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Re-setting the stage: Phoenix Suns cap update, mechanisms to upgrade roster

The Phoenix Suns now need to find new ways to upgrade roster besides waiting for Kevin Durant

Phoenix Suns v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

With Kevin Durant off the table for this offseason, the Phoenix Suns now look forward to entering next season with almost the same group of guys who got to the playoffs the last two years.

Over the last two seasons, the Suns have won more games (137 total = 115 regular season + 21 playoffs) than any other team in the NBA.

ESPN says the Suns are ‘all in’ to win a championship ($) this season because their window is shutting.

Yes, they will need to replace Chris Paul soon, but the dude just personally won the Suns four playoff games a couple months ago and was named All-NBA for the 11th time in his career.

It’s also true that four of their top five players are just now entering their primes. Of Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton and Cameron Johnson, only Chris Paul is older than 26.

Let’s set the stage on the Suns salary cap, and what mechanisms they can use to improve their team between now and the start of training camp late next month.

Phoenix Suns salary cap details

What do all those numbers mean?

Just for starters, the Suns are so far over the ‘salary cap’ that they can only use these things called ‘cap exceptions’ to sign players.

As it is, after bringing back Deandre Ayton on a mini-max contract, the Suns are slated to spend the 6th most money on salaries this season.

Guess who all the contenders are? Yep, those top six spenders are among the group of teams who have a good chance to win the NBA Championship.

Even among the cap exceptions, because the Suns are willing to spend big to win a championship including taking on salary in trades that exceeds what goes out, there are exceptions the Suns CANNOT use this season:

  • Mid-level exception ($10.49 million)
  • Bi-Annual exception ($4.105 million)
  • Acquiring a player via sign-and-trade (i.e. Collin Sexton)

If the Suns use ANY of these mechanisms, a ‘hard cap’ would be imposed on them at the Tax Apron level ($156.98 million) for the whole season, limiting their ability to add salary for a championship push.

The same is true of almost every playoff-level team, by the way. They don’t want to ‘hard cap’ themselves if they are close to that Tax Apron level of $156.98 million. As long as they don’t use any of those tools, they can go as far as they want on spending (as long as they’re willing to pay the tax to their fellow owners at the end of the season).

So what can the Suns do?

  • Tax-payer mid-level exception (up to $6.479 million)

Unfortunately, there are no players still available who are worth more than the minimum salary for next season. But having this in their back pocket means they can go a little over the minimum salary to entice a player to pick them over another team.

Who’s still on the market? Old guys who want to tag along for a championship run. But again, they’re not really worth more than the league minimum.

It’s possible the Suns will hold onto this exception for the ‘just in case’ a better player gets bought out by his team either before or during the season. Having this TPMLE gives the Suns more ammunition to grab one of those guys.

  • Minimum-salary exceptions (depends on experience, up to $2.9 million)

The Suns have already used this mechanism to sign Josh Okogie, Damion Lee and Bismack Biyombo this summer. They can continue down this road to fill out their last roster spot, if they want to.

  • Trades, where the salary difference of players going to and fro is within 25% on both sides

This is where you actually impact the main rotation. Of the 14 players on full NBA contracts, only four of them — Devin Booker (6 years), Deandre Ayton (4), Mikal Bridges (4), Landry Shamet (2) — are completely guaranteed beyond this coming season.

Booker and Ayton cannot be traded this offseason, and we all know the Suns really don’t want to trade Mikal Bridges or Cameron Johnson.

But it sure seems like Dario Saric (expiring next summer), Jae Crowder (expiring next summer), Landry Shamet (two guaranteed years left), Cam Payne (one fully guaranteed year left) and Torrey Craig (expiring next summer) are movable for the right replacement parts.

With the LeBron James (extension with Lakers) and Kevin Durant (staying in place) situations resolved, the rest of the league can start making trades again.

The Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers are two teams looking to make some moves to bolster their rebuild/draft efforts. The Hawks are still trying to find a new home for John Collins. There are others, too.

Now let the games begin.

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