Until yesterday, the Phoenix Suns had officially signed only one player in free agency - new starting center Tyson Chandler - while trading away three bench players in Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock.
Yesterday, the team completed the signings of four more free agents to complete the depth chart across the board and position the team to enter the 2015-16 season with a much more balanced roster than last season. Now in the fold are Brandon Knight, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems and Ronnie Price.
The free agency haul includes two projected starters, two main bench players and a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency third point guard.
Projected Starting Lineup
New center Tyson Chandler, 2013 All-Star and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, will start the season at center ahead of the still-developing Alex Len. He will provide the Suns with their best combination of rebounding and defense, as well as a pick-and-roll dive threat, in a long long time.
Combo guard Brandon Knight will slide into the starting lineup beside Eric Bledsoe to make a two-headed point guard pairing that will attempt to confuse defenses by being able to start the offense from either side of the floor. This plan worked in 2013-14 for the Suns because Goran Dragic was good at playing off the ball when Bledsoe was in the lineup. Now we must see if Brandon Knight can do the same.
The two will handle all the playmaking duties throughout the game, likely only sharing the floor at the start and end of halves and alternating the remainder of the time.
At power forward is Markieff Morris, who started all 82 games last year and put up very respectable numbers with high-efficiency scoring and the best plus/minus on the team.
At small forward, P.J. Tucker will try to fend of the challenge being brought by T.J. Warren for the starting role. Tucker fits well as the small forward in a two-point lineup because he can camp in the corner to pull the defense out of the paint.
Warren and Markieff Morris don't appear - on the surface - to be a good pair to share the floor with the two-point lineup because each wants to work in the midrange and neither is a good - or willing - three point shooter. Knowing that, defenses will clog the paint when both are on the floor.
Either Bledsoe or Knight will run the playmaking for the second unit all season, barring injury. Even if one were to be injured, you'd likely only have to find 10-12 minutes per game from a backup point guard to keep the team afloat. Ronnie Price will fill those shoes most of the time, just trying to keep the team afloat.
Backup shooting guard minutes will be filled primarily by Sonny Weems, unless he can't make his three-point shot on a consistent basis. He has proven in Europe to be able to make 37%+ on threes over the past three seasons. If he can do that here, he will have a good season. Weems runs the floor well and knows how to catch-and-shoot and stay within his role. What he won't do is hog the ball.
Behind Weems are the slashing Goodwin and sweet-shooting Devin Booker. Neither projects to get a lot of playing time unless there are injuries, or unless they dramatically outplay Weems early in the season.
To keep the floor spread, you might expect to see Warren paired with power forward Mirza Teletovic. The Bosnian will be a catch-and-shoot threat whenever he's on the floor, pulling the defense out and allowing Warren to get to work in the midrange on drives to the hoop for the pullup, floater or layin.
The team's most proven backup is center Alex Len. Will will likely dominate other teams' backup centers and he's even supposedly added a three-point shot to his repertoire, making him doubly dangerous on offense.
Further down the depth chart are exciting rookie Devin Booker and third-year player Archie Goodwin on the wing.
On the front line, Jon Leuer may not get many chances to play but he will be a solid backup in case of injury or ineffectiveness in the top 10 players.
For the first time in three years, the Suns have exceeded the salary cap as they've decided it's time to wins games rather than bide their time with a late lottery pick.
Frankly, with the talent of Len, Morris, Bledsoe, Knight, Tucker and Warren the Suns were never going to be bad enough to be one of the worst teams in the league and "earn" that high draft pick next year. So the front office decided to go all in and grab one of the few high-level free agents ready to switch teams and fill out the team with veterans who could bring a high level of professionalism to the team culture.
The Suns have been given high marks for free agency this year, and are now being projected as the 8th seed in the West by those who like to run numbers.
This article by SI predicts that the Mavericks, Trailblazers and Jazz will all finish behind the Suns in 2015-16, allowing the Suns to taste the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
The Suns are primarily buoyed by adding Tyson Chandler without losing any major impact players in the process.
The Suns still don't have that sure-fire perennial All-Star on their roster yet, but just might have the league's best collection of "pretty good players" who can band together to win a lot of games.
While this year's free agency is done, the Suns do still have something called the "room" exception ($2.85 million) and minimum-salary exceptions available to add players who slip through the cracks and might impact the rotation next year. Player signings at this point are not for any more money than the Suns have to spend because the high level free agent pool is pretty shallow.
But next year, the Suns will be ready to spend again. They can release P.J. Tucker (only a little bit guaranteed in 2016-17) and Sonny Weems to get as much as $26 million available to spend while still having eight of their best players under contract.
Nearly all teams will have money next summer as the cap jumps $20 million, but the very best West teams will still be strapped for cash or they would have to renounce one or more of their best players to get a ton of money to spend.
And, of course, there's always trades to be had. With so few top-level free agents changing teams each year, the Suns most likely route to add that perennial All-Star is via trade. And the Suns assets will only get better as time moves on. Future draft picks get closer, and youth continues to develop.
The Suns future is brighter now than it appeared to be a few weeks ago.