EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns free-agency focus: Will there be a significant upgrade at guard?
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.