The Phoenix Suns have a tumultuous offseason coming, where trades are almost certain to happen and half the roster turning over to new players.
Deandre Ayton appears disgruntled, and the Suns don’t seem to want to pay him the max. The team also got nothing out of the back-ups to Chris Paul and Devin Booker during the playoffs. Cam Payne was unplayable, and Landry Shamet was at best inconsistent, and never a real back-up ball handler. To top it off, Jae Crowder’s limitations on offense were on full display during the playoffs, and the team had no answer to a burly SF/PF like Luka Doncic.
Rumors have swirled about the Suns using their vast number of players on expiring contracts (Saric, Crowder, Craig) or near expiring contracts (Payne, Shamet) in trades to shake up the middle of the roster. The Suns might try to exchange expiring contracts to get a better player from a rebuilding team (such as Indiana or Charlotte) that are looking to unload long term contracts (like Terry Rozier or Malcolm Brogdon). This will help address critical needs, while following the model of most recent championship teams of some high paid players surrounded by vet min contracts.
Supposing that the Suns do make changes that result in a roster with a superstar and a high supporting cast, the Suns will need to fill out their roster with capable players who will play for vet minimum.
Even without any trades, the Suns will only have nine players under contract for next season while already over the salary cap. Their depth chart on July 1 looks like this:
- PG: Chris Paul, Cameron Payne
- SG: Devin Booker, Landry Shamet
- SF: Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson
- PF: Jae Crowder, Torrey Craig
- C: Dario Saric
They clearly need to figure out the center position, with all of Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo becoming free agents.
Otherwise, they need to add some back-end pieces to round out the roster, most likely on minimum-level contracts.
The following is a list of players who might take the veteran minimum, a fraction of the taxpayer exception, or the bi-annual exception. Most of these players fit the description of “3 and D” who can space the floor on offense, while providing reasonable defense on the other end while the stars do their thing.
Let’s take a look at the players the Suns might be able to dig out of the bargain bin who could contribute significantly off the bench.
- Thomas Bryant: 6’10, 248 lb big man who turns 25 this summer. He’s a career 35% 3-point shooter, whose value has fallen sharply after a pair of injured seasons in a row. But, he’s the kind of high-motor modern big man who can both bang on the inside for boards and putbacks, participate in the P&R, and hit the open three. If he’s healthy, he could be a bargain for the bi-annual exception
- Isaiah Hartenstein: 7’0 250 lb 24-year-old center who has expanded his range to the 3-point line over the past year, going 14-30 last season. It’s likely the Clipper will try to keep him, but they’re way over the cap already and may be reluctant to commit more than the veteran minimum. His numbers aren’t that far off the production the Suns got out of the (much older) Javale McGee.
- Kyle Anderson: 6’8 235 lbs 28-year-old SF/PF/C. He’s not a stunning athlete, but he reminds me a bit of Boris Diaw in that he can play a little at all three front court positions, while doing everything decently (scoring, rebounding, passing, ball handling), without being a stand-out in any of them. His defensive numbers look dreadful, though. Still, Hollinger thinks he’s an MLE player.
- Jeff Green: 6’8 235 lbs 35-year old big man. He’s still very solid defensively, and can give you 20 good minutes per night at PF/C. Not a great 3-point shooter at 31.5%, though. Still, one of the best potential options for a veteran minimum contract.
- LaMarcus Aldridge. 6’11 250 lbs Center. The biggest knocks on Aldridge are his age (37 at the start of next season) and the difficulty he has chasing players out to the 3 point line at his age. However, he played 22 mpg last season on a vet minimum contract, while giving 22 mpg, 12 ppg, and 5.5 rpg.
- Mike Muscala: 6’10, 240 lbs. 30-year-old Center. Muscala won’t win DPOY anytime soon, but he was also arguably the best 3-point shooting center in the NBA last season, going 70-163 (42.9%) in only 13.8 minutes per game. That would have been good for 3rd in the NBA. He’s likely to be available for the vet minimum, and would space the floor as effectively as Cameron Johnson (who ONLY hit 42.5% of his 3’s)
- Serge Ibaka: 6’10, 235 lbs 32-year-old PC/C. Serge’s days as a defensive threat may be in the past, but he’s a legit PF/C who hit 37.4% of his threes last season. He’s long been a part of winning teams and has some of those intangible qualities that James Jones likes. He barely made it off the bench in the playoffs for the Bucks and doesn’t really appear to be a part of their future. Probably available for around the veteran minimum, or at most the bi-annual.
- DJ Augustine: Steady, if unspectacular veteran point guard who can hit the three reliably while keeping turnovers down. Ideal third string point guard. He’s also comfortable in the pick and roll. However, he hasn’t shown much in the past two seasons.
- Dewayne Dedmon: 7’0 245 lbs 32-year-old Center. Dedmon has a classic center’s body and hit 40.4% of his three-point shots during the regular season. He’s a better rebounder and interior defender than most other centers on this list. Probably available at the veteran’s minimum, given that he was only Miami’s 11th man during the playoffs. And about 12th during the regular season.
- Daniel House: 6’6 225 lbs 29-year-old SF. House has bounced around the league for years. But, he’s developed into a career 36.6% three point shooter, who raised it to 41.5% with the Utah Jazz last season. He’s just good enough on defense and offense that he’ll continue to have a role in the league as a 9th or 10th man for several more years.
- Jaylen Hoard: 6’8 216 lbs 23-year-old forward. My first response was “who”? Hoard was an undrafted free agent in 2019. However, in a seven-game stint for Oklahoma City at the end of the season he averaged a ridiculous 14.7 ppg, 12.0 rpg, 2.8 apg, 48.9% from the field, and 36.0% from deep 34.3mpg. These were meaningless games, but his hustle was enough for OKC to give him 39.7 mpg in the month of April. High upside potential on a guaranteed vet min.
Of course, the Suns could just run it back by trying to re-sign JaVale McGee, Frank Kaminsky and Bismack Biyombo, while having Saric play back-up PF and C. However, the center by committee approach is risky given the limitations of all these players. It also doesn’t address the team’s weaknesses at power forward.
Regardless, the Suns are widely rumored to be making several trades to upgrade their core that will likely involve sending out expirings for a better player. If they go this route, they’ll have to rummage through the junk drawer of veteran’s minimum players to fill out the rest of the roster, particularly with COVID still being an issue for the foreseeable future.