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As free agency wraps, futures of Len and Knight loom for Suns

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A free agency period that linked the Suns to big names to start appears to be ending in a whimper.

That’s not necessarily bad news for the Phoenix fans in tune with #TheTimeline who want uninhibited development for the young core. As of Sunday night, Alan Williams is part of that core after he agreed to a three-year, $17 million contract to stay with the Suns.

The only foreseeable move would see the Suns taking on another team’s bulky contract and acquiring an asset as a sweetener.

Only the qualifying offer extended to Alex Len remains open-ended after he averaged 8.0 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game in 2016-17, a year in which he regressed and lost opportunity behind Williams.

After that, based on how Phoenix is utilizing the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it appears the roster is nearly set. And at this point, general manager Ryan McDonough is betting on his youngsters.

The roster includes 13 players under at least partially guaranteed contracts and, reportedly, the two-way contract given to free agent Mike James (second-round pick Alec Peters said on Twitter several days ago he hadn’t reached an agreement on any deal).

However, James’ situation appears unique.

According to international basketball reporter David Pick, 2ways10days and Ridiculous Upside, James is expected to play with the Suns exclusively to begin the year rather than spend time in the G League.

Per the rules regarding two-way deals, James will be able to spend up to 45 days with the Suns, where he could max out his two-way contract of more than $200,000 earned and force the team into an option: either signing him to at least a minimum NBA contract for the rest of the year or waiving him.

Until that point, James does not count toward the salary cap, but he would count toward the 15-man maximum for the regular season Suns team if he’s not in Prescott Valley. That would put the Suns at 14 players.

Should Len accept the qualifying offer of $4.2 million Phoenix extended before the free agency moratorium or agree to a longer deal with the Suns, then Phoenix would be maxed out with 15 players. If not, that leaves them with a second open roster spot.

That leads us to the biggest question mark of all.

Brandon Knight’s role could be in question if we assume the Suns will play Tyler Ulis as a backup point guard behind starter Eric Bledsoe.

Judging by the apprehension across the league when it comes to oversized contracts, the trade market is dry for a player like Knight, who struggled by averaging 11 points and 2.4 assists per game on 40 percent shooting. Consider the money owed to him for the next three years, and the 25-year-old’s contract looks hard to ship out.

BRANDON KNIGHT SALARY OWED

2017-18: $13,618,750
2018-19: $14,631,250
2019-20: $15,643,750

TOTAL: $43,893,750

If Knight is waived before August 31 and Phoenix uses the stretch provision under the new CBA, the amount will be paid over seven seasons (twice the number of years left plus one) at $6.3 million per year, according to Larry Coon’s CBAFAQ.com.

But if Knight were to be waived Sept. 1 or later, this season’s salary would be paid to him as expected with the final two being paid over five seasons at $6.1 per year (twice the number of remaining years plus one). The second option would seemingly be the smarter move for a team that, at present, can afford taking on his current year’s deal as is.

The Suns would be able to choose whether a contract counted against the cap per the original contract, or revamped to mirror the stretched figures, according to CBAFAQ.com.

Of course, all of that is a matter of whether Phoenix is committed to carving out a role for Knight — or at least playing him at the beginning of this year to build his trade value.

Over the next month or so, McDonough will be deciding whether he should move on from two of his more publicized decisions as the front office leader. But no matter the decisions regarding Len or Knight, the direction already appears clear. McDonough is embracing the pro-timeline outlook.

That means banking on his successes being greater than his failures.

“I think our timeline depends on our young core. It’s really up to them,” McDonough told Sirius XM NBA on Monday.

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