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Payton’s RFA status puts Phoenix Suns “over the cap” this summer

While the Suns added talent and flexibility, one outcome takes the Suns off the market for free agents this summer.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The acquisition of Magic guard Elfrid Payton just before the trade deadline could change the Suns’ summer outlook if his audition goes well and they want to keep him around next year.

But before we get into what happens in July, let’s take a moment to celebrate a rare moment of logic and sanity in this hellabad season when the Suns acquired Elfrid Payton to run the show.

A General Manager would have to be insane to leave his coach with only an ailing, undersized Tyler Ulis (back spasms), limping shooter Devin Booker (ribs, etc.) and G-League call-up Josh Gray as their primary ball handlers for the last 26 games of this season.

You may think McDonough insane for how he built this roster, his fifth as GM, with a known malcontent in Eric Bledsoe backed up only by an undersized second-year water bug Tyler Ulis and break-in-case-of-emergency Euro import Mike James as his only playmakers.

You may think McDonough insane for sticking with Bledsoe going into the season, knowing (as we know now, from Bledsoe’s agent) that Bledsoe wanted either a high-priced extension or a trade.

You may think him insane for being so stubborn about keeping Bledsoe despite those demands and with FULL AWARENESS from the 2014 offseason of how Bledsoe’s agent operates without regard for anyone but himself and his client.

You might think him a lunatic for suddenly pulling the plug on him and the coach (who share the same agent) just FOUR DAYS INTO THE SEASON, handing his interim coach only the aforementioned James and Ulis to run point for the next 79 games.

You may think him clueless for sticking with James and Ulis for two whole months before swapping James for a guy off the street in Isaiah Canaan.

To put this in perspective: Bledsoe, Ulis and James were so bad that Canaan’s 38% shooting and 4 assists per game appeared like an angel from heaven.

Finally, McDonough did something smart with the point guard position on Thursday, February 8, 2018. It just took him a whole offseason and 56 regular season games to do it.

In acquiring 23 year old 6’4” Elfrid Payton for the draft pick the Suns picked up from Memphis to take on Troy Daniels, the Suns brought in a player who has a higher career assist rate (33%) than any Sun since Steve Nash and (gasp) is taller than any Suns regular playmaker since Jason Kidd, unless you’re counting Boris Diaw.

Elfrid Payton might (almost certainly) not be the point guard of the future, but for now he is the best point guard in a Suns uniform this year.


Unlike James, Ulis and Canaan, Elfrid Payton can actually drive AND FINISH at the rim. He’s been in the 90th percentile much of his career among point guards at conversion rate at the rim.

And while he’s only a career 30% shooter on threes (despite 37% this year), that’s better than many of his predecessors the last couple of years.

I’ve already mentioned the assist rate. Payton isn’t Steve Nash or Chris Paul, but he will rack up more assists than we’ve seen in a while.

He rebounds, scores and passes. His eight career triple-doubles (three+ seasons) is TWICE as many as the entire Suns franchise has seen in the last dozen years. Boris Diaw is the last Phoenix Sun with more than three career triple doubles.


Despite his athleticism and length (6’7” wingspan), Payton is a bad defender. So he’ll fit right in with the Suns in that regard.

He can’t shoot from distance, with a career 3P% of just over 30%. But then again, none of the Suns recent point guards have shot well from three, so this won’t be any shock to you all.

Payton’s presence in Magic lineups had a -9 points per 100 possessions, compared to about even when he on the bench. Which is good, considering the Suns still really really need to draft a superstar in June.

The hair. I mean, really? Come on man.


Payton will be a restricted free agent this summer, with a cap hold of just a hair under $10 million when free agency begins. With Payton’s status, the Suns will actually be more likely to enter free agency as an ‘over the cap’ team than not.

*Check for a GREAT breakdown of the Suns cap situation. It’s remarkable.

Add in the cap holds for draft picks (Suns, Miami’s) and other free agents (Alex Len, Isaiah Canaan, Alec Peters), and assuming the Suns keep their non-guaranteed contracts (Alan Williams, Tyler Ulis and Davon Reed), they will be nearly $8 million over the cap on July 1.

This status as “over the cap” allows the Suns to use the mid-level exception - which is now nearly $9 million per year - before re-signing one or both of Payton and Len using Bird Rights.

Or, the Suns could clear out all of Payton, Len, Canaan, Peters, Williams, Ulis and Reed to create almost $20 million in cap space for free agents.

Waiving and stretching Brandon Knight’s last two years would create another $8 million or so this offseason, though they’d be on the hook for just under $6 million in dead space on the cap for the next five years.

A cleared out team with $28 million to spend in free agency would look like this:

  • PG: none
  • SG: Devin Booker, Troy Daniels
  • SF: T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Jared Dudley
  • PF: Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender
  • C: Tyson Chandler

The PG and C positions could be fortified with the upcoming Top-5 pick and Miami’s (15-20 range) picks before needing to sign any free agents.

But with the Lakers and Sixers among teams with lots of space too, one has to wonder if lots of cap space is a bad omen.

The Suns have a lot of options this summer - from keeping all their players and the draft picks for another run in 2018-19 all the way to clearing much of the deck and rebuilding the roster around just the kids and geriatrics.


For those who haven’t seen much of Elfrid Payton, watch some highlights.


Tell us what you think of the trade.


What’s your grade on the Payton acquisition?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (624 votes)
  • 37%
    (502 votes)
  • 7%
    (105 votes)
  • 1%
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    (8 votes)
  • 7%
    Grades are pointless. The Suns will screw this up somehow.
    (102 votes)
1355 votes total Vote Now

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