The Phoenix Suns free agent summer begins with whether to keep the Brandons in the valley for a long time. However, free agents like Brandon Knight and Brandan Wright are keeping their options open in anticipation of suitors lining up at their doors.
On Thursday, Knight went on the radio with Sirius XM radio's Justin Termine and co-host Eddie Johnson to promote his upcoming basketball skills camp (find out more info at brandoneknight.com), and answered a few questions about his time with the Suns and his free agent future.
He reiterated that he was "blindsided" by the trade. He and the Bucks were rolling right before the deadline and they all thought they'd come back from the All-Star Break intact. Yet Knight was traded after all. He and the Bucks did not agree to a contract extension the year before, and the Bucks were also facing the restricted free agency of Khris Middleton this summer. So the Sixers get a 2016 likely lottery pick, the Bucks get Michael Carter-Williams and the Suns get Knight.
After being the 8th pick in the 2011 Draft, Knight played two seasons with Detroit, putting up about 13 points and 4 assists per game at 19 and 20 years old. He was traded to Milwaukee, where he blossomed to 18 points and 5 assists per game as a 21 year old. Compare that to the Suns' Archie Goodwin (age 20) and Alex Len (age 21) to appreciate Knight's abilities while being so young. He again put up 18 and 5 this season despite once again playing for a new coach (Jason Kidd), leading the Bucks to a winning record and strong playoff position before the trade.
"I think I played so well," Knight says now. "My value increased so quickly that's the reason that I was traded this year."
Once traded to the Suns, Knight had a tough adjustment period and then just as he began to look comfortable (13 points in the first 16 minutes against Golden State), he rolled his ankle so badly he missed the rest of the season as the Suns faded badly. He played just 12 of the Suns second half games.
Yet he's already begun to commit to the Suns and he started his free agent season (ie. the day after the regular season ended in Phoenix), on the right note.
"I'm optimistic about the situation," he said in April. "I like it here and I like the way I've been treated so far. Top-notch, class organization and, like I said, I'm looking forward to a future with the Suns. I think we have some special things to look forward to next year."
And now he's continuing to talk as if he's going to be in Phoenix next year as well.
"I really want to try to push the guys on the Suns and this organization to get better," he said yesterday when asked where he can improve next year. "True leaders make the people around them better. I think for us to really take that next step we got to have each and every guy get better. Not just myself, but our entire team. It starts right now."
Knight has mentioned several times since becoming a Sun how he wants to be a leader next season. This is nothing new for the 23 year old. He was a leader in Milwaukee, and quite vocal about wanting to be one before it even showed on the court.
Some question whether he can be a leader next season for the Suns if he's not even the starting point guard. But Knight says he and point guard Eric Bledsoe get along just fine on the court as a back court duo.
"I enjoy playing with Eric because he's such a great talent, and he's not a selfish player," he said. "He's very, very unselfish. He's just trying to make the right play, trying to win."
About the two-point lineup that's become so polarizing among the fan base, Knight sounds confident it can work because of the two guys being asked to run that offense this coming season.
"As far as playing with Eric goes, I think it's a great thing," he told EJ and Termine on XM Radio. "You have two players attacking instead of having a team focus on just one of us. Being able to have two guys break down the defense at any time, I think, will make it not only easier for myself but easier for him as well. It's really about making the right play."
If the two-point system is going to work, both of the starting guards need to be 100% committed to it. Bledsoe has never once complained about the system, and it sounds as if Knight is sold on it before hitting the free agent market. If you're going to question the system, now is the time to do it and he didn't even hint that direction.
In this interview, he never once mentioned weighing offers or checking out other teams. Sure, he will do that like every other free agent. But he didn't rankle the Suns brass in public.
The salary cap (and new contracts, presumably) will increase by 30% next summer and another 20% the summer after that, thanks to the incoming cash flow to the NBA through new TV contracts. Players will have to weigh what's more important to them: long-term security vs. a chance to cash in when the money is flowing.
Signing long-term this summer would very likely be at a much lower annual rate than next year or after. This summer's $12 million per year contract could become $15-18 million per year next summer or $18-20 million in 2017. It's a changing landscape, folks.
But to get in that market, Knight would have to play for a peanuts this year (his qualifying offer is $4.79 million for 2015-16) or talk the Suns into a lucrative one or two year deal. The cap is supposed to go down, slightly, in 2018, but still would be 40% higher than this summer's loot.
Knight was coy about the type of contract he wants this summer, saying it's up to each individual player to decide.
"I have to see what cards I'm dealt," he said. "It's really about individual preference. I can't speak on that until I know what's going on and that won't be until July."
At least he's not planning to drag out the process, and it's unlikely teams will hold players hostage considering ANY deal offered this summer is cheaper than trying to sign the same player next year. Don't be surprised when a lot of restricted free agents get over-market offers from their teams when the opening bell sounds.
"If it can be quick and easy, that's the best thing," Knight said in April. "You don't wanna go through a fight or anything like that. Or you don't want to drag it out as well. Definitely don't want it to be anything that leads up into training camp."
Knight sounds like a guy just waiting to see what the Suns will do, and deciding within those parameters.
He appears smart enough to realize the point guard market is saturated with available players this summer. Ty Lawson reportedly wants a trade from Denver, and rumors indicate they'd make him available in a rebuild. Deron Williams is also likely available in Brooklyn. Rajon Rondo is just about 100% certain to leave Dallas. Goran Dragic is unrestricted, though he's likely to stay in Miami. Reggie Jackson and Patrick Beverley are restricted free agents as well.
Knight is the youngest of the veteran free agents, but when you consider the half-dozen point guard prospects in this draft who will come at a cheap price for many years, it's highly likely that teams won't waste the time to make offer sheets to Knight, Jackson and Beverley this summer.
The summer should have a few surprises in it for Suns fans, but Knight's team next season is unlikely to be one of them.