- The Suns hope their $45MM practice facility will be finished in October, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. The courts are still being installed and painted, team officials told Rankin. Team owner Robert Sarver originally targeted August for the completion of the privately-financed facility.
- Suns rookie forward Cameron Johnson, the No. 11 pick in the 2019 draft, detailed his experiences on the NBA’s restart campus with Gina Mizell of Valley Tales. He also reflected on what it means to ascend to the next level of basketball talent. “When you get [to the NBA], now everybody kind of has to play their role, but we still all push to get better in every category,” Johnson said. “For me, it’s a lot of ballhandling, shooting off the dribble, understanding defenses from an offensive perspective and how to attack them.”
Hoops Rumors is previewing the 2020 offseason for all 30 NBA teams. We’re looking at the key questions facing each club, as well as the roster decisions they’ll have to make this fall. Today, we’re focusing on the Phoenix Suns.
Salary Cap Outlook
The Suns’ cap outlook will depend on which direction they want to go with their roster. They currently project to have $87.5MM in guaranteed money on their books for eight players and a first-round pick, so renouncing or cutting everyone else could result in about $19MM in space.
However, retaining non-guaranteed players like Cameron Payne ($1.98MM) and Elie Okobo ($1.67MM) would cut into that space slightly. So would exercising a $5MM team option for Frank Kaminsky. And attempting to re-sign Dario Saric and/or Aron Baynes, who each have $10MM cap holds, could result in Phoenix remaining over the cap.
If the Suns use cap room, they’ll be able to supplement it with the room exception ($4.77MM). If they remain over the cap, they’ll have the full mid-level exception (about $9.3MM) and bi-annual exception ($3.6MM) available.
Our full salary cap preview for the Suns can be found right here.
Roster Decisions To Watch
- Frank Kaminsky, team option: $5,005,350
- Cameron Payne, team option: $1,977,011
- Note: Payne’s salary would only be guaranteed for $25K if his option is exercised.
- Cheick Diallo, team option: $1,824,003
- Elie Okobo ($1,663,861)
- Tariq Owens (expiring)
- Aron Baynes (Bird)
- Dario Saric (RFA; Bird)
- Jevon Carter (RFA; Early Bird)
2020 Draft Assets
- No. 10 overall pick
The Suns have their own first-round pick, but traded away their second-round pick (No. 40) to the Grizzlies in a salary-dump deal last July that sent Josh Jackson, Kyle Korver, and De’Anthony Melton to Memphis.
Three Key Offseason Questions
1. Was the Suns’ end-of-season success for real?
Although the Suns ultimately fell short of qualifying for a play-in tournament for the final postseason spot in the Western Conference, their summer success was one of the biggest early stories of the NBA’s restart.
Critics initially questioned why Phoenix – which entered the summer with a 26-39 record, good for 13th in the Western Conference – was even invited to Orlando, but no other team matched the Suns’ 8-0 record during seeding games.
That end-of-season run was a great sign for the franchise going forward, but it will be up to the Suns’ front office to properly evaluate what it means heading into the offseason. Overachieving teams can get into trouble when they weigh a previous season’s success too heavily and make win-now roster changes, ignoring the possibility of regression and assuming that success will carry over.
That doesn’t mean the Suns should dismiss the positive developments that took place during their summer run. The ongoing improvements made by cornerstone building blocks Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton are great signs for the organization, as are the strides made by young role players like Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges.
However, it would be dangerous to assume the roster is just one or two pieces away from contention or to pencil Phoenix in for a playoff spot in a competitive conference next season based on the team’s 8-0 summer. General manager James Jones and the Suns should focus on continuing to make sound decisions without skipping any steps or taking short-cuts in the roster-building process.
2. Will the Suns look to bring back their own players or create cap space?
The Suns’ determination of how seriously to take their summer results will extend to their free-agents-to-be and players with options, many of whom either outperformed expectations or were non-factors during that 8-0 stretch.
Veteran big man Aron Baynes, for instance, had a great season in Phoenix, establishing new career highs in PPG (11.5), RPG (5.6), 3PT% (.351), and a handful of other categories while providing solid defense. But he didn’t play at all during the summer as he recovered from the effects of a COVID-19 diagnosis. As the Suns evaluate whether to re-sign Baynes, will they weigh his full-season success more heavily than their unbeaten streak without him?
Fellow big man Frank Kaminsky is in a similar spot as Baynes — he had a decent season overall before being sidelined by a right knee injury, but struggled during the restart, playing sparingly and putting up just 3.7 PPG on .393/.167/1.000 shooting. As a result, it no longer seems all that likely that the Suns will pick up his $5MM option.
On the other hand, power forward Dario Saric thrived during the restart ahead of potential restricted free agency. He was the club’s third-leading scorer in seeding games, behind Booker and Ayton, with 14.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and a red-hot .574/.524/.879 shooting line. Similarly, Cameron Payne was a pleasant surprise on his minimum-salary contract, averaging 10.9 PPG and making 51.7% of his three-pointers in eight seeding games.
If the Suns opt to move on from all their free agents and players with non-guaranteed contracts, they could create approximately $19MM in cap room. But if they start exercising options or re-signing players, that room will disappear in a hurry — especially if Saric or Baynes are retained. Their cap holds exceed $10MM and it might take an offer in that neighborhood to re-sign them.
The Suns have been named as potential suitors for some of the summer’s top unrestricted free agents, including Fred VanVleet and Davis Bertans, but they can only realistically pursue those guys if they open up cap room. As ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) suggests, a more prudent approach to the offseason might see Phoenix retaining Saric and Baynes on short-term deals and using the $9.3MM mid-level exception to seek out another reliable rotation player on the free agent market.
There’s another route the Suns could go if they want to retain some of their free agents while also being a player for some of this offseason’s top free agents. Oubre is on an expiring $14.4MM contract, while Rubio has two years and $34.8MM left on his deal — both veterans could be intriguing chips in trade talks.
Oubre, who underwent surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee on March 3, is another player who wasn’t in the Suns’ lineup during their hot summer stretch. Throw in the fact that he’ll reach free agency in 2021 and overlaps positionally with some young players on Phoenix’s roster and you can make a case that the team should consider gauging his value on the trade market.
Oubre is entering his age-25 season and was having his best season as a pro before injuring his knee, so he’d fit into the Suns’ long-term plans. But if there’s a player on the free agent market the team wants to go after, acquiring an asset in exchange for Oubre and clearing his $14MM+ salary would be one way to clear cap space.
Another way would be moving Rubio, though he might be a slightly harder sell, since he’s entering his age-30 season and has multiple years left on his contract. This seems like a longer shot to me, since we’re just a year removed from Rubio being the free agent target the Suns had to create cap room to pursue. But Marks suggests that moving the veteran point guard and a draft pick to a team with space (like the Hawks) would be a way to open up the room to go after VanVleet.
Jones and the Suns will have some options this offseason. It’ll just be a matter of deciding which players – either on the current roster or on the free agent market – the team wants to prioritize and which ones aren’t part of the franchise’s long-term vision.
The Grizzlies have added former Suns assistant Darko Rajakovic to Taylor Jenkins’ coaching staff, according to Evan Barnes of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. It’s the second hire in three days for Memphis, which welcomed Sonia Raman on Friday.
Rajakovic, 41, spent one season in Phoenix after joining new coach Monty Williams’ staff last summer. He served as an assistant with the Thunder from 2014-19 and coached Oklahoma’s G League affiliate from 2012-14. Rajakovic will replace Neven Spahija, who has accepted an overseas coaching job.
“I’m very excited to join Taylor’s staff and the Grizzlies organization,” Rajakovic said in a prepared statement. “This is a unique opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the growth of a highly competitive and sustainable program in Memphis.”
Rajakovic was as an assistant on the Serbian national team during last year’s FIBA World Cup. He has built a reputation for developing players, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, which makes him a perfect addition with all the young talent in Memphis.
“We are all so excited to be welcoming Darko to the Memphis Grizzlies,” Jenkins said. “He has shown a passion, drive, high basketball IQ, and love for teaching the game of basketball at a high level both internationally and in the NBA. His addition to our great coaching staff will continue to help enhance the development of our players, staff and team for the future.”
The Clippers‘ forthcoming Inglewood arena has received the final approval necessary from the Inglewood City Council, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN (Twitter link). The team, which announced a joint deal to buy the publicly-owned property on the arena site, now has the go-ahead to begin building its new arena in 2021.
In a press release on the club’s official site, the team notes that construction is scheduled to commence next summer. The Clippers are expected to move from the Staples Center, an arena they share with the Lakers, to their new home ahead of the 2024/25 season.
There’s more out of the Pacific Division:
- Suns coach Monty Williams has added Brian Randle to his staff as an assistant coach, per Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (Twitter link). Randle is a former player development coach for the Timberwolves.
- Lakers starting center JaVale McGee has been cleared to play in tonight’s pivotal Game 3 against the Rockets, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). McGee turned his left ankle in Game 2 of the Lakers’ series with the Rockets and was limited to just eight minutes of action. An MRI on the ankle came back negative. Mark Medina of USA Today tweets McGee will not have a minutes restriction tonight. Medina adds that bench guard Dion Waiters will not be available for Game 3.
- Meanwhile, Rockets forward Danuel House Jr. will be unavailable tonight for personal reasons, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. Feigen adds (Twitter link) that Houston center Tyson Chandler will also miss tonight’s game for personal reasons, but that both players remain on the NBA’s Orlando campus.
- Clippers All-Star Kawhi Leonard‘s stellar Game 3 performance showcased just how valuable he is as a two-way player, and why he was the top priority for Los Angeles in free agency ahead of the season, notes Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Leonard was named to the 2020 All-Defensive Second Team earlier this afternoon.
- Among the league insiders polled by Bontemps, two teams – the Hawks at No. 6 and the Suns at No. 10 – were mentioned most frequently as candidates to be active in trade talks on (or leading up to) draft day. As Bontemps observes, both teams have cap flexibility and will face some pressure from ownership to make the playoffs in 2020/21.
The Hawks, Knicks, and Suns are expected to be among the top threats to pry unrestricted free agent Davis Bertans away from the Wizards this offseason, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Atlanta is “shaping up to be particularly aggressive,” Hughes writes.
Bertans opted out of the NBA’s restart due to his history of ACL injuries and a desire to preserve his value for his upcoming free agency. Before that, he had enjoyed a career year in 2019/20 during his first season as a Wizard, averaging a career-best 15.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.7 APG in 54 games (29.3 MPG). The 27-year-old also had his best shooting season, making an impressive 42.4% of 8.7 three-point attempts per game.
Bertans’ rare combination of size and shot-making ability will make him an intriguing target for teams seeking a big man who can stretch the floor. Estimates earlier this season suggested that he may be in line for a deal worth in the range of $15-20MM per year. The coronavirus pandemic has created some uncertainty about teams’ financial situations for next season, but Hughes says league sources still expect Bertans to command a salary in that $15MM+ range.
The Hawks project to have the most cap room of any team this offseason, making them a legit threat to make a run at Bertans. The Knicks could also create significant room, depending on how they handle their numerous veterans with non-guaranteed salaries and team options.
The Suns’ cap outlook is cloudier. They have more guaranteed money on their books than Atlanta or New York, and ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said this week during an appearance on Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta podcast that there have been rumblings that Phoenix intends to reduce its spending. Windhorst cited the sale of the Suns’ G League franchise to the Pistons as evidence of team owner Robert Sarver clamping down on the team’s expenses.
Of course, the Wizards still may be the frontrunner to retain Bertans. They turned down offers for him at the trade deadline, hold his Bird rights, and have long expressed a desire to bring him back on a new deal. Based on the competition they’ll face though, it sounds like they shouldn’t expect to get him back at a discount.
The Pistons, Knicks, and Suns are among the teams expected to emerge as suitors for Fred VanVleet once the Raptors guard reaches unrestricted free agency this offseason, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic.
VanVleet projects to be one of the top free agents on the market when the 2020/21 league year begins. The 26-year-old is coming off a career year in which he averaged 17.6 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 3.8 RPG on .413/.390/.848 shooting in 54 contests and is off to a hot start in the postseason, with 21.3 PPG, 7.8 APG, and 4.0 RPG on .527/.559/.800 shooting in four games against Brooklyn.
Only a handful of teams project to have cap room available this offseason, so the Raptors are in a good position to re-sign VanVleet. However, a team like the Pistons or Knicks could certainly make things interesting — and make signing VanVleet a more costly endeavor. Neither club has a long-term answer at the point and both will have cap space at their disposal this fall. VanVleet also played for current Pistons head coach Dwane Casey in Toronto.
As for Phoenix, the fit there is less obvious, considering the Suns already have Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio in their backcourt and may not have the cap flexibility to make a competitive bid for VanVleet if they hope to bring back contributors like Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, or Frank Kaminsky.
Still, VanVleet has plenty of experience playing alongside another point guard in Toronto, where he started this season alongside Kyle Lowry, and Suns GM James Jones showed last year in his pursuit of Rubio that he’s willing to make moves to carve out cap room if there’s a target he likes. Bobby Marks of ESPN recently suggested the idea of trading Rubio to a team like Atlanta to open up cap space for VanVleet.
- Suns coach Monty Williams spoke with Greg Moore of The Arizona Republic on a number of topics, including how he guided his team to an 8-0 record in Orlando and how he handled the social justice movement. “We did have organic, spontaneous conversations even before we went to Orlando — maybe three Zoom chats, where we had really good conversations that weren’t just about basketball,” Williams said of his team. “Then when we got to Orlando, we just dialed in to what we say every day, ‘Family on three.’”
Thursday’s lottery results could produce a wave of trades before draft day, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. The former Grizzlies executive believes the Warriors, who landed the second overall selection, will try to swap the pick for more immediate help and lists the Hawks, Knicks, Wizards, Suns, Kings and possibly even the Timberwolves as other lottery teams that may be active on the trade market.
Hollinger proposes a couple of moves for Golden State, which also has a $17MM trade exception from last summer’s Andre Iguodala deal. He suggests offering the second pick to the Thunder for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or to the Hawks for John Collins, although Atlanta hopes to make the playoffs next season and may not be interested in dealing for the future.
Hollinger adds that the Knicks may want to package their picks at No. 8 and 27 to move up in the draft for one of the top point guards, the Wizards have incentive to improve quickly before Bradley Beal gets a chance to leave again and the Suns possess cap space to take on another player and have playoff aspirations after going undefeated in Orlando.
There’s more draft news to pass along:
- Salary cap concerns may make it difficult for the Warriors to find an appealing deal, according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN. Counting its draft pick, Golden State already has more than $150MM in committed salary for next season, which puts the franchise far into the lottery tax, even if the threshold remains at this year’s figure of $132.7MM. Trading the No. 2 pick for a player with a $17MM salary could leave the Warriors with a record-setting $103MM tax bill and a total payroll of nearly $270MM.
- The eight teams not in Orlando were relieved that the Grizzlies, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Suns and Wizards didn’t move up in Thursday’s lottery, notes Zach Lowe of ESPN. He cites resentment among some of the non-invited teams that they didn’t get a chance to form chemistry the way Phoenix did, and one general manager said it would have been “our worst nightmare” if any of those teams had jumped into the top four.
- Georgia guard Anthony Edwards tops the latest mock draft released by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic. Most NBA executives agree that Edwards is a top-three prospect, Vecenie writes, and many think his physical tools give him the highest upside in this year’s class. LaMelo Ball is the No. 1 choice in a mock draft compiled by Jonathan Givony of ESPN.