One of the Phoenix Suns biggest trade chips this summer is Tyler Johnson, of the $19.25 million contract for one more season before becoming a free agent. Any team with long-term high-dollar obligations on their books that wants to free up that cap space for 2020 might want to offer the Suns a longer contract in exchange for Johnson.
However, that contract is a player option, meaning Johnson must inform the Suns he is taking the deal for 2019-20. And he has not informed the Suns of anything yet.
Until then, he is not officially under contract and cannot be traded. To be included in a trade during the off season, a player must be under contract for at least next season. And right now, he is not.
If Johnson informs no one of nothing by end of day on June 30, his contract would expire the Suns would have another $19.25 million to spend in free agency this July. But don’t count on that. If someone offered you double your fair salary for a year, you would take it. No question.
How does this impact the Suns right now?
All will be known when free agency starts, of course. On July 1, the Suns will have $11-12 million of room to spend, or they will have about $30 million (if he declines his contract). They have certainly been talking to Johnson’s camp and will have made free agency plans no matter what Johnson decides.
But the problem is that right now, during draft week, the Suns are being held hostage by Johnson.
The Suns need a point guard, and would prefer a veteran, highly productive point guard to play next to Devin Booker. Those guys make a lot of money.
What if a team wants to trade their highly paid point guard during the draft? The Suns could offer to take on a high, long-term contract in exchange for a one-year expiring deal (Johnson) and their No. 6 draft pick.
The Grizzlies are certainly shopping Mike Conley and his two-year deal ($32.5, $34.5), once they take Ja Morant with the No. 2 overall pick. Memphis is rebuilding, and adding the No. 6 pick along with moving up their free agency window from 2021 to 2020 would accelerate that process.
The Pelicans might possibly want to trade Jrue Holiday and this three-year deal ($26.1, $26.1, $27), who is almost a decade older than their best prospect Zion Williamson. It’s possible David Griffin goes young for a year or two and wants to get Holiday to another team where he can compete now. (Editor’s Note: Griffin recently said Holiday embodies everything he wants in a player, so it’s doubtful he ever becomes available.)
There’s also Bradley Beal in Washington, CJ McCollum in Portland, Jeff Teague in Minnesota, and others who teams might want to swap for an expiring contract and a draft pick in this Thursday’s draft.
We don’t know that Phoenix wants to swap Johnson’s 10 points, 3 assists per game for a guy who produces twice those numbers, but we know they should.
And if the Suns do want to use Johnson’s contract to acquire a long-term answer at point guard, they probably don’t need to take one at No. 6 on Thursday.
I mean, why bring in Coby White or Darius Garland if you’re going to trade for Jrue Holiday, for example?
So, the Suns are in a bit of a holding pattern this week on executing any big-dollar trades.