As the curtain closes on the first Suns offseason with James Jones and Jeff Bower at the helm, one of the top lingering questions is who will fill the team’s second two-way slot during the 2019-20 season.
The Suns bypassed the opportunity for their rookie draft picks to participate in Summer League earlier this month, instead filling that roster with more longshot young players. The Summer Suns were more competitive than expected and gave the organization a few options in the G League or on a two-way contract. That success led to starting guard Jared Harper being signed into the team’s first two-way slot and shined a light on players like Jalen Lecque and David Kramer.
Around the league, many of the Summer League standouts and top undrafted players have already been snatched up. This would lead to the thought that the Suns may just keep one of their own in that slot, but there are a few candidates around the NBA who also make sense.
Tariq Owens, David Kramer, Jevon Carter
Perhaps Owens is not quite so familiar, as a lingering injury took him out for all of Summer League, but Suns coaches got a close look at him during minicamp and practices throughout the summer. Anyone who watched college basketball the past couple seasons also saw the impact Owens’ athleticism and defense had at St. John’s and Texas Tech.
Phoenix signed him to what is presumed to be an Exhibit 10 contract earlier this summer, meaning they can use a new clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to bring him in for training camp and then decide whether to convert his deal to a two-way deal.
The team did the same with David Kramer, who will enter camp also on a non-guaranteed, one-year contract (we assume). If it is also an Exhibit 10 deal, Kramer joins Owens as the most likely candidates to fill the team’s second two-way slot alongside Harper. Kramer made three of his eight three-pointers in 43 Summer League minutes this year after six seasons in Germany. He is still just 22.
Carter already is an NBA player and has $1.4 million guaranteed to him this season, so the Suns would have to buy him out and then re-sign him to a two-way contract to make this happen. It’s unlikely, but if make another deal or want to keep Owens or Kramer on an NBA contract, perhaps Carter becomes a candidate to be cut then added on a two-way deal.
Charles Matthews, Simi Shittu
Anyone who went undrafted and still hasn’t found a home is out there for a reason. Either there are doubts about whether they were a real NBA talent in the first place, or injuries have impeded their chase toward a pro contract.
Charles Matthews falls in the latter category. He tore his ACL during a workout with the Celtics this offseason and hasn’t yet signed an NBA deal. Before that, he was one of the best wing defenders in college basketball — some would argue the best — and was thought to be a fringe first-round pick. Because he tore the ligament in early June, Matthews is looking at a late-season return, if he plays at all in 2019-20. The Suns would have to feel confident he could play this year or really love him as a long-term project to take the leap of faith, but his talent could be worth it.
Shittu has not proven his talent to the same degree, but was a five-star recruit out of high school and flashed interesting playmaking ability in one season at Vanderbilt. He possibly could also become a stretch big down the line, but his defense was worrisome to say the least as a freshman.
Competitors’ spare change
Alan Williams, R.J. Hunter, Walter Lemon Jr.
Honestly, Williams should be in the familiar faces category. We all know who he is and what he brings. There are major questions about how he survives as a center in the modern NBA without the lateral mobility and athleticism to defend at a high level or the offensive skill to get it back on the other end. There is also a lot to like, including his work ethic and the fact that he is a great teammate.
Williams reportedly signed with Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia this summer, but his contract is believed to have an opt-out clause. The same is true for Hunter, a 2019 G League All-Star who shot 34 percent on nine three-point attempts per game in the G League last season and is a former first-round pick who is just 25.
It could be easier to get Lemon Jr., who played 168 minutes with the Bulls last season. During that stint, he shot 44 percent from the floor and posted a 3-to-1 assist to turnover ratio. Chicago parted ways with him this summer in favor of other, younger options like Shaq Harrison and Luke Kornet, but the 27-year-old could be a breakout end-of-bench role player this season in the right situation.
The pickings are slim for the Suns right now, and the most likely scenario is that they stick with someone who played for them at Summer League, but other options do exist if priorities change before the start of the season.