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End of season Suns mailbag: Warren trades, Oubre’s contract, PF targets and more

I got to most of the big offseason questions in my final mailbag of the 2018-19 season.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Golden State Warriors Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As we wrap up another Suns season, it’s time for my final mailbag of the year.

The questions were not as plentiful and I get it, some of you have tuned out, but come on — you won’t be allowed back into the clique quite as easily if you leave before they start winning.

What I did get in the way of questions was fantastic, thorough and much appreciated.

Here we go:

I’m ignoring the last question — Bender shot 77 percent at the rim this year and 69 percent overall from 2-point range. He increased his assists per 36 minutes, created more turnovers and genuinely played like he belonged on an NBA court during the last two months of the season. He also is entering his age-22 season.

OK, I didn’t ignore it but let’s put it to bed. Bender will be in the NBA next season, though it may not be with the Suns.

However, Oubre is a more fascinating consideration. Evan Sidery and I have tackled this on Locked On Suns at length, but here are a few comparisons for contracts Oubre might be looking at:

Josh Richardson: 4 years, $42 million ($10.5 million average annual value), signed in 2018

Tobias Harris: 4 years, $64 million ($16 million AAV), signed in 2015

Kent Bazemore: 4 years, $70 million ($17.5 million AAV), signed in 2016

Aaron Gordon: 4 years, $80 million ($20 million AAV), signed in 2018

Otto Porter Jr.: 4 years, $106.5 million ($26.6 million AAV), signed in 2017

It has to alarm the Suns looking out on the past market for players like Oubre. This list is mostly made up of lottery picks who trended upward heading into free agency and ended up getting overpaid.

Phoenix is obviously hoping it looks far closer to the Harris/Richardson side of things, and it very well may. Gordon and Porter both brought the reputation of top-five picks while Bazemore was signed in the infamous summer of 2016, when everyone had money to burn.

Comparing Oubre’s numbers this season to Harris’ before his restricted free agency, we see similarities that should make the Suns happy as they try to avoid overpaying Oubre:

Screenshot via Basketball-Reference

Harris was one year younger and still entered free agency with better efficiency and accumulated basically the same number of box score stats. Advanced metrics also favor Harris slightly and again, he was younger.

So it’s reasonable to believe Oubre could slot in right between Richardson and Harris, especially considering the mutual goodwill Oubre has built up with the organization.

First off, the Suns can’t trade Bender after declining his fourth-year option last fall. He won’t be on the roster next season, as discussed above, unless the Suns extend another contract offer to him for the 2019-20 season — which they can’t do until July 1. He won’t be part of any draft-night wheeling and dealing.

It’s unlikely Jackson will either, based on the fact that like Bender, his rookie-scale salary represents an overpay for his current production. Few teams will want to take Jackson and his $7 million price tag on this summer.

However, we should be looking hard at T.J. Warren when we think about the possibility the Suns move off their top draft pick in June. Warren’s salary — which declines to $10.8 million next season — is imminently movable and is somewhat of a bargain should he continue to shoot the ball well and improve his game entering his prime.

A team that can talk themselves into Warren benefiting from a change of scenery might like the idea of a package centered around him and a 2019 high-lottery pick.

Utah reportedly offered Ricky Rubio and their 2019 first for Mike Conley before the trade deadline. Even if the Jazz up the ante by adding Grayson Allen or Dante Exum to the deal, you’d have to imagine the Suns could beat that if they really wanted to with Warren and their pick.

Jrue Holiday is probably a sizable step up from Conley at this point but if the going rate is a replacement playmaker, a young guy and a pick, the Suns have the juice to pull that off sending something like Elie Okobo, Warren and the Suns’ first to New Orleans.

They have the goods if they want to make a deal happen. But we all know they’ve been tied with Terry Rozier for a long time, and that only happens in free agency. Shrug.

There are some skills that Davis brings that the Suns certainly need, but he’s been a negative defender most of his time in the league and doesn’t protect the rim much. He also doesn’t space the floor at all and thus is not really much of a power forward. No, Davis is not quite the guy to pair with Deandre Ayton next season.

Here’s a quick list of guys I like who are vets, play good defense and who you can survive with for 20 or so minutes per game on offense:

  • Markieff Morris (hahahahaha, I’m kidding)
  • Marvin Williams (if he for some reason opts out of his contract)
  • Taj Gibson
  • Al-Farouq Aminu (could even make sense on a longer deal if he wants to leave Portland)
  • Thaddeus Young
  • Paul Millsap
  • Nikola Mirotic

Teams will see through the Suns tanking when it comes to trades in my opinion. Warren probably could have come back if the Suns were in the middle of a playoff chase either of the past two seasons. His missed games are a concern, but not overwhelming.

More important is Warren’s reasonable contract and the fact he’ll be just 26 next season.

For fun, let’s make up some trades. If the Suns’ goals in a Warren deal are to move off his salary and recoup a future asset, here are a few I think make sense:

Indiana gets: Warren; Phoenix gets: T.J. Leaf, 2023 Indiana second-round pick

Minnesota gets: Warren; Phoenix gets: Keita Bates-Diop, Tyus Jones in a sign-and-trade

Or, if Phoenix tries to use Warren to truly upgrade its roster:

Orlando gets: Warren, Josh Jackson, 2020 Milwaukee first-rounder; Phoenix gets: Aaron Gordon

This type of deal makes more sense to me. Warren doesn’t have a TON of value on his own since he’s already gotten paid and showed the warts in his game, but paired with a draft pick or another young player, he can add to the value of a trade package.

With Alex Len showing improvement after leaving the suns, should the Suns bring back Dragan Bender and hope he develops under Igor?

- Spencer V.

Yes! And this has nothing to do with Len. It was time to move on from him, and a huge part of Len’s growth this year is not only his own green light from 3 but the spacing and pace in Atlanta. That wouldn’t have happened here.

Bender, on the other hand, benefited greatly from the halfcourt ingenuity of Kokoskov’s system. He became more aggressive rebounding and finishing inside, looked far more confident playing a clearly outlined role, and generally bought in to being a part of a team as the year went on.

That’s not to say he was a bad teammate before, but he really became a vocal and joyous voice in the locker room toward the end of the season after injuries hit.

I think he could be a ninth or tenth man for a decent team next year, and if Phoenix can make it work to keep him, there are worse ways to spend those last roster spots. Bender probably has even more value in Phoenix based on the familiarity and continuity he would find here.

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