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Center of the Sun: A look at the Suns following the initial free agency frenzy

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Ricky Rubio, come on down!

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NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

A lot has changed with the Suns’ roster since draft day and the the beginning of free agency.

  • In: Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Cameron Johnson, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque.
  • Out: T.J. Warren, Troy Daniels, Richaun Holmes, Dragan Bender, Jamal Crawford, Ray Spalding, Jimmer Fredette, George King.
  • Returning: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Tyler Johnson.
  • Question marks: Kelly Oubre Jr. (RFA), Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, Elie Okobo.

There are obviously still changes to be made. Kelly Oubre Jr. is very likely to eventually move from “question mark” to “returning” but there is still a chance that some other team might throw a huge offer sheet at him that the Suns could consider too much of an overpay to match. The list of teams that could do so has grown smaller by the hour and an offer sheet might only come after star player Kawhi Leonard finally makes the decision on where to take his talents. Both the LA Lakers and the LA Clippers have around $32 million in cap space open in hope that Leonard signs with them. Dallas is the only other credible threat with $22 million in open space (which rumors say they are keeping open to hopefully lure free agent Danny Green to Big D if he doesn’t re-sign with Toronto). The next highest open cap space belongs to Atlanta at $14 million.

If Oubre returns as is expected, this is how I see the Suns starting lineup for the 2019-20 season.

If Oubre doesn’t return, then Mikal Bridges would get the nod to start at small forward. It’s possible that he could get it even if Oubre returns but I have to assume that Oubre will be penciled in as the starter at the beginning of training camp and will stay there until Bridges proves that he deserves to start over him.

As for Jackson, Melton and Okobo, hanging on to any of the three seems increasingly unlikely.

The main reason for this is that the Suns still have to clear some cap space by July 6 (or by the time Ricky signs) in order to fit the contract offered to Ricky Rubio under their cap. Moving Josh Jackson by trading him for cap space or waiving him and then stretching his remaining salary are the only ways to accomplish this by my calculations. After that is all done, they can sign Kaminsky to his deal under the “room” exception for teams like the Suns.

After adding Rubio and rookie point guards Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque - plus retaining combo guard Tyler Johnson - at least one of Melton and Okobo will be moved... perhaps both. Even with Lecque likely spending the majority of his rookie season in Prescott Valley with the NAZ Suns, there still won’t be enough minutes to go around. The Suns will also need to add some end of the bench depth in their frontcourt so at least one or two roster spots will need to be opened up to make those additions.

All of the changes seem to add up to an improved team but how many wins that will actually add in 2019-20 can only be guessed at. If we were to guess based solely on talent added to the roster, I wouldn’t expect more than a modest increase in wins and a final record somewhere around 30-52. But the wild card could really be the new coaching staff headed up by Monty Williams. Adding an experienced head coach to the mix definitely alters the equation. How quickly he can gain the trust of the players and they can adapt to his systems could be the key to this season being judged as a success or a failure.

Once it’s all said and done, the big question is how well will this new incarnation of the Phoenix Suns stand up to the rigors of the brutal Western Conference.

30 wins would be the lowest rung of the “success” ladder for me. Still being in playoff contention at the end of December would be a pleasant surprise. Being there at the All-Star break would signal a significant improvement. Actually making the playoffs - even as an 8th seed - would be something of a dream come true.

There’s still a long way to go before we know how it will all turn out but, to quote an old Blondie song from the late 70’s, “Dreaming is free.”


Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - What is your opinion on the signing of Ricky Rubio?

GuarGuar: I’m very pleased with the Rubio signing. He’s actually a solid point guard, something we haven’t had in a long time. He’s a great facilitator and historically has been a good defender as well. I really hope his defense continues to be good as he ages. He’s going to help Deandre a lot with getting touches. Booker isn’t the only primary initiator on this team anymore either! We should be playing at a faster pace than Utah does, and I definitely feel that suits Ricky’s game better.

Sun-Arc: The first thing I felt was relief it wasn’t Cory Joseph. Then I felt pretty darn content that it was my third choice and not lower on the list. Then disappointed it cost us $17m/year to bring him in. I think it was easily an extra $3m to convince him to play for a 19-win team. And that was the disappointing part.

I have always liked him as a point guard. There are a lot of positives to his game (shooting aside), but here’s my concern: While he’s only 28 (29 at opening day), he’s been playing professionally since he was 14 and I’m concerned he’s actually beginning to wear down a little. While his shooting %’s has gone up, his steals have dropped each of the last four seasons, as have his PER, OWS, and VORP. But that could be situational as well, so it remains to be seen.

SDKyle: I like the acquisition of Rubio. He’s a good floor general and able defender despite his general lack of scoring ability. Compared to everyone the Suns have played at PG in the past two seasons, he’ll be a revelation. He’s certainly not the home run all-star acquisition that maybe we might have dreamed of at one point, but he is a legitimate significant upgrade at a position of need and he came at a fairly reasonable price given this market and the Suns’ position in it.

SouthernSun: I like Rubio. If you go back a couple Center of the Sun articles, you’ll see that I pegged him as the most likely signing. I’m happy with him. Putting aside that I absolutely hate that the Suns didn’t go after Russell, who was seemingly available, because of concerns about his influence on Booker (despite the fact that at 23 years old he just led the Nets back to the playoffs themselves for the first time in half a decade). Rubio is probably a more impactful signing than Brogdon even might have been. Because Rubio is actually a good playmaker. He makes those around him better. Brogdon and Rubio are on a similar defensive level, and Brogdon is certainly a better three point shooter than Rubio by a lot, but Rubio is as much better at passing as Brogdon is better at shooting.

This will benefit Ayton and Bridges, and even Booker himself. But especially Ayton.

Alex Sylvester: Ricky wasn’t my #1 option heading into FA but he turned out to be a great choice. We were minutes away from having Terry Rozier being the starting PG on a similar deal but luckily Michael Jordan decided to step in and save the day!

Rubio is far from a perfect player, but the things he can do have been absent from the Suns backcourt for months, if not years. He will get the best out of Deandre, Devin, and co. Isn’t that what you want in your point guard?

Time will tell if Rubio’s shooting becomes a liability enough to where he doesn’t close games, but I am excited to see what a competent point guard can do for this roster.

Doesn’t hurt that his deal expires when Ayton and Bridges will be eligible for extensions either!

Q2 - The Suns now have 5 point guards (6 if you want to include Tyler Johnson), Rubio, Melton, Okobo, Jerome and Lecque. One of Melton and Okobo will certainly be traded or waived but could both be gone before training camp opens?

GuarGuar: Yeah, I definitely feel both Okobo and Melton will be gone before the season starts. We probably send Lecque to the G-league so there might be a spot for one of Melton/Okobo, but overall it just doesn’t seem likely. Neither one was impressive last year, and we need to shed salary. It’s weird to say this, but they both have a higher trade value than Josh Jackson. Cheap, low risk, potential upside point guards. I like Melton more than Okobo because of his defense, so if we had to choose one I’m sticking with De’Anthony.

Sun-Arc: I think we actually have five combo guards and one point guard (Rubio). Though even Ricky has played a lot of off ball next to Mitchell lately. But that’s splitting hairs. Sure, six PG’s. Not sure what the team is going to do with all these guys- but I think some of it depends on whether they can unload Jackson’s contract. If they can, a lot of those guys are cheap ways to fill the roster and continue to see who will develop.

If I had to choose, I would say the bottom of the totem pole is Okobo, then Melton (brought in by Ryan), then Lecque. I’d think Lecque will be a G League stash. Johnson will be kept for an in-season trade. Expect him to be waived after the trade deadline if a trade isn’t found. Melton might be kept as third string “break-glass-in-case-of-emergency” type player. Maybe.

I can see Booker, Rubio, and Johnson handling all the guard minutes out of the gate with Jerome getting occasional minutes here and there. Obviously more if Johnson does get traded. And if he does, Melton as an insurance policy makes sense depending on who they bring back.

SDKyle: It’s certainly possible that both will be gone, but I’m inclined to think that Melton showed enough on the defensive end to warrant a little more time to show he might have the stuff to be a decent backup point for the Suns. Okobo showed absolutely nothing on the defensive end and was at best only marginally more impressive than Melton on the offensive end, so that would be my guess. That said, if both were history before camp opened I wouldn’t be surprised or particularly upset.

SouthernSun: I’d be happy if I never see either of those two names again. It would be perfectly fine if the Suns traded or waived them both. Maybe they keep Melton around since they know he can defend. But he can’t do literally anything else. Okobo isn’t worth keeping around. Not when they just drafted a PG in the first round and signed another guy to a guaranteed deal, signed a starter, and have another guy making 19 million this year penciled in as the third guard off the bench.

Alex Sylvester: I could see both being gone. From all the moves James Jones have made this summer, you can tell he wants to get his “type” of guys on the roster. I don’t think projects are what he’s looking to keep around, unless there’s a guy or two towards the end of the bench that can try to develop.

Q3 - It seems as though re-signing Kelly Oubre Jr. will be the Suns’ only other “big” free agency move. Is it the right one?

GuarGuar: I’m writing this on Monday night, so I’m going to type this as though we just signed Kelly Oubre on Tuesday/Wednesday. It is indubitably the right move to bring back Oubre… for the right amount. There are not a lot of teams with cap space left, so Oubre’s potential suitors are way down compared to the beginning of free agency. This gives the Suns major leverage. They need to use it. Oubre should not be signed to anything more than 15 million a year in this market. His team is going to use Barnes’ contract as an example of what he should get (4 yr/88 mil). But our response should be go out and get a contract like that from a team and we will match. There aren’t really any teams left to give Oubre a big deal like that. I don’t want to strain our relationship with Kelly, but we have a real opportunity to bring him back for solid value.

Sun-Arc: I believe keeping Kelly IS the right move. He’s a two way player that actually wants to be here. He’s tough and injects positive energy to the rest of the team. He was a difference maker in several games last season after the trade.

SDKyle: It makes sense to bring back Oubre. He’s overrated by a lot of people but he’s the kind of high-energy do a little bit of everything wing that most teams (including the Suns) can benefit from having on the roster. He also meshed well with the club last season and if it’s between signing him and someone else in that salary range, it makes sense that it just be him.

SouthernSun: Re-signing Kelly is a must. Especially after passing on Russell. He seems to be solely responsible for the small culture change that took place last year. Or at least the mood change. He’s the heart of Valley Boyz. Also, what with all the unathletic IQ guys and shooters the Suns have gotten this summer, they need his athleticism. They didn’t splurge on DLO, so they better pay up for Oubre if they need to (though I’m still thinking he most likely signs a deal between for 10-14 million a year).

Alex Sylvester: Of course.

Things have gone as well as they could in the Oubre sweepstakes (as of 2:30 PM Monday). We still need to make it known to him that he’s a priority and not to low ball him to such an extreme, but the Suns can choose to be patient with him. There’s a very limited amount of teams that could even offer a deal that would sway the Suns away at this point.

BONUS Q - I sent out the Fantable questions before the news of the Frank Kaminsky signing but added, “If any other moves pop up between now and Wednesday morning, please feel free to add your opinions on those.”

Only some of the FT members responded with comments on Frank The Tank.

Sun-Arc: Kaminsky - I have not been a fan of his play in the NBA. Seemed to be pretty much a bust. Is he better than Bender? Well, yeah, pretty much everyone in the NBA is. But is he worth $5m/year? Of that I am not sure. Seems like a clear negative defender with a mediocre rebound rate for a big man- though does seem to be improving on the latter. I wish he were more consistent on his streaky shooting. Maybe a change of scenery will do him good. I hope so. But I’m currently labeling this a “meh.”

SDKyle: Frank Kaminsky is a guy who plays basketball and is 7 feet tall. He can kinda score the ball from all areas, which is his only appeal. Beyond that, he’s one of those finesse bigs who doesn’t do a heck of a lot for you down in the trenches. He’s 7 feet tall and averages 7 rebonds per 36 minutes. Very Dragan Bender-y. But if adding Kaminsky means we can forever close the door on Dragan Bender in a Suns jersey, then let me say a warm “Welcome Frank!”

Alex Sylvester: Kaminsky is a bleh move. He should end up being an 11th or 12th man who could get minutes at random. He’s “insurance” if Saric leaves in RFA next year. I probably would have preferred Bender but even then, neither would move the needle for me.

As always, many thanks to our Fantable - GuarGuar, SDKyle, Sun-Arc, SouthernSun and Alex Sylvester - for all their extra effort every week!


Season Highlights

Phoenix Suns vs Memphis Grizzlies Full Game Highlights | 11.04.2018

Devin Booker Full Highlights 2018.11.04 Suns vs Grizzlies - 25 Pts, 7 Asts, CLUTCH!

Mikal Bridges Full Highlights 2018.11.04 Suns vs Grizzlies - 14 Pts, 5-6 FGM!


Quote of the Week

“For him to become the head coach of Phoenix, that’s a great move for Phoenix. That’s a great move for the whole operation. I just think those players are going to love him. He’s got one mission and that’s winning an NBA Championship for Phoenix.” - Digger Phelps (Monty Williams’ former coach at Notre Dame)


Interesting Suns Stuff


News & Notes

ESPN’s Marks doesn’t see large offer sheet coming for Suns’ Oubre. Kellan Olson/Arizona Sports

How Kawhi Leonard’s decision could impact Kelly Oubre Jr.’s future with the Phoenix Suns. Duane Rankin/Arizona Republic

Kelly Oubre Jr.’s Instagram is freaking out some Suns fans. Arizona Sports

Ricky Rubio And The Phoenix Suns Are An Ideal Match. Forbes

How will Ricky Rubio fit in the back-court with Devin Booker for the Suns? Clutch Points

Monty Williams: Learning from Legends. Suns.com

Monty Williams’ Connections with Suns Assistant Coaches. Suns.com


This Week in Suns History


Suns Trivia

The Suns had 24 different players appear in games for them this past season, the most different players in a season in Suns history. The previous high was 23 in 1996-97, 2014-15 and 2015-16.


Previewing the Weeks (and Months) Ahead

July 1 - Official start of the 2019/20 NBA league year. July moratorium begins. Restricted free agents can sign an offer sheet. Teams can begin signing players to rookie scale contracts, minimum salary contracts, and two-way contracts.

July 5-15 - NBA Summer League (Las Vegas)

  • Friday, July 5 - Phoenix vs Denver - 8:30 pm (AZT) on ESPN
  • Sunday, July 7 - Phoenix vs New York - 6:30 pm (AZT) on ESPN
  • Tuesday, July 9 - Phoenix vs Memphis - 4:30 pm (AZT) on NBA TV
  • Wednesday, July 10 - Phoenix vs San Antonio - 6:00 pm (AZT) on NBA TV

(Following preliminary play, the top eight teams will be seeded in a tournament culminating with a Championship Game on July 15. Teams that do not qualify for the tournament will each play a consolation game, so every team will play at least five games and as many as seven.)

July 6 - July moratorium ends (12 noon ET). Teams can begin officially signing players, extending players, and completing trades. The two-day period for matching an RFA offer sheet signed during the moratorium begins.

July 13 - Last day for teams to unilaterally withdraw qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

July 15 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned first-round picks (those players become free agents on July 16 if not tendered).

August 31 - Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2019/20 salaries.

September 5 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks (those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered).

Late September (specific dates TBA) - Training camps open.

October 22 - NBA 2019-20 regular season begins.

October 31 - Last day that teams can exercise team options on the rookie scale contracts of former first-round picks.

December 14 - Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs in Mexico City.


Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Who is your #1 free agent point guard target for the Suns?”

45% - D’Angelo Russell.

33% - Malcolm Brogdon.

16% - Ricky Rubio.

06% - Someone else.

There were 521 votes cast.


This week’s poll is...

Poll

How do you grade the Suns’ offseason moves (both in the draft and free agency) so far?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    A
    (98 votes)
  • 59%
    B
    (292 votes)
  • 17%
    C
    (85 votes)
  • 1%
    D
    (9 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (8 votes)
492 votes total Vote Now