Mike James bet on himself by accepting a two-way contract with the Suns. He could have made a lot more money playing in the European leagues where he is much more in demand but James signed the two-way deal to get a chance to prove that he belongs in the NBA and - thanks to the unexpected and rapid trade of Eric Bledsoe - he got the opportunity to make his mark very early.
Whether he has made the most of that opportunity is still up for debate but it's certain that the 45 day limit to his contract is rapidly approaching.
McDonough reiterated to me today that Suns want to sign Mike James to standard NBA deal before his two-way contract expires Dec. 6. My guess how they'll do that: Create roster spot by dealing 1 of 3 centers— scott bordow (@sbordow) November 20, 2017
Every other player that signed a two-way has spent the vast majority of his time in the G League but James has been with the big team in Phoenix from day one. This means that on December 6 the Suns will have some decisions to make. Scott Bordow’s “guess” as to how the Suns will deal with the situation is as good as any but there are other options that I’m sure the Suns will also consider.
First, let me give you a short primer on two-way contracts.
The two-way contracts do not count toward a team's salary cap and each team is allowed to sign two of the new contract players in addition to the 15 roster spots open to players signed to standard NBA contracts. Players signed to a two-way contract are allowed 45 days with the parent team at which point the two-way contract must be converted into a standard NBA contract or the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
That part is relatively simple. What complicates the situation that James and Suns will be in is that the Suns do not presently have an open roster spot that they could use to sign James to a standard contract when his two-way time is up.
As James and Tyler Ulis are the only two point guards on the team, it is highly unlikely that the Suns will just let James go at the end of his contract, although that is an option. But if they decide to retain him, they are going to have to free up one of the main roster spots by either waiving another player or making a trade that opens up a roster spot by sending away more players than it brings back.
Making a trade that just opens up a roster spot would be relatively easy but easy doesn’t necessarily mean good. The Suns would need to trade away at least two players for one but since approximately one third of all NBA players aren't eligible to be traded until December 15 (players who sign as free agents cannot be traded for up to three months after signing, or until Dec. 15, whichever is later), the timing for making a trade isn't very good for any sort of trade. It could still happen but I think it's unlikely to be a beneficial trade for the Suns other than opening up a roster spot to sign James. The options are just too limited and the Suns don't want to take back less than fair value - and especially not a bad contract - in a trade if they don't have to just to open up a roster spot. Or perhaps they could find a trade partner who is willing to take a Suns player in exchange for just a draft pick in return. But with a lot of teams over the cap, that type of trade would be impossible for some and others might not offer much more than Suns did when they acquired Troy Daniels from Memphis... a heavily protected 2nd round pick that is highly unlikely to convey.
The next option is to simply waive a player to create an open roster spot. I'm sure that almost everyone is thinking that player would probably be Derrick Jones Jr. He does seem to be the most likely candidate but the Suns might also consider waiving Alan Williams. Virtually no one wants to see Big Sauce waived but that could actually make more sense than waiving Jones.
As for Alan, he is still recovering from knee surgery and might only return for the final 8-10 games of the season if the projections for his recovery and rehab are accurate. And since he is unlikely to play in more than a handful of games late in this season, it's very unlikely that anyone will claim him on waivers. Alan would still get paid for the rest of this season and the Suns could re-sign him to a new contract this summer if they want. Alan's contract is not guaranteed past this season so the Suns will have to decide whether to bring him back next season or not even if he isn’t waived.
Another possible option that Brightsider Alex Tillapaugh brought up in his BSotS Fanpost was to waive DJJ, sign James to a standard contract and then re-sign DJJ to a two-way contract. I've scoured the internet looking for rules regarding this possibility and I can find nothing that would prohibit it. The only thing that for certain could derail that plan is if some other team claimed Jones before he cleared waivers. It’s not likely but with such a small contract ($1.3 mil this season) and the rest of his contract unguaranteed, some NBA team needing wing depth might actually do it.
And there is one other option which the Suns could consider. They could assign Mike James to the NAZ Suns on his 44th day (Dec. 5) and then play at least the following 10 days with Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker as the Suns' point guard rotation until December 15 when the trade possibilities will be greatly expanded. At that point they should be able to find a much better trade opportunity that could accomplish more than just opening up a roster spot.
I doubt that the Suns foresaw the possibility of this situation before the season began. If not for the trade of Eric Bledsoe, the Suns' decision would have simply been one of whether Mike James had performed well enough that the Suns wanted to keep him as a third point guard. It's not quite that simple now but there are several possibilities as to how the Suns can handle the upcoming situation... including making a trade that sends James out as part of a deal that brings back another point guard to take his place.
Hopefully they will choose wisely.