EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns free-agency focus: Will there be a significant upgrade at guard?

Jun 29, 2022, 12:10 PM | Updated: Jul 1, 2022, 5:04 pm

Dennis Schroder #17 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix ...

Dennis Schroder #17 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on February 16, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Within the next few weeks, we should find out what the Phoenix Suns are thinking.

Do they re-sign center Deandre Ayton to keep their core together? Will they move off any expiring deals? Can improvements be made by shuffling role players around the core group?

To get us ready for whatever changes free agency will bring, let’s look at the player pool to highlight a few targets for Phoenix while considering its current cap situation, along with who fits in functionally and in terms of team culture by our best estimation.

The money situation, briefly, is this: The Suns are already over the salary cap with $128.8 million in guaranteed money going to nine players under contract for next year.

If Ayton re-signs, the Suns will be a luxury tax team for the first time in more than a decade. They will have a $6.4 million tax midlevel exception to consider a rotation-level upgrade, but there is a possibility they could operate at the standard midlevel exception of $10.3 million with significant roster shuffling such as Ayton not returning.

We’ve dipped into the bigs and wings of this class and who might be within reach of the Suns and fit the team’s makeup. Now, let’s peek at the guard options, where it becomes clear a serious shakeup might require a trade over a free-agent addition.

Suns’ own free agents

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Elfrid Payton, 28 years old

2021-22 stats: 3.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.8 RPG, 38 FG% in 11.0 MPG

Iffe Lundberg, 27 years old

2021-22 stats: 3.3 PPG, 2.8 APG in 11.0 MPG (four games)

He could be a restricted free agent if the Suns extend a qualifying offer of $1.6 million.

Too-good-to-be-true outside signings

Dennis Schroder (AP Photo/Matt York)

Dennis Schroder, 28 years old

2021-22 stats: 13.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.3 RPG, 43 FG%, 34 3FG% in 28.7 MPG

Schroder split his time between the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, but he’s just two years removed from starting on a playoff team in the Los Angeles Lakers that pushed the Suns to six games in a first-round series.

The year before that with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the point guard came off the bench behind Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and one Chris Paul, so he has filled a role as the third guard before.

For reference to what he could be valued at now, he managed to sign a salary that this past season paid him only $5.9 million, meaning he’d get a slim raise if the Suns gave him the full tax midlevel exception, helping Paul and Booker play with pesky playmaker and capable off-the-bounce creator.

Victor Oladipo, 30 years old

2021-22 stats: 12.4 PPG, 3.5 APG, 2.9 RPG in 21.6 MPG

There are only eight regular-season games and 15 playoff appearances of Oladipo following a return from a quadriceps tendon injury, and the tape is mixed.

He put up numbers for the Miami Heat, but after shooting splits of 48% from the field and 42% from three in the regular season, Oladipo struggled shooting the ball in the postseason (37% overall and 27% from three in 15 postseason games).

His next team will have to believe he can settle into a reserve role and up that shooting efficiency that’s never really been there in his career.

Malik Monk, 24 years old

2021-22 stats: 13.8 PPG, 2.9 APG, 3.4 RPG, 47 FG%, 39 3FG% in 28.1 MPG

You’d think he’d return to the Lakers and the significant role he had after his best season yet, but he is part of this group of too-good-to-be-true players who could be out there fighting for midlevel money.

Patty Mills, 33 years old (player option)

2021-22 stats: 11.4 PPG, 2.3 APG, 41 FG%, 40 3FG% in 29.0 MPG

Mills is a three-and-D combo guard who’s probably familiar with Suns coach Monty Williams from their time with the San Antonio Spurs, but it’s a wonder if there’s another player who can give Phoenix more off-the-dribble juice. Still, Mills can flat-out shoot it.

He might be out of the Suns’ price range and, in theory, should make a return with the Nets.

Realistic options in the Suns’ wheelhouse

Gary Harris (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Gary Harris, 27 years old

2021-22 stats: 11.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 43 FG%, 38 3FG% in 28.4 MPG

Harris toiled for the Orlando Magic last year and is what he is, a volume shooter. It wouldn’t make tons of sense, as he’s a little more of a trigger-happy Landry Shamet with less of a playmaking profile. Still, he’s a scoring threat off the bench with a low price point at the moment.

Delon Wright, 30 years old

2021-22 stats: 4.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 1.2 SPG, 45 FG%, 38 3FG% in 18.9 MPG

Wright, who played for the Atlanta Hawks last year, lacks elite explosion but has enough shiftiness and length to get to the hoop or sit above the three-point arc. While he doesn’t quite fit in the on-ball creator category, he certainly would be a reliable third option who takes what’s given, initiates offense and defends either guard spot.

The former Utah Ute also has 37 games of playoff experience, mostly with the Toronto Raptors.

Empire of the Suns

Royce O'Neale of the Phoenix Suns...

Kevin Zimmerman

ESPN’s Marks: Royce O’Neale’s contract details show bargain for Suns

If we're to shrug at how Mat Ishbia cares to spend his money, Royce O'Neale's four-year, $42 million contract is a bargain.

1 day ago

Amen Thompson #29 of the 2024 USA Basketball Men's Select Team guards Devin Booker #15 of the 2024 ...

Kellan Olson

Devin Booker continues to look the part for Team USA vs. Canada

Devin Booker continued to prove why he will be a valuable asset in the Paris Olympics for Team USA in an exhibition win against Canada.

2 days ago

Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns during a 124-108 win over the LA Clippers at Crypto.com Arena ...

Kellan Olson

Kevin Durant clears up his reported frustration in Phoenix Suns offense

Kevin Durant provided some clarification on reports regarding his frustration with the Suns' offense and standing in the corner.

3 days ago

Kevin Durant and Anthony Edwards...

Kellan Olson

Anthony Edwards has ‘butterflies’ to be Kevin Durant’s Olympic teammate

Anthony Edwards has been Kevin Durant's favorite player for a long time, and after the two battled in the postseason, they are now teammates.

4 days ago

Devin Booker #15 of Team United States poses with his gold medal during the Men's Basketball medal ...

Kellan Olson

Devin Booker back for Olympic gold after thriving as ‘perfect FIBA guy’ in Tokyo

Devin Booker didn't struggle at all with a large role change for Team USA in the 2021 Olympics and he should thrive again this summer.

4 days ago

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles the ball while being guarded by Tyrese Haliburton #0 o...

Kellan Olson

Tyrese Haliburton was open to Suns drafting him, had zero pre-draft communication

Tyrese Haliburton told Arizona Sports he was open to being selected by the Suns in 2020 despite reports he forced his way to the Kings.

5 days ago

Suns free-agency focus: Will there be a significant upgrade at guard?