Within the next few weeks, we should know what the Phoenix Suns think.
Do they re-sign center Deandre Ayton to keep their core together? Will they pull out of any deal that expires? Can improvements be made by reorganizing the actors around the core group?
To prepare for the changes that free agency will bring, let’s take a look at the player pool to highlight some targets for Phoenix while considering their current salary situation, along with who they fit in functionally and in terms of team culture.
The financial picture, briefly, is this: The Suns are already over the salary cap with $128.8 million in guaranteed money for nine players under contract for next year.
If Ayton re-signs, the Suns will be a luxury team for the first time in more than a decade. They will have a $6.4 million mid-tier tax exception to consider for a turnover level upgrade, but there is a chance they may be able to operate with the $10.3 million standard mid-tier exception with significant roster changes, like Ayton not coming back.
We have already searched the centers. Now to take a look at the wing spots, where there could be changes, if the Suns change things, or additions. Because you can never have enough wings.
The Suns’ own free agents
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Ish Wainright (restricted)
Statistics 2021-22: 2.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 39 FG%, 32 3FG%
Wainright will be restricted if Phoenix makes a $1.8 million qualifying offer.
Outside signings too good to be true
Nicholas Batum (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Nick Batum, 33 years old
Statistics 2021-22: 8.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 46 FG%, 40 3FG% at 24.8 MPG
Age has taken too much of Batum’s play in recent years, but when healthy he has contributed 25 minutes a night. The way he has contributed has changed since he was one of the most talented role players in the early days with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Batum has become a high-volume 3-point specialist who shot down 40% each of the last two years for the Clippers. He’s also understated, one of the more interchangeable power forwards thanks to the length and intelligence of him.
Thaddeus Young, 34 years old
Statistics 2021-22: 6.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 52 FG%, 35 3FG% at 16.3 MPG
Young’s per-game stats for the full season were fairly similar when splitting his year with San Antonio and Toronto last season, though his shooting percentages went from 58% to 47% between those two teams.
The veteran was a trade target linked to Phoenix over the past year because of his ability to move the ball and create something with the dribble. There are nuances to his game that would add something along with Jae Crowder and Cam Johnson, assuming the Suns don’t need to replace those guys with Crowder’s contract expiring and Johnson as an attractive trade piece.
It’s just a question of whether he has enough pop left to play 20+ minutes a night.
Realistic options in the Suns’ wheelhouse
Danuel House Jr. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Daniel House Jr., 29 years old
Statistics 2021-22: 6.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 45 FG%, 42 3FG% at 19.6 MPG (25 games with Jazz)
House played 23 complete games with Phoenix in 2017-18 and Devin Booker will look familiar as a teammate. He clung on as a legitimate rotation player next year with the Houston Rockets while playing alongside James Harden and point guard Chris Paul, who is another current Sun familiar with the 3-y wing. That 2018-19 season he says House shot 42% from 3-point range, a career high he nearly matched in 25 games last season with the Utah Jazz.
Damion Lee, 29 years old
Statistics 2021-22: 7.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 44 FG%, 34 3FG%
Developed on a champion team, Lee has more juice than most others on this list. He’s not the best athlete, but he can attack closes with the dribble to make basic kick passes or get to the rim. Even if he’s a streaky shooter, his energy would be valuable if injuries hit and are welcome in the Suns’ lab.
Taurus Prince, 28 years old
Statistics 2021-22: 7.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 45 FG%, 38 3FG% at 17.1 MPG
He has a bit more offensive refinement than, say, Torrey Craig. Prince has been a double-digit scorer in his career and also has some playmaking value.
Nemanja Bjelica, 34 years old
Statistics 2021-22: 6.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 47 FG% at 16.1 MPG
I would have included him in the middle of this exercise if I had considered where he played last year for the Golden State Warriors, but he would need a little more big-man stuff in his game for me to consider him a real center. He bounces, passes and shoots at a pretty decent pace. Bjelica isn’t a guy you want to trust, but he’d be a good piece off the bench at power forward, or I guess center.
Defensively there are questions, but Bjelica is a smart, team-oriented shooter who would at least make sense at the other end of the floor.