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Center of the Sun: Draft Day has come and gone for the Suns. Next up, free agency!

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James Jones’ draft day reviews were mostly bad. Will his free agency moves look better?

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

Draft day was a busy one for the Suns and their roster underwent quite a few changes, more than I and probably many other fans expected.

T.J. Warren - last season’s longest tenured Sun - is heading East to Indiana. Dario Saric and Aron Baynes are headed West to Phoenix. Two new first round draft picks - Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome - will be joining them along with undrafted rookie Jalen Lecque who was offered a 4-year minimum salary contract shortly after the draft concluded.

There was quite a bit of wheeling and dealing done by new GM James Jones on his first draft day and not all of it was perceived as good. Some of it was heralded as down-right bad by many. One thing that everyone can agree on was that he didn’t draft ‘by the book’ and let the mock draft consensus dictate his choices.

After trading down from 6th to 11th through the trade with Minnesota that also brought Saric to the Suns (a move that I applauded), Jones took Cameron Johnson well ahead of his expected draft spot... at least 10 spots ahead of where most had expected him to go in the draft. Like many fans who don’t really follow college basketball closely, my first reaction was, “Who?!?”

As I started to learn more about Johnson, I started to warm to the choice. I’m still not sold that he was the right choice but I’m willing to wait and see how it all plays out on the court before making up my mind.

Cameron Johnson is listed as a small forward but at 6’9”, I could also see him as at least a small ball “stretch” power forward off the bench. And the bench is likely where he will spend the majority of his NBA career. His talent is shooting - specifically shooting from three - and not much else. If he develops the other aspects of his game, then he could be able to move into a starting role on some teams but I don’t think that Jones drafted him because he thinks that he has that potential. I believe he drafted him to be a solid rotation player that could supply floor stretching three-point shooting from day one.

That might not sound like a good player to use the 11th pick in the draft on but, for the Suns, it just might be a smart move.

There were a few players available at 11 that had more “potential” but there were none that were a sure thing to reach that potential. At the ripe old age of 23, Cameron Johnson’s “potential” might be more limited than the 19-20 year-olds in the draft but so is his floor. After years of seeing high-potential teenagers flame out (Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and possibly Josh Jackson) after the Suns spent high draft picks on them, I’m a bit comforted to see Jones selecting older, more mature players like Johnson and Ty Jerome (21).

Lecque is not one of those, however, and he may turn into something special some day. Jones and the Suns took a bit of a chance by offering him a 4-year contract (only the first two years are guaranteed) after he went undrafted. At the rookie minimum salary, I think it’s a good gamble though... especially as it didn’t cost even a late 2nd round draft pick to acquire him. The guy they call “Baby Westbrook” may pay big dividends down the road. This 19 year old kid not only posted the best vertical leap at the NBA Combine (43 inches) but also won the North Carolina state high school championship in the high jump in track and field competition in 2018.

Not playing against college competition possibly cost him a spot in the draft but averages of 20.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game - even against high school level competition - can’t be brushed aside.

The moves that James Jones has made so far are related to but not limited to his draft picks. While his draft day choices have been widely questioned, Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports recently suggested this:

”The proliferation of mock drafts in recent years has created a false sense of general consensus.”

You can read the full article (Are we getting worse at the NBA draft?) but in short it points out that NBA teams have gotten worse at drafting rather than better over the years and that “false sense of general consensus” could be one of the reasons why. As I noted earlier, Jones did not follow the consensus with his picks so hopefully he’s on to something and in the near future will look smart for making the decisions he did.

In less than a week, the 2019 NBA free agency period begins and what he does then may bring more clarity to the decisions that he has made so far... or maybe it won’t. In the end, what really matters is the quality of the product that the Suns put on the court next season.

That will be the final grade and determine whether this offseason was pass or fail for Jones and the Suns’ front office.


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - What are your overall evaluations/opinions on the players that the Suns added on Draft Day?

  • A. Dario Saric
  • B. Aron Baynes
  • C. Cameron Johnson
  • D. Ty Jerome
  • E. Jalen Lecque

GuarGuar: Dario Saric - I’m a fan of the Saric acquisition. He’s a very competent player who fills our power forward hole. He can stretch the floor and has great team awareness. He’s also very cheap. And if Dario proves himself this season we can retain him if we want because we have his bird rights.

Aron Baynes - I think Baynes is a phenomenal backup center and he could be very impactful on this team. Him going against Ayton in practice every day is something I’m very happy with. He definitely will toughen up DA. I like Richaun Holmes but Baynes is clearly a better player.

Cameron Johnson - I’m not really down on Cameron Johnson the player. I’m just down on where we took him. I thought it was poor asset management. We probably could have traded down even more and taken him in the early 20s/late teens. My main concern with Johnson is his injury history. That scares me quite a bit. But if he stays healthy, he can definitely be impactful from day 1. He’s an elite shooter and this team was last in the league in 3pt shooting last season.

Ty Jerome - I’m not too familiar with Jerome outside of watching him during Virginia’s title run. He’s a terrible athlete, but he has a great feel for the game. The question with him is can he hang with NBA athletes. I don’t mind taking him as a risk for backup PG of the future.

Jalen Leque - “Baby Westbrook” is a great draft and stash player option for us. No harm in signing this guy and seeing if he can take his nuclear athleticism and actually become a great NBA player. Low risk, very high potential reward. I hope he gets some playing time in summer league, I want to see some exciting dunks!

Sun-Arc: What an interesting day. Not quite what I expected. Some good, some questionable, some frustrating. But I’m keeping my mind open in a ‘wait-and-see’ approach.

A. Dario Saric: I have wanted this guy on the team since before he was drafted. I think he is somewhat undervalued and has untapped abilities due to his situation thus far. Someone mentioned he is what we hoped Bender would become, and that’s pretty true. Able to shoot, pass, defend, he’s one of the better stretch 4’s in the league. At 24, he fits the timeline. The only question is if the team can get more out of him and produce a true starting stretch 4 that’s worth paying to keep. And if we don’t get enough improvement out of him in one season, he’s on an expiring, keeping our options open in a year. This was a very positive pick up within a position of need for the Suns.

B. Aron Baynes: I have really liked what this guy has brought the last three seasons. After 7 seasons, he’s 32 years old, which is older than I would like. But unlike Ariza, I really think he’ll be pursuing another contract - and possibly one higher than he has right now. He’s tough as hell and ought to really push Ayton in practices to toughen up. Also, after working with the “shooting Nurse,” he hit over 34% of his threes last season. Could be a really good pick up.

C. Cameron Johnson: WTF? Who? *

D. Ty Jerome: We needed a PG, so we got one. Interesting prospect. Older, at 22, has experience as a NCAAB champion. Very similar to Tomas Satoransky in some ways. Y’all should read this fanpost on him by Dog Eggs. I agree with that assessment in terms of him being a prospect - but we’ll have to see what he can really deliver on an NBA court.

E. Jalen Lecque: We doubled down on PG prospects with this very low-risk, high-reward deal. Perplexing at first, after looking a lot more at this guy I think this was a good move. Very little guaranteed money, this is a G-league stash guy that could turn out to be a total steal as the ‘baby Westbrook’. Or he could turn out to be a total nothing. We’ll see.

* I had not scouted Cam at all. I was totally perplexed. And I still feel like it is a really odd choice at #11. Why not move back and pick up another asset, as Cam was not going to get drafted before #24. Based on what I’ve seen and read, the guy can’t do anything but shoot. As someone mentioned, basically a young James Jones. He better be able to shoot the mother-loving hell out of the ball. He’s mature and really does appear to shoot well, so we’ll see. And I also look at it this way… the Suns REALLY needed shooting around Booker and Ayton. They took two guys in Johnson and Jerome that can shoot, but are also smart experienced players. We needed that too.

SDKyle: A. Dario Saric is a serviceable NBA stretch 4 whose career has taken a somewhat disappointing turn since late 2017. At that time Saric looked to be a potential all-star in the making, 23 years old and averaging 15 points a game on 58% TS, while being a positive on the defensive end. He doesn’t seem to have improved at all (he’s perhaps regressed) and at 25 it seems like he may be settling in as a solid bench big who can acquit himself decently as a starter if need be.

B. Not a lot to say here. Aron Baynes is a veteran low-usage big who gets after it and plays solid defense. I like that he’s mostly played for pretty good teams in his career and even has a ring from the 2014 Spurs, so this may be an acquisition of a “mentor” figure who can actually still be at least a bit useful on the court.

C. I guess I’m the Cam Johnson wet blanket. He’s a good young man from everything I’ve read, but we left players on the board I’d have much preferred. Much has been said of how the Suns “needed shooting,” but I just don’t think the way you address that is with a player who will probably average one made three per game in bench time. I think Johnson projects as a below-average to bad NBA defender (he was just adequate in college) who will probably battle nagging hip and/or knee problems for his whole career seeing as how he had surgeries on both before he was even 23. He has limited upside as a guy who will turn 24 his rookie season. I’d be happy to be wrong, but as of right now my guess is that in 2021 we won’t be talking all that much about Cam Johnson’s contributions.

D. Ty Jerome is cool by me. Will he be an impact NBA player? Probably not. But he might be a solid backup PG in the league. Can shoot, has decent size if questionable athleticism. Seems like a decent floor general from a championship program. Not a bad addition.

E. Jalen Lecque... I’ll admit I knew little about him until very recently. After reading up on seeing what I could see, it seems he’s one of those swing for the fences additions based on his athletic ability and “developing” skills. Shades of Airplane Mode, maybe? It’s an undrafted rookie contract, so it’s low risk for the franchise.

SouthernSun: A. Dario Saric - Dario is a very good player. He’s a good three point shooter, a better defender than he gets credit for, a willing and competent passer, and a decent scorer. If he performs as well this year as I believe he will, there’s a strong chance that, at 25 years old, he could be re-signed and be the Suns long term power forward.

B. Aron Baynes - Baynes is a solid backup center who can hit the three. He’s an absolute dog, and many believe that he will toughen up Ayton. Hopefully Baynes can be retained beyond this coming season, but even one year of practicing with Baynes everyday should have quite the positive effect on Ayton.

C. Cameron Johnson - From what I’ve read, Johnson is a solid safe pick that should have a long but not especially noteworthy career in the NBA. I wasn’t happy about the Suns using the 11th pick on him, but hey, apparently the FO has a lot of faith in him.

D. Ty Jerome - I guess this was okay. I honestly like getting Baynes more than getting him, but I’m all about adding vets to this team, so I’m biased.

E. Jalen Lecque - He’s very young and raw but is oozing talent and can jump out of the gym. If he figures it out he has a chance to be a really good player.

Alex Sylvester: Saric: I’m a big fan of the move to pick up a starting power forward who is very cheap and will fit well next to Ayton. Saric can shoot the ball, is a smart player, good passer for a big man, and a decent defender. If we want to keep him long-term, we can with his restricted free agency but it’s definitely worth the risk to see what he’s made of.

Baynes: Again, I’m a big fan of this move. A veteran big man who will back up Ayton and give him nothing short of hell during practice. Baynes will bring toughness and experience to this roster in desperate need of these qualities. He also provides a little bit of perimeter shooting as well.

Johnson: It’s completely fair to say the pick wasn’t great. By all accounts, Johnson was a reach at 11. Is that the end of the world? No. I can see Cameron Johnson getting back up minutes has a spot shooter with the team at desperately needed perimeter threats. That will hopefully open up more opportunities for Booker and Ayton to go to work. No need to judge draft picks when many of us loved Bender/Chriss/Jackson etc.

Jerome: This was an underrated pick up. Coming from the same school, I see a little bit of Malcolm Brogdon in Jerome but probably not as much upside. He can immediately contribute as a back up point guard, and again add perimeter shooting as well. Doesn’t hurt that he has a connection with Mikal Bridges already!

Lecque: Baby Westbrook has a ton of potential but will take a few years to see what he’s made of. An end of the bench guy who won’t be noteworthy next season but I like the move.

Q2 - Were you surprised that the Suns trade of T.J. Warren turned out as it did?

GuarGuar: I was only surprised we had to trade 32 to deal him for cash. I thought we could have just traded him straight up for cash. It’s not like TJ is a bad player or has a bad contract. He can certainly contribute in specific areas and has a pretty team friendly deal. I think this was bad asset management because we had to send 32. But if we end up getting a great PG in free agency, I’m fine with this.

Sun-Arc: Not surprised at all. I had a feeling it would be a total salary dump. I’m let down that it wasn’t TJ & JJ together as that salary dump, particularly considering JJ is all but on an expiring, as no one will pick up his option. But maybe the team thinks they can salvage him. I’ll miss TJ. I always liked him as a player. I loved his work ethic and quiet attitude. But that quiet attitude had turned into malcontent this past season. I wish him well wherever he ends up. Seems like a really good, thoughtful guy. I wish him success.

SDKyle: Not really. The Suns’ only real reason to trade TJ was for cap relief, and with the addition of a three point shot I assumed he’d have some suitors. It was a win/win for both teams, at least on paper, so it makes sense that it happened. Bon voyage TJ... best of luck with your new underrated franchise.

SouthernSun: No, I wasn’t very surprised about the Warren trade. I expected the Suns to move him and I didn’t expect to get much value other than cap space for him because he simply didn’t have a lot of value. Adding the #32 pick to move him doesn’t upset me, because I would have been happy coming away from the draft with no rookies at all.

Alex Sylvester: A little bit, I wasn’t somebody who thought TJ Warren had much value on the market but I am surprise we needed to unload another pic just to get rid of him. I do really like the added Space in the future and I think that is the biggest factor in all of this. Reality is we will probably end up with a stopgap point guard and fans will be pissed.

But if the Suns are able to win 10+ games and create flexibility going forward, there is a much better chance at acquiring big time talent. I think TJ will fit great with Indiana!

Q3 - The cap savings generated by getting rid of Warren’s salary was negated by adding the salaries of Saric, Baynes and three rookies. They actually added almost $3.5 mil to their payroll. The result is a ‘likely’ $13.2 mil in free agent cap space while keeping Oubre’s cap hold but removing all others. The Suns can still open up more cap space for a big free agent signing but do you think it’s likely that they will?

(The cap figures used are from David Nash through his post-draft day cap situation tweet dated 6/21/19.)

GuarGuar: If we get a commitment from a Brogdon/DLo type of point guard, I for sure think we would clear up space to get them. We need a really good point guard and if that means stretching Tyler Johnson, then we just might have to do it. Trading Josh Jackson looks very hard right now. If it took #32 to get rid of TJ, I can’t imagine what it takes to get Josh off our roster.

Sun-Arc: I don’t think they are done making moves. I have a feeling a starting PG is still in the works- or they may even have a deal prepared. I think that is just as likely to be through trade than free agency. A trade may be easier.

For FA: My descending order of preference is:

  • Brogdon
  • D-Lo
  • Walker (super unlikely for cost)
  • Rubio
  • Delon Wright
  • Derrick Rose (only if comes cheap and Johnson stays)
  • Beverley (who I worry would “dog it” like Ariza)

For trades:

  • Jrue Holiday (fits every way)
  • Lonzo Ball (fits timeline and makes teammates better)
  • Lowry (if Kawhi leaves maybe)
  • Teague (would help for two seasons, but not super high on him)

Though I would not be at all surprised if we kept Johnson and he was backed up by Ty Jerome. Maybe the trade comes later in the year. Maybe never and we try to use Tyler’s expiring to have cap space next summer. Though the options are not good in a year right now, we never know what can happen and how that cap space can work out for a trade too.

SDKyle: I think the Suns will make a play for one last addition, but I don’t know that it will happen. Word apparently has them lusting after D’Angelo Russell, but they’d need to do a fair amount of salary reorganizing to get enough space for what he’s likely to command. There are some veteran options available, like Pat Beverly, but I wonder if a guy like that really wants to spend the last couple of meaningful years of his career (he turns 31 in three weeks) with a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since his his college days. He might be the new Ariza, signing for more than any other team would offer. I could see that happening... the Suns signing Pat Bev to a 4-year $44 million contract when nobody else was offering more than $8 million a year.

SouthernSun: I have no idea whether the Suns are going to even pursue D’Angelo Russell or not. Which is ridiculous. Obviously they should pursue him. But Gambo shut down any such rumor the moment it comes out. If the Suns do end up going after him, and he gives them a commitment, the Suns will probably waive and stretch Tyler Johnson. They will do the same if they get a commitment from Brogdon or any other PG who will cost more than their current available space. I’d say the most likely signing for them now is Ricky Rubio, and they could probably get him for 10-12 million a year on a 3 to 4 year deal.

Alex Sylvester: I don’t think it’s too likely but the move I’d make is to attach our next year first to Tyler Johnson after he opts in.

If you did that you get closer to the 25– 30 million dollar range to have a real chance at DLo or Brogdon.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their extra effort every week!


Season Highlights

Dallas Mavericks vs Phoenix Suns - Full Game Highlights | Oct 17, 2018

Devin Booker Full Highlights 2018.10.17 Suns vs Mavs - 35-7 | 4th Quarter EXPLOSiON!

DeAndre Ayton Official NBA Debut - 18 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists


Quote of the Week

“When I first signed with the University of Pittsburgh they said the exact same thing. Fast forward to North Carolina and the same things were said. ‘Are we sure this kid can contribute, does he belong in this level’ as if I didn’t play in the ACC for a couple years before so I’m used to hearing that and I love it, I love it.

It gives me a little more motivation, keeps a little bit of a chip on my shoulder but couldn’t say it’s the first time I heard that. To me, I’m honored that they saw enough in me to take me at 11 and I’ll do everything in my power to make it the right move for them.” - Cameron Johnson


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

Tariq Owens headed to the Phoenix Suns. Viva The Matadors

Report: Auburn guard Jared Harper added to Suns’ summer league squad. Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports

  • Note: The Suns SL game schedule is listed below in the “Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead” section of this article.

In becoming an NBA Draft pick, former Virginia guard Ty Jerome realizes a family dream. The Daily Progress

Suns’ Cameron Johnson: Outside noise gives me more motivation. Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports

The Phoenix Suns’ Draft Further Reinforced Their Desire To Prioritize Free Agency. Forbes

Phoenix Suns: Five things to know about Cam Johnson. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

The Suns have one job: build around Devin Booker. They’re failing miserably. Kristian Winfield/SBNation


Just For Fun (and a little bit of Suns history)

The Dumbest Shots in NBA History

Note: Two of the shots were taken by former Suns. Suns GM James Jones is also in the video... but not as a shot taker.


Suns Trivia

The Phoenix Suns have the NBA record for the youngest starting lineup ever. On March 23, 2017, they started Tyler Ulis (21), Devin Booker (20), Derrick Jones Jr. (20), Marquese Chriss (19) and Alex Len (23) - who combined had an average age of 21 years, 14 days.

Only one Suns player - Jaylen Lecque (age 19 and born on June 13, 2000) - will be younger than that lineup’s average age when the 2019-20 season starts.

The previous age record was set by the LA Clippers on Nov. 15, 2010. They averaged 21 years, 143 days old.

Note: If that record is ever broken, I hope it is done by some other NBA team.


Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

June 29 - Last day for decisions on player, team and early termination options (unless individual contracts specify otherwise).

June 30 - Last day for teams to make qualifying offers to players eligible for restricted free agency. NBA free agency officially begins (6 pm ET) and free agents can begin reaching verbal agreements with teams.

July 1 - Official start of the 2019/20 NBA league year. July moratorium begins. Restricted free agents can sign an offer sheet. Teams can begin signing players to rookie scale contracts, minimum salary contracts, and two-way contracts.

July 5-15 - NBA Summer League (Las Vegas)

  • Friday, July 5 - Phoenix vs Denver - 8:30 pm (AZT) on ESPN
  • Sunday, July 7 - Phoenix vs New York - 6:30 pm (AZT) on ESPN
  • Tuesday, July 9 - Phoenix vs Memphis - 4:30 pm (AZT) on NBA TV
  • Wednesday, July 10 - Phoenix vs San Antonio - 6:00 pm (AZT) on NBA TV

(Following preliminary play, the top eight teams will be seeded in a tournament culminating with a Championship Game on July 15. Teams that do not qualify for the tournament will each play a consolation game, so every team will play at least five games and as many as seven.)

July 6 - July moratorium ends (12 noon ET). Teams can begin officially signing players, extending players, and completing trades. The two-day period for matching an RFA offer sheet signed during the moratorium begins.

July 13 - Last day for teams to unilaterally withdraw qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

July 15 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned first-round picks (those players become free agents on July 16 if not tendered).

August 31 - Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2019/20 salaries.

September 5 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks (those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered).

Late September (specific dates TBA) - Training camps open.

October 22 - NBA 2019-20 regular season begins.

October 31 - Last day that teams can exercise team options on the rookie scale contracts of former first-round picks.

December 14 - Suns vs Spurs in Mexico City.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Which hole in the Suns’ roster is the most important to fill?”

60% - Point guard.

17% - Power forward.

23% - They’re equally important.

There were 294 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

Who is your #1 free agent point guard target for the Suns?

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    D’Angelo Russell.
    (237 votes)
  • 32%
    Malcom Brogdon.
    (170 votes)
  • 15%
    Ricky Rubio.
    (81 votes)
  • 6%
    Someone else.
    (32 votes)
520 votes total Vote Now