September 24, 2022

This is the toughest offseason for Phoenix Suns general manager 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 uncover the plight of restricted free agent Deandre Ayton, and there are also a few holes that have appeared in the rotation after Phoenix’s massive in-season depth. regular did not continue. in the playoffs at all.

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

That said, it will be a huge challenge to do it all. Phoenix’s expectations should be title or bust because of 37-year-old Chris Paul’s window. The reloading of the Western Conference is going to make that harder than ever.

Here are some of the tasks to complete:

Find immediate clarity in the center

The Suns already know their intention with Ayton. They have known each other for some time. Now it will just be a matter 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 what their situation is at the center will help them determine how to prioritize the use of their mid-tier exception, a deal worth $10.5 million a year or around $6.5 million depending on whether whether they operate as a paying team or not at the time of signing.

If Ayton’s restricted free agency is longer, I think that means he’s coming back and it’s just a matter of negotiation from there. Dilly-dallying for a few weeks would lead to lingering uncertainty over a starting position on the roster which currently only has Dario Saric under contract. This doesn’t match what we’ve learned about how Jones works.

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

Either way, it’s more of another way of saying the Suns absolutely have a plan in place and know where they’re going to update the roster. The main thing to understand is that they strictly cannot do this in free agency or in the commercial market. It will have 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 in the team. Bismack Biyombo seems like a logical return as a third-string center again. Will the Suns pay JaVale McGee’s price tag of just over $7 million?

Acquire a reliable ball handler

The market for free agency point guards is not inspiring. Ricky Rubio is recovering from a torn ACL. Tyus Jones will be expensive. Dennis Schroder will likely be out of reach for the Suns as well. Ditto for Victor Oladipo and Patty Mills.

I will note that the Sacramento Kings recently let 2018 first-round pick Donte DiVincenzo hit unrestricted free agency, guard Arizona Sports John Gambadoro reported that it was Phoenix’s selection in the 2018 NBA Draft at No. 16 before a last-minute trade was made for Mikal Bridges. DiVincenzo would be more of a risk given how the first four years of his career have gone, but he’s exactly the type of skillful, intelligent player the Suns love.

Beyond that, there’s a drop where it’s debatable if it’s even an upgrade from backup General Cam Payne. Payne’s inconsistent play all year, as well as Landry Shamet’s, plus Chris Paul’s need to reduce workload make him a to have to for the Suns to bring someone to that spot on the floor.

The expiring contracts of Jae Crowder, Torrey Craig and Saric would all be tough losses for the band in varying degrees due to the contributions they provide, but a combination of these guys and/or Payne and Shamet could move the talks forward. Add some draft picks and now we have some momentum.

Rockets goaltender Eric Gordon has been linked since the trade deadline. Utah’s Jordan Clarkson isn’t exactly a 0.5 player, but the offensive injection would be a welcome sixth man of the year for 2021. Phoenix had a past interest in Hornets guard Terry Rozier.

This is the most important need of the team.

Pay Devin Booker and Cam Johnson

Booker is eligible for a supermax extension worth $210 million that would keep him under contract with the Suns through the 2027-28 season. In addition to the absolute obvious of paying the franchise’s face what it’s already worth as a top 10 player in the league (yes, I said that), an expected salary cap increase via a new contract televised mid-decade could end up giving the Suns some value on his deal.

These types of extensions can start to fly with regular free agent deals, as you’ll recall last year with players of Ayton’s class getting those max contracts, so expect this one- this is blocked in the same way.

Johnson won’t be as fast. He spoke ahead of the offseason knowing how long it could take with the deadline not even until October and discussed with teammate Bridges how Bridges approached the process before getting four years and 90 million of dollars.

He’s really valuable with the direction the NBA has taken over the past two years, and beyond that, he’s just a great young player.

Explore upgrades to 4

Phoenix’s two previous playoff outings have put Crowder, the starting forward, in an impossible position where the Suns need more offensive punch in that slot. It’s because of how Ayton, Paul and the extra options on the perimeter have performed at times.

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

A return could go hand-in-hand with Ayton’s signing and trade talks.

Yes, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant would be, quite literally, the best hypothetical acquisition at this location in basketball history. We could have a working time machine and not find anyone better.

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

Maybe it’s a lesser affair without Ayton involved. PHNX Sports’ Gerald Bourguet suggested Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes. That would be the kind of noticeable improvement we’re talking about. Kyle Kuzma of the Washington Wizards has the best score with shooting and defense.

Be more athletic

This, however, is an easier question and something the Suns have been missing for a few seasons now. There’s a bizarre lack of high-end athletics in the roster, save for Ayton and Bridges. If Ayton is gone, it’s just a known product. It really exposes them in some matchups, like against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round.

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

The draft, of course, was an easy way to do it. Alas.

The return of Ish Wainright would be a start!