There are only six players remaining from GM Ryan McDonough’s opening night Phoenix Suns lineup less than nine months ago. And those remaining six will be down to three in the next few days.
The Suns absolutely must shed almost $3 million from their cap sheet by Saturday, July 6, to fit in the Ricky Rubio contract, so a trade or two must be coming.
It appears the only players that James Jones wants to keep from last year’s opening night rotation are max-player Devin Booker and last year’s top draft picks Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
The team has already moved on from their top 2014 draft pick (T.J. Warren) and their top 2016 draft pick (Dragan Bender).
Now, they have set themselves up to move on from their top 2017 draft pick Josh Jackson, and their two 2018 second round picks in De’Anthony Melton and Elie Okobo.
New GM James Jones used the 2019 draft to take players who literally replace those three when he drafted small forward Cameron Johnson and point guard Ty Jerome in the first round, and then inked 19-year old prep point guard Jalen Lecque to a four-year deal immediately after the draft ended. All three of those rookies have two guaranteed years coming, plus two team options, while the Jackson/Melton/Okobo combo each has only one year left.
Two or three of these guys will be gone by Saturday.
Just look at the small forward depth chart now:
- Kelly Oubre Jr. (Restricted, almost certain to come back at $15+ million per year)
- Mikal Bridges (ready for even larger role after 28 min per game a year ago)
- Cameron Johnson (first round rookie, best shooter in draft)
- Josh Jackson
And look at the point guard depth chart now:
- Ricky Rubio (clear starter, earning $17 million per year)
- Tyler Johnson (seems like Suns want to keep him as combo guard, earning $19 million)
- Ty Jerome (first round rookie, two guaranteed years)
- Jalen Lecque (undrafted rookie, two guaranteed years)
- Elie Okobo
- De’Anthony Melton
At some point in the near future, the Suns will officially move on from at least two of Jackson, Melton and Okobo. You simply don’t keep them around only to never play them because they’re fourth to sixth on the team’s depth chart at their only position.
Since all three are guaranteed, the Suns will have to find takers for their salaries without taking matching salaries back.
A few options jump to mind:
- Swap Jackson’s $7 million for another players’ $4 million and they’re in business
- Stretch Jackson’s salary, spreading his $7 million over three years (freeing $4.6 mil this year)
- Bundle Melton, Okobo, Jackson ($10 mil total) to another team for $7 or less coming back
If James Jones really does care about treating players right, he will think hard about trading Melton, Okobo and Jackson before Friday’s opening of Las Vegas Summer League.
Jackson needs desperately to rehab his (at least) playing image, even though he shot only 24% from the field last July after saying he was excited to “take over” the league.
His new team will have to decide by end of October whether to guarantee his $8.9 million team option for the 2020-21 season, which is a LOT of money for a guy who can’t shoot and makes dump plays all game long. Few players in the whole 450-player league were worse for their team last year.
But he will still only be 23 years old that year, and if he can get his act together he is super-talented with a high upside who once inspired league GMs to name him as the most likely to be the best player from the 2017 Draft after five years.
So, Jackson should want to play Summer League, but I think there’s almost no chance he plays for the Summer Suns after his recent legal issues and fracases.
Yet if he can get a fresh start with another team, don’t you think he or they would want him to start that rehab in Summer League? Without Summer League they will only have a few preseason games to make that expensive team-option decision.
With two team options at near-minimum following this next season, seems like Okobo is the better trade asset between him and Melton.
Okobo is a combo guard who has talents but few honed skills at this time. He really really needs this Summer League to show his progress since the end of last season, and he simply just won’t get that with the Suns.
If Okobo is still with the Suns, he will have to share point guard playing time with rookies Ty Jerome (starting game two) and Jalen Lecque, or be relegated to shooting guard which reduces his value. And that’s not going to help him showcase his skills for other teams.
Since the Suns have yet to release their Summer League roster, despite the plane leaving for Vegas in just two days, you have to know that Okobo and Melton are still question marks.
Some team should want Okobo or Melton as their third string point guard. It’s just not the Suns.
Melton has more playable skills right now as an on-ball defensive pest who can sometimes makes a spot-up shot but can’t really do anything else on the offensive end. In a similar cloth to Patrick Beverley, Melton has upside as a defense-first combo guard.
Again, like Okobo, it’s only fair to get Melton on another team before SL starts so he can get playing time in a combo guard role on big minutes to show his progress since last year.
We will definitely hear about the Suns shedding at least $3 million in cap space before Saturday. My guess is that space is created by removing Jackson, Melton and Okobo from the roster.