Combo guard Jerel McNeal, 27, got his first NBA action with the Phoenix Suns over the last 10 days, and now has been signed to contract that could keep him with the Suns through the 2015-16 season.
McNeal has seen action so far in four games, making just one shot (1 of 6 from the field) with 2 assists and 2 rebounds in 19 minutes. An inauspicious start to a long-delayed NBA career marked by two D-League All-Star bids and a career stat line of 18.7 points, 5.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds, mostly with the Suns Bakersfield Jam affiliate.
Upon the expiration of his 10-day contract, the point-guard challenged Suns could have signed him to another 10-day contract that would expire at season's end, but instead tacked on a non-guaranteed contract for the 2015-16 season. The contract becomes guaranteed on July 21, if he is still on the roster.
Why offer a contract to a guy who's only made one basket in the NBA?
First of all, since he's now under contract through Summer League, the Suns have a point guard to run the team. McNeal is not a true point, but he's been winning a bunch of games in the Suns system all spring for the Jam as a facilitator next to Joe Jackson. The Suns will likely have Archie Goodwin, Reggie Bullock, T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Alec Brown and their first round pick on the SL team, but none are guys who can run point.
Having McNeal run the SL team allows Archie Goodwin to focus on shooting guard. Goodwin has played in 21 consecutive games for the Suns, mostly as backup point guard, but has notched more than 1 assist just six times in that stretch. Entering his third NBA season, this is somewhat of a make-or-break season coming for Goodwin where he needs to establish his NBA niche and become a rotation regular at something.
McNeal can potentially make or break his own NBA career for the Suns SL squad. If he can run the team while also scoring, he can potentially be a fourth or fifth guard and emergency point guard next year.
But McNeal's likely role beyond the 2015 Summer League for the Suns is to be a non-guaranteed contract available for trade purposes. Having a July 21 guarantee date allows the Suns to include McNeal in a trade for a salary-matching purposes where the receiving team can release him and save nearly a million in the process.
The Suns had the same opportunity with Ish Smith and Shavlik Randolph last year, but did not end up using them in any trades. Ish was eventually released after the Suns signed Isaiah Thomas, while Shav was kept around.
NBA teams often include non-guaranteed contracts in trades to allow the receiving team to save money rather than eat the contract of a player they want to release anyway.
Every NBA trade has to include something going each way. The Suns used the draft rights to Alex Oriakhi last summer in the Isaiah Thomas sign-and-trade. By making it a trade rather than a straight signing, the Kings were able to create a TPE (traded player exception) that would have allowed them to use the Thomas salary slot to acquire a player at a later date. And this way, the Suns gave up nothing of value to get Thomas.
Now McNeal is another chip in the Suns' stack for the poker game that is the NBA offseason.