clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Center of the Sun: Kelly Oubre Jr. - Starter, sixth-man or trade candidate?

Oubre was undoubtedly a great addition to the team but he’s become the Suns player most speculated about since the bubble.

Phoenix Suns v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

I’ll start off by saying that everyone on the Suns’ roster is a trade candidate to some degree. Kelly Oubre Jr.’s expiring contract as well as the presence of up and coming wings Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson still on rookie scale contracts makes Kelly seem to be the most logical choice of the three to attempt to trade.

Many feel that keeping Oubre beyond 2020-21 would be too costly and hurt the Suns salary cap flexibility in the future. As an unrestricted free agent in 2021-22, he might also decide to sign elsewhere leaving the Suns without any compensation. His present 2-year contract makes him ineligible for a contract extension so that’s not an option. According to the CBA, “Contracts for fewer than three seasons may not be extended.”

Oubre was the Suns second leading scorer for the Suns last season with 18.7 ppg. That was just ahead of 3rd leading scorer Deandre Ayton’s 18.2 ppg. Along with Devin Booker’s 26.6 ppg, that’s a pretty good top scoring trio. Oubre’s 1.6 assists per 36 minutes was 16th for the Suns last season though which has led many to question whether he’s a good fit in Monty Williams’ .5 seconds offensive philosophy.

Many fans consider Oubre’s best role next season could be that of a sixth man instead of a starter. The Suns looked really good with Cam Johnson starting at the 4 spot in the Orlando bubble along with Rubio, Booker, Bridges and Ayton so that’s not an unreasonable idea from a team standpoint. But would that sit well with Kelly in a contract year?

Would coming off the bench turn Kelly into a disgruntled player... or would it motivate him even more? Although I don’t believe that he is the type to sulk, I also believe it would depend on why and when the change would be made.

Before Kelly injured his knee, he was a starter. Players rarely lose their starter status because of an injury and usually return to the staring lineup when healthy. Therefore, Oubre should be penciled in as a starter going into training camp. If he loses his spot as a starter in camp or later in the season, so be it.

All these guys are competitors and everyone knows that the guy behind him on the roster is going to do his best to take his job from him. That’s who Kelly was at the beginning of his career so he fully understands this. He was rarely in the starting lineup in Washington (32 starts in 252 games played for the Wizards) and he only started in 12 of the 40 games he played for the Suns after he was traded to them during the 2018-19 season. While I don’t think he would like going back to the bench, I doubt that it would turn him into a sulking locker room cancer either. At worst I believe it might make him consider signing with another team when his present contract is up and play even harder (if that’s possible for him!) to prove his value.

As he is going into the final year of his contract, the Suns could wind up losing him to free agency at the end of the season and getting nothing in return. That is certainly possible which makes it necessary to at least consider trading him. As I mentioned earlier, offering him a contract extension isn’t an option so the Suns have to either ride this season out with Kelly and possibly sign him to a new contract when he becomes an unrestricted free agent or trade him during the offseason or sometime during the season before the trade deadline.

If he is moved back to the bench, a mid-season trade might be necessary... unless he’s still getting plenty of minutes AND the Suns are winning. If he’s still starting, the Suns are winning and wind up making it to the playoffs, I doubt he will consider signing elsewhere unless some team makes him an obscenely outrageous contract offer that the Suns aren’t willing to match. Unless he plays out of his mind good this season, I also doubt that an offer like that comes his way considering the somewhat shaky financial situation that the NBA is presently in.

Whatever eventually happens, it really makes little sense to me to trade Kelly out of fear that he may become disgruntled if put into a sixth man role or that he might leave Phoenix as a free agent at the end of the year. If some team makes a trade offer for him that could clearly upgrade the team, then you say yes... but the same goes for every other player on the roster as well.

Get ready for a frantic offseason

The NBA is now talking about a possible December 22 start for the 2020-21 season. If they do it, the season will also likely be cut to 70-72 games with the All-Star game cancelled but the play-in tournament could return. Great news for NBA fans but a probable headache for front offices.

The NBA Draft will be held on November 18 and to begin the season on December 22, training camps would have to start around Dec. 1. That would leave less than 2 weeks for free agency before players would have to report to their teams. Most of the big free agency moves are usually completed early in the free agency period so that might not seem like a big problem but with still no official word on what the salary cap and luxury tax level will be set at next season, front offices will be putting in extreme amounts of overtime just to prepare for such a short offseason.

To quote Kirk Goldsberry from a recent ESPN article:

“I can’t imagine trying to pull off a draft, a free-agency period and training camp between now and Christmas. Normally, the time between the playoffs and summer league is the wildest time of year for a front office — this year, it could be bonkers. If we race into a pre-Christmas start, front offices will be scrambling.”

Some of the ESPN roundtable members agreed that teams with continuity would likely benefit the most from this relatively quick turnaround, especially in the beginning. That sort of thinking might sway the offseason decision making processes of some front offices, including the Suns’ FO. I’m also personally betting that there will be very few trades made before the season begins and that we may see an increase of in-season trades before the deadline.

Fantable Questions of the Week

Q1 - What are the pluses (and possible minuses) for the Suns in keeping Kelly Oubre Jr. for the entire 2020-21 season?

GuarGuar: Kelly Oubre is a really solid NBA player. It feels like with all the criticism he gets sometimes we forget that. He is really good at slashing, and is a capable shooter and defender. He brings much needed athleticism to this team. He’s an energy booster and is one of the few people on this team who can create their own shot. We are a better team with Kelly than without him. It’s just about the role we use him in. If Kelly agreed to be a 6th man off the bench it would do wonders for this team.

A possible negative of keeping Kelly is he causes some sort of chemistry issue with being benched for Cam/Mikal and we lose him in the offseason getting no value. I doubt this happens but it is a possible problem I suppose.

Sun-Arc: Pluses to keeping Oubre all season:

  • His energy & comradery
  • His shot creation ability
  • His clutch shooting ability / ability to close out games
  • Another outlet on offense
  • Athleticsm & long wingspan
  • Blowing kisses to the opposing team’s audience
  • Decent rebounding


  • He leaves and we get nothing in return
  • He leaves and we get nothing in return
  • He leaves and we get nothing in return
  • He leaves and we get nothing in return
  • Tunnel vision / lack of .5 passing

SDKyle: The upside of keeping Oubre for the entire upcoming season is that the Suns maintain the point creation skills that Oubre brings to the table. Compared to Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges, Oubre has a real ability to create his own shot, having not been assisted on more than 40% of his two point baskets last season.

The downside is mostly the opportunity cost of the skills the Suns could acquire through trading Oubre. They might get more bench depth so they don’t end up using guys like Frank Kaminsky 20 minutes a game next season.

SouthernSun: Plus - I love Kelly. Many of us love Kelly. He’s awesome. So entertaining. Had a great career season this year. He brought some excitement and fun back to the Suns. It would be great to have that guy again this coming season.

Minus - Suns might lose him for nothing if a team tries paying him 20+ mil a year in 2021 free agency.

Alex S: Pluses:

Energy - Kelly’s energy has been a massive influence on the franchise and is a trait that cannot be overlooked when it comes to an 82 game season. Following up an undefeated bubble run will have teams not expecting an off night any longer so having an energizer on your team for a Tuesday night in Minnesota is important.

Continuity – Bringing back the main core pieces from the 19-20 Suns will add to the chemistry and familiarity the team has already began to show.

Versatility - Having KO along with the other wings gives Monty a guy who can play (good) minutes at the 3 or 4.

Competing for the playoffs – Self explanatory


Threat of Oubre walking – Kelly will be an UFA so if he isn’t moved by the deadline, there’s a chance he leaves and there’s nothing of value to have once he’s gone. That’s a risk James Jones and Monty have to understand heading into the deadline.

Potential threat to chemistry - Although I don’t see this happening, could Kelly be a negative in regards to ball movement/unselfish play heading into another contract year?

Q2 - What are the pluses (and possible minuses) for the Suns in trading Kelly Oubre Jr. during the offseason?

GuarGuar: It is all relative what we would trade Kelly for. I personally don’t want to trade him, I think he fits this team really well in the right role. The energy of this team changed when we traded for Oubre. If we traded Oubre for a valuable guard I could see that being beneficial for us. It’s hard though because he is on an expiring deal. The most valuable Oubre trade would probably be one where we are acquiring some big name and Kelly helps make the salaries work.

Sun-Arc: Pluses in trading Oubre this offseason:

  • No mid-season turnover
  • New player has training camp(?) and all season to settle in
  • Presumably getting a better player/fit in return
  • Or we get cap relief to go after a free agent(s)
  • Trading while his value is high


  • Might make the rest of the Valley Boyz angry
  • We miss his energy, comradery, shot creation abilities
  • My wife will miss looking at his eyes (or is that a plus?)
  • But what if he improves??

SDKyle: The plus of trading Oubre in the offseason is that it gives whatever new players come in more chance to gel with the team and gives the coaching staff more time to plan for life without Oubre.

The minus of this scenario is the Suns probably won’t get a particularly good deal for Oubre compared to a deadline deal when a fringe contender might potentially view him as a good piece to add to its bench. We’ve seen what Oubre’s open market value is and its not very high.

SouthernSun: Plus - Getting something for him now and not risking losing him later. Perhaps getting someone who fits slightly better. If the Suns sign a PF in free agency it makes the most sense to deal Kelly for space to use on a guard in free agency or in a trade for a good third guard.

Minus - Perhaps they trade Kelly and he goes on to become a true star elsewhere and becomes a guy who truly would be worth 20+ mil a year (which is definitely possible). Or maybe they trade for another guy and he doesn’t play up to expectations. Or maybe they trade Kelly and the bench completely loses all the joy and chemistry they seemed to have this past season.

Alex S: Pluses:

Maximum options - Teams are more willing to trade and be creative during the offseason when a guy has a full year of control. This will also give more potential for a ‘big’ trade

Avoid an awkward locker room – Self explanatory


Culture – As highlighted before, Kelly was monumental in the culture change for the Phoenix Suns. Moving on from him when things are starting to look up? Not necessarily the best look from a perception standpoint.

Q3 - What are the pluses (and possible minuses) for the Suns in splitting the difference and waiting until the trade deadline to trade Kelly Oubre Jr.?

GuarGuar: If we are halfway in the season and the playoff picture doesn’t look good, it could make sense to deal Oubre if we are afraid he leaves next summer. That probably is not a good look for our franchise to do that though, and could upset Booker greatly. We should be past selling parts at the deadline for 2nd round picks. It’s probably the worst option of the 3 choices in my opinion. Trading Oubre at the deadline for anything other than a quality player could have serious long-term consequences.

Sun-Arc: Pluses in a mid-season Oubre trade:

  • We get to see if Oubre improves his overall play and/or fit with the team/.5 system
  • If he plays really well his trade value will increase
  • We get to enjoy his presence for another half season


  • Teammates might hate this more than an offseason trade
  • Less time to work with new player returning and see if they really gel (Remember Tyler Johnson?)
  • If he doesn’t play well his trade value will sink, which would be awful

SDKyle: The upside to waiting until next season to trade Oubre is that it gives the Suns more choices. If the team is playing great and Oubre is a part of it, they can keep him. If the team is struggling a bit and/or Oubre isn’t playing as well as hoped, they can trade him.

The downside is that you risk team chemistry mid season with this move, with no guarantee that the trade actually improves the team. Any players that do come in won’t have much time to adjust and have to hit the court running with new teammates who (appear to have) liked Oubre.

There’s no perfect answer to the Oubre question. Sadly.

SouthernSun: Plus - Maybe teams are worried about the injury and trade offers aren’t what they were last deadline, so you let Kelly show off for awhile before trading him at the deadline once he’s re-upped his value

Minus - If the Suns do this, it might hurt chemistry they build leading up to deadline, and that could be very difficult to overcome for a young team. Its probably best to make whatever moves you’re going to make in the offseason and then have continuity throughout the season with as few hiccups and changes as possible in the middle of the season.

Alex S: Pluses:

Assets – That’s about it in my opinion. And this only becomes favorable if the Suns fall short of expectations before the trade deadline.


Culture – If you move on from Oubre just to gain a draft pick, especially if the team is playing well, there’s a chance this is a negative effect on the players’ belief in the front office. The Suns NEED to make the playoffs within the next two seasons so selling during one of those two seasons? Not a great look.

Offseason ’20 - Why didn’t you trade KO during the offseason when you had more time and options?

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

2019-20 Season Highlights

Kelly Oubre Jr. 2019-20 Season Highlights

Kelly Oubre Jr. Defensive Highlights | 2019-20

Kelly Oubre Jr. Tallies CAREER-HIGH 39 PTS!

Quotes of the Week

“We got a little taste of blood and, yeah, we want more.” - Deandre Ayton on the 8-0 run in the bubble

“I think he’s still scratching the surface.” - Devin Booker on Deandre Ayton

News & Notes

Catching up with Phoenix Suns arena renovations. Arena Digest

Suns’ Deandre Ayton draws mentorship from an unlikely source. Clutch Points

Roundtable: Which team makes biggest leap next year? Basketball News

Devin Booker’s NBA 2K21 rating ticks up after Suns’ bubble performance. Arizona Sports

Consensus Mock Draft: In first look after Lottery, Edwards seems like lock at No. 1.

Draft Prospect Videos

Best NBA Draft Prospect From Every Category

2020 NBA Mock Draft 2.0 | Deep Draft?

This Week in Suns History

On October 30, 1972, new head coach “Butch” van Breda Kolff was fired after coaching just seven games into the season after going 3-4. General Manager Jerry Colangelo took over as head coach for the remainder of the season and went 35-40 giving the Suns a 38-44 record overall.

On October 30, 2009, Steve Nash dished out 20 assists in a 123-101 win over the Golden State Warriors.

Interesting Suns stuff

“Breakthrough” Episode 3: Suns Frontcourt

How Devin Booker & The Phoenix Suns Turned The Franchise Around

Suns Trivia

Since the Suns joined the NBA in 1968, the uniform number “10” has been worn by more Phoenix Suns players (22) than any other. Those who have worn it are Dick Snyder 1969-1970, Fred Taylor 1971-1972, Jeff Webb 1972, Phil Lumpkin 1976, Don Buse 1978-1980, Rod Foster 1984-1986, Greg Grant 1990, Duane Cooper 1994, David Wood 1996, Sam Cassell 1997, Dexter Boney 1997, Milt Palacio 2002, Leandro Barbosa 2004-2014, Diante Garrett 2013, Zoran Dragic 2015, Seth Curry 2015, Chase Budinger 2016, Sonny Weems 2016, Derrick Jones Jr. 2017-2018, Shaquille Harrison 2018, Emanuel Terry 2019 and Ty Jerome 2020.

The second most worn number by Suns players is “4” (21 different players).

Important Future Dates*

October 30 - Deadline to complete discussions on modifications to the CBA for 2020-21 season.

  • Author’s Note: The NBA will not lift the moratorium on transactions until the above is completed.

November 18 - NBA Draft.

??? - Free agency begins.

??? - Moratorium ends.

December 1 (ish) - Possible opening day for training camps.

December 22 - New target date for 2020-21 season opening night.

* Author’s Note: All dates except the Draft date and possible opening night date are my own approximations based upon the previous tentative schedule supplied by the NBA and/or recent information from various sources. All of these dates are still subject to change.

Last Week’s Poll Results

Last week’s poll was “Would you be upset if the NBA cancelled the All-Star game/weekend this season?”

79% - No.

18% - Some but I could live with it.

03% - Yes.

A total of 116 votes were cast.

This week’s poll is...


The 2020-21 season will likely be shortened to 70-72 games. Do you think the NBA should consider shortening future regular seasons to 70-72 games?

This poll is closed

  • 54%
    (108 votes)
  • 45%
    (90 votes)
198 votes total Vote Now

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bright Side of the Sun Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Phoenix Suns news from Bright Side of the Sun