If it weren’t for the Memphis Grizzlies backing out of sending Dillon Brooks to the Phoenix Suns where they instead assumed it was MarShon Brooks, this wouldn’t even be a story. When the Suns sent a disgruntled Trevor Ariza to the Washington Wizards for Kelly Oubre Jr. on December 15, nobody thought much of it right then. Oubre would find a bigger role for himself on the Suns immediately, but would it translate to a successful tenure in the Valley?
Well, who thought the 23-year-old wing from Kansas would turn into a vital cog to Phoenix’s success? When the Suns were humming with wins over the Bucks and Lakers, Oubre was the the valuable third scorer alongside Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Over the final 12 games Oubre played, he averaged 20.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks on an efficient 56.3 true shooting percentage. The advanced metrics also backed up the notion that Oubre was the most successful wing next to their young dynamic duo, as Oubre carried the only positive three-man net rating.
On his way to averaging career-highs across the board with 16.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1 block, Oubre also helped reinvigorate a locker room in desperate need of a jolt. Once Oubre stepped inside Talking Stick Resort Arena, the room lightened up. Booker, Ayton and Mikal Bridges were all immediately receptive to him forming a tight bond. Through all avenues of team building on and off the court, Oubre helped completely flip the situation around in less than six months.
Even though both sides couldn’t find common ground on a long-term contract, this compromise turned into one that is very much beneficial for all parties involved long-term. Re-signing Oubre to a two-year contract for $30 million ($15.7 in Year 1, $14.3 million in Year 2) is a win because it allows the Suns not only more time to evaluate him as a cornerstone piece to the next great team, but it enhances a timetable for when Bridges should take the starting role full-time. In the meantime, Phoenix has a promising wing trio of Oubre, Bridges and No. 11 overall pick Cameron Johnson. Switching out Ariza and Josh Jackson for Oubre and Johnson is an improvement that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Over the next two seasons, rapid ascension up the ranks will need to be seen from the Suns in order to become an attractive free agent destination. But from Oubre’s point of view, though, he has the chance to really cash in right as he enters his prime. During the 2021 offseason, Oubre will be the youngest unrestricted free agent on the open market — and he’s playing the most coveted position in the league nowadays. Compared to what he’ll be making annually over the next two years, Oubre has the chance to increase that total to $18-20 million or more if he continues to grow his game on both ends.
Heading into an offseason where their state-of-the-art practice facility opens, Phoenix seems ready to capitalize on the opportunity. Stability within the organization finally seems on the table, too. Whether it’s the budding inside-out duo of Ayton and Booker with Bridges, Ricky Rubio, Johnson and Ty Jerome surrounding them, or the aligned GM-HC partnership featuring James Jones and Monty Williams, it’s hard not to think there’s at least a chance to be big winners soon. Before they receive any shot to woo superstar-level free agents with around $45 million available in cap space, success on the court where Booker and Ayton take their leaps must occur.
Even though next summer’s class is historically bad, 2021 is certainly going to be a fruitful year for free agency. All of these names will be out there when the Suns are in their best position to attract names in years: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Paul George, Blake Griffin, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday, CJ McCollum, and Mike Conley. Who knows if the Suns are able to reel-in one of these All-Stars, but there’s at least a legitimate chance to get in the room with a strong foundation to build off.
Why did both sides agree on this structure late Wednesday night 11 days into free agency, even a few days after the restricted market dried up as well? It’s an interesting question that makes me wonder about how this year’s market dictated how Oubre’s camp played this out.
When you see players like Harrison Barnes and Bojan Bogdanovic make the money they did (Barnes - $18.9 million in Year 1; Bogdanovic - $17 million in Year 1), it’s hard not to envision Oubre’s representatives over at BDA Sports Management asking for an annual payday around $16-17 million for the younger wing. From the Suns’ side, it didn’t make sense to bid against themselves where they could offer realistically $12-13 million per year without issue. Settling in the middle and allowing Oubre to earn even more in 2021, while Phoenix can go star chasing, makes too much sense.
There’s always the scenario where Oubre and the Suns reach a long-term agreement two years from now if Plan A for either side doesn’t go down. If the founder of the Valley Boyz movement continues to blossom in Phoenix, he’s setting himself up for another life-changing opportunity whether it’s with the Suns or not.