In less than a week, it will be time to set sail. The Phoenix Suns, following the NBA Draft that occurs on Thursday, will embark on an interesting voyage through the tumultuous waters of free agency beginning on August 2. James Jones, the captain of the U.S.S. Suns, will once again have to guide his vessel through the dangerous straights and precarious crossings, hoping to avoid the coral reef-type players that can lead to a disastrous season.
All abroad! Hope ye have the stomach for the trek and avoid gettin’ scurvy!
You have to credit the job Jones did last season building out the team. After bringing in Chris Paul, who made a colossal $41.4M last season, he signed the right guys at the right price to backfill the roster. Between Paul, Devin Booker, and Deandre Ayton, the Suns had $80.8M committed. Add in Jae Crowder and Dario Saric, who each made $9.2 million, and you’ve got five players taking up most of the salary cap.
You have to get darn creative if you want to not only fill the remaining slots on the roster, but to do so with quality basketball players who contribute on and off the court as well. The human element, which can be lost on those of us outside of the transaction portal, is vital to the success of free agency. While we look at it like an NBA2k transaction, Jones and his team must take into account variables such as a player’s ability to mesh with the roster and whether or not they are willing to accept the role on the team.
Jones signed quality veterans like E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, and Frank Kaminsky. He traded for Torrey Craig. The combined salary for those four players? $7.8M. With all four becoming unrestricted free agents in the upcoming days, Captain Jones will look to replace their leadership, skillset, and locker room presence. He may try to bring some of them back. He may look elsewhere as players like Craig have priced them out of the Phoenix market.
Given the Chris Paul situation, with not knowing if he’ll be back and at what price, we are limited on who we should be targeting at this point. If Chris Paul chooses to utilize his player option of $44.2M, this obviously changes the player pool you are looking at as compared to if he chooses to opt out and stretch his deal to $90M over the next three years ($30M a year).
Let’s look at free agency through the “Chris Paul stays” lens. Who is out there that the Suns can take a swing at in hopes to bring in the same type of chemistry achieved last season, all while doing it on a muted salary? Who can Jones call upon to meet the needs and fill the gaps? Which players am I looking to do more than swab the deck for the U.S.S. Phoenix Suns?
I’ll break down the different areas (guards, wings, bigs) over the next couple of articles in three different categories:
- The Dream Pick Up: Highly unlikely but I’d love to see it if the Suns pulled the trigger.
- The ‘Guy I Like’ Pick Up: Someone who I personally like, whether it be fit or style of play.
- The Realistic Pick Up: A player who fits the needs of the team as well is a possible addition due to variables such as age, contractual possibility, fit with the team.
Today, we will focus on the guards. If you’d rather draft one, check out Zona’s article on guards in the draft on Thursday.
If you’d prefer a veteran, here you go...
I do not think the Suns will pursue too many guards outside of what they rostered this past season. While I can see Langston Galloway walking for the opportunity to garner more playing time — and more money — elsewhere, I can see Phoenix keeping E’Twaun Moore and spending any excess cash on Cameron Payne.
Jevon Carter is still under contract to the tune of $3.6M. His is a highly tradable contract. Regardless of whether Carter is with the team or not next season, the Suns still would need another guard in their rotation, preferably a shooting guard. When was the last time the Suns had a legitimate backup for Devin Booker? If your answer was, “never”, you win the prize.
Here are some players I have eye on.
The Dream Pick Up: Gary Trent, Jr., Toronto Raptors
Measurables: 6’5”, 209 lb.
2020-21 Stats: 15.3 points, 41.4/38.5/78.3 splits, 2.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 51.3 eFG%
Status: RFA, $4.7M qualifying offer
This is more wishful thinking than an actual target.
I don’t know if the Raptors are going to allow Trent to hit the free agent market; the $4.7M qualifying offer for a guy who started 15 of his 17 games with Toronto after being a part of the Norman Powel-to-Portland trade seems like a deal. But the Raptors, who hold the #4 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, are projected to take Jalen Suggs from Gonzaga. Sprinkle in the uncertainty around Kyle Lowry, and Trent could become available.
Although he isn’t a great defender, he possesses offensive firepower that would be beneficial for the Suns’ bench unit. He dropped 44 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers last season which included a 7-of9 performance from beyond the arc.
Taking a run at Trent could be a longshot as, prior to last season, he turned down a $14M extension with the Portland Trail Blazers, betting on himself. That typically is not the dude who will take less money to be a part of something special. He most likely is looking to cash in with his first mid-level pay day of his career. If the Suns cannot bring back Cameron Payne, who most likely will garner around $10M/year, Trent would be a stellar addition to the team.
The ‘Guy I Like’ Pick Up: Terence Davis, Sacramento Kings
Measurables: 6’4”, 201 lb.
2020-21 Stats: 8.7 points, 42.8/36.7/81.8 splits, 2.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 53.5 eFG%
Status: RFA, $1.9M qualifying offer
The Kings may want Davis back, especially considering his performance after joining the team via a trade with Toronto. In 27 games with Sacramento, making all of his appearances coming off of the bench, he averaged 11.1 points on 53.5 3PT%.
Davis has a solid foundation as a scorer and can catch fire quickly, as he did against the Bucks last season. He dropped 27 points in 23 minutes.
The 2020 NBA All-Rookie Second Team recipient is generally a spot-up shooter, much akin to Langston Galloway, but does have the ability to create a shot off of the dribble. Given his size, however, this skill hasn’t translated to the NBA the way that he has wanted. Davis does have some length which allows him to surprise you on defense.
The challenge with Davis is his age. At 24, he most likely is looking to play in a place like Sacramento; a place in which his minutes and contributions will be guaranteed. I highly doubt that he is looking to come hold down the 13th or 14th spot on the bench. If he is willing to do so, however, he would be a solid scoring addition for Phoenix.
The Realistic Pick Up: Wesley Matthews, Los Angeles Lakers
Measurables: 6’4”, 220 lb.
2020-21 Stats: 4.8 points, 35.3/33.5/85.4 splits, 1.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 48.4 eFG%
Status: UFA, made $3.6 last season
Matthews, statistically, had the worst season of his career with the Lakers in 2020-21. While playing in 58 games, and starting 10 of them, he just could not get his offensive rhythm down. The 34-year old guard is a shell of the player who dropped 16.4 points a night for the Blazers back in 2013-14. He is still a serviceable veteran and the type of player James Jones should target for the back end of the roster.
Wes has become your prototypical journeyman on the back nine of his career after spending time with seven NBA franchises in his 12 years in the league. This past season was the first time he served primarily in a backup role.
He is in the same mold as E’Twaun Moore, a solid veteran presence who will provide quality minutes when called upon. He is a better defender than Moore and fills the 3-and-D role from a backup shooting guard perspective better than anyone on the Suns did this season. He also had a front row seat to how the Suns operate during the First Round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, which perhaps may entice him away from the bright lights of Los Angeles.
I’d like to see the Suns take a run at him, especially if Galloway and Moore are no longer part of the team. He would be a solid addition and the Suns could get him at a good price. And who knows? Bringing him here could pave the way for Giannis or Steph to end up in the Valley, as all three share the same agent. Clearly that is some 2k-ish fantasy talk right there.
One advantage Phoenix has in the free agency market this season is they are now a destination for players. You might be able to acquire a talented individual for a discounted price simply because they want to be part of something special. The reputation of James Jones and Monty Williams could go a long way and this could be the second consecutive offseason that they use that street cred to build sustainable winning.
Everything hinges on the Chris Paul situation. Depending on what the Suns and Chris Paul agree upon, many dominos will fall. In a perfect world, he resigns and takes much, much less than expected, this opening up the chance to extend Ayton and Bridges and still leave money to build. If pay does stay and opts in for his $44.2M contract, as much as it will be great having him back, it will hurt the depth of the team.
So there you have it and we shall see. Let’s see if I get any of these free agent additions right.