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Alex Len’s looming return might have an effect on rotations

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With Len likely returning on his 1-year qualifying offer later this month, how will this shake up minutes for others?

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

General manager Ryan McDonough’s first selection at the helm of the Phoenix Suns back in 2013, Alex Len, has been in a stalemate with management all summer related to a new deal or lack thereof.

At the offset of free agency, when negotiations can happen between their own players prior to July 1, Phoenix initiated dialogue by offering Len a 1-year, $4.18 million qualifying offer. Whenever Len signs the dotted line to return, his cap hold would be $12.1 million.

Len averaged 8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and a block in 20 minutes of action per game but by the end of the season, 2013’s No. 4 pick was supplanted by Alan Williams, who showed much more consistency when given the opportunity. Williams was rewarded at season’s end with a 3-year, $17 million extension with only 2017-2018 being fully guaranteed.

It sure sounds like Williams, who has been receiving those second team reps all summer anyway, has a spot in the rotation waiting for him this fall.

“I think he averaged close to a double-double the last third of the season from the all-star break on,” McDonough said in July at Las Vegas Summer League. “If he kept that up over the course of a year, he would’ve been among the league leaders in double-doubles coming off the bench. We really like his efficiency to score around the basket. We like his ability to rebound. He has very good chemistry with Tyler Ulis on the second unit, and he’s a good screener on the floor.”

The question is, when Len returns, what will happen to planned minutes for Williams and Dragan Bender, who McDonough was looking forward to seeing out there extensively with Marquese Chriss? Heading into a crucial sophomore season for Bender, being stifled by Tyson Chandler and or Len for minutes would be a shame after how much he was forced to play out of position last season, including small forward for extended stretches when healthy.

Currently, Chandler, Williams, and Bender (Chriss also will see time here dependent upon matchups) round out possible options at the five, but Len’s return will lead to one or two of those players having inconsistent minutes or little inclusion in the rotation altogether.

And after Len’s poor performance and lack of improvement over the last few seasons leads me to believe either him or Chandler will be on the outside looking in with consistent minutes. Remember, Phoenix was close to dealing Chandler to San Antonio in July before the Spurs ultimately waived forward Jonathan Simmons. According to Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News, the Spurs backed out of the deal in the final stages due to Chandler’s contract which has two years and $26.56 million remaining.

When Len signs back on, it would make sense to continue to shop Chandler around to a contender with how congested the center spot would become. Also, Chandler mentioned at the end of the season how he hoped Phoenix would go out and sign more veterans to the roster but they did anything but that by committing to the youth movement.

What really peaked my interest was a report that came out Friday morning from Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler when it related to Len. Kyler mentioned that the Suns made an initial multi-year offer to Len at the beginning of free agency, but it did not meet his representations' expectations.

Williams’ new contract reveals that management still wants to see one more year to see if he can be a consistent impact role player, so making a similar offer to Len with maybe partial guarantees could have taken place. And for a former top five pick, declining such offer makes sense from an agent’s perspective.

From a lineup perspective, how does Len impact it? Well, it could go one of two ways for the former Maryland Terrapin.

Len could supplant either Chandler or Bender for more minutes at the five, but the more realistic option looks to be him being the odd man out until a subsequent move is made. Hence why this could be dragging on as long as it is. I’m going to hedge my bets early on and say Williams has the second unit spot at center locked down either way.

Phoenix simply looks to be moving on from Len, but with how dry the restricted free agent market was, especially for bigs (ex: Nerlens Noel returning to Dallas on his QO after a 6-week negotiation process), returning might be his only chance to prove his worth again to other NBA front offices heading towards unrestricted free agency in 2018.

This season is one where crucial developmental jumps need to be made by each of the core four currently in place: Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Bender, and Chriss. Len has a chance to prove he’s a viable option for the Suns as a complementary piece, but will he finally have a breakthrough in terms of production? Through the first four years of Len’s tenure, we’ve been waiting to see consistent flashes, and he will have to show some off regularly heading into his most important year as a pro.