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The signing of Trevor Ariza lasers in the Suns’ main focus on 2019

Signing Ariza to a 1-year, $15 million deal signaled Phoenix is patient enough to wait one more year to capitalize on max cap space.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Many expected the Phoenix Suns to be aggressive once the free agency period officially opened on July 1, but nobody really knew which direction they might go. Well, within the first hour of the legal tampering period, Phoenix committed nearly all their available cap space to Trevor Ariza on a 1-year, $15 million deal.

Now, even if they waived all their non-guaranteed contracts, which looks to be the plan after Alan Williams was the latest domino to fall on Monday, will only have around $3.5 million in remaining space. The Suns can also use the room exception ($4.5 million) if they stumble upon someone they like over the next few weeks on the open market.

Anyway you slice it, Phoenix is likely done making big moves in free agency after Ariza’s arrival, so trades are likely the most realistic route over the next few weeks.

With Ariza on board, it’s a move that is eerily reminiscent to Philadelphia’s signing of JJ Redick last summer. They overpaid for a veteran for one year that will immediately provide not only stability, but also holding one of the youngest rosters in the NBA accountable on a regular basis. For new head coach Igor Kokoskov, he needs someone who can provide consistent production, which Ariza does.

Kokoskov wants to run a fast paced offense, but also an extremely switch-heavy defensive scheme. Ariza fits into that idea seamlessly.

Pairing Ariza and Mikal Bridges on the court together does wonders for Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, too. Bridges shot 57.1% on corner 3s last season at Villanova, and now throwing Ariza into the mix hitting 43.1% of his opportunities in that area of the floor allows their two high usage scorers to attack 1-on-1 matchups with absolute ease.

Speaking further on the Ariza fit, lets dive even further into his floor spacing equity for a moment. He shot 39.9% on catch-and-shoot 3s, but only 24.1% on pull ups (27.6% total on tightly contested shots). Luckily for Ariza, he will be tasked to do exactly what I mentioned above, be that optimal floor spacer that makes life easier for it’s two main building blocks.

On the other end of the floor, even at 33 years old, Ariza is still able to switch onto smaller wings and handle himself well. Ariza is also a very vocal player defensively who calls out switches and holds his guys to the upmost potential. When I dove in and watched some Ariza tape, he would be in Clint Capela’s grill if he was loafing around. That mentality was drilled into him over the course of 82 games, and it paid dividends once Capela turned into a monster rim protector in the playoffs.

In Phoenix, he will play most of his minutes as the stretch-four spot, but some may ask how that affects the likes of Bridges, Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren. Well, it’s really not an issue at all actually. The Suns now have two floor spacers who can capitalize off drive-and-kicks or post pass outs from Booker and Ayton while Jackson and Warren will feast off easy cutting opportunities constantly.

General Manager Ryan McDonough has alluded to mimicking Golden State, Houston and Boston from a positonless wing standpoint, which looks to be in the process of happening right now on his own roster. That right there is called versatility, which is something that shouldn’t be frowned upon.

This move by McDonough quickly locking in Ariza was the biggest indication so far that they are positioning themselves to be very aggressive in 2019’s free agency period where max cap space will be available for them. Not only will Ariza’s expiring be washing off their cap sheet, but so will Jared Dudley, Tyson Chandler and Troy Daniels.

It gets even more enticing for them if they are able to find a trade partner for Warren between now and then, including stretching the final year of Brandon Knight’s contract saving them an additional $10 million. Doing both of those moves alongside renouncing some other cap holds puts them close to $45 million in room to pursue an elite name while still having space to get one or two more crucial second unit pieces.

What’s also interesting is how Warren’s contract value dips by $940k once the 2019-20 league year begins before it bounces back up the following season. With the expectation of Bridges playing 2/3, Jackson at 2/3, then Ariza as the primary stretch-four who can play at small forward, it’s looking difficult for Warren to carve out a significant role on next year’s roster.

The big fish to keep an eye on who could be tantalizing to the Suns’ front office include Klay Thompson, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and maybe even Kemba Walker could fit the billing of using up that max slot.

Signing Ariza helps in the direction of developing one of the youngest rotations in the NBA heading into next season. It’s imperative for Phoenix to take steps forward in looking attractive to those names. Booker needs to look even better, Jackson has to develop more offensively, while Ayton has to be a dominant force from the get-go.

Phoenix will have competition to secure commitments from All-Stars on the open market, which includes Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Brooklyn, Indiana, Utah, Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angeles Lakers. All look poised to have max cap space available to them, too. Right now, I would peg the Sixers and Lakers as securing one of those bigger names, so all the other teams will be battling it out when July 1, 2019 rolls around.

Even though McDonough hyped up being aggressive this summer, staying patient for one more year looks to be the right avenue to go down. It still allows the Suns to sign Booker to his max extension now — which looks to be headed that way when they meet with him and hi agent Leon Rose in Los Angeles on Tuesday — while also securing the fourth, established pillar topping it all off.

After witnessing LeBron James take his talents to Los Angeles while Paul George maintained his commitment to Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City atop all other Western Conference teams not really losing any ground, Phoenix needs to stay patient. The breakthrough will come soon, but going the smart, conservative route waiting 365 more days to go all-in on their final piece should be the Suns’ thinking at this moment.

Similarly to Philadelphia with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Phoenix hopes their young trio of Booker, Ayton and Jackson takes the necessary steps forward wanting established stars to come join forces with them.

At this point in time, it’s really the most realistic route they can go and doubling down on that notion signing Ariza proves they are heading full steam ahead in that direction.

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