Suns

The Suns are Stuck in the Mud

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The first team to feel substantial ramifications from the NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement is likely to be the Phoenix Suns.

After getting swept by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round, Phoenix’s future is bleak. With new owner Matt Ishbia willing to spend money deep into the luxury tax, the consequences have already come to fruition. After Grayson Allen’s recent extension, the Suns are over the second-apron, luxury-tax threshold with just seven guaranteed contracts on the books for next season.

Additionally, four players on the Suns roster have player options they can pick up for next season. Either way, it is highly unlikely the Suns will be able to avoid that dreaded second-apron threshold.

The Second Apron and the Suns’ situation 

The biggest ramification that affects the Suns is that teams over the second apron do not have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception.

As a result, the Suns essentially can only sign free agents to veteran-minimum deals. The other big ramification is that the Suns cannot combine salaries to match one larger salary. For example, the Suns cannot combine Jusuf Nurkic’s $18 million salary and Nassir Little’s almost-$7 million salary to trade for a player making $24 million.

This will make trades more challenging for Phoenix as well. Additionally, Phoenix is unable to take in more salary than they send out, while non-tax paying teams can take in up to 125% of the salary they send out.

The final piece that makes it difficult for Phoenix to improve its roster around Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal is that they own zero draft equity. They’ve already sent out four first-round picks, four first-round pick swaps, and six second-round picks to assemble the roster they have. This year’s 22nd and 51st overall picks are the last tradeable picks Phoenix has aside from a 2028 Celtics second-round pick.

As a result, unless Phoenix is willing to trade Durant or Booker, or Phoenix can find a taker for Beal’s three years/$110 million remaining on his contract, the Suns are very limited in terms of flexibility this offseason. The team also has Royce O’Neale’s bird rights heading into his free agency, and it is likely they would want to bring him back after acquiring him at the trade deadline.

The Need for a Point Guard

Whether or not the Suns re-sign O’Neale, there’s not many moves that can be made around the edges.

Figure O’Neale is back and that all four players with player options exercise those options, the Suns may only have one roster spot to toy with. That’s assuming they make and keep both draft picks they have. The biggest weakness on the roster is the lack of a true playmaking point guard.

Here are four options to fill that point-guard role:

Out of these four, Russell Westbrook seems the most unrealistic. The Clippers own Westbrook’s Early Bird rights and as a result, can pay him more than Phoenix can.

With James Harden likely to re-sign in LA, however, Phoenix can give Westbrook a starting role and more playing time. Obviously there’s the elephant in the room of a Westbrook-Durant reunion.

If not Westbrook, Phoenix has familiarity with Cameron Payne, as he played for them for four seasons. However, Payne was released by the Suns on his non-guaranteed contract as recently as last offseason. While Delon Wright is a solid option, he’s more of a defensive priority. That leaves Jordan McLaughlin, who has been one of the league’s more underrated playmakers during his five seasons in Minnesota.

In terms of trades, Beal and Nurkic will both be tough sells to opposing teams. Grayson Allen’s new contract can be traded, but there’s a six-month trade restriction— therefore, he can’t be traded until October. O’Neale can be re-signed and then traded before the trade deadline, however. The most likely trade candidate on the roster is Nassir Little, but his minimal $6,750,000 salary can only bring back so much given the Suns’ situation.

Finally, the Suns can dabble with the idea of trading Durant or Booker, but that appears unlikely. With that said, this summer is the Olympics and both Durant and Booker are playing for Team USA. Playing for Team USA allows participating players to have discussions about teaming up and gives star players experience playing together.

I’m not saying KD or Booker will ask out, but more baffling things have happened.

About Steven Bagell

I'm a self-proclaimed NBA Front Office and Salary Cap Expert and I'm host of Bird Rights Podcast and One & Done: A College Basketball Podcast.

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