing for the Rockets, filling the box score with 16.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.0 APG, and 3.0 SPG in five games in Las Vegas.

The deal will leave the Suns lacking in experience and depth at point guard. Second-rounders Melton and Elie Okobo could see minutes immediately, with Shaquille Harrison and Isaiah Canaan also in the mix.

It will be interesting to see whether Phoenix has another move up its sleeve to fortify that point guard position or if the club simply plans to lean more heavily on Devin Booker as its primary play-maker. In his full report on the trade, Wojnarowski notes that the Suns may envision a larger role for Harrison.

The Rockets will create a modest traded player exception worth about $2.58MM in the deal.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.