Suns trade deadline preview: Do Suns want to keep Dario Saric long term?

Jan 10, 2020, 6:28 AM

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the NBA trade deadline less than a month away, Empire of the Suns examines who could potentially be in play for the Phoenix Suns.

After looking at Tyler Johnson and Aron Baynes, we wrap up with Dario Saric, a player many teams are surely interested in.

Dario Saric, PF

Stats: 37 GP, 25.4 MPG, 10.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, 44% FG%, 33% 3FG%

Salary: $3.4 million (expiring, restricted free agent)

Current role

Looking at the long-term outlook of the Suns roster entering this season, one of the biggest questions was if they saw Saric as more of a placeholder or as someone who could play next to Deandre Ayton. If he wasn’t the latter, then power forward is the most pressing hole on the roster.

Well, we got a decent answer to that question when Saric was taken out of the starting lineup for Aron Baynes to start the new year and barely played over two games.

In Tuesday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Saric did move back into a reserve role off the bench but still seemed to be behind Mikal Bridges in terms of a fit.

Saric’s play has been inconsistent, but he’s proven to be one of the team’s best “play the right way” guys that moves the ball well and is strong on help defense, both critical attributes for the Suns specifically. He’s certainly someone head coach Monty Williams should find playing time for — probably back in the starting lineup — but who knows on that front anymore.

Even if Saric moves back into the starting lineup, it doesn’t feel like he’s viewed alongside the likes of the top long-term pieces.

Potential interest

When Saric was benched, it was a fair assumption to say that several teams around the league perked up regarding potential availability.

While he’s not a player that will drastically change a team’s future, Saric can provide playoff minutes for a contender in need of another big. He can shoot, knows where to be and is trustworthy on the court.

And the two bonuses are that his contract is easy to move from Phoenix’s perspective and Saric is a restricted free agent, giving another team more control over his future if they like what he brings in a half-season.

Why the Suns should or shouldn’t move him

This is going to be our easiest answer of the three players we’re taking a look at. The Suns should absolutely pull the trigger on dealing Saric. It’s clear with the shift in his role that he’s not a significant piece for the Suns. They could get something for him, and even if it’s something as light as a protected first-round pick or second-round picks, it’s better than nothing, which is what they will wind up with if they don’t re-sign him.

The concern with re-signing Saric is future flexibility, even if they bring him in for under $10 million a year.

The projected salary cap for the 2020-21 season is $114 million. The Suns have nine guaranteed contracts (including Elie Okobo’s partially-guaranteed deal) at nearly $85 million on the books next year. That’s certainly enough wiggle room for the Suns to bring back Saric, but remember that most of the appeal in trading T.J. Warren was getting off his long-term money. They want that room.

There’s also Kelly Oubre Jr. coming off the books in the summer of 2021, something the Suns might want to take care of this upcoming summer by giving him an extension. While Saric’s place at the table has waned, Oubre’s has only grown stronger.

That number of just under $30 million in room combined with Saric’s role falling out leans more towards the Suns passing on Saric than bringing him back, which brings us around again to the logic in dealing him. To rewind to the worrisome “asset management” general manager James Jones showed in his first offseason, this is another example of properly identifying the value and getting the most out of it.

Even if the Suns want to re-sign Saric, that’s betting on an agreeable contract for both sides coming in July or seeing qualms coming there and getting rid of him for some type of return. Jones has to make a call one way or the other.

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