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Start your engines! Recapping the Suns’ cap space and options for free agency

The Phoenix Suns will have roster changes coming in the next few weeks. Check their salary cap here.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

There were lots of tweets followed by hasty articles dumped last night about the rebirth of the NBA for the 2020-21 season.

The details are very much what you heard already, but just in case you need it:

Finishing up the 2019-20 league year

  • Teams can start voluntary pickup games and workouts at the arena, but no organized basketball, just like a regular offseason
  • As soon as this weekend: Transaction moratorium lifted, so players and owners can make decisions on player options, team options, qualifying offers — Suns have to make decisions on Dario Saric and Jevon Carter (qualifying offer for restricted free agency), Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo (team option)
  • Once the moratoriam is lifted, trades can happen, using the current salaries of players
  • Nov. 18: NBA DraftSuns pick 10th

New league year 2020-21

  • Free agency starts on Friday, November 20th
  • Kick-start free agency and trades under the 2020-21 cap and player salaries
  • Cap is $109.1 million cap, just like last year — Suns have up to $18.69 to spend*
  • Training camp starts Dec. 1
  • Three preseason games to get into game shape, starting mid-December
  • First games of season on Dec. 22, to play a 72-game schedule
  • Teams will play in their home arenas, heavily in-conference to limit travel
  • Seeds 7-10 in each conference will face off for the last two spots in a play-in tournament — if this had been in place this season, 10th-seed Suns would have made play-in

Scenario 1: Lots of turnover in free agency

Setting trades aside for the moment, the Suns have decisions to make with almost half the roster in a non-guaranteed state going into next season.

If the Suns want to blow up the roster just by letting non-guaranteed contracts go, they could say goodbye to all of Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric, Cameron Payne, Cheick Diallo, Jevon Carter and Elie Okobo. (the Suns could release either/both of Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque, but their contracts are guaranteed so they can’t spend the money of their salaries)

That would free up — after replacing some of them with league-required minimum salary cap holds, and assuming they take and keep the No. 10 pick — as much as $18.69 million in 2020-21 salary for a new contract to free agent.

That $18.69 million could be spent on a single player if they want, and would just be the opening year salary. Meaning, they could offer Fred VanVleet a four-year contract that averages $20 million a year if they offer max raises each year.

Going big like this reduces competition — there are only 4-5 other teams with significant cap space for spending on free agency this year. And the Suns have the best chance among them at being a good team in 2020-21, assuming Miami bows out of the market to wait for next offseason.

If they did that, the Suns would have to round out the back third of the roster with access to only the Room Exception (about $4 million per year) and minimum-salary slots.

For this go-big scenario, you’ve got a roster like...

  • Ballhandlers: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, FVV, plus Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque
  • Wings: Kelly Oubre Jr. Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson
  • Bigs: Deandre Ayton

The team would fill out the roster with the No. 10 pick, the ‘room’ exception and minimum-salaries.

Alternately, the Suns could pass on FVV, and split the $18.69 million on multiple players, such as Christian Wood and a serviceable veteran ball handler.

Scenario 2: Run it back

On the other hand, the Suns could just hunker down and keep as many guys from the 2019-20 roster as possible, which would be all but Aron Baynes. They have control over the rest, could match any offer to Dario and Jevon, guarantee Frank and Cheick, and could even exceed the cap to re-sign Aron Baynes to a market-rate contract because they have his Bird Rights.

In this scenario, they would go into free agency like 25 other teams as an ‘over the cap’ team.

The Suns would still have access to the mid-level exception — again, just like the rest of the league — to sign a middling player to a contract starting at about $9.3 million to replace Baynes...or even in addition to Baynes if Sarver really wants to go way over the cap for both the mid-level and Baynes.

Something else

Of course, the Suns won’t 100% do either of those prior scenarios. They will make trades, keep some but not all of the players in question, and end up with a 40% change in total roster when the dust settles on December 1 as training camp opens. But those are the two extreme directions they could go with free agency.

What’s actually going to happen? Buckle up. We will know by the end of the month!

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