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Suns once again prioritize flexibility with reported Trevor Ariza deal

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) drives to the basket as Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, right, defends during the first half in Game 5 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

The Phoenix Suns often brought up their cap space situation heading into this offseason as an asset to get better and it didn’t take very long to use all of it.

With the reported agreement with former Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza to a one-year, $15 million deal, the Suns’ cap space has vanished barring any upcoming trades.

According to Cleaning the Glass’ cap sheet, the Suns have only $12 million in cap space currently. And even by letting go of non-guaranteed deals for Alan Williams, Davon Reed and Shaquille Harrison, they will have only $3.7 million in leftovers with the Ariza signing.

The Suns don’t appear to have any wiggle room right now, but this move is actually all about wiggle room.

Let’s start with Ariza first and how he impacts the roster’s flow chart before we get back to that point.

The 33-year-old is on the back-end of his career, to say the least. At 6-foot-8, Ariza is a switchy forward, but his days of being a real impact defender are long gone as he enters his 15th year in the NBA.

Ariza’s main offensive skill at this point is his shooting, where he checked in at 36 percent from deep on over six attempts a game through four years in Houston. On that level of attempts, Ariza is a more than reliable floor spacer, but he also knows exactly where to be on both ends of the floor, unlike the two former top-10 picks.

The Suns won’t have to worry about shrugging their shoulders and picking one of their younger forwards to start like they did with Josh Jackson guarding Blake Griffin on opening night last year.

Instead, Ariza gives them a rock-solid 28-to-35 minutes a night on both ends. He will knock down his threes and he will play above average defense.

A veteran power forward that can do that is not cheap, and the Suns paid a high price to make it a one-year deal.

That’s a crucial piece of information to understanding the Ariza deal, because the Suns have a long-term vision of playing Jackson and Mikal Bridges together for long stretches of games. Now, they don’t have to rush into that idea or rely on the so-far unreliable Bender or Chriss.

That was worth handcuffing themselves for the rest of free agency.

But, now the question becomes what the Suns do at point guard and what they do at center.

Point guard has to be related to the signing of Ariza himself. Brandon Knight and Elie Okobo are not going to cut if for a point guard rotation.

Ariza now owns most of the minutes at the four along with the young power forwards. Jackson figures to be penciled in as the starting small forward next year and the Suns did not just give up an extremely valuable unprotected first-round pick for the 21-year-old Bridges to sit behind T.J. Warren.

Is Warren on his way out? What about Bender or Chriss? The front office must be eyeing a trade, so now is not the time to turn off those Woj notifications.

At center, Williams must be gone in order to create the space to afford Ariza, unless the trade is coming much sooner than we imagined and can create that space on its own. If Williams is let go, will he come back on a cheaper deal? If he won’t, who will play the backup center minutes when Tyson Chandler can’t?

Those were two areas the Suns could address with their cap space, but they used mostly all of it on Ariza, less than an hour into the “official” moratorium period.

After watching what the Suns got out of the power forward position the past two years, can you blame them?

Ariza gives first-year head coach Igor Kokoskov some extra-reliable veteran minutes at a key position, something he has nowhere else on the roster.

Those are the two points that make this a win for the Suns, and the third is McDonough continuing to value the team’s long-term outlook.

By getting Ariza on a one-year deal, he takes the cap space he valued this summer and creates even more next season. When Ariza, Chandler, Jared Dudley and Troy Daniels’ contracts expire, the Suns will have $41.4 million in space opening up for a very promising 2019 free agent class.

If the Suns can manage to accomplish their goal and have a 10-game-plus turnaround next season, their momentum will continue into the offseason after the offseason prior got it started.