Which free agents should the Suns re-sign for 2023-24?

Jun 26, 2023, 11:56 AM | Updated: Jun 27, 2023, 11:32 am

Suns F Torrey Craig guard the Clippers'Kawhi Leonard...

Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers handles the ball against Torrey Craig #0 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half Game One of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Footprint Center on April 16, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Welcome to the Phoenix Suns’ offseason. It would seem roster-shaking moves aren’t on the horizon anymore with Chris Paul dealt for Bradley Beal and all indications pointing to center Deandre Ayton staying with the Suns — for now.

Four max contracts sit on the roster: Beal, Ayton, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant.

Four more contracts get us to eight players for sure: Cam Payne (now fully guaranteed, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks), Ish Wainright (club option exercised, per Marks), Jordan Goodwin (partial guarantee to Sept. 1) and Isaiah Todd. We’re at nine including second-round draft pick Toumani Camara.

That leaves six roster spots and a pair of two-way deals to hand out.

The Suns project to land over the new second tax apron at a projected $182 million, meaning they can only sign outside free agents to veteran minimum exceptions.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the Suns will also attempt to re-sign free agents Torrey Craig, Josh Okogie, Damion Lee, Jock Landale, Bismack Biyombo and Terrence Ross. T.J. Warren and Wainright could also be retained, as could point guard Saben Lee.

Phoenix has a $5 million trade exception to use into February as well.

Before we get into free agents to be signed starting Friday, let’s look at all of the Suns’ own free agents, their situations and the likelihood they re-up with Phoenix.

Phoenix Suns’ own free agents

F Torrey Craig

Craig, 32, put together perhaps his best NBA season of 7.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game. He earned the trust of former head coach Monty Williams to play 24.7 minutes per game with 60 starts in 79 regular season games last year. Sure, the roster shuffling and injuries and Jae Crowder’s absence made that the case. It was nonetheless a big year for Craig.

While some reckless decision-making would rear its head at times, it of course was always a product of high effort and energy.

Craig thrived especially playing off the Suns’ stars, shooting a career-best 40% from three-point range on top of his usual solid defense.

Phoenix has early Bird rights on him, meaning the team can sign him for at least two years and up to about $12 million per year (105% of the league average). While paying Craig more adds to a massive tax number, it will be worth it over scrouging for 3-and-D wings on veteran minimum deals.

Adding low eight-figure deals also gives the Suns contract flexibility in making the math work on trades (see the throw-in of Landry Shamet’s contract in the Beal trade involving Chris Paul).

Likelihood of return: 8/10

— Kevin Zimmerman

C Jock Landale

Jock Landale, Phoenix Suns (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

A quick way to explain the value of Landale is that he got Ayton benched in a brief period against the two-time MVP and eventual Finals MVP during the playoffs. Then he defended the heck out of Ayton toward reporters!

Like Craig, the Suns have early Bird rights on the 27-year-old big man, who despite his three-point shot never gaining traction brought value from the traditional avenues of hard screens, rim-rolling and knowing where to be on defense. Unlike Craig, Landale is a restricted free agent with a $2.2 million qualifying offer.

He averaged 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, can act as a ball mover and quickly found a rhythm as a roll man with Durant. That last bit says a lot about his smarts and reliability, and new head coach Frank Vogel will probably find him as a fine, physical option.

Likelihood of return: 7/10

— Kevin Zimmerman

C Bismack Biyombo

The only reason not to pursue Biyombo would be if the Suns want to get younger at center. And sometimes you’ve got to remind yourself, while Biyombo has been in the league since 2011, he doesn’t turn 31 years old until late August.

Biyombo was one of the NBA’s best shot-blockers last season. Among players with at least 500 minutes, Biyombo’s 9.0% block percentage was second behind Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., per Stathead.

Biyombo is an awesome communicator defensively and has an innate understanding of where to be. He’s not much of a finisher and his free throw percentage took a big dip last year but the defense really is worth a roster spot. In just two seasons, he’s established himself as one of the best shot-blockers in franchise history.

His banter is a welcome dynamic to the locker room as well. His teammates love him. It’s just a matter of if the Suns have a spot left for him.

Likelihood of return: 6/10

— Kellan Olson

G Damion Lee

Damion Lee, Phoenix Suns (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Last year was the biggest season of Lee’s career. He had his share of moronic critics from his time in Golden State, claiming Lee was only on the Warriors because of his brother-in-law Stephen Curry. Lee was candid during exit interviews about how much this past year meant to him because he absolutely cemented himself as an NBA player that should be around for the next half-decade plus.

At 30 years old, Lee shot 44.5% from 3-point range, third leaguewide for players with at least 200 3s attempted. He was a knockdown shooter all year, especially in the fourth quarter. Lee was a winning player too, making timely defensive efforts or key ball rotations in big moments.

Lee’s off-the-dribble game won’t wow anyone and he gets picked on defensively but he plays his tail off to make up for the latter. Being smart and knowing where to be helps a ton for those two areas as well. I was surprised how little former head coach Monty Williams turned to Lee in the postseason given how well he played in segments of the Los Angeles Clippers series and especially in Game 2 versus the Denver Nuggets, a contest Lee was 0-for-5 in but still was a net positive thanks to his hustle.

The Suns’ roster to this point projects to have a lot of defense and not enough shooting, making Lee seemingly a no-brainer to return. The question is if he gets an offer elsewhere for more than the veteran’s minimum, a good one to present given his shooting and how respected he is as a player that always stays ready, and if someone wants him in a bigger role. Every bench group needs a guy in the “third unit” like him.

Likelihood of return: 6/10

— Kellan Olson

F/G Josh Okogie

In the tail-end of the season, we were talking about Okogie as a player who could command north of $10 million per year in free agency. After injuries and the Durant trade opened up playing time, Okogie averaged 11.5 points per game after the trade deadline, making a tremendous impact defensively and on the glass as well.

But his 3-point shot in January and February was at 44.6% before dropping to 33.3% in the last five weeks of the regular season. The inconsistency with his shot and how exactly he could fit in for the playoffs came to a head and he lost his starting position. He played under 18 minutes in six of the Suns’ 10 games, including a DNP in Phoenix’s elimination contest.

With all that said, like Lee, it was a huge year for Okogie. His rookie contract had run out in Minnesota and he was taking the minimum before he even turned 25. His long-term NBA future certainly had some doubt surrounding it, but last year’s play has to have it as a good chance another team besides the Suns sees a rotation spot for him.

Would Okogie take the minimum again? Phoenix does not have his Bird rights. It’s a tough call. I lean toward Okogie having done enough to get a decent payday somewhere else.

Likelihood of return: 4/10

— Kellan Olson

F/G Terrence Ross

Ross’ well-documented struggles defensively really rose to the surface in Phoenix. The Suns were so desperate for shooting, though, that Ross found a way into the playoif rotation.

But the problems on that end were troubling enough to where a team like the Suns with such a top-heavy, ball-dominant trio of scoring doesn’t seem like much of a match. Yes, spacing will be at a premium for the Big 3, but the guy in Ross’ spot will have to be at least an adequate defender.

There was no reason to believe Ross could be that after last year despite his clear offensive talent and the elite shooting he brings. It’s a spot someone like Lee makes far more sense for.

Likelihood of return: 2/10

— Kellan Olson

F T.J. Warren

TJ Warren and Kevin Durant in Game 3 of Suns-Nuggets (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

I don’t know on Warren. There were flashes of the player we once knew, a guy who could produce a bucket out of any situation and made heady plays elsewhere. Warren defended better than expected, too. Having a guy on the floor with the Big 3 who can provide a pinch of scoring while not being a negative in any other area is going to prove to be valuable.

If the Suns believe in Warren’s 3-point shot, I think he’s earned a roster spot. He was 7-of-26 (26.9%) in 26 regular season and playoff games. While second-round pick Toumani Camara has a lot more to prove in the NBA, the back-end of the wing rotation as a bigger forward is the spot he holds. Is there room for another?

Likelihood of return: 4/10

— Kellan Olson

F Darius Bazley

It’s unlikely the Suns will find a longer, rangier wing on the free-agent market. Bazley, 23, showed a few good moments over just seven games played for the team.

He’s got 228 games under his belt after the Oklahoma City Thunder traded him to Phoenix for Dario Saric. Last year was his most efficient season — and the fewest minutes played — and his jumper showed signs of turning a corner (40% from three) though on low volume of about one per game.

A restricted free agent, his qualifying offer sits at $6.2 million, a hefty price for a player who likely wouldn’t be in the rotation. The Suns can rescind that to save money. It would be quite surprising if other teams went after him if it was extended. This is basically a matter of whether Vogel thinks he can turn Bazley into a plus defender right off the bat.

Likelihood of return: 3/10

— Kevin Zimmerman

PG Saben Lee

Lee’s future ultimately comes down to how the Suns envision Cam Payne’s role. If Payne is the third-string point guard, there’s no room for Lee. But if Payne’s role is elsewhere, Lee earned that mark on that depth chart with how he filled in last year.

Through a significant spell of injuries in mid-January, Lee played a rotation role for a month and was incredibly solid for a young point guard doing that for the first time. The rim pressure he generated was a welcome addition, the decision-making was steady and his defense was good.

Lee just turned 24 years old, was just the 38th pick three drafts ago and the Suns having some youth on the roster that could improve shouldn’t be overlooked. Adding him alongside Camara and Wainright as developmental pieces on the end of the bench makes sense.

Likelihood to return: 5/10

— Kellan Olson

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