The moratorium starts tomorrow, and by the end of the weekend we'll know most of the significant changes to the NBA landscape. In advance of that, here's a synopsis of Phoenix's position and likely options going into the offseason.
Expiring (Last year of their deal)
Potential Returning Players
For those of you keeping score at home, that's 3 point guards (and I use the term very loosely), 2 combo guards, 3 small forwards, 1 power forward, and 2 centers currently on the roster. With the potential to retain a fourth Small Forward, and a backup Power Forward. For a team in desperate need of a point guard, we sure do have a lot of "point guards," not to mention that I've classified our current lead ball handlers both as combo guards. That's 11 to 13 players set, with a strong need to dump one or both of Okobo and Melton. The glut of ineffectual point guards means that we need to sign 2 to 6 players this offseason.
In decending order of importance:
- Starting Point Guard!
- Figure out the Small Forward Situation
- Backup Power Forward
- Backup Shooting Guard
- Dump One or More Point Guards
Number 2 will either require signing Oubre, or starting Bridges then trying to find a better backup than Josh Jackson and a rookie specialist. For quality depth at all positions, we need to sign or trade for at least four players this offseason, including potentially Kelly Oubre.
So what do we have to work with to accomplishing all of this? A whopping $13,269,386. That's $3,317,346 per player in the first year of their contract. Oh, and let's not forget the 50 cents. Of course, it's not quite as simple as that. We can go over the cap to sign Oubre. In fact $9,625,890 of our cap is currently occupied as by his cap hold. A more accurate figure, if we were to use every penny of our space before re-signing Oubre, would be $4,423,128.67 per player to sign 3 players before re-signing Oubre, or waiving Oubre and spending $5,723,819 per player on the 4 that we would need ($22,895,276 total).
A vet minimum deal for Bender this past season would have cost $1,088,038. but with the cap increasing it will be more to the tune of $1.1M. And while signing Bender to this deal would be a huge money saver, especially considering we could do it after going over the cap, all reports are that the Suns are shopping for a better backup option at the Power Forward position. A vet min could still be offered to a backup shooting guard, such as Jamal Crawford or a similar player, or to a backup Small Forward should we pass on or lose Oubre. It's very likely that our final roster spot(s) are filled out in this way. And since we can wait until the cap is used up, that leaves us with $6,634,693 to spend on each of 2 players.
That's not really the way it works, though. A starting Point Guard is going to command more than a backup Power Forward guard in free agency, but I think Jones will make more of an even split than many of us would like in order to ensure that the team's talent level doesn't fall off dramatically when the starters sit. I am of the opinion that, as many reports have stated, Jones believes he has a core to build around, and is not looking to add another all star caliber player. At least not at the cost of positional depth, and future flexibility.
There are options to trade, or waive and stretch, Jackson and/or Tyler (only one of the two can be stretched), but this eats up assets either in the form of draft picks or future cap flexibility. It's been covered extensively, so I'll leave it at this: Trading Josh's $7,059,480 for a protected pick would be a huge win for this front office.
So what can we do with these meager assets?
I'll cover task #5 to start with. I believe Melton or Okobo will be gone soon. This only frees up $1.4, and most of it it will incur a roster charge that would nearly wipe out the cap space it creates. It's not a significant move, but it helps us balance out our roster a bit by signing a vet min after we've gone over the cap at a position with less depth. This would likely be our second vet min, and would be Bender's only real chance to remain with the team, as the first would be spent on a savvy vet. That first vet min would be the Crawford-esque signing. But nobody wants to read about the Suns options on the end of the bench. The real question, and the first one we'll have to answer tomorrow is:
1. Starting Point Guard!
Like me, you've probably already read Dave's article about this today, or one of the many that have been published by Brendon, Evan, former BSoTS writer Kellen Olsen, and others. So though it's the most important question, I'll make this quick.
Starters and Fringe Starters
- Kyrie Irving -> Nets or Knicks
- Kemba Walker -> Celtics
- D’Angelo Russell Cap killer. Not likely Jones' target.
- Malcolm Brogdon -> Bucks or someone better than us.
- Ricky Rubio -> Pacers
- Derrick Rose -> Pistons?
- Terry Rozier -> Loves those ill-advised long twos.
- Elfrid Payton -> For the lolz
- Patrick Beverley -> Might be looking for a big payday
- Rajon Rondo -> Who cares?
- Isaiah Thomas -> Hates us
- Ishmael Smith
- Emmanuel Mudiay
- TJ McConnell
- Cory Joseph -> Your Next Suns Starting PG!
- Jeremy Lin
- Delon Wright
- Tyus Jones
The most common and credible reports have the 15th best free agent point guard as the most likely Suns signing. A career backup who won't move the needle, is likely to piss off Booker, and won't be our long term solution. But you work with what you've got.
Best case scenario, we move assets like Tyler Johnson and Jackson to open up space for Brogdon or DLo. This handicaps us in filling out our roster and for the future, especially having to waste Johnson's contract. However, it would make the Suns watchable and fun, solidify our core, and increase FA interest in our team in the coming years.
We're probably not going to do it. Get used to the idea of Cory Joseph now, or you'll only be disappointed later.
2. Figure out the Small Forward Situation
This one is less about cap, and more about other people's decisions. Which PGs are actually willing to come to the Suns? Does another team want to overpay Oubre? Do the Suns want Oubre back or would they rather roll with Bridges at the 3?
Re-signing KO makes the most sense, as it allows us to go over the cap while retaining a productive player who seemingly wants to stay here. It also avoids the pain of having to find a mediocre veteran SF to come in and backup Bridges, something that will be essential as we try to get rid of Josh this season.
3. Backup Power Forward
With Saric onboard, and no real shot at Harris, Porzingis, Randle, or Mirotic, the best options at PF per HoopsHype are Marcus Morris, Thaddeus Young, Al-Farouq Aminu, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Kenneth Faried, Markieff Morris, Jeff Green, JaMychal Green, Mike Scott, Jared Dudley, Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Tolliver, Sam Dekker, Jonas Jerebko, Trey Lyles, Omri Casspi, Michael Beasley, Dante Cunningham, Cheick Diallo, Quincy Acy, Donatas Motiejunas, Henry Ellenson, Derrick Williams, Chris Singleton, and Zach Randolph.
The bad news is that this year's FA PF crop is so weak that a lot of those guys are going to get overpaid, and we will not be bringing in Aminu or Young to round out our team. The good news is that this group is so deep with mediocre talent that once the first few have been overpaid, there will be an abundance of detritus to pick through.
The Suns will have a chance to sign any one of those guys for a reasonable contract, leaving plenty of space to overpay Corey Joseph.
4. Backup Shooting Guard
The rumor is that the Suns are seeking a veteran backup SG. There is a sharp fall off in the quality of shooting guards available this offseason, and the Suns are unlikely to find a better shooter than they had with Troy Daniels. Since they are not likely to bring him back, they may be looking for someone with a blend of skills rather than one elite skill. My preference would be for Satoransky, but we may not be able to get him with our limited cap space and only the room exception.
The best move for the team would be to ignore this position entirely, utilizing Tyler Johnson as Booker's backup with Bridges getting some minutes. In this scenario, Ty Jerome would be asked to do more than many of us might be comfortable with, but the truth is that the Suns are not hurting for backup guards. They may be better off filling out the last roster spot with another backup big. My preference would be to finish the roster with Alan Williams. Big Sauce is undersized, but he's cheap, hard working, smart, and a phenomenal locker room presence.
The first thing we should hear tomorrow is which point guard the Suns are meeting with. That's the top question we need answered, and it will determine all of the dominoes that fall afterwards. The order in which they fall should look something like this.
- Get a verbal agreement from a point guard.
- Try to dump Josh before the moratorium ends.
- See who's left among the Power Forwards after the first handful is overpaid.
- Re-sign Oubre to go over the cap.
- Get rid of Melton/Okobo.
- Address team depth using the room exception and vet mins.
- Get our #1 FA target, Big Sauce.
- Get DLo (Brogdon might be too risky).
- Start talking to PFs to drum up interest in the DLo/Booker backcourt
- Dump Josh before the moratorium ends so you don't have to waste Johnson's contract.
- Get rid of Melton/Okobo.
- Sign a backup power forward and small forward not named Rondae Hollis-Jefferson using only the room exception, your wits, and good fortune.
- Get our #1 FA target, Big Sauce.
- Pray that a team that's only 7 players deep can be mildly successful.
I'm kidding about Big Sauce. Kind of.
The former options provides us with more depth all around and the ability to move Tyler Johnson's contract at the deadline. Presumably for a point guard that might actually stick with the team for more than a couple years. The latter option locks us into a team built around Booker, DLo, Ayton, and Bridges, with no real depth to back them up.
Either is better than what we've seen in years, but neither is the playoff team we've been craving. As for which route the Suns will take, we've still got another day to wait before we know. Once the first reports of who the Suns have called and met with start to leak on Sunday, we'll have a better picture of how this off season will play out.