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Center of the Sun: Replacing Deandre Ayton without a significant downgrade at center won’t be an easy task

Your weekly roundup of Suns news, rumors, notes and videos from the prior week plus a preview of the week to come.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns.

The big topic among Suns fans remains what happens with Deandre Ayton this summer. The buzz is that it’s very unlikely that he stays with the Suns and a sign and trade will be the done which will send him to another team. As has been frequently discussed, the compensation the Suns will receive in return will be limited if this is the case.

The biggest question about moving on from DA is who can/will the Suns get to take his place in the starting lineup? It’s been suggested that they could just concentrate on bringing back JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo to fill the void. While it’s true that they’ve both filled in well when DA was absent, at ages 34 and 30 they might not be up to the task of taking on all of the minutes at center throughout a full season. Remember how a then 33 year old Aaron Baynes eventually broke down when called on to start following DA’s suspension back in 2019? Plus, both JaVale and Biz are both relatively foul prone. Per 36 minutes, JaVale averaged 5.6 fouls per game and Biz averaged 5.0 fouls in 2021-22.

There are numerous reasons that scenario just won’t work over a full NBA season.

What about Dario Saric? Well, we already know that Dario doesn’t have what it takes to be a starting center in this league and due to a fairly recent setback in his rehab (he had another knee surgery on May 5), he may not even be ready for training camp this fall, let alone ready to be relied on in even a limited role as a backup.

Bring back Frank Kaminsky? He’s become something of a fan favorite but he’s also had his own injury issues and would only be a 3rd or 4th option at center. Don’t let the memory of that 31 point performance against Portland back in November cloud your judgement that he’s anything else.

It was an awesome game from Frank though.

No, the answer is that the Suns must go hunting elsewhere for a serviceable big to take most of DA’s starting minutes. Hopefully they can get someone who fits the bill back through the S&T deal they eventually work out but that’s not a given. They can’t count on that because DA has to agree to his S&T destination which limits the Suns to taking the best deal they can make with a specific team that DA wants to be traded to rather than finding the best possible deal for them.

To get another starting level center outside of that trade may not be easy and could likely come through another trade as the Suns will be very limited as to what they can spend in free agency. They’re already over the salary cap without including DA’s salary (or the salaries that they will receive in return) and $20 mil short of the Luxury Tax Threshold. As $20 mil is the amount that the Suns can possibly take back in a S&T, that will put them right at the tax threshold if not over it depending upon the actual dollar amount of the return. Regardless of that, just signing minimum salary players to fill in the remaining roster spots would push them over that limit even if the trade return numbers don’t (unless the Suns manage to shed some salary through other means).

If they go more than $6 mil over the luxury tax line, that pushes them above the tax “Apron” which creates even more headaches. The following is from Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ:

  1. Teams above the Apron cannot use the Bi-Annual exception.
  2. Teams above the Apron have a smaller Mid-Level exception. It can be used to offer a mid-level contract no longer than three years, while other teams can offer four. The starting salary is also lower.
  3. Teams cannot receive a player in a sign-and-trade transaction. Note that they calculate whether the team is over or under the Apron after the full sign-and-trade transaction, and not just the signing.

The Suns are going to need a young(ish) big that can at least be an effective inside player on offense and a competent defender/rim protector to come close to replacing DA. They have little money available to search for someone who fits that bill in free agency without using the mid-level exception which could be significantly lower ($6 mil instead of $10 mil) if they’re a taxpaying team. If they use that to bring back McGee and/or Biyombo, the vet minimum is all they will have to spend.

Unless the Suns get lucky and receive a suitable big in return as part of a sign and trade deal for DA, James Jones may have to get creative to secure a player that will fill the Suns’ needs at center once DA moves on.

2021-22 Season Highlights




Quote of the Week

News & Notes

Phoenix Suns Face Tough Decision With Deandre Ayton’s Pending Free Agency. Sports Illustrated

NBA Rumors: Charlotte Hornets Could Land Deandre Ayton For Miles Bridges And PJ Washington. Fade Away World

Former Suns F Alan Williams Talks Time in Phoenix, Playing Overseas. Yardbarker

Ayton’s Free Agency Clouds Suns’ Future. The Lead

Jae Crowder Shares Hilarious Story on Morning Beach Run. Yardbarker

Devin Booker, Chris Paul Crack Forbes Top 50 Highest-Paid Athlete List. Yardbarker

Adam Silver: Suns owner Robert Sarver investigation ‘getting close to the end’. Yahoo! Sports

1976 NBA Finals Epic Finish: Boston Celtics vs. Phoenix Suns Game 5 Triple-Overtime Thriller. Fade Away World

This Week in Suns History

On June 13, 1993, the Suns were down 0-2 to the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals after losing Games 1 and 2 at home in America West Arena. The series moved to Chicago Stadium where the Suns pulled of a 129-121 triple overtime win behind Dan Majerle’s team high 28 points, a 24 point, 19 rebound game by Charles Barkley and a 25 point, 9 assist night by Kevin Johnson. Johnson also set a Finals record by playing 62 minutes and teammate Dan Majerle set a mark that still stands by playing 59 minutes without committing a personal foul. This was only the 2nd time in NBA history that a Finals game went into three overtimes, the first was played in 1976 by the Suns and Celtics in the Suns first trip to the NBA Finals.

On June 13, 2021, with a 125-118 win, the Suns completed a 4-0 sweep of the Denver Nuggets in their Western Conference Semifinals playoff series. It was their first playoff sweep since they swept the San Antonio Spurs 4-0 in the Western Conference Semis back in 2010. It was also only the third 7-game playoff series sweep in team history. (The Suns also had 4 more first round series sweeps but those were back when they were still best-of-five series.)

On June 17, 1992, the Suns traded Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Charles Barkley.

Classic Suns Highlights

1993 Bulls vs Suns Game 3 NBA Finals Highlights

#2 SUNS at #3 NUGGETS | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | June 13, 2021

Suns Trivia

The Suns have swept their playoff opponents a total of seven times over the years, 3 times in best of seven series and 4 times in best of five. The have been swept a total of five times, twice in best of seven series, twice in best of five and once in a best of three way back in 1978 against Milwaukee (yes, the Bucks were a Western Conference team way back then). The LA Lakers are the only team to ever sweep the Suns in a 7-game series, doing in in the Western Conference Semis in 1982 and in the Western Conference Finals in 1989. The last time the Suns were swept was in a 1st round 5-game series against Portland in 1999.

Important Future Dates

June 23 - NBA Draft.

June 29 - Final day for teams to make qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

June 30 - Teams can begin negotiating with free agents at 6:00 pm ET.

July 1 - Official start of the 2022/23 NBA league year. Moratorium period begins. Restricted free agents can sign an offer sheet. Teams can begin signing players to rookie scale contracts, minimum salary contracts, and two-way contracts. Teams can begin exercising the third- or fourth-year team options for 2023/24 on rookie scale contracts.

July 6 - Free agency moratorium period ends (10.01 am ET). Teams can begin officially signing players, extending players, and completing trades. The two-day period for matching an RFA offer sheet signed during the moratorium begins.

July 7-17 - NBA Summer League (Las Vegas)

July 13 - Last day for teams to unilaterally withdraw qualifying offers to restricted free agents.

August 31 - Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2022/23 salaries.

September 5 - Last day for teams to issue required tenders to unsigned second-round picks; those players become free agents on September 6 if not tendered.

Late September (specific dates TBA) - Training camps open.

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