Suns sign Saben Lee to 2-way deal, release Duane Washington Jr.

Feb 1, 2023, 2:01 PM | Updated: 4:34 pm
Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors defends Saben Lee #38 of the Phoenix Suns during the game...
Gary Trent Jr. #33 of the Toronto Raptors defends Saben Lee #38 of the Phoenix Suns during the game at Footprint Center on January 30, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns beat the Raptors 114-106. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns’ roster needs became more clear Wednesday when they opted to waive score-first guard Duane Washington Jr. in favor of point guard Saben Lee, who switches onto a two-way contract.

“He brought some things that we needed,” Suns general manager James Jones told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Wednesday. “He brought stability to the position. He plays the position the way we need it to be played. He picks up 94 feet, he attacks the paint, collapses the paint, finds guys.

“It’s tough, because you’re talking about Saben and Duane Washington, two very good young players who do different things. But just given where we are with our roster and the time of the season, as we try to navigate this next four-game stretch to the All-Star break and coming out of it, I thought he did a good enough job to deserve an extended look.”

Lee’s second 10-day contract with Phoenix expired on Tuesday. Players cannot sign a third 10-day contract with the same team, so Lee would have needed to sign a standard contract if the Suns were to retain him without any other moves.

Phoenix likely did not want to fill an open roster spot with Lee but instead found space for the defensive menace and on-ball creator by opening a two-way slot vacated by the release of Washington.

Lee and Ish Wainright now take up the pair of two-way spots allotted for each team and will not be playoff eligible unless they are moved onto the regular 15-man roster.

In the immediate future, Lee’s signing likely indicates that backup point guard Cam Payne is not close to a return as he nurses a foot injury.

Lee appeared in 10 games over the course of his two 10-day deals. He averaged 7.0 points, 3.3 assists and shot 46% overall in 17.3 minutes per outing.

He provided downhill ball-handling, the ability to get into the teeth of a defense and defensive peskiness for a team that at his initial signing was missing starting guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker, plus backups Payne and Landry Shamet.

“We had him in training camp with us at the end of training camp for a reason, because we thought he could work well us. That was our first opportunity to see him in our environment and on the second opportunity he did a tremendous job. So, kudos to him and we’re just looking forward to him continuing to have an impact on our team.”

Lee, who went to Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, played for the Raptors 905 of the G League before joining the Suns, who he’d spent time playing with in the preseason. He also appeared in two games for the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this season.

He appeared in 85 games for the Detroit Pistons over his first two years in the NBA.

Washington excelled at certain moments for the Suns.

From a production standpoint, he scored at a high clip of 22.3 points per 36 minutes. He also flashed creator abilities at 5.8 assists per 36 minutes, but his turnover rate and rough-around-the-edges play as a true point guard appeared to push him behind Lee on the depth chart heading into this week.

Washington, 22, averaged 7.9 points and 2.0 assists in 12.7 minutes over 31 games. He shot 37% this year.

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