As the free agency chips start to fall where they may to set the tone for how July will go, one area not yet covered much at all is how many teams are positioned to have cap space exceeding $25-30 million. Approximately one-third of the NBA will have enough flexibility to retool their rosters entirely, but the amount of superstars in this loaded free agency class doesn’t reach that limit. Only around six to eight players really deserve max contracts this offseason, which will leave the teams with extra space and no talent scrambling for answers.
Here’s where the Suns and Kelly Oubre Jr. come into play. Factoring in Phoenix’s draft picks at No. 6 and No. 32, they are projected to have only $9.8 million in cap space if no other moves are made before the free agency frenzy kicks up another notch. Oubre is a prime candidate to be a Plan B option, throwing a bloated offer sheet his way in the process.
There’s a plausible scenario that teams such as Indiana, Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans (after the Anthony Davis trade), and even the Clippers and Knicks are stuck in predicaments three or more days after free agency begins. What if Kevin Durant spurns the Knicks for the Nets? What if Kawhi Leonard stays in Toronto and Los Angeles has over $60 million in space with no stars to spend it on?
The possibilities are endless, and it should spook the Suns if they want this restricted free agency process with Oubre to go smooth with no strings attached. Oubre is the only wing on the open market under age 27 that is even starting-caliber. Reminder, Oubre is 23 years old and just averaged 20 points per game over his final 12 starts of the season.
So, yeah, when you factor in all the outside circumstances, Oubre is going to be a wanted man outside of Phoenix very soon. There are too many franchises with star money but too little stars themselves that deserve top dollar paydays. Lower-tier free agents are poised for big overpays if given the opportunity, especially a young gamble on the RFA scale like Oubre.
Phoenix has the opportunity to avoid being put in a tough decision with one of the valued members of their young core, but it requires eating into the little cap space already made available. Suns GM James Jones should learn from what Orlando did this time last year with prioritized restricted free agent Aaron Gordon. Gordon, who shares the same agent as Oubre, Bill Duffy, agreed to a 4-year, $80 million deal with the Magic that decreased over each season.
Oubre’s price annually will likely fall anywhere between $12-15 million, but, the closer we get to other teams being able to throw offers his direction, I get the feeling pulling off a similar tactic as the Magic-Gordon negotiations is the most realistic way to keep him in the Valley. For example, signing Oubre to a 4-year, $60 million contract that de-escalates over each year makes plenty of sense for both sides. The first-year salary would be $16.5 million, then it would be structured this way to slightly dwindle: $15.5, $14.5, $13.5.
This benefits Oubre because he will make more money right away, but it’s mutually beneficial to the team due to it always being cheaper. The 6’7” wing can probably command up to $70 million total over a long-term deal, depending if the right team comes calling after striking out on all of the big fish names.
If the Suns allow Oubre to take offers from other teams and even sign elsewhere with the opportunity to match, it will look nowhere close to the aforementioned scenario. The outcome that will occur is a cap-flushed team — Sacramento, Indiana and New Orleans all stand out as good fits for Oubre — uses up their excess funds to dare Phoenix not to match.
The Suns have their core foundation set in stone with Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. New head coach Monty Williams mentioned Mikal Bridges alongside those two without being asked at his introductory press conference — and Jones was key the key in helping make the trade for Mikal Bridges on draft night last year involving the unprotected 2021 first-round pick from Miami. Those three pieces are locked up long-term as Phoenix tries to rebuild their own homegrown contender that can be a consistent winner.
Oubre also remains a priority for the Suns, as Shams Charania of The Athletic reported earlier this week. However, his fate could fall in the hands of others if Phoenix doesn’t play their cards correctly.
The smart move at this point would be to bite the proverbial bullet and pay Oubre right when free agency opens at 3 pm AZ time June 30. Avoiding a bidding war for one of their prioritized members of the young core, especially at a pivotal position on the wing, would be the wise maneuver to make.
Re-signing Oubre at the first opportunity presented would really limit the Suns’ moves in free agency unless other moves are made. If the aforementioned 4-year, $60 million deal came to fruition where it lowers over each year, and the Suns bring two more rookies onto their roster, Phoenix would fall down to $3 million remaining in cap space.
Even though this doesn’t seem like anything else could happen at this point, you would be wrong.
After inking Oubre’s new deal, the Suns could still trade one of T.J. Warren or Josh Jackson to a forward-needy team who has ample room on their books (Warren trade = $13.6 in space; Jackson trade = $9.8 million in space). I would keep an eye on the Suns being one of the teams being interested in J.R. Smith’s expiring contract to offload Warren or Jackson, if Oubre and Bridges are the true wings of the future.
The Suns want Kelly Oubre Jr. back long-term, and the 23-year-old known as “Tsunami Papi” holds the same feelings back towards them. Might as well make it official as soon as possible to avoid any hassles.