To improve a roster that has won only 25% of its games the last two years, the Phoenix Suns need to make all the right moves this summer beginning today at 3PM Arizona time with the start of free agency.
What moves will the Suns make?
Who the heck knows.
But if its anything like the last decade or so, the moves will most decidedly be “not spectacular”. I fully expect to spend some time this evening and tomorrow morning ruminating on what I think of Move A and Move B, and how much I need to temper those raw thoughts in the immediate aftermath.
For those who don’t want my tempered thoughts, though, look out for a YouTube LIVE edition of the Solar Panel “what the heck just happened?!” reaction pod around 6:00 PM today.
The only thing I know for sure is that none of us outside the executive offices of TSR Arena — or inside for that matter — knows anything for sure.
Some rumors have already broken on teams keeping their biggest free agents — Magic keeping Nikola Vucevic for $100 million, Kings keeping Harrison Barnes for $88 million — but we’ve heard nothing but “shhhh” on Kelly Oubre Jr. with the Suns. Sure, the Suns will actually wait to get Kelly’s signature, but the deal is likely already agreed to.
Some players are already rumored off the market...
It's June 30! Deals coming later today on Day 1 of free agency:— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 30, 2019
*Kyrie Irving & Nets (4/$141M)
*Kemba Walker to Celtics (4/$141M)
*Klay Thompson & Warriors (5/$190M)
*Kristaps Porzingis & Mavs (5/$158M)
*Nikola Vucevic & Magic (4/$100M)
*Harrison Barnes & Kings (4/$88M)
Let’s talk about the ones that have some correlation to our hometown Suns...
- Nikola Mirotic — going back to Europe for almost $90 million!
With Mirotic the top stretch-four on the market suddenly leaving for Barcelona for tons of cash, I am happier than ever that the Suns already acquired their own in Dario Saric on draft day. Now the Suns just need to focus on defense, rim protection and atheticism at PF to join a rotation with Saric.
- Darren Collison — sudden retirement
Cross that name thankfully off the list for the Suns to target in free agency. Collison was probable to get offered $10-12 million per year over 4 years from several suitors, and I’d have been unhappy being tied to him at that money for 4 years.
- Kyrie Irving — rumored for sure to Nets
With Irving going to the Nets, the strong rumor now it that D’Angelo Russell will be renounced in the coming days, making him an unrestricted free agent who can sign with any team that offers him the right opportunity and money. He is currently rumored to be focusing on Minnesota (if they can dump Andrew Wiggins for cap space somehow, that is) and the Lakers (if/when they strike out on Kawhi Leonard).
No sourced rumor yet has Russell — a 2019 All-Star in the East — and the Suns showing mutual interest, even though they SHOULD, given D-Lo’s close friendship with Devin Booker and the Suns desperate need for a long term answer at point guard.
Even if the Nets renounce Russell, they are still allowed to sign-and-trade Russell to a team that wants to give him the 5-year max offer, but whether the Nets would want any “capital” back depends on their pursuit of other big-name free agents to pair with flat-earth Kyrie.
- Kemba Walker — rumored for sure to Celtics
Walker going to the Celtics has a couple of small impacts on the Suns. For one thing, the Charlotte Hornets are now going to be looking in the same places as the Suns for a point guard to replace Kemba. So there’s a bit more competition.
The other impact is that the Celtics will have to renounce rights to Terry Rozier, who may or may not have fans in the current Suns front office. I really hope the Suns don’t go after Rozier — I’d rather they go to Cory Joseph if they’re going to pick up a defense-first, offense-missing stopgap.
- Harrison Barnes stays with the Kings
The only tangental rumor on Oubre so far was the possibility that the Kings might want to turn to Oubre in place of Barnes this summer. The Kings have plenty of money to spend, and might have wanted to pivot to a younger small forward to grow with their core.
Bobby Marks of ESPN has Oubre as the sixth-best small forward option on the market, worth likely $12-14 million a year to start. He is by far the youngest (age 23) starting quality small forward on the market as well.
But now that Barnes is staying in Sacramento, there are no other obvious landing spots for Oubre. Most of that is because of the nature of Restricted Free Agency. There is zero indication that the Suns won’t match a reasonable offer to Oubre, so why would another team do all the Suns work for them and even save the Suns the potential of having to add a fifth year to the deal?
My strong guess is that no one will make an offer to Oubre in the coming days, except maybe the Suns just to get the stress out of the way. They can always agree now, then wait until late July to actually sign him so they can maximize available cap space.
Unless the Suns make moves to shed salary, they start free agency with just $13.2 million in cap space.
However, since the “books” don’t open on the league year until July 6, the Suns can conceivably agree to deals with free agents in excess of that $13.2 million as long as the salary-shedding moves are complete before putting ink to paper.
Why would a player take himself off the market by accepting a deal that Phoenix can’t afford though?
Well, the Suns can easily use the Oubre cap hold ($9.5 million) and/or the Tyler Johnson stretch provision savings ($12.4 million) to convince player agents they can easily make more room as needed, even if the actual plan is to shed salary in other ways.
So, yes, the Suns can easily “use” $22-plus million as available cap space for dealmaking with free agents.
Players can be traded using their 2019-20 salary in the equation. Don’t be surprised at all if the Suns start out the day making trades before signing any free agents. That’s exactly what happened on draft day, so why not expect it today, too?
It’s in the Suns best interest to shed themselves of one or both of Elie Okobo and De’Anthony Melton simply because they’ve already acquired Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque, who will both be under guaranteed contracts next season. Absolutely no need to have four first-or-second year point guards on the roster next season.
It’s also in the Suns best interest to find a taker for Josh Jackson in exchange for a future second round pick. Or even another young, underperforming prospect in the same salary range that a team wants to swap.
And of course there’s Tyler Johnson. If the Suns can get a commitment from a free agent or two who would collectively exceed the $13.2 million in space, the Suns can quickly decide how to shed themselves of most of Johnson’s contract. It’s just a matter of how painful.
Let’s stay up on the news all day here.