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Cap Update after flurry of moves; Suns still have one massive hole to fill

The Suns still have a gaping hole at point guard.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After four roster moves in a WEE HOUR Friday morning, the Suns shuffled some of the deck but still have not addressed their biggest need of the summer: a starting caliber point guard.

To recap quickly, the Suns have just over a million in cap space left (plus a $4.4 million “room” exception), but now are in line to have 15 fully guaranteed contracts — the maximum allowed — after swapping Jared Dudley for Richaun Holmes, guaranteeing Davon Reed’s contract and making it known they intend to do the game for Shaquille Harrison. Shaq’s guarantee deadline is not until August 1.

Let’s take a quick peak at the handy dandy Dave King cap sheet.

Data sourced from spotrac.com

As you can see, the Suns are quite well set up for next summer. They could conceivably create about $34 million in cap room next summer (note: not counting draft picks as more than $1 million each) even with Brandon Knight and Devin Booker on the books, but that would require giving up entirely on Jackson, Bender and Chriss.

The Suns could conceivably have only 6 players on the roster entering free agency next summer, plus draft picks. But that would be crazy to simply release all of Jackson, Bender and Chriss to get there.

More reasonably, the Suns will have just under $20 million to spend — again, not including draft picks at more than $1 million per — unless they create room by waiving/stretching Brandon Knight’s final year.

The summer of 2018

Ryan McDonough laid out much of his summer plan this spring, and it was aggressive. Among the key points, he promised significant roster turnover and a recommitment to adding high-functioning veterans to supplement a smaller cadre of big-minute minors.

He did not promise a playoff run after a 21-win season, but he did promise the Suns would refocus on winning every game possible and put the tanking behind them.

Let’s take a closer look at what the Suns have actually done this offseason.

What he said he would do

Before the draft, McDonough made it clear that the Suns would not be interested in bringing four or even three more rookies onto a roster that already boasted EIGHT players 24 or younger getting heavy rotation minutes last season (T.J. Warren, Devin Booker, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson, Tyler Ulis, Marquese Chriss, Alex Len and Elfrid Payton) versus only TWO players older than 24 getting heavy minutes all season (Troy Daniels, Tyson Chandler).

He said last year’s youth parade was too extreme, and that the Suns would not be so youth-heavy next season.

Yes I know that only adds up to 10 players. The rest of the roster was just a churn of players of all ages trying to play the game of NBA basketball.

What he actually did

He drafted four new rookies — Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Elie Okobo and George King — and promised that three of them would play big roles on the Suns going forward, while King gets a two-way. He also is keeping Davon Reed (23) and Shaquille Harrison (24) with guaranteed contracts.

He did waive three of last year’s young players (Tyler Ulis, Elfrid Payton, Alex Len) to make a little room.

For those counting at home that’s a PLUS THREE on the 24-and-under crowd.

Narrowing it down just a bit, the Suns project to have SEVEN players aged 22 or younger getting heavy rotation minutes next season:

  • PG: Elie Okobo (21)
  • SG: Devin Booker (22), Mikal Bridges (22)
  • SF: Josh Jackson (21)
  • PF: Dragan Bender (21), Marquese Chriss (21)
  • C: Deandre Ayton (21)

You could argue that Okobo, Bender and Chriss won’t get many minutes either unless they prove worthy, but even then that’s still FOUR players aged 22 and under who should get big minutes next season — Booker, Jackson, Ayton and Bridges.

Compare that to the depth chart of FIVE “veterans” who should be expected to outplay Okobo, Chriss and Bender for minutes.

  • PG: Brandon Knight (27)
  • SG: Troy Daniels (27)
  • SF: T.J. Warren (24)
  • PF: Trevor Ariza (33)
  • C: Tyson Chandler (34)

T.J. Warren has now aged into the “veteran” group, Knight is back from knee surgery and Ariza should get big minutes as the Suns main free agent acquisition. Those three are “for sure” in the rotation.

You could argue that Daniels and Chandler, the only two who played big minutes for last year’s Suns on this list, don’t deserve big minutes in 2018-19 and you might be right. But they rank ahead of Holmes, Reed and Harrison at the moment. I’m not convinced Harrison, Reed or Holmes are more talented than the five veterans I’ve listed already.

So that’s 12 players who COULD get big minutes next year. But no sane NBA coach plays a regular rotation that’s 12 strong.

He’s more likely to cap out at 10. Currently, here’s my version of the 10-deep rotation.

  • PG: Knight, Okobo
  • SG: Booker, Bridges
  • SF: Warren, Jackson
  • PF: Ariza, Bender
  • C: Ayton, Chandler

That’s five players returning from last year’s epically bad 21-win team, and five new players.

Ayton, Knight, Ariza, Bridges and Okobo are better than Len, Ulis, Daniels, Payton and Mike James in that top-10 rotation.

Better? Yes.

More competitive? Sure.

Winners on most nights? Nope.

Even after all those moves, the Suns still need a point guard.

The current depth chart at PG consists of combo guard Brandon Knight, whose career high assist rate would have ranked third on the worst passing team in the league last year (behind Elfrid Payton and Mike James), and a pair of other combo guards with 23 total NBA games between them.

None are pure point guards, or even guards who’ve spent their entire career playing point.

Meanwhile whoever is acting as the Suns point guard this year will be surrounded by players who are best when the ball is fed to them in scoring/shooting position, including Troy Daniels, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza, Deandre Ayton, Dragan Bender, Tyson Chandler, Holmes, Reed and Marquese Chriss. Even Devin Booker would be loads better with a point who can set him up for scores sometimes, just for a change of pace. Only Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren would regularly reject a good assist and try to make their own play.

And it’s not only about assist rate either. It’s about having good experience being THE primary ball handler and play caller, setting up the offense, getting guys in the right positions and allowing the offense to flow freely. None of those were Knight’s strengths.

So the Suns still need a starting point guard if Igor is going to maximize the talent on the team.

Devin Booker at point, you say? I don’t disagree, but Igor does. He’s stated clearly that he doesn’t want Booker being the regular point guard in any lineup. He wants someone else to bring the ball up and initiate the offense, then allow Booker to take over at times once they’ve crossed mid court.

The Suns SAY they are excited to see Brandon Knight run point, but we’ve seen that movie before and sequels are never even as good as the original.

You might be excited to see Elie Okobo running point, but he’s only been a point for a year oversees and really can’t be expected to play winning basketball as the primary ball handler night in and night out as a rookie.

And yes I know Shaq Harrson was impressive in Summer League overall, and deserves his guaranteed contract. But we all saw how much trouble he had just running a cohesive offense and even just dumping the ball into the post was a struggle.

The Suns must look elsewhere for a point guard if they want to exceed 30 wins this next season.

In recent days, some rumored or at least speculated Suns trade targets for point guard have come off the table.

Celtics point guard Marcus Smart re-signed with Boston at just below his asking price. Toronto’s Kyle Lowry survived the Raptor shakeup. The Hornets are almost certainly keeping Kemba Walker now, and the Grizzlies are likewise keeping Mike Conley. Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder was included in the weird Carmelo Anthony trade and is now going to be in Oklahoma City for next season to be their Reggie Jackson off the bench.

Who is left, among point guards to acquire that would deserve more minutes at the PG spot than Brandon Knight?

I’ve long argued that the Clippers might trade Patrick Beverley and/or release or trade Milos Teodosic.

Beverley would, as long as he’s healthy, for sure get starting point guard minutes over Knight. Beverley is a bulldog on defense and for his career makes 38% on threes. He’s also on an expiring contract, and could be cleanly swapped for Troy Daniels (works under the cap). Trading Daniels for Beverley would allow the Suns to give Knight minutes at both PG and SG, while giving Okobo and Harrison more time to develop before being thrown to the fire. It also doesn’t hurt that Ariza and Beverley are friends, and hung out the night before free agency this year before Ariza signed with the Suns.

But is Beverley available? Who knows. The Clippers love him, like all teams do, but their point guard depth chart includes Milos Teodosic (who just got his $6.3 million guaranteed for next season), Beverley AND a pair of lottery rookies in Jerome Robinson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. I can’t see how the Clippers bury their lotto picks just to play Milos and Pat Bev all year. I haven’t even mentioned Lou Williams yet, who led the Clippers with almost 8 dimes a game last year and Avery Bradley.

Williams, Bradley, SGA, Robinson, Beverley and Milos is too deep to get everyone playing time in 2018-19, and none are big enough or properly skilled to play small forward, currently manned by Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari.

Beverley’s contract at $5 million is not yet guaranteed for the 2018-19 season, while all those other contracts mentioned above ARE guaranteed.

So he seems like the odd man out. No one in the NBA has cap space any more, so the Clippers choices are to waive him or trade him for similar salary (within 50% plus or minus Pat Bev’s $5 million).

Get Pat Bev, Ryan!

Alternately, the Suns could acquire Milos Teodosic if the Clippers keep Beverley. Milos has a 15% trade kicker on $6.3 million, but I do believe the Suns could still make it work with Troy Daniels going back in the deal. Just barely.

Either of them would be great for the Suns rotation, for different reasons. Milos would be the special passer, while Beverly would be the defender. Both can shoot from range.

Other options?

We haven’t heard a peep on the Goran Dragic front this summer, so I expect they will keep him for his last two years of his deal. I would too. If he DOES become available, how would the Suns make it work? The HEAT don’t need T.J. Warren — they already have gobs of guys his size, most of whom are better than T.J. It’s possible the HEAT would consider a Chandler coming back to them plus a draft pick (Milwaukee’s? Suns lotto protected?). Whoever the key salary piece is, the Suns could include a young big man (Bender or Chriss) too. Don’t hold your breath on that one though.

Who else?

It’s still possible Portland blows it up a bit, trading either C.J. McCollum or Damian Lillard. They each make make gobs of money, so the Blazers would have to really like two of Chandler, Knight and Warren to make it work, plus a bunch of draft/youth considerations.

So maybe the Suns still swing for the fences (Dragic, McCollum, Lillard).

Or maybe they hit a solid double (Beverley, Teodosic).

I just hope they don’t ground into a double play.