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Ryan Anderson’s contract holds the key to the Phoenix Suns’ flexibility this summer

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Trade Anderson? Stretch Anderson? How would each impact the Suns’ salary cap?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

During the first month of the regular season, it took only 11 days for head coach Igor Kokoskov to tweak his starting lineup. After trading Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss to Houston for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, Kokoskov initially decided to roll with Anderson as his starting power forward alongside Deandre Ayton.

But no more than two weeks after the regular season opener, Anderson went from starter to end of the bench guy who likely won’t see any minutes in a Suns uniform ever again.

Before being acquired, Anderson was known as the one of the best stretch-fours in the entire league. Over the past decade, Anderson helped be a floor spacer for the likes of Dwight Howard, Anthony Davis, and Clint Capela but it was obvious once October arrived that he was well over the hill physically at 30 years old. The Suns’ veteran forward posted disastrous shooting splits of 31.7/20.6/78.6. During his two seasons in Houston, though, Anderson maintained his shooting brilliance converting 39.6 percent on three-point attempts.

It’s not often you see a player go from top-five option to 15th, but that’s exactly what happened with Anderson early on this season. Anderson hasn’t even stepped on the court for Phoenix since Dec. 4.

If the Suns are truly sellers ahead of the Feb. 7 trade deadline, then Vice President of Basketball Operations James Jones should be working the phones aggressively to try to get off Anderson’s contract. Sure, there’s a legitimate question to be made as to whether Anderson will even play next season, but a team like Atlanta could be willing to take on his contract for some draft capital.

With that being said, there’s three different routes the Suns can go with Anderson between now and July. Let’s dive into the possibilities below, which includes restricted free agency cap holds for Kelly Oubre Jr. and Richaun Holmes (2019 draft pick slotted salaries are not factored in here).

Trade Anderson = $33.4 million

When Anderson agreed upon a trade to Phoenix back at the end of August, one condition was reducing his guaranteed salary for 2019-20 down from $21.4 million to Knight’s old salary of $15.6 million. If you’re able to connect the dots there, it seems like their next option of stretching the contract seems more realistic when you factor that point in.

The thing is, if the Suns don’t want to keep paying Anderson $5.2 million for three straight years between 2019-2022, they could let go of the 2020 Bucks first-round pick to free up more long-term flexibility. If they are looking to dump Anderson’s salary, it’s going to take something out of their asset pool.

For example, here’s framework of a deal that could work for Phoenix ahead of the trade deadline involving Anderson:

Hawks - Ryan Anderson and 2020 Bucks pick

Suns - Jeremy Lin and Justin Anderson

Lin would step in over the final 30 or so games serving as the Suns’ stopgap option at point guard, which is still an obvious need. Meanwhile, Anderson would come in and just fill out more wing depth in case of injury before his restricted cap hold would be renounced by Phoenix before free agency.

Atlanta does this deal because 1.) nobody is coming to Atlanta even with their cap space available to them and 2.) they continue their trend of stockpiling future first-round picks, which includes two in the top 10 for 2019.

There’s not many options with trading Anderson, unless it’s just a true salary dump like the Atlanta one above or he’s used for salary filler to obtain a Mike Conley or Kevin Love type of player. However, this move would actually push Phoenix right above max cap space, if they don’t use their draft pick and move one of the young wings.

Stretch Anderson = $28.2 million

This is by far the most realistic when you factor in the aforementioned Anderson guaranteed salary reduction. For Phoenix, this one would be quick and easy but $5.2 million would stay on their books each year for the next three summers.

For anyone curious, if the Suns for some reason wanted to not keep Oubre Jr. and Holmes, their cap space would rise from $28.2 million to $39.4 million. Moving one of the other wings instead for Phoenix, while keeping the cap holds, would push the salary figure up anywhere between $35-39 million.

Before Knight was ever moved in the first place, the expectation for over a year was him being stretched in July 2019. Replace Knight with Anderson and we likely have the same result in a few months time.

Waive Anderson = $17.8 million

If the Suns are unable to find a taker for Anderson’s expiring contract, and don’t want to put $5.2 million on their books each year through 2022, waiving him without stretching the contract is the most simple action.

Anderson reducing his 2019 salary matters in this scenario. If that wouldn’t have happened, the Suns’ cap space would instead be even less at $12.1 million.

This choice wouldn’t make much sense for Phoenix, though. If they really didn’t want to pay Anderson past this season, why not just bite the bullet and trade him using an additional draft asset?

What direction are you in favor of with Anderson’s contract, Suns fans? Whichever route Phoenix decides to go in, it will definitely play a major factor in how the 2019 offseason shakes out for them.

Poll

What should the Suns do with Ryan Anderson’s contract?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Trade Anderson using future draft pick
    (402 votes)
  • 21%
    Stretch Anderson ($5.2 million per year through 2022)
    (148 votes)
  • 21%
    Waive Anderson (one-time dead cap space hit of $15.6 million)
    (147 votes)
697 votes total Vote Now