Following Tuesday’s deadline for NBA teams to pick up fourth-year options on players currently in their third season, teams around the league can now head into the summer of 2018 with a firmer idea of who will be available in free agency. A team like the Suns, who might have anywhere from 12 to 26 million dollars in cap room, will have the opportunity now to add these talented young players sooner and more easily than expected.
Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ describes rookie scale contracts for first-round picks as fixed for the first three years, then subject to a certain percentage increase over year three in year four. Teams often break off relationships before year four to avoid that bigger final year salary
Suns management continues to surprise us with how extremely they are focusing on youth in their rebuild. Their exact 2018-19 salary will vary based on how many rookies they bring in and how many expensive veteran contracts remain by next October, but getting to $12 million is simple, and it should provide the team more than enough room to compete for players whose options have been declined, including Mario Hezonja, Jahlil Okafor and Josh Huestis.
The team can get to $12 million by renouncing Peter Jok, waiving Derrick Jones Jr. and waiving Alan Williams. Depending on what they choose to do with their veterans (Tyson Chandler, Eric Bledsoe, Jared Dudley and Brandon Knight), that number could vary quite a bit. Regardless, the Suns should have more than enough room to sign guys whose teams have just left them in the dust.
The player in this group they’ve been most frequently associated with is Okafor. In early October, ESPN’s Zach Lowe predicted in a season preview column that the big man, who won a championship at Duke and was the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, would be traded to either Phoenix or Chicago.
The fit makes sense, despite the Suns currently having almost too many big men to juggle. If they indeed move on from Williams next summer and trade Chandler, the Suns will be staring down Alex Len’s free agency with no other traditional options at center. Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders reports a July 6 guarantee date for Williams’s ‘18-’19 salary, meaning the team could feel Len out before making a decision on Williams.
It’s also possible that the Suns do in fact explore a trade for Okafor in-season. They could offer picks in return, which aren’t as valuable to the Sixers as they once were. Maybe the latest Markelle Fultz drama could entice Philly to explore the market for Eric Bledsoe as a secondary ball-handler next to Ben Simmons until Fultz gets healthy and develops?
There are also several interesting big men who should be available in next year’s draft, from Arizona’s De’Andre Ayton to Texas A&M’s Robert Williams. Okafor could either be a replacement or part of larger experiment, depending on how things go from now until then.
Hezonja and Huestis, on the other hand, fit more precisely into the team’s current roster structure. The Suns could easily find a new home for Troy Daniels between now and next October in order to find more time for Davon Reed and one of Hezonja or Huestis. It wouldn’t be shocking if that transition happened as soon as Reed returns from a knee injury around the start of the new year.
Hezonja is a wildly confident scorer who shot 35 percent from three during his rookie season but has struggled to find playing time since. Now, the Magic are overperforming to start the season, and there is no place for “Super Mario” in the rotation. Unless the Suns see wild progress from several guys, shooting figures to be the biggest need once again next summer. Hezonja could surely help if he finds his stroke in Phoenix.
Huestis is famous for being one of the first domestic draft-and-stash players, signing with Oklahoma City’s D-League affiliate in 2014 instead of taking a guaranteed $1.5 million with the Thunder. Three years later, he has still never cracked their rotation and will face unrestricted free agency next summer. He still has 3-and-D potential, and could be an option for the Suns if they still aren’t comfortable rolling with Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren as their only true wings.
Also on the list of players with declined options are Christian McCullough of the Nets, Kevon Looney of the Warriors and Rashad Vaughn of the Bucks. The Suns should -- and likely will be -- holding a microscope to all of these guys during the rest of the season.