It wasn't too long ago that Alex Len was the undisputed starting center for the 2015-16 season. After all, he had earned it after making significant progress during his sophomore year. Most Suns fans saw no reason to chase after a top free agent center, instead keeping an eye out for star power forwards such as Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Then, the Suns shocked everyone on day one by signing Dallas Mavericks center Tyson Chandler to a 4-year, $52 million contract. Chandler will immediately step into the starting center role, moving Len back to the bench.
Although this was a puzzling move at first, it quickly became clear that it was designed to get the Suns one step closer to signing LaMarcus Aldridge. So far, that plan seems to be on the right track. Chandler assisted the Suns in meeting with Aldridge this afternoon, and for now the Suns appear to be one of the serious contenders for the All-Star big man.
However, even if Aldridge signs elsewhere, there is no reason to question the front office's decision regarding Chandler.
On the one hand, the Suns could have just signed Brandan Wright for about $6 million a year, which is what the Grizzlies are reportedly giving the former lottery pick.
Instead, the Suns now owe approximately $13 million per year to a 33-year-old center. They could have paid Wright less than half that price, while still giving Len additional minutes as the starter to develop his game. But while Wright's new contract with Memphis does appear to be a steal, Chandler's is nothing to scoff at for a few reasons.
First of all, this signing is simply evidence of Ryan McDonough's claim several days ago that the team would be "aggressive" in free agency. Though every team always pledges to be more aggressive, and never opt for the "passive" approach, this time the Suns front office actually stuck to their word.
On the very first day of free agency, they signed one of the better players in the free agent class to a lengthy deal. Just hours later they brought him into a meeting in an attempt to attract an even larger fish to Phoenix. Though Aldridge may ultimately wind up elsewhere, the Chandler signing took a certain amount of dedication on the part of the Suns. Simply re-signing Wright for $6 million per year would not have gotten the team on any top free agents' radar.
Additionally, Chandler is simply a better player than Brandan Wright. Just last year the former Defensive Player of the Year put up 10.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He also shot 67 percent from the field and finished the season with a career-high PER of 20.1. In other words, he is far from washed up. Much like Wright, the high-flying center is able to catch lobs on the offensive end. But he also brings elite rebounding and defense, giving Phoenix a terrific post defense combo of Chandler and Len to play at any point during the game.
And though Wright carries a professional attitude himself, Chandler brings some added veteran experience to the locker room. He won a championship with the Mavericks in 2011, and has been to the playoffs nine different times. He could serve as a terrific mentor not only to Len, but to every other big man on the team as well.
Finally, although this point has been brought up ad nauseum about every single free agent signing today, Chandler's contract truly isn't that bad in the context of the rising salary cap.
If the Suns opt to backload Chandler's contract, giving him a 4.5% raise each season, he will be making approximately $13.1 million for the 2017-18 season. At that point he will be 35 and in his 3rd year with Phoenix. Because current estimates peg the 2017-18 salary cap at $108 million, Chandler alone will account for 12.1% of the team's cap space.
In the context of today's salary cap, which is $67.1 million, 12.1 percent amounts to $8.1 million.
Would you pay a 35-year-old Tyson Chandler the same amount, proportionately, as big men such as Markieff Morris, Taj Gibson, Boris Diaw, Ersan Ilyasova, Tiago Splitter and Ryan Anderson are currently making? If the answer is yes, then you have no reason to fear his contract.
Truthfully, if Chandler struggles to stay healthy in his mid-thirties he may prove to be overpaid. But perhaps this is just a world we must get used to as quickly as possible, where players like Tristan Thompson can command $15 million per year despite being far off from stardom.