It took a few days, but the inevitable came true on Monday morning as the Suns agreed to a new contract with forward Dario Saric. The big man will return to Phoenix on a three-year, $27 million deal, per a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Dario Saric has agreed to a three-year, $27M deal to stay with Phoenix, agents Jeff Schwartz and Mike Lindeman of @excelsm_bball tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 23, 2020
Saric is coming off a season in which, after being a key piece of the draft-night deal between Minnesota and the Suns in 2019, the Croatian stretch big averaged 10.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 48 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from deep. Once he transitioned to a hybrid frontcourt role off the bench in the Bubble, Saric was even better, scoring in double digits in every contest and looking like a vastly more aggressive and comfortable player as the offensive fulcrum of the second unit.
But that was no lock to happen. In January and February, Saric was not in the rotation, including being inactive on game night five separate times and playing fewer than five minutes four other times.
“I’m a professional and I respect coach’s decisions,” Saric said on Jan. 6. “I try to play hard In practice ... knock down shots, and wait for my chance. It’s not easy, but I try to really stay positive.”
Coming off a season with the Timberwolves in which he dealt with injuries and a poor fit in Minnesota’s offense alongside Karl-Anthony Towns, earning the trust of Monty Williams and his Suns teammates was refreshing for Saric, it seemed. Though he continued to have a hard time finding his role over the course of the season, he peaked when he needed to in the Bubble. That consistent mindset is what the Suns want to cultivate going forward.
“I understand how this is working,” Saric said in the winter. “You just need to respect it at the end of the day.
“Since I started to play basketball seriously from 17, 18 years old, all the times changing your team, changing coaches, you kind of know how to handle that, or you know that kind of situation. At the end of the day, really try to stay positive and wait for your chance.”
Williams loved to call Saric a “connector” on offense, and that’s how he provided value in the Bubble, keeping the offense moving and noticeably being more willing to take shots when they were open for him. With Aron Baynes gone now, the Suns will rely on Saric even more on both ends of the floor in the second unit as well as alongside Deandre Ayton in some lineups.
Compared to some of the other contracts thrown around for big men (the full mid-level exception for Tristan Thompson in Boston) and restricted free agents especially (four years and $60 million for Malik Beasley in Minnesota), this deal is surprisingly tame. There weren’t many teams left who could have given Saric an offer sheet with cap space, but a few teams who still have the mid-level exception to use could have given it to Saric. Instead, the Suns locked in Saric for less than $10 million annually.
Asked back in January if free agency crossed his mind during the season, Saric as always was honest.
“It’s weird to say, but whatever happens, happens,” Saric said. “Find minutes, play hard, try to play as best as you can, and free agency, what happens, happens. It’s a difficult position for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t compete and play hard.”
Despite a tumultuous season, Saric made the most of his opportunities in Phoenix and now has long-term financial security as well as the trust of the organization going into a season with playoff hopes.