What to do in free agency


This is the toughest offseason for Phoenix Suns GM James Jones since he got the job in 2019 and I doubt he’ll see a tougher one in the future.

The Suns are poised to become a luxury-tax team as they discover the fate of restricted free agent Deandre Ayton, and there have also been some holes in the rotation after Phoenix’s tremendous depth in the regular season didn’t carry over. in the postseason at all.


Maneuverability is decent thanks to Jones and his staff maintaining flexibility with how certain contracts are sized and ownership of all of his future draft picks.

That said, it’s going to be quite a challenge to do everything. Phoenix’s expectations should be title or flop because of the 37-year-old Chris Paul window. The reloading of the Western Conference will make that more difficult than ever.

These are some of the pending tasks:

Find immediate clarity at the center

The Suns already know his intentions with Ayton. They have known for a long time. Now, it will just be a question of whether they can do what they want to do quickly.

In what will be a recurring theme throughout these sections, the Suns don’t have many resources when it comes to signing free agents. Knowing where they stand at the center will help them navigate how to prioritize using their mid-tier exception, a deal worth $10.5 million per year or about $6.5 million depending on whether they operate as a team. who pays taxes or not at the time of signing.

If Ayton’s restricted free agency is longer, I think that means he’ll be back and it’s just a matter of trading from there. Fooling around for a few weeks would result in uncertainty continuing to hang over an early roster position that currently only has Dario Saric under contract. That doesn’t fit what we’ve come to know about how Jones operates.

If Ayton leaves on a sign-and-trade and the return doesn’t include a starting-caliber center, executing that deal in the first 24 to 48 hours would allow the Suns to continue to compete for some of the most desirable free agents like Chris. Boucher, Isaiah Hartenstein, and Kevon Looney.

Anyway, this is yet another way of saying that the Suns absolutely have a plan and know where they are going to update the roster. The main thing to understand is that they can’t do it strictly in free agency or in the trade market. It’s going to need to be both.

Further down the totem pole, will Saric be part of the rotation? For his price, he should be if he’s still on the team. Bismack Biyombo looks like a logical comeback at center back again. Will the Suns pay JaVale McGee’s price tag of just over $7 million?

Acquire a reliable ball handler

The base market in free agency isn’t inspiring. Ricky Rubio is recovering from a torn ACL. Tyus Jones will be expensive. Dennis Schroder will also likely be out of reach for the Suns. The same goes for Victor Oladipo and Patty Mills.

I will point out that the Sacramento Kings recently allowed 2018 first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo to hit unrestricted free agency, guard arizona sports John Gambadoro reported that he was Phoenix’s 16th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft before a last minute trade was made for Mikal Bridges. DiVincenzo would be more of a gamble given how the first four years of his career have gone, but he’s exactly the kind of smart, skilled player the Suns like.

Beyond that, there’s a drop to where it’s debatable if he’s even an improvement over General Cam Payne. Payne’s inconsistent play throughout the year, coupled with Landry Shamet’s, plus the need to lessen Chris Paul’s workload, makes him a have to for the Suns to bring in someone at this point on the floor.

The expiring contracts of Jae Crowder, Torrey Craig and Saric would be tough losses for the group to varying degrees because of the contributions they provide, but some combination of those guys and/or Payne and Shamet could start some conversations. Throw in some draft picks and now we have some momentum.

Rockets guard Eric Gordon has been linked since the trade deadline. Utah’s Jordan Clarkson isn’t a 0.5 player, but the offensive injection would be welcome from the 2021 Sixth Man of the Year. Phoenix had a previous interest in Hornets guard Terry Rozier.

It is the greatest need of the team.

Pay Devin Booker and Cam Johnson

Booker is eligible for a maximum extension worth $210 million that would keep him signed with the Suns through the 2027-28 season. As well as the utter no-brainer of paying the franchise what he’s already worth as one of the top 10 players in the league (yes, I said that), an expected salary-cap increase via a new TV deal in between. of the decade could end up giving the Suns some value in their deal.

These types of extensions can start to come with regular free agent deals, as you’ll remember from last year with players of Ayton’s class getting those max contracts, so expect this one to lock in similarly.

Johnson won’t be as fast. He spoke before the offseason knowing how long he could take with the deadline, not even until October, and chatted with teammate Bridges about how Bridges approached the process before being awarded four years and $90 million.

He’s really valuable with the direction the NBA has taken in the last couple of years, and other than that, he’s just a great young player.

Explore the updates in the 4

Phoenix’s previous two playoff exits have put Crowder, the starting power forward, in an impossible position in which the Suns require more offensive muscle in that space. That’s because of how Ayton, Paul and the extra options on the perimeter have performed at times.

It doesn’t depend on Crowder, who isn’t that type of player and continues to give the Suns more than enough based on what’s expected of him. He was excellent in the 2021 NBA Finals and in the second-round elimination six weeks ago against the Dallas Mavericks. But that didn’t end up mattering in the context of the Suns’ fate, and clearly what’s missing there is a real game changer.

A return could go hand-in-hand with Ayton’s sign-and-trade discussions.

Yeah, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant would be, well, literally the best hypothetical acquisition at that spot in basketball history. We could have a working time machine and still not find anyone better.

There was a lot of speculation about Jerami Grant, who is now off the board after he was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers. Toronto’s OG Anunoby would be classy, ​​but I wonder why the Raptors would be willing to let go of someone who appears to be a very good player. The same goes for the Spurs and Keldon Johnson, and he would soon require a contract extension.

Maybe it’s a minor deal without Ayton’s involvement. Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports suggested Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes. That would be the kind of considerable improvement we’re talking about. Kyle Kuzma of the Washington Wizards has scoring power with shooting and defense.

be more athletic

This, however, is an easier question and what the Suns have been missing for a few seasons. There is a lack of rare top-level athleticism on the roster, with the exceptions of Ayton and Bridges. If Ayton is gone, that’s just a known asset. He really exposes them in certain matchups, like against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round.

My podcast cohort Kevin Zimmerman has been hammering home the general point for years. Again, to get back to Ayton signings and trades, this is where one of those bodies could come in. San Antonio has some intriguing possibilities in the likes of Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV. Anunoby qualifies, as does Boucher. What about Brooklyn restricted free agents Bruce Brown and Nic Claxton?

The eraser, of course, was an easy way to do this. Poor me.

Ish Wainright’s return would be a start!

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