Which bigs could the Phoenix Suns target on minimum deals?

Jun 30, 2023, 5:30 AM | Updated: 10:14 am

JaMychal Green, Warriors free agent...

Josh Okogie #2 of the Phoenix Suns drives the ball against JaMychal Green #1 of the Golden State Warriors during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on November 16, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns’ front office has little on its plate in terms of managing the cap and negotiating salaries when NBA free agency opens starting Friday.

Everyone and their agent knows Phoenix only has veteran minimum contracts to offer with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Deandre Ayton on the roster. That could make it clear very quickly who they might have a shot of landing in free agency. Older players who are ring-chasing and have made life-changing money in the past probably will be calling the Suns.

My Empire of the Suns co-host Kellan Olson has rolled through the guards and wings on the market and in the range of minimum deals, and we both sloshed through the Suns’ own free agents who could return.

Now it’s onto the big men, where it gets a little more complicated. You’d think Phoenix would want to complement the skillset of starter Deandre Ayton, and there are quite a few avenues to go, be it finding a floor-spacer, a shot-blocker (see Biyombo, Bismack) or a dude who’s just going to play solid defense help swing the ball from strongside to weakside (see Landale, Jock).

This exercise, as it’s been, might just be about me naming some dudes. But it’ll give fans a sense of the high end of the free-agent market and the low end.

‘Small-ball Centers Are Still A Hit’ Tier

Jeff Green, Nikola Jokic (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Jeff Green probably should lead this off. He’ll be 37 years old by the start of next season but remains one of the most underrated athletes in the past decade of basketball. He was still capable of playing 20 minutes per game, being a threat from three — though he only shot 29% during the regular season. It should be noted that he survived as a small-ball center playing much of the time alongside power forward Aaron Gordon, a defensive stalwart himself that Phoenix just doesn’t have.

Keeping with floor spacers, JaMychal Green has played for Denver and Golden State the past three years. He’s 33 years old, can rebound and can get up threes at a relatively high rate. I suspect the defensive side of the ball is where teams get skittish in using him beyond 15 minutes per night.

While I don’t know how much he has left in the tank, I submit James Johnson as your 2023-24 Phoenix Suns enforcer. I’m not sure how much the 36-year-old has left in the tank, but he’s two seasons removed from playing a big role for the Brooklyn Nets with Durant.

Johnson, the one dude in the NBA you don’t want to fight, doesn’t have the three-point arsenal — he is a 30% shooter from deep. Still, worth a roster spot if he’s your third center and you figure you’ll meet some small-ball units in the playoffs (Hi, Nuggets. Hi, Warriors).

Is Trey Lyles a minimum guy? I doubt it. You’d think Sacramento re-signs him, but the Kings could also move on to open enough cap space to chase high-money free-agents.

He was mighty productive for the relevant Kings last season, appearing in 74 games and shooting on 46-36-82% splits. He can switch, rebound and do enough to complement the Suns three stars.

‘Have Played Lots Of Hoop’ Tier

Mason Plumlee, Clippers C (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

It would be redundant if Landale returns, but there are a few long-term veterans who have lots and lots of hoop-shot played. They won’t stand out for being great, but they won’t stand out for messing up, either.

Mason Plumlee is the Rolls-Royce of potential veteran minimum guys, coming off a year in which he averaged 7.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the Los Angeles Clippers after a midseason trade from the Charlotte Hornets. He’s a great ball-mover, too.

We go to another NBA brother in Cody Zeller, who did play legit minutes for the Miami Heat in the playoffs but few at that.

Former Sun and 2013 No. 5 overall draft pick Alex Len somehow has 87 more NBA games played than Zeller at 596, which is weird. Again, he didn’t play a ton last year, but at 30 years old still, he had his moments and is a reliable backup who as former Phoenix teammate Channing Frye simply put it his rookie year “is long as (expletive).” Len remains so.

We can list Taj Gibson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond and Tristan Thompson here just to be safe, but the guys above have a little more left in the tank and/or bring a little more.

‘I’m Still Young, Gimme A Fresh Start’ Tier

Drew Eubanks, Blazers(AP Photo/Matt York)

Drew Eubanks has spent his first four pro seasons with the San Antonio Spurs and the last two hidden with the Portland Trail Blazers, but he’s another undersized energy guy with some athletic pop and a little bit of passing equity.

I hold firm that Chimeze Metu still has something. Undersized at 6-foot-9, he’s a jumbo power forward with good athleticism who hasn’t flashed enough from the three-point line to really up his value. The other 2022-23 Kings on this list (Lyles and Len) took away minutes, but he still played in 66 games.

‘One Unique Skill But One Big Concern’ Tier

Montrezl Harrell, Dario Saric(AP Photo/Matt York)

Dario Saric has familiarity, floor-spacing and ball-moving capabilities to be worth a thought. He appeared in 20 games for the Thunder after 37 for Phoenix last year, and at 29 years old, he looked like he was fully removed from his ACL tear dating to the 2021 NBA Finals.

Still, not sure if he fits head coach Frank Vogel’s demands for at-least-average defense. And the Thunder might welcome him coming back to complement the young core.

Different concerns exist for Montrezl Harrell, a Suns fan favorite dating back to the 2015 draft. It appears he maxed out in the 2019-20 season with the Clippers, but he still brings energy pop.

He fell out of favor for Doc Rivers with the Philadelphia 76ers last year (11.9 minutes per game), and that’s a red flag.

Harrell does have a history with Vogel. In 2020-21, he averaged 22.9 minutes per game for the Lakers, but with the Suns, you’d have to play him with high-level shooting lineups to balance out his rim-rolling-only offense.

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Which bigs could the Phoenix Suns target on minimum deals?