Here comes the trade deadline. A whacky week lies before us as teams across the NBA attempt to either fortify their rosters for a postseason run or sell off assets to improve their chances further down the line. General managers are fielding phone calls, trying to keep information close to the vest, and avoiding those Shams Charania text messages as long as possible before they leak any news.
The Phoenix Suns are no different, as general manager and president of basketball operations James Jones will be answering phone calls for a team that we assume is a buyer on the market. The Suns aren’t your standard team looking to make deals, however, as they are a little different. They are what you call a “second apron team”, which brings plenty of restrictions to how exactly they can make roster adjustments.
We’ll get into that and more as we give you everything you need to know so you are ready when the Woj starts dropping bombs like B-17s in Masters of the Air.
When is the Trade Deadline?
This Thursday, February 8, at 1:00pm Arizona time.
- You can track all trades as they occur here.
- We will have a live update thread here on Bright Side around any trades that occur.
Phoenix Suns Assets
Let’s start with what the Suns have and what their contracts look like for the coming years.
Top heavy in every sense of the word, Phoenix is a team built on the foundation of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal’s contracts. The three combine for $130.4 million this season, which is 71% of their total salary. To compensate for this they’ve built their roster on veteran minimum players, having 9 players who make $3.2 million or less (not including their three Two-Way contracted players).
Now let’s look at what Phoenix has in the ‘ole draft pick department. Here is what the Suns have available in that bank:
Lotta red there.
The acquisition of their high-priced salaried players in Durant and Beal cost them on the cap sheet and in the draft piggy bank for years to come. From an assets standpoint, the team doesn’t have much flexibility. Their mid-level contract guys — Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen, and Nassir Little — provide the best flexibility for differing reasons (contract length, potential to assist another team, productivity at their particular position).
Second Apron Rules
Now here is where it gets tricky, especially for a team like Phoenix. When you’re standing around the water cooler at work this week and your fellow co-workers are throwing names like Kyle Lowry out there as a great addition to the team, you’ll have to explain to them that the Suns can’t sign him, even though he’s been bought out. Why?
The Suns are one of five NBA teams that have exceeded the “second apron”, which means they’ve spent a boatload of money to construct their roster. They join the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, and Milwaukee Bucks in spending over $182.5 million on the players that make up this year’s team.
Every team can spend a certain amount without penalty to field a team. Once you start to go over that salary cap, penalties occur. Here are those lines of designation for the 2023-24 season:
- Salary Cap: $136 million
- Luxury Tax: $165 million
- First Apron: $172 million
- Second Apron: $182.5 million
Phoenix finds themselves over the Second Apron penalty, which means the following penalties/restrictions occur (h/t Sporting News):
- The Suns, per Eric Pincus, are $22.1 million over the luxury tax threshold, which means they are paying a $53.2 million luxury tax penalty
- They cannot acquire a player in a sign-and-trade if that player keeps them above the apron (which it would)
- They cannot sign a player waived during the regular season whose salary was over the $12.2 million midlevel exception (Kyle Lowry, for example, made $29.7 million)
- Salary matching in trades must be within 110%, rather than 125% for teams not above the apron
- No access to the $5 million taxpayer midlevel exception
Next season the rules for second apron teams become even stricter, as these rules will be in place:
- Teams cannot use a trade exception generated by aggregating the salaries of multiple players
- Teams cannot include cash in a trade
- Teams cannot use a trade exception generated in a prior year
- First-round picks seven years out are frozen (unable to be traded)
- A team’s first-round pick is moved to the end of the first round if they remain in the second apron for three out of five seasons
Explain all that to your buddies at the watercolor. Then ask yourselves, why are we hanging around a watercolor? Let’s go to the lunchroom to break all of this madness down.
Everything listed above is Joe Friday-esque. It’s just the facts. Here is where subjectivity enters the conversation. You ask 10 different people what the Suns need to add to their roster and you’ll get six different answers. We all watch the same team but see different opportunities for the team to improve.
Cases can be made for nearly every position outside of starting two-guard and power forward. We need ball-handling and late-game facilitation! We need interior size when Nurk takes a seat! We need another scorer coming off of the bench!
Based on a poll we ran on Bright Side, the point guard position is the greatest need for the team:
We can hypothesize all day on what we think the Suns need, but the decision falls internally on James Jones. What does he think? The team has been reportedly interested in acquiring an athletic wing. Is that the need they truly have? Their roster is built on wing depth. Those wings, like Yuta Watanabe and Keita Bates-Diop, simply aren’t performing at the level we expected preseason.
Rumors have been circulating for quite some time now, although the specifics of what the Suns are shopping have remained hush-hush. Based on the assets Phoenix has, however, we can assume a combination of Nassir Little’s contract, one (or two) or the veteran minimum guys, and perhaps a second-round draft pick or two is what Phoenix is putting on the market in an effort to move the needle.
Sad thing is, those aren’t really needle-moving assets.
Still, Phoenix has been linked to the Nets’ Royce O’Neale, Houston’s Jae-Sean Tate, and the Hornets' Miles Bridges. Then there are the newly surfaced rumors around Dorian Finney-Smith, Isaac Okoro, and Andre Drummond. Cases can be made for adding all of the above-listed players. They meet the needs of the roster.
Miles Bridges is the outlier as he brings with him plenty of baggage, which has been the subject of much debate in our message boards over the past two weeks.
There isn’t much else out there for Phoenix to pursue at the price point they’ve pigeon-holed themselves into. A point guard would be ideal, but the likes of the Pacers’ T.J. McConnell are unattainable for the Suns. They simply do not have enough appealing assets to make it attractive enough to Indiana.
James Jones is up to something, and if history has provided us any roadmap, it’s that we have no idea what that is. I will say this: don’t expect a monstrous acquisition like we experienced last year. If any moves are to be made by Phoenix, it will be on the fringes of the roster. Still, we will be watching and waiting to see if Jones can improve this roster.
Set your Woj and Shams notifications to “on” on your phones. It’s about to get wild.