It was just a couple weeks ago that the Suns were forced to make a roster decision — in order to make room on their 15-man squad to convert Mike James‘ two-way contract into a standard NBA deal, the team had to trade or waive another player. Ultimately, Phoenix opted to waive Derrick Jones to open up that roster spot.
In that case, the Suns’ decision was fairly simple — Jones’ salary was non-guaranteed and he had only appeared briefly in six games all season. He didn’t have a key role in Phoenix, and his upside wasn’t so substantial that he was a crucial part of the team’s long-term plans. It made sense that he’d be the man out.
Now though, another roster decision may be approaching for the Suns, and this one may not be quite as simple.
With four players on the shelf due to injuries, the Suns were recently granted a hardship exception, giving them an extra roster spot, and used it to sign point guard Isaiah Canaan. Since joining the club, Canaan has played a crucial role in a pair of Suns wins, averaging an impressive 16.0 PPG with 6.5 APG and a .600/.600/.917 shooting line in his two games.
Obviously, that sample size is extremely small. It’s entirely possible that Canaan will struggle in his next couple games and the Suns will simply opt to let him go when their hardship exception expires and Booker – or another player – is ready to return. Still, Canaan is making a strong case for a permanent spot on the roster, and if he keeps it up, the Suns would have to trade or waive another player to get back down to 15 players.
Players with modest salaries or non-guaranteed contracts are generally the most vulnerable in this sort of situation, but after waiving Jones, Phoenix doesn’t have any other players on non-guaranteed deals. And most of the team’s lowest-paid players are promising youngsters that the club wouldn’t want to waive — that list includes Davon Reed, Tyler Ulis, Booker, Marquese Chriss, T.J. Warren, Troy Daniels, Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and Josh Jackson, in ascending salary order.
The Suns’ roster also features high-priced veterans like Greg Monroe, Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, and Jared Dudley, plus injured big man Alan Williams, whose $6MM salary puts him squarely between the pricier vets and the inexpensive young players. Knight, Chandler, and Dudley all have significant guarantees beyond this season, Monroe has been playing too well to simply be cut, and waiving Williams – who has yet to play a single game since signing a three-year deal in the offseason, doesn’t seem logical either.
So who’s left? Only James, whose minutes have been significantly reduced during the past two games since Canaan arrived.
Since the Suns won’t have much leverage to push for a trade in the coming days, waiving a player seems more likely. Phoenix’s decision might ultimately come down to the point guard whose impressive play on a two-way deal earned him a full-fledged roster spot earlier this month vs. the point guard who has had only played two games (albeit two very good games) for the team so far. We may soon find out whether Canaan has made a strong enough impression to win that battle.