Once again, expect more change coming to the Phoenix Suns’ roster this season. The only difference will be a new general manager at the wheel — whether it’s James Jones (On Locked On Suns this week, I put a 97 percent chance that Jones remains the GM) or a different candidate remains to be seen. With Jones’ recent comments on 98.7 FM about wanting to add three to five players within the age gap of 25-30 years old, though, it gives us a subtle hint into their offseason plans.
Smart organizations improve their team through the three known avenues of the draft, free agency and trade. That’s what Jones should do during his likely first go-around at the helm, but it all depends on what happens May 14 with the draft lottery. Landing the No. 1 pick would accelerate the Suns’ rebuild, but the more realistic outcome is overhauling the roster with multiple free agent signings and trades to improve their huge needs at point guard and power forward.
If the Suns will be exploring trades to drastically improve, who are the ‘untouchables’? The first two are easy answers with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. The third option might be an easy choice to you like it was for me as well, but first let’s recap what contracts will be off their books and current draft pick accumulation.
Expiring Contracts: Dragan Bender, Troy Daniels, Jamal Crawford
Cap Holds: Kelly Oubre Jr. ($9.6 million) and Richaun Holmes ($1.6 million)
Draft Picks: 2019 pick (No. 1 protection for Zion Williamson), 2020 1st, 2020 1st via Bucks, own all future 1sts
Mikal Bridges is the answer of who is “untouchable” moving forward when it comes to trying to build a sustainable contender around Booker and Ayton. Bridges’ inclusion shouldn’t come as a surprise when he’s the first rookie wing since Andrei Kirilenko to have a season accumulating above a 55 true shooting percentage, 2.5 steal percentage and 1.5 block percentage. Not only is he producing on the defensive end, but he’s the ideal buffer between Phoenix’s two building blocks for spacing reasons as an above-average catch-and-shoot threat.
Having Bridges aboard the next great Suns team also should be a given when seeing the price they paid on draft night. Moving the rights to Zhaire Smith plus an unprotected pick in 2021 via Miami speaks for itself when it comes to value. Philadelphia already used it to land Tobias Harris while the Los Angeles Clippers now hold the golden ticket to possibly acquire Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal or another disgruntled star soon enough.
Phoenix has a solid foundation to build off of with Booker, Ayton and Bridges, but the secondary pieces are questionable at best as far as helping change the direction of this painful rebuild.
Max cap space could easily be created with the move of Tyler Johnson’s expiring salary, but as we all know, no superstar is going to want to come to the Suns at their current state. That leaves maybe one or two free agent signings at the key positions based off the draft lottery but many pieces that could be valuable in trade talks for franchises looking to retool or completely blow it up.
Teams like Memphis (Mike Conley), Washington (Beal), New Orleans (Davis and Jrue Holiday), Orlando (Aaron Gordon), Detroit (Blake Griffin), Cleveland (Kevin Love), Toronto (Kyle Lowry) and Portland (C.J. McCollum) will be the ones to watch debating whether or not to mix things up. The Suns should be right at the forefront for any of those options, if they press the rebuild button and start anew.
Armed with all of their own future picks outside of the 2021 second-round pick sent to Brooklyn in the Jared Dudley salary dump, Phoenix has all of the draft capital available plus young prospects and valuable contracts. Excluding the ‘untouchables’, that leaves T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Elie Okobo or De’Anthony Melton and Johnson as players who could be used to help build a contender quicker in the Valley.
The question now becomes how those eight aforementioned teams view the Suns’ roster. It’s possible one of them could value the immediate impact Warren provides or still smitten about Jackson’s long-term potential.
After preseason hype about wanting to be one of the most improved teams in the NBA this season, nobody ever would’ve expected 11 wins at the All-Star break while being on a 15-game losing streak. It goes to show this idea of prospect accumulation — also known as tanking for higher odds in the draft lottery — isn’t working and Phoenix’s new front office leadership wants to move on from that immediately.
“It doesn’t work,” Jones said on 98.7 FM about the Suns’ previous team-building practice. “It hasn’t worked in the past and I doubt it’ll work in the future.”
Four straight seasons of winning fewer than 25 games will make patience run thin in an instant. The question now goes to who will be inserted around Booker, Ayton and Bridges as Phoenix’s front office likely led by Jones finally try to end the drought of quality basketball for one of the league’s most proudest franchises.