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Examining possible restricted free agent targets for Phoenix Suns

Phoenix has plans of being aggressive in free agency. Will that include dictating restricted free agent pricing?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

This summer, the Phoenix Suns will be one of only six teams with significant wiggle room to be contenders for quality win-now pieces. With plans of being aggressive in June and July, more so than the last few offseasons, general manager Ryan McDonough will have to hit this offseason out of the park to achieve their hopeful goals.

However, with restricted free agency, it’s an entirely different process. Offer sheets are usually matched within the three day period required.

Surprisingly Phoenix has never been that active in that area, so this could be the opportunity for them to finally nab a proven commodity, albeit in a likely overpay.

Below, I’ll analyze eight different names the Suns might kick the tires on.

Ball Handlers

  • Marcus Smart

For a team in need of a full-on culture reset, Phoenix needs to target experienced playoff talent to surround their young talent led by Devin Booker. From a fit point of view, Smart is an ideal candidate to be a backcourt partner alongside Booker while also being versatile enough to switch 1-3.

With Terry Rozier continuing to make a jump towards legitimacy leading Boston into the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s likely they hold on to Rozier unless they want to capitalize on his sky-high trade value. Smart is a vital cog in Boston’s system, but Rozier is proving to be a better two-way asset for them in the short and long term.

After helping turn Ricky Rubio into an at least average shooter from beyond the arc (career 31.5% before joining Utah, 35.2% this past season), new head coach Igor Kokoskov might love the challenge of pulling off a similar feat with Smart.

The ability to defend at a high level on the perimeter alongside being switch-versatile is becoming a key to today’s modern NBA. If Phoenix believes Kokoksov could work his shooting magic on Smart, this could turn into a wise investment as they plan to make their ascent out of the bottom.

  • Dante Exum

Exum to me is such an interesting pairing in Phoenix, but the question is will Utah relinquish their lottery project so soon? Each offseason, we continue to hear some Exum noise, but it’s quickly tamed by him suffering another setback.

After only playing in 162 games in four seasons (average of 40.5 games played per season), could Phoenix decide upon aggressively pursuing this 6’6” point guard with a 6’9 14 wingspan? Utah has their presumed point guard of the future already in place with Rubio, so they might not want to overpay for the 22-year-old Exum if someone presents a bloated offer sheet.

Like Smart, this would be a Kokoskov special waiting to happen as he is only shooting 30.6% for his career beyond the arc. It also helps that Kokoksov was Exum’s position coach the past three years, so he might be able to bring out that tantalizing two-way potential that had many executives salivating before the 2014 Draft.

After trading for Elfrid Payton at the deadline, Phoenix could see this as the fresh start Exum needs to flourish. As we all know, it obviously didn’t go well at all for Payton but that switch could easily flip for Exum if he’s given the Suns’ medical staff alongside more consistent minutes. He would be an immediate upgrade over the rest of the point guards on the roster, and could come relatively cheap if Utah wants to move on anyways.

With a high assist percentage (29.7%), true shooting percentage (56.6%), free throw rate for someone playing the point (35.6%), and ability to switch comfortably on defense, Exum might tick all of McDonough’s boxes for a possible diamond in the rough. If he ends up finding a groove in Phoenix with an improved perimeter game, he’s a very smooth pairing schematically with Booker.

Outside of the big fish restricted free agents on this list, I actually think this pairing makes a ton of sense for both sides once July 1 hits.

  • Fred VanVleet

This undrafted product out of Wichita State burst onto the scene in Toronto quickly becoming a vital piece to their franchise record success in his second season.

After barely seeing any playing time as a rookie, VanVleet’s shooting, active hands to get in passing lanes, and great assist-to-turnover ratio allowed him to carve out a role in the Raptors’ vaunted bench unit.

VanVleet also fills the role of someone who you can count on in clutch situations due to the charismatic and cooling nature he exuded on the floor. That is something Phoenix did not have at all in their backcourt, as they usually relied on Booker to carry an enormous load before shutting him down in February.

Compared to the other two ball handlers on this list, VanVleet presents to me the most risk factor. Odds are he will cost in the $10-12 million range per season, if someone wants to pry him out of Toronto.

Is that worth it for VanVleet?

In an increased role, per 36 minutes, here’s how VanVleet fared: 15.5 points, 5.8 assists (3.2-1 AST/TO ratio), 4.4 rebounds, and 1.6 steals on 42.6/41.4/83.2 shooting splits.

On the surface, VanVleet is what Phoenix will prioritize to improve their roster. As James Jones recently said on 98.7 FM earlier this month, perimeter shooting will be a priority for them to add.

I would guess the Suns try to add 3-4 above-average shooters to their mix of young talent, as they have ranked near the bottom in terms of three-point efficiency since 2015. Depending on how the NBA Draft goes, VanVleet might become an even more enticing option for Phoenix with his underrated two-way profile but he’s on the smaller side at only 6-0.

Wings/Forwards

  • Aaron Gordon

Will Orlando blow it up once more after new management has had a year to evaluate their roster? That is a big question surrounding the Magic this summer as Aaron Gordon will likely sign an offer sheet rather quickly for at or near max contract value.

Gordon has progressively improved on both ends the past four seasons, which included a slight jump on both ends in advanced numbers, but there’s some warning signs. Especially for a team like Phoenix, weighing whether Gordon is truly a max contract candidate is a huge decision to undergo.

If they did decide to throw Gordon’s representatives a max during the first week of free agency, that would go a long way towards capping their future flexibility. However, it could be an easier pill to swallow if they believe Gordon is the missing link alongside a possible trio of Booker, Jackson, and Deandre Ayton.

Both Jackson and their top four pick will stay on team-friendly deals for the next 3-4 seasons so they have a window to truly make a contending jump within that timeframe.

Phoenix would only have around $18 million in room before having to renounce plenty of contracts including Alan Williams, Tyler Ulis, Davon Reed, and Alec Peters. Also, the Suns would likely need to find a trade partner for Tyson Chandler or Jared Dudley to allow them more breathing room to stay flexible.

If the Suns believe Gordon is a risk worth taking on that end, it would signal their ready to lock in their core of the future. Another name on this list from Houston would also require similar amounts of movement to even make this a possibility.

How truly aggressive Phoenix is on restricted free agents could easily be tied back to Gordon, depending upon their activity less than eight weeks from now.

  • Julius Randle

All of the sudden, Randle looked like a productive player after being on the outside looking in of Los Angeles’ young core. That still could be the case as the Lakers try to woo LeBron James, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard their so Randle might be the one to go.

For Los Angeles to even maintain flexibility to re-sign Randle, they would need to renounce every single free agent on their roster outside of him. It easily could happen, but at this point I’m thinking he’s the sacrifice that has to be made to attract their A-list free agent they have long desired.

Randle took strides as a scorer alongside playmaking out of the post, which could make him a very underrated fit in Kokoskov’s innovative motion offense.

This would signal the end of Marquese Chriss in Phoenix, I imagine, so they would likely look for a trade partner as Randle fills his role within their system.

The question is, how much will Randle cost on the RFA market alongside other competitors vying for a young forward to build with? It might cost more than we all imagine, because his per 36 minute averages show someone ready to breakout in the right situation.

Stretched out to starter minutes, Randle allotted 21.7 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists with a 60.6 true shooting percentage.

Randle saw a spark when the Lakers played him as a small-ball five so he could easily be versatile enough to play alongside a bigger brute down low or even fill that role himself flanked by shooters.

Unlike Gordon, Randle will cost less but he’s still going to have an impact on the cap sheet for a team still paying Brandon Knight and Warren’s extension kicking in this summer as well.

  • Jabari Parker

This has been a connection many have been making due to Phoenix’s medical staff paired with Parker’s consistent injury issues. After being the No. 2 pick in 2014, Parker has failed to live up to the expectations as he was quickly usurped as the future in Milwaukee by Giannis Antetokounmpo.

When healthy, Parker has showed three-level scoring potential but has been a sieve defensively. That’s the predicament teams will have to weigh when pursuing Parker. Will he buy into being a two-way player or continue to be one who’s hidden out there?

In Phoenix, Parker would likely come in and fill the role of a small-ball four who can stretch the floor (once again, another player with questionable perimeter game but he made strides this year) and provide a much-needed scoring assist to Booker, Warren, and Jackson.

He will likely come in on a similar pay scale to Randle, but it’s an even bigger attempt of swinging for home runs with Parker’s upside. After his injury history and disappointing defense, his star ceiling from Duke is definitely capped but he might find solace of having the best medical staff in the NBA with Phoenix.

Another question is if Milwaukee will match offers on Parker, especially if they are bloated. They need to pay Giannis once more in a few summers alongside Khris Middleton being up for a payday himself soon. Both have proven to be more valuable than Parker, but they might need to pony up as a small market vying to make a championship jump around Antetokounmpo.

Parker would be the ultimate roll of the dice in this RFA market, but if he’s able to stay healthy he could pay off in spades for a team in need of adding more win-now talent to it’s locker room.

  • Doug McDermott

You are probably asking yourself why is McDermott included alongside these other three? Well, I actually think his market might be more than we all expect, because shooting is becoming very important in a more positionless league.

Although he’s a minus on defense, McDermott would be an ideal candidate to sit in the corner and feast off of drive-and-dish looks from Booker, Josh Jackson, and others.

Ever since he arrived in the league from Creighton, McDermott has consistently been an above-average threat from deep as he’s a career 40.3%. From the corners, he’s even more lethal as he’s bounced around anywhere from 42-45% throughout his four stops thus far.

Also, McDermott would by far be the cheapest option on this list and could be slid into the cap using their mid-level exception. For a shooter of his caliber, anywhere form $6-8 million a year seems rather reasonable for both sides. After turning into a journeyman of sorts, McDermott might value long-term commitment so he will be an interesting name to watch this summer.

After seeing Jackson and Warren clank a lot of wide-open looks, McDermott would be a breath of fresh air to a roster in desperate need of spacing.

Bigs

  • Clint Capela

Out of all eight names listed, Capela is easily the true big fish to reel in, if the Suns plan to be that aggressive. Reportedly, they plan to do so with the Swiss big as Rockets Wire’s Kelly Iko reported they were “enamored” with Capela.

I could imagine 29 other teams being enamored with him after his awesome playoff run, but he’s definitely going to the most expensive on this list. At this point, I doubt Houston allows Capela to walk out their door unless it’s truly a full max offer sheet or in sign-and-trade scenarios.

Capela has turned into the perfect rim-running big for Houston’s fast-paced, versatile machine under Mike D’Antoni. In the playoffs, Capela has stymied Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert in back-to-back series flexing his muscle as one of the more undervalued rim protectors in the league.

From an advanced metrics point of view, Capela is a candidate to grow into an even bigger role outside of Houston.

Many will point to him being alongside James Harden and Chris Paul, which is a huge factor, but he’s proven himself as someone who could fit into most fast-paced systems mimicking Houston-like motions.

If the Suns draft Luka Doncic at the top, Capela immediately becomes such a tantalizing idea because both Doncic and Booker could grow alongside the 23-year-old big. Down the line, Capela could be reaping similar benefits he is now with a backcourt featuring Booker and Doncic.

Right away, the Suns flip into a rising contender with a lineup featuring the following: Doncic, Booker, Jackson, Bender/Chriss, and Capela.

Sure, that’s still an insanely young rotation but it has the opportunity of becoming one of the most fun, fast-paced offenses in the NBA.

I’ll save the rest of my Capela thoughts, from his on-court production, for our free agent film series later this summer.

As rumors have already started to surface, Capela could slide into the ideal role as Phoenix’s protection down low if they go the Doncic route on draft night.

With less than two months separating go time for Phoenix to flip the switch and become one of the most aggressive teams in adding talent, all eight of these players definitely check boxes on the list of how to improve their roster overnight.