The most important summer of Phoenix Suns GM’s career takes another big step forward tonight with the start of free agency.
So far, one new cornerstone and a couple of new well-fitting pieces for the future have been added to the team. Center Deandre Ayton has All-Star games in his future, while Mikal Bridges is the prototype 3-and-D wing prospect to play in a rotation with Josh Jackson and Devin Booker and Elie Okobo has better size than any recent point guard draft pick of McDonough, while also bringing athleticism and shooting abilities.
Not to disparage George King at all, but the 59th pick will be shuttling back and forth, mostly forth, to the NAZ Suns next season. In case of injuries, King would be the call-up ahead of the likes of Isaiah Canaan, Josh Gray, Shaquille Harrison and smaller combo guards.
The Suns have cleared room for Ayton by letting Alex Len go for good. And at point guard, they’ve cleared room for Okobo by letting Tyler Ulis go (either by trade or release today). Len and Ulis were both top-8 in minutes played last year.
They have not quite cleared the wing minutes for Bridges yet, unless you count Danuel House and Davon Reed (almost certainly released after Summer League), But you can be sure that real minutes will be found among Troy Daniels (6th in minutes last year) and T.J. Warren (1st) if Bridges plays well enough to earn the time.
So yes, the draft brought significant talent into the rotation to upgrade from Alex Len, Tyler Ulis and Troy Daniels.
Where the Suns are already set for 2018-19
The Suns are now set along wing, the in-between of point guard and power forward. None of Bridges, Jackson, Booker or Warren profile as strong enough to play big minutes at power forward. They can spot there, but the rebounding will be a problem and neither Jackson nor Warren offset that with long-range shooting.
And they are set at center, with Ayton and either Tyson Chandler or Alan Williams. By late next week, we will know which of Chander/Williams will stay with the team.
Where the Suns need help
Where the Suns still need help are at point guard and power forward. And by help, I mean players who are savvy, reliable and sure of their roles while also bringing clear starter talent and shooting ability. Each of these positions must be manned by players who either make threes or successfully set up others to increase their shot-making abilities. Of threes.
The Suns still have the developing Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender on the front line, so any upgrade at power forward really needs to be a starting caliber, multi-year big who stretches the floor around Ayton and provides interior and help defense.
At point guard, they have “who knows what he is” Okobo. And “find my shot, then my teammates” Brandon Knight. So if you’re going to add a point guard, it needs to be a veteran who can think about setting up his teammates first, then score later.
At least that’s my opinion.
To that end, here is my Big Board for the whirlwind free agency period that starts at 9 PM tonight and continues the rest of the summer, but mostly takes place between July 1 to July 14.
I mean, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Paul George are all available. All “could” play the defacto power forward role around the Suns wings. Or the Suns could get away with spotting their other guys and, I mean, the Suns WOULD FIND A WAY to play one of these guys right?
But none of these top forwards are coming to Phoenix.
Next level down, you’re looking former U of A one-and-done Aaron Gordon. Gordon is a restricted free agent still just 22 years old. But Gordon will want $25+ million per year to start and he doesn’t even make enough threes (33%) to force teams to hug up on him defensively. He does produce, with about 19 points and 9 rebounds per game, plus over 2 assists per game, but I’m not sure of the fit next to Ayton. They would share a lot of the same space on the floor, and I’d rather Ayton get those touches.
Guys like Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Nicolas Batum and Harrison Barnes all could be had via free agency or trade, likely. They take threes and are big enough to spend time at power forward, but none are long term answers worth benching Chriss and Bender for. At least in my opinion.
There’s also Mario Hezonja, the former #6 pick the year Booker went #13. Hezonja has been a huge disappointment in Orlando. Massive. And he’s grown into roughly a smallish power forward size. But he still doesn’t make threes at a good clip, and one of the worst teams in the league desperate for talent is letting him go. We’ve already got Chriss and Bender for that role, thankyouverymuch.
So no thanks to any of those guys, as far as i’m concerned.
Well, there’s the enigmatic Jabari Parker.
Parker was better than Chriss or Bender in 2017-18, but hasn’t really proven a whole lot in four years. He’s just barely big enough to be a power forward, but won’t defend or rebound very well. And, he’s missed a TON of time over his four years, so you can’t really count on him physically.
It’s all relative, though. His rebound rate is better than Bender, Warren, Jackson or Booker — trailing only Chriss among the non-centers on the Suns roster. He can make threes, but doesn’t take a lot of them. He gets steals, but doesn’t block shots or play defense.
If you’re looking for marginal improvement over Chriss and Bender, you’ll be okay with Parker. In my mind, he’s kinda like T.J. Warren, maybe a little better. And we already have T.J. Warren.
Could be based on price. I wouldn’t break the bank to sign Parker, but it would be nice add him to the mix if the Suns are trading any of Chriss, Bender or Warren.
And then there’s Julius Randle. I’m not a huge fan, but he does have skills. He would be the best rebounder of the bunch and the best passer. But he doesn’t block shots, or get steals or have the feet for good perimeter defense.
Finally, there’s Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. Sure, LRMM is a career role player and doesn’t rebound that great, but he figured out how to hit threes last year in Houston and provides the best defense of the bunch. If you want really good defense and occasional corner threes, this might be the man. And he won’t be too expensive.
Here are my finalists, next to Chriss and Bender.
My rankings, based on assumed fit and cost.
- Any of Kevin Durant, LeBron James or Paul George (haha lol)
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
- Jabari Parker
- Aaron Gordon
- Some older veteran like Ersan Ilyasova, Trevor Ariza or Ryan Anderson
- Julius Randle
We’ve spent a lot of time on point guards over the past weeks, so I don’t need to do a new deep analysis of the options out there.
I think Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry would be nice additions, and I’d give up the Milwaukee pick and one of Bender or Chriss to get them. The problem with Kemba is he needs a big contract extension next year. The problem with Lowry is that he’s already over 30.
I love the idea of Goran Dragic coming back to the valley, and there was a rumor (that did not persist) that had Dragic available for low draft picks.
Dragic would be a better fit than either Walker or Lowry for several reasons, not the least of which is contract size. Dragic only has two years left on his contract with Miami, at around $19 per. I would take Dragic and call it a day, as long as the price is only the Milwaukee pick or something lesser.
Could the Suns get Chris Paul? No. So stop thinking about that.
I wrote about Marcus Smart earlier this week. I do think that, as long as the contract is in the low tens ($10-12 per year). Smart would add bulldog defensive skills and help change the Suns culture. He just can’t shoot and is a pedestrian (in NBA terms) playmaker.
Fred VanVleet is a new name on the NBA radar. Let me clear something up on VanVleet from yesterday’s article: while the Suns OFFER would be something like 9-9-20-20 over the four years, if the Suns got VanVleet their cap sheet would take on that total divided by four even years — i.e. 58 / 4 = $14.5 per year.
If the Suns don’t want to spend a lot on point guard (i.e. blow all their money on power forward), then I’d take a look at Dante Exum. He can’t shoot yet, but he is long and plays good defense, and has some playmaking skills.
Here are my finalists at point guard:
My rankings, based on assumed fit and cost:
- Chris Paul (no way he chooses Suns, but if he did the Suns should do whatever it takes)
- Goran Dragic (trade)
- Fred VanVleet
- Marcus Smart
- Kemba Walker (trade)
- Kyle Lowry (trade)
- Dante Exum
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com : player comparison
That’s my big board! Let me know what you think...
The clock starts at 9PM tonight.