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Addressing the Elephant in the room: Kelly Oubre Jr.’s contract situation

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The Suns are going to face a very difficult decision with Kelly Oubre and his impending free agency status in 2021.

Phoenix Suns v Utah Jazz Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

I’ve had numerous thoughts about the situation the Suns face in the short and long term when it comes to Kelly Oubre Jr.’s contract status and why it’s vital for Phoenix to not only construct a plan, but to have a contingency plan (or two) in place on how they will handle this situation.

Make no mistake about it: Kelly Oubre has taken the hearts of many Suns fans by winning them over with exciting plays and the theatrics that ensued such as blowing kisses to the crowd, doing pushups after a fall, head-bobbing in opponent’s faces after throwing down a poster and more. He’s legitimately led the charge of changing the culture and identity of the Phoenix Suns and I do not say that lightly.

Oubre was truly in the midst of a breakout season before going down with the torn meniscus in late February. He was averaging 18.7 points per game, 6.4 rebounds per game to go with 1.3 steals and 0.7 blocks per game while showing improvements on his consistency on the defensive side of the ball. Oubre posted career-highs (per-game) in the following stats: points, rebounds, assists, steals, true shooting percent, free throw attempt rate, and VORP (value over replacement player).

There is no doubt he is one of the most exciting young players in the league and has shown some seriously impactful flashes on both sides of the ball. He also dunked on everyone. That was fun. Relive those thrilling moments by watching this video below:

He’s been the topic of many trade rumors that have been swirling around which has drawn the ire of many fans that have him on a pedestal as their favorite player for the aforementioned intangibles and personality he brings to the table along with the on-court production. The reality is that his contract situation may have an everlasting effect on whether or not this team breaks through as a serious title contender down the road. No pressure, James Jones.


Core Player Contracts

By each year — (20/21 — 21/22 — 22/23 — 23/24)

  • Devin Booker- ($29.4 — $31.6 — $33.8 — $36.0)
  • Ricky Rubio- ($17.0 — $17.8)
  • Deandre Ayton- ($10.0 — $12.6 (club option) — $16.4 QO > RFA in 2022)
  • Mikal Bridges- ($4.3 — $5.5 (club option) — $7.5 QO > RFA in 2022)
  • Kelly Oubre Jr.- ($14.3 —> UFA in 2021)

Other rookie scale contracts: Cam Johnson (RFA in 2023), Ty Jerome (RFA in 2023), Jalen Lecque (RFA in 2023).

In the very short-term the Rubio contract isn’t alarming because he’ll be off the books after the 21/22 season, and becomes an expiring contract after next season so if they decided they needed to move him for whatever reason it wouldn’t be all that difficult.

If the Suns decide to pay Kelly Oubre Jr. $20+ million per year they are essentially locked in to the core of Booker, Bridges, Oubre and Ayton without much flexibility once Bridges and Ayton secure their extensions. You’re likely looking at upwards of $90-95+ million annually on just those four alone.

Now, if you commit to that you have to be absolutely positive that group is good enough to win you a title with the right veteran minimums and role players around them. You also need to have Cam Johnson’s contract status in the back of your mind as well, because while these decisions seem a long ways away, they will come up quick and become very real.


Kelly Blue Book- How much is he worth?

Here are some contracts given out to similar players around his age when he hits free agency (25) with production in his ballpark or situations similar to what Phoenix and Oubre will face next offseason.

Otto Porter Jr. (24 years old when signed)- 4 year, $106 mil = $26.0 mil. annually.

Harrison Barnes (27 years old when signed)- 4 year, $86 mil = $21.2 mil. annually.

Malcolm Brogdon (26 years old when signed)- 4 year, $85 mil = $21.2 mil. annually.

Gary Harris (23 years old when signed)- 4 year, $84 mil = $21.0 mil. annually.

Julius Randle (24 years old when signed)- 3 year, $62.1 mil = $20.7 mil. annually.

Aaron Gordon (22 years old when signed)- 4 year, $80 mil = $20 mil. annually.

You look at these contract figures and the players associated with them and it’s easy to see him getting somewhere around the median or high-end outcome of these deals, but it’s certainly also dependent on how he performs this upcoming season and how the knee looks.

It will be a fluid situation to monitor, but I project him to make around $21-23 million annually at this moment in time, and that’s assuming at the very least he picks up where he left off and continues to show high-upside flashes. If he builds on his breakout year in a significant way, he could be looking at $25+ million annually and enter the Otto Porter Jr. range, which is a hefty amount to shell out given their future obligations to Devin Booker and presumably Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges.


Conclusion

Kelly Oubre Jr. is going to command a lot of money in the open market in 2021. The trade rumors will not stop anytime soon since he is their most tradable contract/asset on a reasonable expiring deal. If they do not plan on keeping him long-term, it could be wise to move him this summer rather than losing him for nothing. If they want more time to evaluate, they could opt to bring him back without any long-term commitment and keep cap flexibility open for the 2021 free agent class if they eventually decided on not retaining him.

There are risks to playing the waiting game, just as there would be risks to extending him early or trading him. It all comes down to what the long-term vision is for this team, and how much belief this front office has in this current group to become a perennial playoff team and eventual title contender, because that’s what it’s all about.

I would like to clarify that I’d be more than happy to run it back and see how things go next season with Oubre before handing him a massive extension, but there are plenty of questions to ask when evaluating this tough situation Phoenix is in. As much as I would love to be the General Manager of the Phoenix Suns, this is one situation I’m glad I don’t have to call the shot on because the ripple effect will be massive and there is a lot to consider when making this decision.

At the end of the day, if they decide to run it back with this core group while making a few key veteran/depth upgrades for the bench, we very well could have the answer (one way or another) based on how the season unfolds. Letting the decision happen organically may be the best route to go.

Read: Reviewing Kelly Oubre Jr.’s season