Welcome to the weekly news roundup of your Phoenix Suns. (Formerly called Center of the Sun)
It’s been a while since I nerded out on salaries and salary caps, so let’s do a quick, deep dive into the numbers the Suns face in the coming season(s).
On the good side, they have their top four players wrapped up for a long time. Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Deandre Ayton have guaranteed contracts for three years on, while Devin Booker signed an extension last year that keeps him under contract for five more seasons. Three of the four are multi-time All-Stars, while the fourth was anchor of a defense that made the Finals two years ago and is still just 25 years old.
Those four players, by themselves, almost guarantee the Suns will be title contenders for years (second-best odds in the West to make the Finals), but also that they will be in salary cap purgatory for years to come.
As you can see below, the Suns will be over the second tax apron for at least the next two seasons, even filling out the rest of the league-minimum 14-player roster with nothing more than minimum-salary players. While that’s great in terms of “commitment to winning” it also means the Suns will be hamstrung on the free agent and trade market going forward too.
And here’s the bottom line.
My writing has been unclear in this space in recent weeks, so let me clear it up right now: It doesn’t matter how close they look to the line, the Suns will be over the second apron this coming year. Teams must give NBA-level contracts to at least 14 players a year, and the Suns are already over the second apron at 13 guaranteed players this year and still over the apron at only 10 guaranteed players the next.
They are over the second apron because of the top 4 players’ contracts, not the rest of the roster. Outside of Durant, Booker, Beal and Ayton, the other 11 spots are literally filled up with minimum-salary guys based on their years of service in the league (i.e. Gordon gets more than Metu because he’s been around longer).
Let’s talk a little bit about what being over the second apron really means, besides the new owner paying a hefty luxury tax payment to the 20 or so owners who stayed below the tax line.
During this coming season, while being over the second apron, the Suns:
- cannot sign any high-salary buyout guys
- cannot acquire > 10% more salary than they send out in any trades
That means no more Terrence Ross signings after the trade deadline, and no more Durant and Beal trades the way they were done in bringing back significantly more salary.
If you think that’s tough, next year it gets rougher. If they remain over the second apron as projected after the last day of this coming season, the Suns:
- cannot pay more than league minimum for free agents from another team
- cannot trade the “seven years out” first round pick (2031)
- cannot acquire any players in sign-and-trade
- cannot send out cash in any trades
- cannot take back ANY more salary than they send out
- can only do one-for-one trades for salary-matching purposes (no salary aggregation of multiple players)
So, starting next offseason, free agents are all at the minimum and trades must be very simple — one-player-for-one-player, with the returning salary being the same or smaller than the one they send out
If they remain over the second apron twice in the following four years (i.e. three of five), starting NEXT season:
- those future frozen draft picks are moved to the END of the first round (they can later be unfrozen if the team gets below the second apron 3 out of 4 years)
In short, trades get tough for the teams over the second apron, including the Suns, Celtics, Nuggets and Clippers (This list only leaves out the Warriors and Bucks because Klay Thompson and Jrue Holiday are merely Bird Rights free agents until they re-sign).
Any trades must be simple, one for ones, with incoming salary being lower than outgoing salary. Let’s use Deandre Ayton as a trade example.
This season, he can be traded in an unbalanced trade of multiple players, as long as the salaries coming back are less than (or no more than 10% over) outgoing salary, and can include whatever cash the Suns have left of the $7 million allotted each team.
After the last day of this season, and as long as the Suns are over the second apron, he can only be traded in a one-for-one trade, and only for a player making less than his salary but makes enough that it passes matching rules (i.e. likely 75-100% of Ayton’s salary), and the deal cannot include any cash or 2031+ first round draft picks. Basically, the Suns pool of potential targets is guys making $25.5 - $34 million — there are currently about only a dozen players in that range for the 2024-25 season — or to convince a lottery team under the cap to take him on, like the Jazz took John Collins this summer for a handful of pocket lint.
But if the Suns are trading Ayton, they’re deciding that the current roster construction is not the best way to go anyway. So they might as well trade ‘down’ from Ayton while getting under the second apron. And once they’re under the second apron, the worst restrictions disappear. Same can be said for trading Beal, Durant or Booker, but Beal has veto rights, Durant will be going on 36 and Booker is not going anywhere. So, if there’s shakeup at the top it’s probably Ayton.
What’s my other takeaway? The Suns went to a lot of trouble to get all their big contracts now, ostensibly so they can keep using the big salary slots over and over. The Warriors did it when they went from Kevin Durant to D’Angelo Russell to Andrew Wiggins, and are now doing it by going from Jordan Poole to Chris Paul to... TBD, but ain’t gonna be Chris Paul for much more than half a season.
The carousel has already begun for the Suns, trading Chris Paul for Bradley Beal when everyone thought Paul had no trade value and might just get waived. Don’t count the Suns out from doing something like that again.
Other notes to remember: the Suns did maneuver back into having six second round picks as tiny trade sweeteners (remember, it took 5 of them for the Bucks to acquire two months of Jae Crowder), and still have a $5 million trade exception from the Dario Saric trade that they must use or lose before next February 9. Trade exceptions can be used to acquire a player in trade without salary matching, so the Suns could theoretically acquire a player making $5 million or less (currently about 70 players making $3-5 million next season) while sending back a second round pick or two in return. Ishbia’s tax bill on that would make it almost $20 million out of pocket, though.
Quotes of the Week
“It was kind of a no-brainer to go with Phoenix when the time came,” new Suns backup center Eubanks said to Duane Rankin of azcentral.com and Arizona Republic. “I get to stay here, work out with [Vaughan Compton, a local player development coach]. Got my house out here. My wife’s parents moved out here two to three years ago. We’re already very comfortable out here.”
“We relied too heavily on our starters.” — Shawn Marion, on why the Suns couldn’t win the championship in the 2000s.
Suns around the web
Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and other NBA players respond to Noah Lyles' comments. pic.twitter.com/O1eApkNpFG— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 28, 2023
Spotrac: Suns have 2 of the top 6 paid players in the NBA, and neither is Devin Booker
AZCentral($): Interview with Drew Eubanks
Bleacher Report: Suns have fewest draft assets in league
Good Bright Side reads you probably missed
Each week I’ll highlight some Bright Side articles that didn’t get as many eyeballs as they should have. It’s worth your time to give these unique takes a look before they’re lost in the ether forever.
- Kyle: Bradley Beal is the Suns X factor
- Dave: Suns got bigger in the starting lineup, but smaller off the bench
- Voita: Why Eric Gordon could be the fifth closer
Important Future Dates
- Aug. 31: Last day for teams to waive players and apply the stretch provision to their 2023-24 salaries.
- Sept. 30: Training camp opens for teams participating in preseason games outside of North America
- Oct. 3: Training camp opens for remaining teams
- Oct. 5: Start of preseason
- Oct. 20: End of preseason
- Oct. 24: Start of 2023-24 regular season; Suns are @ the Warriors on NBA’s Opening Night on TNT to help open the 2023-24 NBA season.
- Nov. 3: NBA In-Season Tournament begins
- Dec. 7: NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinals
- Dec. 9: NBA In-Season Tournament Finals
- Feb. 16-18: NBA All-Star Weekend 2024
- April 14: 2023-24 regular season ends
This week’s poll
The Phoenix Suns have one player in the FIBA World Cup — Yuta Watanabe of Japan — and while he’s doing well, his team is not likely to make the medal round.
Former Team USA players Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal are taking this summer off, but might return next summer for the Olympics. The Bahamas (Ayton, Gordon) hope to make the Olympics next summer but did not qualify for the FIBA World Cup. Josh Okogie’s Nigeria squad went 2-1 in the qualifiers this past week, but needed to go 3-0 to get in. They’ll likely miss the Olympics too.
Still, there’s a lot of recognizable faces on Team USA and Team Canada, plus a number of other countries.
Are you watching any of the World Cup?
This poll is closed
What’s the World Cup?