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Phoenix Suns on the money: Cap magic required to fit Chandler and Aldridge

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As a general rule, it's nearly impossible to add about $48 million per year to your $69 million salary structure without feeling a little pain. Trying to do it with $45 million already guaranteed to 11 other players requires a lot of magic.

But that's exactly what the Phoenix Suns want to do, by re-signing Brandon Knight ($14 million per year, $70 million total) and adding Tyson Chandler (average of $13 million per year, $52 million total) from the Mavericks and dallying with LaMarcus Aldridge (average of $21 million per year, $85 million total).

After adding Chandler, the Suns are still in a position to be either "under the cap" or "over the cap", depending on what they do with their cap holds.

suns-cap-post-chandler

*factoring in the rumored increase of the cap by 2.1 million more than expected, to 69.1 million, just released yesterday

  • The advantage of being "under the cap" is the ability to sign free agents like Chandler outright, using free cap room to improve the team.
  • The advantage of being "over the cap" allows the team to use various salary cap exceptions and generous trade rules to improve the team.

What we don't know right now is how the Suns are positioning themselves before having Chandler sign on the dotted line on July 8.

Note: The Suns won't ink Brandon Knight until after all the dust settles, so we only need to count his cap hold in these machinations rather than his new salary.

"Under the cap"

If the Suns want to sign Chandler with cap room, they had just enough space to do so if they renounce their Bird Rights to Brandan Wright, Marcus Thornton and Gerald Green as shown in the chart above.

What that means is that the Suns could no longer re-sign any of the three players unless they used cap room under the reported $69 million in total 2015-16 salaries. By also releasing Jerel McNeal, it appears the Suns could generate maybe $3 million in additional cap space, at best.

But being "under the cap" and using almost all the cap space on Chandler also means the following:

  • the Goran Dragic trade exception of $5.5 goes away (trade exceptions are only for "over the cap" teams)
  • Only the "room" exception of $2.8 million is available to exceed the cap, and must be used on its own for free agent signings. It cannot be used as cap room in a larger deal
  • Suns cannot execute any trades that end up exceeding the cap. So there's no such thing as "matching within 50% of salaries". The Suns simply cannot take in more salary than they send out, if they sign Chandler using cap room.
  • Any acquisition of a player like LaMarcus Aldridge means the Suns would have to ship out $17+ million in salaries so the Suns are still at or under the cap after the trade is completed.
End result: The Suns can sign Chandler using cap space, but then be restricted to a little bit of remaining cap space, one small exception (room) and equal-or-greater salary trades for the rest of the season.

"Over the cap"

Alternately, the Suns could enter the summer as an "over the cap" team by keeping all the Bird Rights of all the players, as shown in the chart above.

This would allow the Suns to use all the various cap exceptions, like re-signing their own free agents, as desired, but be limited to trade and cap exception rules.

But to do that requires the Suns to acquire Tyson Chandler via trade from the Mavericks, with matching salary anywhere between 50% and 150% of Chandler's first-year salary.

There is currently no indication that the Suns are doing such a thing with Chandler, but if they do they'd have to send back at least $6-6.5 million in salaries to acquire Chandler from among the players already under contract.

And that's before doing any kind of deal for Aldridge or another player. But at least now, the Suns would only have to send back as little as 50% salary matching (ie. $9-10 million for Aldridge).

All tolled, it would cost about $15-16 million in outgoing salaries to bring in both Chandler and Aldridge as an "over the cap" team, and the two involved parties would HAVE to be Portland and Dallas receiving those assets back.

Then, at least, the Suns would still be able to use the Goran Dragic $5.5 million trade exception to acquire another player, plus the mid-level exception (5.8 million) and the biennial exception (1.9 million).

Confused?

The Suns cannot bring in both Chandler and Aldridge (or Chandler and another big-name free agent) without trading out some assets. And depending on how they do it, some of those involved parties would have to be the team that just lost their player.

Let me narrow it down to this:

Option A: "Over the cap": Chandler comes in a sign-and-trade from Dallas, with $6+ million going back to Dallas. Then Aldridge can be had in a sign-and-trade from Portland, with another $10+ million going back to them.

Option B: "Under the cap": Chandler comes to the Suns via cap room, sending nothing to Dallas. As a result, any acquisition of talent after that would have include equal-to-greater salary matching up to the $69.1 million cap. Depending on Knight and Chandler's first year salaries, and a release of McNeal, that could mean $15+ million in salaries going out.

The Suns could also pre-empt all this with a major salary dump, like Sacramento just did with Philadephia to clear mondo cap room. Again, this would require about $15 million MORE going out than coming back.

Summary

Either way, to bring in both Chandler and Aldridge would require the Suns to send out - to somebody - $15-17 million in salary.

I'll leave it to you which salaries that means, while just leaving these notes:

  • the Suns cannot trade Brandon Knight until at least 6 months after signing him, so put Knight out of your rosterbating mind.
  • the Morrii are still under felony charges, requiring permission to even leave the state. So, they likely won't be traded in the near term either.
  • the Suns have publicly said they won't trade Bledsoe to acquire LMA, but I don't see how they can cobble together $15-17 million in outgoing salaries without including 1 or more of Keef, Mook and Bledsoe.