The Phoenix Suns are still looking to add another piece to a newly minted contender, but with Chris Paul and Devin Booker already on $30+ million per year contracts, their spending power has been muted.
So far, the only new free agent added to the Suns roster is JaVale McGee, a backup center with a condor’s wingspan. McGee is no star. He rarely plays in consecutive games, and no more than 20 minutes when he does. But he’s really good at picking winners: in the last five years, McGee has gobbled up three championship rings and is about to collect a medal at the Olympics.
Last week, the Suns traded Jevon Carter for Landry Shamet who is an upgrade at shooting guard but not guaranteed to make a playoff rotation. He’s better than Carter, Moore and Galloway, but most likely won’t crack a top eight when the rotations shrink as the playoffs get deeper.
The Suns have otherwise brought back their same team from the Finals, which unfortunately includes the hole where Dario Saric (torn ACL) used to be.
McGee profiles more like a Frank Kaminsky upgrade than a Dario replacement. Dario played every single game as Deandre Ayton’s backup, averaging 17 minutes a night even in a down year.
The Suns are still looking for a ‘swing’ big who has the mobility to play both forward and center, depending on the Suns lineups. Ideally, this player is 6’8” or taller with the girth to hold up defending the post and the hops to defend the rim on the weak side, while also having the mobility to switch out on the perimeter to defend a smaller player occasionally.
No, a player like that is not easy to find. If only the Raptors would trade Pascal Siakam to the Suns for spare parts.
Torrey Craig played that role a bit in the late season and playoffs, but he was a bit small for it and is now gone to Indiana anyway.
Jae Crowder has the girth to play the swing big, but does not have the necessary verticality at the point of attack to deter drives to the rim. Still, he’s the Suns best on-hand option.
Jalen Smith theoretically has the exact skillset needed, but his nickname is Stix for a reason. The 21 year-old looks like a character in a Tim Burton film. If he develops this year, the Suns have the guy they need. But last season — which is only two weeks ago — he was just not ready for prime time. Watch Jalen in Summer League starting this weekend in Vegas for a reminder of his skillset.
The Suns can also use another shot creator on the wing who can pull up, pass off and get to the rim depending on what the defense is giving up. The Suns hope that player is Abdel Nader, but at 27 years old the ‘Pyramid Papi’ he’s probably aged out of growing out of his inconsistencies.
So, the Suns two ‘wants’ are swing-big and combo shot creator.
Here’s what remains on the market.
Why he’s available: Dude is 36 now, and when the Suns played the Nuggets in the second round he was no longer a player to fear.
Why he fits the Suns: Was once an All-Star due to his two-way skills, and he helped lead the Nuggets to contention in recent years. Millsap can play both the forward and center positions, just like the Suns want. The best of Millsap would be a great addition to the Suns rotation.
Why he doesn’t fit the Suns: He noticeably slowed down last year. If Millsap becomes a matador on defense, he will not be able to stay on the floor in the Suns switch-heavy scheme.
Will he sign? I HOPE SO. Rumor has it that Millsap, who is coming off a $30 million a year contract, wants to maximize his 2021-22 income and doesn’t yet want to settle for the Suns $4.5 million offer (what’s left of the mid-level exception after signing McGee). He’s hoping a contender like Milwaukee will give him their taxpayer MLE of $5.9 million, which they still have but don’t really want to spend as they ride the luxury tax bus.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Why he’s available: Was awful for Golden State last year, and they simply just let him walk and closed the door behind him after he walked out.
Why he fits the Suns: Monty Williams knows how to get the best out of him. Oubre was a legit second option on offense because he can attack the basket and draw free throws or dunk, plus he made 34% of his threes without hesitation on the catch. The Suns dropped from 10th in free throws in 2019-20 to 30th last year, and it was all from replacing Kelly’s 5 a game to Jae’s 0.
Why he doesn’t fit the Suns: Once he catches, he’s gonna shoot from somewhere. He might have made five passes all season, I think. And that’s a big killer for the point-five, “pass from good to great” offense.
Will he sign? NO WAY. That was a weird ending to his tenure last year. He’s that friend you see in public and exclaim “I miss you so much, let’s hang out soon!” but then never call or text them afterward.
Why he’s available: Jackson had a GREAT season and played himself into a $20 million per year payday. But apparently he burned too many bridges throughout his career, and no one made room for him on their team. The Clippers surely want him back, but the rules of the salary cap only allow them to offer Jackson up to $10.5 million per year (the same rules that applied to re-signing Cam Payne, by the way).
Why he fits the Suns: The Suns need a shot creator and someone who can drain threes without hesitation, and Jackson checks those boxes in spades.
Why he doesn’t fit the Suns: He’s a ball pounder and the Suns aren’t looking for anyone else who can run the show the majority of the time. If he joined the Suns, he’d be discontent with his small role.
Will he sign? Almost certainly not. He won’t want to leave a great spot with the Clippers for a third-guard role on the Suns for no more than $4.5 million.
Why he’s available: Was really bad for the Lakers last year as their starting point and third-best player, especially in the playoffs, after turning down a huge extension ($84 million was the offer). Now they’ve replaced him with Russell Westbrook and almost no one has cap space anymore.
Why he fits the Suns: He was great in Oklahoma City two years ago as the third guard coming off the bench behind Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and could easily fill that role in Phoenix behind Paul and Booker.
Why he doesn’t fit the Suns: He doesn’t want to be a third guard. He wants to start, which would likely make him a pain in the butt behind the scenes.
Will he sign? Almost certainly not. He wants a lot more than the $4.5 million the Suns have left. Plus, the Suns like Cam Payne as their third guard. Schroder has more talent than Payne, but Payne is the much much much better teammate and the Suns sign people partly based on their teammate-ness.
Who else is out there?
Tons and tons of players who fit the mold of 11th-15th guy, who won’t be in your playoff rotation by the time those start up again. Guys like that look a lot like E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway and Frank Kaminsky, who at this point are still available.
The Suns should still be looking for an upgrade to an 8-man playoff rotation via trade, using Jalen Smith and Dario Saric’s dead contract as bait for a team that wants to move on from their disgruntled or bad-fit mid-level salary player.
The best outcome now, I think, is to sign Millsap to the rest of the MLE and then wait for a good trade when it materializes.