The first wave of free agent and trade season has come and gone and the Phoenix Suns look... almost exactly like they did when it started.
Which would be a bad thing if the Suns weren’t one of the very best teams in the NBA already. Which they were.
And even then, sitting at the top of the heap, making almost no changes in the start of free agency would be a bad thing if they weren’t also one of the younger teams in the league already, still short of their athletic primes at most positions. The Suns were the second-youngest team in the league among top eight regular season winners this past season, second only to the Denver Nuggets who they swept in the second round.
I’m not suggesting that being young means you’re better than an older team. I’m saying that the Suns will still experience internal improvement by simply staying the course. Four of their top six players are age 25 or younger, just barely approaching their NBA primes. Those core players will be better just by bringing back the same team with the same coach.
The Suns did make SOME moves this past week and a half. They added a pair of bench players in Landry Shamet and JaVale McGee and re-signed three of their own in Chris Paul, Cameron Payne and Abdel Nader.
- Chris Paul’s contract is only fully guaranteed for two seasons, with half-guarantee in year three ($15.8 of $30.8 million) and fully non-guaranteed in year four
- Cameron Payne’s contract is only partially guaranteed in year three ($2 million)
- Abdel Nader got just over the minimum this year, and has a team option next year
- Landry Shamet, just like Ayton and Bridges, is a restricted free agent next year
There’s still some incomplete transactions (JaVale McGee’s contract not yet filed with league, Elfrid Payton and Frank Kaminsky on league minimums are not yet confirmed), but with those estimates the Suns have $7 million in room below the luxury tax threshold, after which every dollar spent is more like $2-3 real dollars.
$7 million to spend
The Suns still have a $4.5 million in the Mid-level exception slot and $3.7 million in the bi-annual exception slot to pay players over the league minimum to fill out the end of the bench or potentially claw into the rotation.
Of course, the Suns don’t have to spend the “big” monies. They can simply sign players to minimum contracts, like the Lakers did with a bunch of players last week.
No one seems to want to jump at the Suns end-of-bench jobs yet, though. They’ll take minimums with the Lakers because the Laker rotation has openings in it for good playing time if you beat out another minimum guy.
Why would players want to repeat the Jevon Carter / E’Twaun Moore / Langston Galloway / Abdel Nader experience? The Suns are so young and settled in their rotation that to sign with the Suns is to hope for injury or you’re just signing for bench splinters.
Still, I expect the Suns will get a player or two to sign on the dotted line this week to fill out the roster.
They are reportedly waiting to see which playable rotation players are bought out by their teams this week. Thaddeus Young (Spurs) is one such player who would be at least as functional as Paul Milsap, if not better. It’s a waiting game now, to see if any still-good players are set free by rebuilding teams this week.
Oh yeah, and there’s the potential rookie extensions due to Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, who are the anchors to the Suns excellent defense while providing an extremely efficient 30 points of offense each night between them.
They become restricted free agents next summer, meaning the Suns can match any offer made to them from another team. But good business practice would be to lock these guys up long-term before next season starts, so their minds are clear during the next title run.
Any extension signed by Ayton or Bridges (or even Shamet) this summer would not kick in until NEXT season. All are under rookie-scale contracts for the 2021-22 season.
Ayton getting the max?
The Ayton decision is fairly easy. After leading the Suns defense through the playoffs, often being called the team’s unsung MVP by his teammates, Ayton profiles as a max player. He is a defensive anchor with untapped offensive potential who simply set a league record for field goal percentage in a single playoffs of those with at least 100 attempts.
*Max Rookie-scale extension rules: 25% of the cap that could rise to 30% if the player makes All-NBA team during or before the contract.
That means a maximum rookie extension worth $168 million over five years, with a potential to escalate to over $200 million if the player makes All-NBA teams.
On deck is Luka Doncic, who will reportedly sign his own max extension with the Dallas Mavericks this week. The Mavericks contingent of front office staff and luminaries are on their way to Slovenia with paperwork in hand. The contract will hopefully cheer Luka up. Just two days ago, he lost the Bronze medal game in the Olympics to Patty Mills’ Australian team.
Another player rumored to be in the mix for a max extension is Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets. Porter Jr. has the build and shooting chops similar to Kevin Durant, though obviously much much less accomplished.
Those five are likely to be the only players from the 2018 draft to get maximum level extensions, but you never know. It’s possible that the Memphis Grizzlies believe enough in Jaren Jackson Jr. to give him the max, knowing that they will need to do the same with Ja Morant a year later. But they may try to limit the top end of the JJJ contract considering his injury issues and overall underperformance relative to his prodigious talent level.
This article from last year points out that a normal draft year only produces 5-10 third-year extensions at all — out of 60 players taken, plus the undrafteds — with 10 being a top-end that was reached last year (for players taken in the 2017 draft) and 2003, the year of LeBron James and company.
A year ago, Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Bam Adebayo and De’Aaron Fox got max level extensions like we talked about above. Another six got extensions too, just not at max level: OG Anunoby (Raptors, 4/72), Derrick White (Spurs, 4/70), Johnathan Isaac (Magic, 4/69), Luke Kennard (Clippers, 4/56), Markell Fultz (Magic, 3/50), Kyle Kuzma (Lakers, 3/39).
Who else from the 2018 draft class will get extensions this summer/fall? Judging by last year’s Fultz/Kennard/Kuzma level, I could see 5-10 extensions coming.