Suns’ reported extension for T.J. Warren shows belief in player’s ability
The Phoenix Suns are reportedly extending forward T.J. Warren, who would have been a restricted free agent next offseason, to a four-year deal worth $50 million.
The move says a lot for a player who has averaged only 24.4 minutes a game in his three seasons and a team that just drafted a small forward in the top-five of the NBA Draft.
Let’s start with the contract itself.
That’s a lot of money for Warren
If there was one thing we learned during the most recent NBA offseason, it’s that cap space is going to start becoming a premium asset.
Teams were being smarter about the way they spent their money and also being more hesitant about having the next “Mozgov contract.”
For those not familiar, center Timofey Mozgov signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers at the beginning of the 2015 free agency period.
With the salary cap heavily rising during that summer, teams were more willing to sign players to big deals in order to get them done.
While it wouldn’t be such a drastic jump, the cap was projected to go up again, thus leading to teams embracing the freedom of spending all that money.
One year later, case examples like Mozgov, Luol Deng, Brandon Knight and the cap not going up anymore showed how problematic and poisonous a deal like Mozgov’s could be. If you screwed up a long-term deal for eight digits a year, you were in some serious trouble.
It was so problematic for the Lakers that they traded former No. 2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell — who is anything but a bust at this point — to the Brooklyn Nets in order to create more flexibility in staying aggressive with free agents.
So, for a player of Warren’s stature in today’s market, an average annual value on his contract of $12.5 million is a lot of money, regardless of how good Warren is or can be.
That, of course, means that…
The Suns believe Warren is really good
Warren’s NBA career is one filled with setbacks. He played 40 games in his rookie year while trying to get rotation minutes. He had a good sophomore campaign before a foot injury ended his season 47 games in.
Year three was going to be the year Warren was a true breakout player, and 11 games in, he proved that, averaging 20 points per game and shooting 47 percent from the field.
After a mysterious “minor head injury” that saw Warren miss 13 games, though, it took a while for him to get back in the groove.
After the All-Star break, he did, posting 17.6 points a game and shooting 56 percent from the field.
Warren is a true scorer inside the three-point line with a rare knack for efficiency, unique feel for finishing within 15 feet of the rim and nose for the ball on cuts and offensive rebounds.
His development as a three-point shooter and defender needs to continue, and while he’s had less than two full seasons worth of games to show what he is as a player, a deal like this suggests the Suns believe those aforementioned skills are for real.
That came across during media day on Monday. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough told Bright Side of the Sun’s Evan Sidery that Warren has “been one of our best players over the last few months” and head coach Earl Watson said Warren started the season “at the highest level.”
While his price could have gone up after a breakout year, signing Warren to a deal of this size also points towards the Suns believing that was indeed going to happen and wanting to get the deal done before the start of the season.
Warren will have an important role in the present and future
The selection of Josh Jackson fourth overall in this past NBA Draft cast some hesitancy over what Warren’s role was within the team.
Whether that’s as a starter or sixth man off the bench remains to be seen, but a contract of this size means he’s going to be a serious part of their present and future.
With Jackson projecting to be the more balanced player of the two, he looks to be the starter in the future of the Suns’ small forward position, but now Warren will be either the first or second option off the bench in the overall rotation.
Warren was never the first, second or even fourth name mentioned when it came to the long-term core of the Suns and #TheTimeline. It quite simply wasn’t clear as to where he fit in. That may be the case still, but now we know it’s at least going to be in Phoenix and in a role with serious minutes.