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Phoenix Suns still have to spend a bit of money, but roster likely set

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While the Suns will have to spend another $4-5 million by the end of the season, they are likely looking at their roster right now for the 2016-17 season.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have committed to a rebuilding phase. While they would love to surprise the league and threaten for a playoff spot while playing up to nine players under 25, including a pair of Teen Towers, the Suns cap sheet is clearly into full rebuild mode.

The Phoenix Suns have committed the 6th fewest guaranteed dollars to 2016-17 player salaries thanks to the rookie salary scale and 9th fewest in 2017-18 guarantees as those rookie salaries rise.

Rebuilding teams don’t want to lead the league in salaries paid to veteran players, and they certainly don’t want those salary commitments to extend several seasons into the future if they are not playoff bound.

You might think the Suns should be even lower than the $80.9 million they have guaranteed to date, but there’s a cap minimum every team has to reach at just under $85 million by the All-Star break. The Suns and those other teams need to find ways to reach the 90% threshold anyway.

*all numbers in this here article come from spotrac.com

Guess who has committed the most money to player salaries in 2016-17? The Dallas Mavericks, that is, with the Grizzlies, Clippers, Spurs and Pistons rounding out the top 5. I have no idea why three of those teams have gone all-in on salaries.

Having cap space mid-season is helpful to continue stockpiling assets for future years, just as the Sixers and Blazers each acquired first round picks last February for the temporary use of their open cap space. Look for several teams to be “fighting” for those bad contracts in order to get a draft pick attached.

Meanwhile, the Suns are committing to the kids and managing their quite reasonable veteran contracts.

Remember when the Suns “spent big” on locking up Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight in the last two offseasons to long-term contracts?

Guard

Even with Bledsoe and Knight making $26 million between them in 2016-17, the Suns are only mid-pack on total spending at the guard position. Bledsoe and Knight are just 20th and 25th in overall guard salaries, and 11th and 14th at point guard, respectively. There are 12 full-time shooting guards making more than Knight next season, who is just ahead of the vaunted Arron Afflalo of the Kings. Afflalo, Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili are off-the-bench guards making Knight money.

In all, 39 guards will make at least $10 million next season. The Suns’ Leandro Barbosa is 42nd among shooting guards, while Devin Booker is 61st and Archie Goodwin is 63rd.

Center

At center, the “overpaid” Tyson Chandler is 17th on the salaries list among centers for the 2016-17 season, just behind Miles Plumlee of the Bucks. Let’s say that one again. Tyson Chandler is 17th on the salaries list among centers for the 2016-17 season, just behind Miles Plumlee of the Bucks. Before you retort with Plumlee’s youth and upside, remember he’s never earned a consistent role since his surprise season in Phoenix and he’s already 28 years old. Fourth-year center Alex Len checks in at 35th overall.

Forward

It’s at the forward position where the Suns are really under-spending the most. Jared Dudley makes twice the next-highest Suns player, and he’s still only 44th on the forwards list across the NBA, just behind former Suns Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer. P.J. Tucker is the 83rd highest paid forward, while Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and T.J. Warren are 94th, 113th and 131st respectively.

What does all this mean?

The Suns are spending appropriately for their lot in life, and and will even have to spend more of that money just to reach the salary floor by the end of the season. If they don’t spend another dime, the roughly $5 million difference will get split up among the players on the roster.

My guess is the Suns would rather eat a bad contract at some point to pick up another asset like a future first-round pick.

GM Ryan McDonough finally had a chance to use many of his earlier-acquired assets - late firsts and seconds from trades - to move up in the draft from 13th to 8th for a better overall player in Marquese Chriss this summer.

In the future, he’s got the Miami picks (2018 and 2021 first round) to dangle along with his own draft picks - all grading out as upper-level lottery picks at this point - plus nine players under 25 years old on the current roster and a fist-full of reasonable veteran contracts.

Might as well add another asset or two with their cap space this season when another team wants to dump a player.

But in the meantime, the Suns are set up very well to evaluate their youth this season. Which of their young players will grade out as a future All-Star? Can Devin Booker continue his rapid rise? Will Dragan Bender or Marquese Chriss show enough glimpses of future stardom, or will they just look like role players? Will Alex Len and T.J. Warren push themselves beyond long-term role player status? What position will the Suns most need to fill in next June’s draft lottery?

These are your 2016-17 questions, Suns fans.

Not whether the Suns should “dump” the contracts of Chandler or Tucker or Knight. Dumping those contracts simply means bringing another player or two back each time with an equally expensive deal.

Trading Chandler, Tucker or Knight, for example, would have to be a slam dunk win in terms of a future asset. Otherwise, you’re still just shifting deck chairs.