All of a sudden, the Phoenix Suns roster is full again. That’s what free agency and a deadline or two will do for you.
Over the past few days, the Suns guaranteed the contract of Ish Wainright for the coming season, fully guaranteed Cameron Payne’s, and came to agreement with six players on new contracts for the veteran’s minimum.
They re-signed free agents Josh Okogie and Damion Lee, one of whom started the final 25 games last year while the other was third on the Suns in minutes for most of an injury-riddled season for his teammates, to veteran’s minimum deals. Both are good players, but limited in their individual skillsets (if they could be smashed into one player they’d be really good).
And of course they still have All-Stars Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, plus the aforementioned Payne and Wainright.
Here’s the in versus out on everyone since the playoffs ended, including the Bradley Beal trade and the drafting of second-round pick Toumani Camara. These rankings are subjective, as is the ‘who’s better’ being highlighted in green.
Within two hours of the opening bell of free agency, they signed sharpshooter Yuta Watanabe, big man Drew Eubanks, and forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Chimeize Metu. All of these players are 6’8” to 6’11”, have high motors, and can defend. They each agreed to one year veteran’s minimum deals with second-year player options.
Watanabe, age 28, is likely the best of the signees. At worst, he’s a taller Damion Lee, which already makes him more playable. At best, he’s a great shooter who adds gravity on offense and improves the Suns defense with his length and switch-ability. You can’t leave Watanabe — who made 51% of his corner threes last year and 44% of his threes overall — open like you did Josh Okogie or Torrey Craig.
Keita Bates-Diop, age 27, has some potential too, but he’s basically a copy of Torrey Craig and Josh Okogie. He shot okay from deep last year (39%) and has some defensive versatility.
Both Watanabe and Bates-Diop will be entering at least their 5th NBA season (this is Watanabe’s 6th), but only one of those was pretty good. Eubanks is likely a minor upgrade over Landale, and Metu has high energy like Biyombo but does not offer the same rim protection.
I’m not trying to downplay the value the Suns got on free agency. The Suns cleared the bar but it was a low one. The back end of the bench is, on the balance, better than the one the Suns had in the playoffs.
Here’s the roster now, as of today. All rows in BLUE are estimates.
You can see there’s still a BIIIIG dropoff from the 4th-best player to the rest of the roster. They still don’t have a proven, reliable 5th starter or 6th man. I know coach Vogel talks about Okogie and Payne in those roles, but we’ve seen that act before and it didn’t deliver in the playoffs.
Upgrades are still needed.
The Suns roster stands at 15 players if you include second-round pick Toumani Camara, who has not yet signed a contract. I’m guessing he eventually signs a two-way deal, depending on who else the Suns can find on the market or in trades. Each team can now have up to three guys on two-way deals.
As expected, they are way over the second tax apron, so the only way they can get demonstrably better in the middle is via trades or good players unexpectedly signing vet min contracts.
The only mechanisms the Suns have to change their roster now are trades (that cannot bring back more than 10% more salary than they send out) and veteran’s minimum signings.
Here’s Keith Smith’s list of the best remaining available free agents as of this morning, though you can now take Max Strus off the list.
Best available free agents:— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) July 1, 2023
A. Reaves (R)
K. Oubre Jr.
PJ Washington (R)
G. Williams (R)
More than half of these guys would be good fits on the Suns and a few might end up having to take the minimum in the coming days, simply because cap space and exceptions are drying up. That’s a good thing, since the Suns only have minimum-salary offers to make... with one exception.
That one exception is Torrey Craig. Torrey has Early Bird Rights, which means the Suns can re-sign him to a deal up to the league average which is about $12.4 million a year. Torrey’s reps are probably trying to up the Suns offer, while the Suns either want to move on (with KBD) or they want to pay as little as the market demands.
While the Suns have 15 guys, they can certainly still prioritize one of those free agents over Isaiah Todd, Ish Wainright or Toumani Camara. And they don’t have to decide yet. Teams can have 20+ players on their roster during the offseason.
So we might see the Suns sign one or two more players today now that the dust has settled, teams’ money is drying up and good players are left having to decide between playing time and money. Some team will get a steal on the free agent market by signing someone well below their market value, and we hope that team is the Suns.
Who would be the best final signing, assuming they would take the minimum?
This poll is closed
Point guard D’Angelo Russell
One of the former Suns — Craig, Crowder or Oubre
Combo guard Ayo Dosunmu
Volume shooter Malik Beasley
Combo guard Donte DiVincenzo
Defensive specialist Jalen McDaniels
Other (add in the comments)