The Phoenix Suns rightly decided it was time to reboot a team that had lost 5 of 6 games and had one of their best players demand a trade.
And reboot they did.
- Five players out - Goran Dragic, Zoran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis.
- Three players in - Brandon Knight, Marcus Thornton, Danny Granger (maybe)
- One draft pick out - Lakers (top 5 protected this year, top 3 protected in 2016)
- Three draft picks in - Cleveland's 2016, Heat's 2017 (top 7 protected), Heat's 2021
Basically, the Suns kicked the rebuild can down the road a few paces. They traded one unrestricted free agent (Dragic) and four multi-year contracts for one restricted free agent (Knight), an unrestricted (Thornton) and a release/stretch candidate (Granger).
Four days ago, they projected to have no money to spend on outside free agents this summer with the cap hold on Goran Dragic and multi-year contracts on Thomas, Zoran, Plumlee and Ennis. They would only have had the mid-level exception provided to all teams over the cap, which would have been the case with the Dragic and Green cap holds.
Now, the Suns will have a good deal of cash to spend when a lot of big names hit free agency. Basically, they are starting the 2014 summer over again, beginning in July.
Without cap holds this summer, the Suns could have nearly $22 million to spend in free agency, even if the cap does NOT rise. But many assume the cap will be artificially increased to avoid the windfall effect a year later. Assuming the cap jumps up to smooth out the transition to the new revenue the next season, the Suns would even have more to spend.
Brandon Knight's cap hold is just under $9 million. That reduces spending power on the Suns' part, unless they let him go. Gerald Green's is $6.65 million, while Marcus Thornton's is a whopping $12.2 million and Brandan Wright's is $9.5 million. Expect both Green and Thornton to be renounced and off the cap before free agency starts. Each could be re-signed as regular free agents if the Suns desire to use other exceptions on them, just without the cap hold predicating the signings. Not sure yet on Wright.
Brandon Knight is a restricted free agent. He turned down $9 million/year last summer in a contract extension offer from Milwaukee and has played a bit better this year than he did a year ago. In this inflating market, he should command $12-15 million per year in a new contract.
With TV revenues going up so much, the cap is expected to rise by up to 50% in the next two or three years. That means salaries will rise as well. Bledsoe was paid partially because of that increasing cap, and so will Knight.
As a side benefit, by sending out three rotation players (Dragic, Plumlee, Thomas), the Suns can now find time to play Brandan Wright and the kids in the second half to see if they are ready for rotation spots long term.
Again, the Suns look to have hit the reboot button on the off season. Let's see if they handle it better this summer than they did last summer.
Last summer, they entered free agency with a high-profile restricted free agent (Bledsoe) and lots of spending money. They tried to swing for the fences to bring in LeBron James and maybe a Chris Bosh along with him before re-signing Bledsoe to make the perfect summer.
But in retrospect it couldn't have gone much worse for the Suns. While waiting out the big cheeses, they lost a key rotation player (Channing Frye) and alienated their RFA (Bledsoe). Then they signed the wrong insurance plan (Isaiah Thomas) when they were bypassed by all the big names.
This year, they will have yet another high-profile RFA (Knight) and lots of spending money.
Will they shoot for the moon again, going after a big name unrestricted players such as C Marc Gasol or C DeAndre Jordan or PF Paul Millsap or C Greg Monroe? LeBron James and Kevin Love will both be technically free agents as well.
Or will they get a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet for max money, such as SF Jimmy Butler (Bulls) or SF Draymond Green (Warriors) or PF Tobias Harris (Magic) or SF Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)?
Or, will the Suns aim lower at players such as SF DeMarre Carroll (Atlanta), SG Wesley Matthews (Blazers), C Robin Lopez (Blazers), SG Danny Green (Spurs), SG Khris Middleton (Bucks) or C Kosta Koufos (Grizzlies)?
Or will they look to the trade market, knowing their biggest needs are clear upgrades in the front court and most of the free agent options are either staying with their current clubs or not enough upgrade for the price to pay?
Who knows. But at least the Suns aren't locked into a perennial playoff-bubble team as they were just a few days ago.