First of all, the Phoenix Suns are not going to cut all costs going into the 2020-21 season. The Suns have a very real chance to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, and playoffs means more money all around: merchandise, TV coverage, playoff tickets, season tickets and so on. Playoffs also mean potentially staving off a Devin Booker trade demand another year or two.
Managing Partner Robert Sarver might be notoriously tight-fisted on a daily basis — until he locks in on a player, in which case he will spend like there’s no tomorrow — but he has never passed up a chance to fund for an eighth seed. Track Sarver’s off-season history. He cuts spending when the team is tanking on purpose (2016, 2017), and he cuts spending when the team is already successful and edging toward the luxury tax (Kurt Thomas, draft pick yard sales), but he green-lights spending when the playoffs are within reach (2015/Lebron, 2016/LMA/Chandler).
This coming year, the Suns have a very very strong chance to make the playoffs, especially in light of recent news that the NBA is strongly considering a play-in tournament that allows 10 teams in each conference a way to playoff glory. The Suns finished 10th in 2019-20 with the youngest squad in the league.
You can bet your lunch money Sarver expects the Suns in the playoffs next year so, no, he is not going to suddenly cut all costs and gut the team. In an effort to level the 30-team playing field financially, the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement requires every team to spend at least 90% of the ‘salary cap’, and does not allow teams to go too far over top of it unless they’re extending contracts to their own players. There’s exceptions, of course, but the general rule holds.
All that is to say that no matter how much you want to beat up Sarver, the Suns or yourself, the team is not going to send a starter in Kelly Oubre Jr. to Golden State for a relatively crappy draft pick and cash considerations, and nothing else. The team is not going to give the Warriors a Tsunami Papi for nothing but the No. 2 overall pick in the Draft. Both the draft and free agent class are weak, compared to most years.
That’s not to say the Suns won’t trade Oubre in the next month or so. He is on the final year of his contract — worth $14.4 million — and will become the league’s youngest unrestricted free agent next summer at age 25. Next year’s contract terms will likely start north of $20 million per year. Is Kelly worth $20 million year? Maybe, maybe not. My argument has been, and will remain, that the Suns should figure that out NEXT summer, not right now. But the fact is that next summer Oubre could leave for absolutely nothing in return but cap space to spend on someone else.
If you think he is leaving next summer, or that he is not worth keeping (at $20 million plus per year), then maybe you want to trade him now. Better to get a solid draft pick and the cap space to replace him now with only five other teams competing for the best free agents than no draft pick and 20-plus other teams fighting for free agents.
Let’s just entertain the thought for a few moments. Oubre Jr. for the No. 2 overall pick and an extra $14.4 million in cap space. This scenario (almost) definitely puts the Suns as an “under the cap” team and gives them $32+ million to spend on free agents.
Would you swap Oubre for, say, LaMelo Ball (draft) and the money to outbid competition for Fred VanVleet and Jerami Grant or, if you prefer, FVV and Christian Wood?
Do the trio of Ball, FVV and Grant/Wood get the Suns closer to the playoffs than Oubre and Grant/Wood?
If you don’t like Ball, then maybe Killian Hayes (assuming Anthony Edwards goes to Minnesota No. 1 overall).
Suddenly, that sounds like a lot of fun doesn’t it?
But what about the doomsday scenario, were you fail to turn Oubre’s money into two of the best free agents. What if you only get one good one, but none of them turns out as good as Oubre? Or you get two, but neither is as good as Oubre? Say goodbye to the playoff run, and blame the dumb Oubre trade for it.
Or what if they’re okay, but now you’re off the market next summer and locked into several long term contracts (two big FAs, plus Booker and extensions for Ayton and Bridges looming) and no room to continue to improve in free agency going forward? A team with a starting lineup of FVV, Booker, Bridges, Wood/Grant and Ayton, with Ball/Hayes off the bench, is not a championship team. There’s only one sure-fire All-Star in there. Why lock in completely?
My recommendation is to stay flexible with salaries unless there’s a home run — like extending Booker was, in 2018 — and don’t commit to multiple new long-term contracts in free agency next month.
Keeping Oubre allows the Suns to push for the playoffs all year AND remain financially flexible going forward. The Suns can still sign one of FVV/Grant/Wood if they really want to.
Would you trade Oubre for No. 2 overall and more free agent spending room?
This poll is closed