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Phoenix Suns spending like playoffs teams spend, for first time in years

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns are spending more money this year than they have since the heyday of the SSOL Suns, all thanks to recent extensions given to players aging out of their rookie contracts and last month's big free agent signing of Tyson Chandler.

Coming into the season, the Suns rank 17th in overall spending among NBA teams. Chandler, Bledsoe and Knight are now among the Top 50 paid players in the NBA this season, though Bledsoe and Knight tie for just 42nd and Chandler comes in at 49th.

  • All together, 28 of the 30 NBA teams have at least 1 player making a Top-50 salary, so Phoenix having someone in there is no great shakes.
  • 26 of 30 teams have at least one player making more than any Phoenix Suns player will make this year.
  • Seven other teams have at least three players making Top-50 money (Cavaliers, Heat, Clippers, Thunder, Bulls, Spurs, Warriors). All but the Suns and Heat made the playoffs last year, and the Heat are predicted to be a top East contender this year.

Money does not equal wins

For certain, just because you spend money on players doesn't mean you win more games. Several big spenders won't make the playoffs this year.

Just ask the Brooklyn Nets, who are still a big-spending team even after buying out Deron Williams. They will be lucky to win 35 games despite being the 9th biggest spender on salaries. The Pistons and Knicks are outspending the Suns but almost certainly won't make the playoffs, even in the lowly East. In the West, the Lakers have two top-50 salaries, Kobe Bryant and Roy Hibbert, and are spending just $2 million less than the Suns but likely will be fighting to keep their high lotto pick (Top 3).

Last year, the Knicks spent the 4th MOST money last year on salaries, but finished as the league's 2nd worst. The Kings spent the 11th most money, but finished as the league's 6th worst.

On the other end, the Bucks spent the LEAST money on player salaries, yet made the playoffs. The Hawks spent the 5th least amount of money and Celtics 8th least, yet those teams made the playoffs too. They were able to squeak in thanks an awful conference made even worse by terrible injuries (Heat, Pacers).

But most of the time it does

But aside from the Knicks and Kings last year, every team that spent top-17 money was playoff caliber. They either made the playoffs or missed it primarily because they suffered catastrophic injuries (Heat/Bosh/Wade, Pacers/George, Thunder/Westbrook/Durant).

That's 15 of the top 17 spenders being playoff caliber, with just the Bulls (20th) and Hawks (26th) making the playoffs without spending like it. The Suns haven't been a Top-20 spender in several years.

I'm not saying the Suns will make the playoffs. Certainly, some think the Suns are on the outside looking in.

The Suns could lose a ton of games next year that has nothing to do with player salaries, and I'm not trying to imply otherwise. I'm just saying they are at least spending like it, and it's not because they are spending stupid money. All the contracts are market rate or below.

Let's break down the Suns roster, and compare their spending to other NBA teams. I've used one of my favorite sites - spotrac.com - for all this information, including team rankings by position.

Guards

Next season, the Suns will spend the 5th most money on guards in the NBA ($39.5 million), which is just over half of the overall $70 million salary cap. That's a jump from the $33 million they spent on guards last year (still 7th in the league), divvied up primarily between Bledsoe, Dragic, Tucker, Thomas and Green.

This coming year, only the Heat (Wade, Dragic), Lakers (Kobe, Swaggy P, Russell and Lou Will), Clippers (Paul, Redick, Crawford) and Warriors (Splash Brothers, et al) will spend more on the guard position.

*Note: the site I'm using for rankings has Tucker as a guard. This inflates the guard spending, while deflating the forward spending. I assume the same categorization of wings going into the 'guards' ranking is applied across the board, so the rankings are still apples-to-apples.

  • Eric Bledsoe: $13.5 million
  • Brandon Knight: $13.5 million
  • P.J. Tucker: $5.5 million
  • Sonny Weems: $2.814 million
  • Devin Booker: $2.02 million
  • Ronnie Price: $1.5 million (only $947k against the cap)
  • Archie Goodwin: $1.16 million

Both Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight will make market-rate salaries in 2015-16, totaling $27 million together. That takes up just under 40% of the salary cap with those two alone. Next year, with the expected jump of the cap to $90+ million, Knight and Bledsoe will count just 30%. While that's still a high rate for two players, it leaves a ton of money for spending elsewhere.

The Suns project to enter next summer with up to $29 million to spend, with Teletovic, Leuer and Price being UFAs and if the Suns release Weems and Tucker. The Suns would still have 8 players under contract (including Morris, at the moment) + 2 draft picks. If the Suns keep Tucker and Weems, that $ is still $20+ million.

Back to this year, only the Miami Heat, with Goran Dragic and Dwyane Wade just re-signed this summer, and the Lakers, with Kobe Bryant and whoever starts next to him, will be spending more on their two starting guards (unless it's Jordan Clarkson instead of Lou Williams, Swaggy P or Russell).

The Nets, after buying out Deron Williams, dropped to 6th overall on guard spending for the coming season. A year ago, the Nets spent a whopping $55 million on their guard position ALONE (or 92% of the cap) thanks mostly to Joe Johnson and Williams.

Centers

After spending only $8 million on their center position a year ago (22nd in the league), the Suns will now spend $16.81 million on centers (13th) between Tyson Chandler and Alex Len.

  • Tyson Chandler: $13 million
  • Alex Len: $3.81

The Suns have occasionally spent a lot of their cap on centers, which might surprise you. Two years ago, it was Emeka Okafor. Before that, it was Ben Wallace and Shaquille O'Neal. Only O'Neal spent any time on the active roster though.

This year, the Suns hope that Tyson Chandler can have the type of impact that David West made on the Indiana Pacers a few years ago, when West helped propel the middling Pacers into a perennial playoff team. Before his arrival, unheralded as it was, the Pacers were stuck in mediocrity refusing to bottom out. It helped that they hit on Paul George in the draft, but it was West who was credited with changing their culture and showing them how to win.

Forwards

This category apparently only includes guys who play power forward alone, or at least exclusively a forward position. Remember that P.J. Tucker was categorized as a guard above. The Suns will spend just $16.57 million on their forwards (28th in the league).

  • Markieff Morris: $8 million
  • Mirza Teletovic: $5.5 million
  • T.J. Warren: $2.04
  • Jon Leuer: $1.03 million

By extreme comparison, the Cleveland Cavaliers spend the most on forwards ($53.5 million), and that doesn't even include Tristan Thompson's soon-to-be $16 million per year!

Ponder this: once TT signs, the Cavs will be investing their entire "regular" salary cap ($70 million) on guys who play forward for a living! Thanks to Bird Rights and trade rules, they spend another $35 million on the other positions (not even yet counting Matthew Dellavadova or J.R. Smith).

Summary

The Suns spend more than most on guards, are middling on centers and one of the least invested in forwards. Duh, you knew that right? Of course you did. We all did.

But I thought it was interesting show the numbers on how the Suns compare to other teams, and see where other teams are spending their money. Cleveland is forward-heavy, Washington and Minnesota are center-heavy and Golden State takes the cake on guard spending.

Most importantly, the Suns are investing again. Since 2012, the Suns have ranked 30th, 28th and 24th in spending on player salaries while they rebuilt with youth. This year, they are 17th.

They still don't have a sure-fire All-Star on the roster (which is why their highest paid player is the 42nd highest paid in the league despite signing just last month), but at least they are bringing in talent.

Tyson Chandler was a big get in free agency. As I've written before, he's the Suns biggest financial investment since Steve Nash. He won't have the Nash impact, but it would be nice to see someone making the right plays out there and holding people accountable. That could go a long way for a team in the edge of the playoff picture the last two years.

While spending most certainly does not equal wins (hello Lakers and Knicks!), it's a start. When you're not willing to be awful enough to get a top draft pick, you at least have to willing to spend in free agency to add more talent to your team.