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Free Agency Primer! What’s in it for the Suns?

The Suns have little spending or trading power, but still could make a big splash anyway

2023 NBA Playoffs - Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s free agency day!

Today at 3pm AZ time, teams are allowed to announce agreements on new free agent contracts with players. The big-spending Phoenix Suns have just seven players under contract for 2023-24 but will only be allowed to offer minimum-salary contracts ($2-3 million) to other teams’ free agents so we might not hear about Suns signings for a day or two. Today is for the big offers.

Still, the Suns might be active. More on the trade front, anyway.

The Suns can fill out a mushroom shaped roster — topped by All-Stars Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal — with some trades using the limited resources they have left. These are their tradable assets no matter when the trade is made — today, tomorrow or next week or next month.

You can read this now, and refer back to it over the next day or so when you see crazy rumors come up and want to verify if they’re possible.

For example, the Suns cannot receive a signed-and-traded Kyrie Irving but they CAN sign him to a minimum-salary deal.

For another example, the Suns can receive James Harden in trade if both sides want to, because he opted in to his already-signed contract with the 76ers for the 2023-24 season.

The Suns...

  • Can still aggregate players both directions in trades (2-for-1, 1-for-2, 2-for-2, etc)
  • Cannot receive a signed-and-traded player
  • Can trade Deandre Ayton, age 25 next season, mid-to-high level starter, owed $32 million this year, $102 over the next three years, has veto rights until 7/15, cannot be traded at all to Indiana until 7/15
  • Can trade Cameron Payne, age 28, mid-level backup owed $6.5 million this year
  • Can acquire a player via trade into a Trade exception (from Saric/Bazley trade) that can take in up to $5.05 million in a single player’s salary. Must be used by itself in a singular trade with another team, no aggregation with other players. The thing here is that, to take a player into the exception, the Suns must send something back like a draft pick or money. Except the Suns don’t have any tradable future draft picks. They only have their remaining cash and second round pick Toumani Camara’s ‘rights’ (tradable now until signed, or 30+ days after signing a contract).
  • Can trade Jordan Goodwin, age 24, mid-level backup, $1.9 million
  • Can trade Ish Wainright, age 28, low-level backup, $1.9 million
  • Can trade Isaiah Todd, age 22, low-level backup, $1.8 million
  • Their remaining cash — $1.5 million today + $7 million starting tomorrow for 2023-24 season
  • Secondary swap rights in 2024
  • Secondary swap rights in 2026

However, the new CBA gets tougher to navigate starting tomorrow for big-spending teams like the Suns.

TODAY ONLY, the Suns trade limit is:

  • Can bring back up to 25% more in salaries than they trade out

Starting July 1 (tomorrow!), the Suns and teams over the second apron:

  • Can only bring back up to 10% more in salaries than they trade out
  • Cannot sign a buyout player who’s salary was > $12.4 million
  • Cannot use any salary cap exception (full, taxpayer or bi-annual)
  • Can only offer veteran minimum salaries to other teams’ free agents, plus their own one-year free agents (like the Suns with Damion Lee, Josh Okogie, Terrence Ross and T.J. Warren)
  • Can give larger salaries to re-sign Jock Landale and Torrey Craig, who have early Bird Rights, up to $12.4 million per year

It gets even worse a year from now. Starting the day after the 2023-24 regular season, if Suns are still over second apron:

  • Cannot include any cash at all in trades
  • Cannot bring back more salary than they send out
  • One-player-for-one-player trades only!
  • Cannot use any previously-generated trade exceptions to acquire players
  • Cannot send or receive signed-and-traded player in either direction in trade

Starting July 1, 2025 (two years from now), if Suns are still over second apron:

  • All those previous restrictions, plus
  • first round pick seven years out is frozen, CANNOT be traded (i.e. 2032)
  • If the team remains over the second apron twice in the next four years (2026-2029), then that 2032 pick is moved to the end of the first round and remains frozen/untradable. The pick only becomes unfrozen when the team is at or below the second apron line three of the four years after it had become frozen (2026-2029).
  • This pick-freezing happens every July 1 to the seven-year-out pick (i.e. over second apron in 2026 freezes the 2033 first round pick, and so on). Basically, if you consistently pop over the second apron ($17.5 million over the luxury tax line) you can never trade a first round pick again and it will always be the worst first round pick.
  • If the team does any of those forbidden things while over an apron level, they will immediately be hard-capped at that apron level — meaning they need to shed salary, because they were only hard-capped by being above it and doing the dirty — and, here’s the kicker, they are hard-capped the NEXT year too.

shakes head vigorously.

What does that mean for today?

  1. Business is easier now than it will ever be again
  2. Near term, the Suns can get more back in trades today than tomorrow
  3. They are very limited assets to offer in trade (no draft picks available, almost no cash, no midlevel salaries)
  4. They have very limited spending power in free agency (minimum salaries only)

Still, I think there will be some big moves by the Suns anyway.

Stay tuned!

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