The NBA Summer League has officially concluded. The Phoenix Suns, a team known recently as not investing in the event (see: Jalen Smith’s 2021 Summer League and eventual trade to the Indiana Pacers, logged as ‘Exhibit A’), are amidst rebuilding a roster that garnered 64 wins a season ago.
They have matched an offer sheet for Deandre Ayton, which will pay him $133M over the next four years. They are reportedly the desired destination for 12-time All-Star, 4-time scoring champion, and 2-time NBA champion Kevin Durant. Cameron Johnson is eligible for his rookie extension.
And, although much attention is focused on what is occurring at the top of the roster, the bottom must not be overlooked. Instead of a solution at the end of NBA Summer League, the team is now left with one additional question to answer:
What should they do with Ish Wainright?
Ish Wainright joined the team last October to their remaining two-way spot after being released in training camp by the Toronto Raptors, and the 6’5”, 250-pound former collegiate tight end brought with him some much needed pound-for-pound grit. While he didn’t see much playing time for the 64-win Suns, his contributions still displayed growth and promise for the 27 year-old journeyman.
Due to his efforts, both on and off the court, the Suns chose to sign Wainright to a standard contract on April 10 for the remainder of the 2021-22 season and through the playoffs. This was two days after he scored 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and 8 boards against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The love affair the Phoenix fan base has with Ish is unique. He isn’t someone who gets a plethora of minutes and has earned our respect through consistent bench play. He played in 45 games and 359 minutes last season. It isn’t a flame-throwing ability from beyond the arc that rouses the crowd. He shot 22.7% from deep in his first 20 appearances.
What Ish does possess is a willingness to keep trying. He is a fighter, trying to make the NBA against all odds. He gives effort, and it is noticed and appreciated. In his Player Review, 41% of Bright Siders rated his season as an “A”.
What Wainright proved during his stint in the NBA is that he is deserving of being on a roster in the Association.
The 2022 NBA Summer League was another opportunity for Ish Wainright to display to teams around the league that he should be rostered. He entered the Summer League as an Unrestricted Free Agent and did what he could to increase his stock. In 5 games played, he averaged 11.0 points and 3.4 rebounds, while shooting 41.4% from deep on 5.8 attempts.
His best performance was the 17 points he put together against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Now, both he and we wait.
As the roster currently sits, the Suns have 14 players under contract. James Jones, known for his desire to construct a team by being three deep at five positions, has almost all of his bases covered.
Yes, the roles of Josh Okogie and Damion Lee are yet unknown. They both have the versatility to play small forward, which raises the possibility that James Jones will look elsewhere to fill the roster - potential KD move notwithstanding.
When we think of the 15th man on the roster, we veer our expectations as a “break glass in case of emergency” type of player; someone who will not see the court unless injury is ever present on the squad. Given the recent success of the Suns, we know that this is not a developmental roster spot either. This is designated for someone who understands the role they are brought in to fill and is willing to accept it.
Does Ish meet this criteria? Well, it’s complicated.
Given his limited use with Phoenix last season, along with his outstanding Summer League performance, Ish is in the driver’s seat when it comes to not just getting paid, but also receiving adequate playing time. What that contract looks like remains to be seen as the market will dictate his value.
James Jones will most likely fill the final roster spot with someone who doesn’t hit the cap sheet too hard, especially seeing as the team enters the realm of the luxury tax. As it sits currently, Phoenix will pay approximately $34M in luxury tax. Again, potential KD move notwithstanding. If Ish is willing to sign with the Suns in the $1M to $2M range, it’s a match made in Phoenix. This is Ish stating, ‘I like the team and the culture here, and I’ll put that ahead of my personal development and playing time’.
If the Kevin Durant trade goes through and the Suns exchange numerous assets to make it happen, it becomes a no-brainer to bring Wainright back. If he’s still available. More minutes would be available for him seeing as the depth of the team will be depleted.
Like most things these days, Ish is at the mercy of the “oft-discussed but no action” KD situation. It will be interesting to see if Wainright receives an offer from a team that might benefit from his talents and has the resources to supply him with minutes in the coming days.