The Phoenix Suns should not answer the Harrison Barnes question
Unless you think Kevin Durant is leaving Oklahoma City, the most fascinating name to watch in free agency will be Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes.
The 24-year-old has had perfect timing to enter unrestricted free agency. He’s about to enter his prime, built his stock playing in a situation that was an ideal fit for his skills and is one of the most attractive building blocks in an extremely underwhelming free agent class that is the first following a monumental bump in the NBA’s salary cap.
Along with the injury-plagued Bradley Beal, Barnes is the only high-level player on the list yet to enter his prime that will be available (Detroit should match any offer for Andre Drummond).
With other more “win-now” targets like Al Horford, Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside likely to command the attention of playoff teams, Barnes is the ideal target for younger teams that picked in the lottery this past Thursday.
Phoenix is expected to be one of those teams, according to Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro.
Suns targets in free agency likely to include Al Horford, Nicolas Batum and restricted free agent Harrison Barnes.
— John Gambadoro (@Gambo987) May 24, 2016
Like most teams in the NBA, the Suns will have the salary cap space to offer Barnes a lot of money.
Not including second-round pick Tyler Ulis, the Suns’ 11 current players’ salaries add up to $62,405,676 if the standard rookie scale contract is applied for Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. With a reported salary cap of $94 million, that’s more than enough room to go after Barnes.
Make no mistake; Barnes is still going to command somewhere north of $20 million a year despite his play in the most recent NBA playoffs. He turned down a $64 million extension last summer for a reason.
While Barnes has not met the expectations he had out of high school of becoming the next Kobe Bryant, he has been a solid and important piece to the 73-win previously unstoppable death machine that is the Warriors.
Depending on how much potential you believe Barnes has, he’s somewhere between the third- and fifth-best player on a championship team.
There’s a reason he made Team USA this summer.
Barnes is very athletic, guards most power and small forwards very well, can make an open three, and attack closeouts to create his own shot for a varying degree of success, where his finishing is somewhat underrated. He’s a prototypical wing player for the pace and space era of the NBA.
That makes him a player the Suns should want, right? Not exactly.
At this point in his career, we don’t really know what Barnes is at his best and worst in a top-three role on a team, which is certainly the type of money he’s going to get paid.
Barnes was 190th in usage out of the 252 players who played at least 60 games this past season, sandwiched by Clint Capela and George Hill. In that same group of 252, Barnes was 179th in unassisted field goals made, meaning he rarely sets up his own shot.
Both of those numbers will shoot up drastically if he leaves Golden State, and the team paying him is going to have to find out if that comes with the assumed dip in efficiency.
The ideal team to sign Barnes should seemingly have the roster barren and desperate enough on the wing to grab Barnes, while also having enough providers so he isn’t solely responsible for creating for himself.
Taking a look at the forward depth chart for Phoenix has them right on the border.
It’s difficult to see the Suns without P.J. Tucker’s style of play and leadership next season, and while T.J. Warren has only played 87 career games, he’s still only 22 years old and has a promising set of skills offensively. Even if both are playing roles on the team next season, the Suns still have Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic headed to unrestricted free agency at power forward.
After Thursday night, however, that fit isn’t so snug for the Suns anymore.
Bender and Chriss bring potential and versatility to the power forward position. Most importantly in the case of Barnes, both general manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Earl Watson spoke of the rookies as having the flexibility to potentially play three different positions, including small forward.
Having two players of that mold severely lessens the need for someone like Barnes.
Even more so, the Suns left Thursday’s draft with a solid foundation for the future.
Bender, Chriss, Warren and Alex Len all have their uncertainties, but together they will give enough support to the base of the Suns’ future centered around the crown jewel that is Devin Booker.
Those five, along with Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, bring enough promise and should advocate patience in the process of ending the Suns’ playoff drought.
A player like Barnes is looking to accelerate that process, and unlike Tyson Chandler last summer, that’s a contract the Suns wouldn’t be able to live with.
Chandler was also more of a foregone conclusion as to the type of player he would be in Phoenix, and even in that scenario it appears to have bit the Suns.
A move with a high level of unpredictability and potential blowback should be avoided by the Suns, and in this case, that’s Barnes.