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Suns now eligible for injury hardship exception as they await trade deadline

Dario Saric missed his third straight game last night, meaning the Suns now have four players with prolonged injury absences.

San Antonio Spurs v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

There was a bit of a silver lining when Dario Saric fell awkwardly on his ankle last Friday night in Phoenix amid a loss to Oklahoma City. While no one is hoping Saric ended up in any pain or was happy to see the Suns lose a key rotation player, a fourth long-term injury did qualify the Suns for an injury hardship exception.

That contingency in the league’s collective bargaining agreement only opens up to teams once they have four players who miss three or more games and will continue to be unavailable. The Suns already have three guys way above that limit in Aron Baynes (hip), Frank Kaminsky (knee) and Cam Johnson (quad), and knowing how grizzly ankle sprains can be, Saric is likely out for a bit longer as well. There’s no doubt Phoenix would be granted such an exception, if they applied through the NBA.

To get more specific on how this would help the Suns, let’s dive into Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ: “Teams temporarily can have four players on their Inactive List (bringing their roster size to 16) with league approval in the event of a hardship.” That would mean they could place Saric, Baynes, Kaminsky and Johnson all on the inactive list heading into a game rather than keeping one of them active, as they did during their road trip this week.

More from Coon:

“If a hardship is granted, the hardship ends when one of the sick or injured players is physically able to resume playing. The team must then release player(s) to get back to the roster limit, although teams have the option to retain the hardship player and release a different player to get back to the limit.”

That means the Suns basically get one extra player for the duration of the time in which they have four long-term injuries. It’s also worth mentioning here that Tyler Johnson and Ty Jerome now are also past the three-game mark, and the Suns haven’t provided any official updates on the status of any of these new injuries. So it’s not just Saric — if Tyler Johnson or Jerome continue to miss games, the Suns could keep the player signed using this exception.

Possibilities for fill-in players include everyone from veterans without a team such as Joakim Noah or Jonathon Simmons or G-League standouts such as Vic Law (read about him here). Of course, there’s always the possibility of the return of a certain Seattle native known for his killer crossover.

Back to those silver linings, it’s lucky for the Suns that this exception opened up to them the day of the trade deadline, as they have the opportunity to clear a roster spot in a trade. For example, the proposed Luke Kennard trade reportedly would have shipped out Elie Okobo and Jevon Carter in exchange for Kennard, opening up a roster spot. If the Suns were to sign someone like Noah, having that space on the roster would allow them to absorb him for the rest of the season at the end of the hardship exception.

The same is true for a potential 10-day contract. Should the Suns avoid the hassle of the exception (or possibly believe that one of their injured players is closer to returning than we know right now), they can simply sign a player to a 10-day contract. All those same players listed above could be candidates, in addition to players on the Suns’ own G League affiliate.

However (and a hat-tip to cap maestro Jeff Siegel on this), the 2019-20 season marks the first time that the prorated undrafted rookie minimum for a 10-day contract amounts to more than the $50,000 maximum G League players are allowed to earn in a season.

From the FAQ:

“If a player is waived from a standard NBA contract with more than $50,000 protected, then for the rest of that season he can’t play for that team’s G-League affiliate or sign a Two-Way contract with that team.”

So the Suns can either, a) sign a player using a hardship exception and then cut that player loose when they get healthy, b) create an open roster spot in a trade to sign a new player for the rest of the season, or c) sign a player to a 10-day contract and run the various risks associated with that avenue.

Much is up in the air with a few hours to go before the deadline, but if the game in Detroit on Wednesday night is any indication, the Suns are still in win-now mode, and could use some help off the bench just to give them enough competitive bodies to stay in games.

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