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Suns will be among hardest-hit by NBA salary-cap drop, Hollinger says

James Jones, Suns general manager (Matt Layman/Arizona Sports)

Coronavirus stopped the NBA season in its tracks and hasn’t allowed the league to determine a return plan as of Thursday. It’s hard to count the many detailed next steps for the suspended 2019-20 season to resume.

Beyond that, it’s even harder to project the financial implications for the league moving into the 2020-21 season. The Athletic’s John Hollinger, however, went team-by-team to project how a likely salary cap reduction from the pre-virus projections will impact the NBA.

For the Phoenix Suns, it’s not great news.

Hollinger lists Phoenix as one of four teams that will be significantly impacted by the loss of cap space if the salary cap moves from the projected $115 million line and holds at the 2019-20 season’s $109.1 million.

Phoenix might be impacted as much as any other team in the league by a drop in the salary cap. The Suns projected to have $24 million in a cap room if they declined options on Frank Kaminsky and Cheick Diallo, renounced Dario Saric and Aron Baynes, and waived the non-guaranteed Elie Okobo. Now they project to only have $19 million; getting any more room would likely require cutting into bone.

At $24 million, the Suns were in pretty good shape to land a starting-caliber 4 like Gallinari or Millsap in free agency. Even if the Suns weren’t the first choice of these players, their cash would talk. At $19 million? I’m not so sure. Now it seems like the Suns would be better off targeting guard help with their mid-level exception, re-signing Saric and Baynes, and hanging onto Diallo and Kaminsky – all of which they could do without threatening the luxury tax.

That’s a realistic outlook for the Suns, who go from being able to offer a contract that has a whiff of max money value to only offering solid starter-quality money.

Such a scenario will test a front office led by general manager James Jones.

Does he stick to his patient, team-building approach for yet another year by running back a team that, although hit by injuries, is 26-39 with 17 games left in the halted season? With a predicted $6 million less in cap space for 2020-21, Jones’ efforts for improvement from this current season could be seen in the trade market.

Maybe the general manager would be more willing to listen to trade offers involving, say, Kelly Oubre Jr., a fan favorite who would make $14.4 million in 2020-21 but might be seeking a big payday as a free agent in 2021.

In any case, the likelihood the Suns consider bringing back key rotation players like Saric, Baynes and Kaminsky might be more likely scenarios than they might’ve been just a few months ago.


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