This morning, league inside Marc Stein dropped a little nugget on who the Phoenix Suns might be interested in for their minimum salary free agent offers.
According to Stein, Yuta Watanabe and Mike James — yes, THAT Mike James — have “surfaced” as targets for minimum salary offers once free agency opens.
Watanabe, age 28, makes a ton of sense here in Phoenix. He’s tall (6’9”), plays with a great deal of effort on both ends of the floor, and can make threes (career 39%). This will be Yuta’s 6th season in the NBA, one of which was with Durant in Brooklyn before he got himself traded to Phoenix. He’d previously played two seasons each with the Raptors and Grizzlies.
Last season, Yuta set career highs across the board, including minutes (16.0 per game), overall shooting percentage (49.1%), three-point shooting (44.4%).
He was even better with Durant on the team, shooting 52.3% on threes and 55% overall in 18 minutes per game before Durant went down to his knee injury and, ultimately, got traded. After the Durant trade, his minutes dipped to 9.7 per game as he played behind Mikal Bridges, Dorian Finney-Smith and Cam Johnson. He shot only 27% on threes after the trade as well.
Mike James is the same guy who started the 2017-18 season with the Suns (32 games, 10.4 points, 4.8 assists, 38% shooting) on a two-way contract and was released when his eligibility to play for the big team ran out. The Suns turned to Isaiah Canaan, who had a blip of goodness before breaking his leg two weeks later. Ah those were the days, huh?
James has only played 17 NBA games since — 4 for the Pelicans in 2018 and 13 for Durant’s Nets in 2021. That Nets stint was a quickie to help them survive Irving and Harden injuries late in the season as they tried to get healthy for the playoffs.
The 33 year old James has spent most of his career in Europe, most recently for AS Monaco, as had career averages of 16 points and 4.8 assists across nine seasons overseas. A Portland native, his college basketball career started at Eastern Arizona College.
I’m all in on Yuta, but not really in on Mike James. Like, what are we going here? Signing James would simply be devoting a roster spot, and maybe playing time, to a guy who really isn’t NBA caliber just because he’s good friends with Durant.
These won’t be the only guys on the Suns radar.
Keep an eye on these two, as well as a lot of other names who will be clamoring for almost guaranteed playing time with the Suns and a chance at championship to boot.
While the Suns have made moves to keep Ish Wainright, Jock Landale and Saben Lee (two way) in recent days, they are still looking for a 5th starter and a top bench player or two, but only have minimum salary contracts to offer in free agency.