Over the next few weeks, we should know what the Phoenix Suns are thinking.
Will they re-sign center Deandre Ayton to maintain core cohesion? Will they cancel any expiring deals? Could it be improved by shuffling the role players around the core group?
To prepare us for any changes that free agency will bring, let’s look at the player pool to highlight some of Phoenix’s goals while considering its current salary cap situation and who fits functionally and team culture .
In a nutshell, the funding situation is this: The Suns are over the salary cap, with $128.8 million in guaranteed money going to nine contract players next year.
If Ayton re-signs, the Suns will be the luxury tax team for the first time in more than a decade. They’ll have a $6.4 million tax middle class exception to consider a rotation-level upgrade, but it’s possible they’ll operate with a $10.3 million standard middle class exception and major roster shakeups like Ayton won’t return.
We’ve already seen the center. Now on to the wing positions, where there could be a change — if the Suns falter — or an increase. Because you will never have enough wings.
Suns own free agent
(Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Ish Wainwright (restricted)
2021-22 Statistics: 2.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 39 FG%, 32 3FG%
Wainright will be limited if Phoenix makes a qualifying offer of $1.8 million.
Too good to be true outside signing
Nicolas Batum (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Nick Batum, 33
2021-22 Statistics: 8.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.7 APG, 46 FG%, 40 3FG% in 24.8 MPG
Age has played a bit too much with Batum over the past few years, but when he’s healthy, he’s contributing 25 minutes a night. His contributions have changed since he became one of the more talented role players early on with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Batum has become a high-volume 3-point specialist, hitting 40 percent of his 3-pointers per game with the Clippers over the past two years. He’s also one of the most convertible power forwards on the low-key side due to his size and intelligence.
Thaddeus Young, 34
2021-22 Statistics: 6.2 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, 52 FG%, 35 3FG% in 16.3 MPG
Young’s per-game numbers throughout the season are remarkably similar to last season’s in San Antonio and Toronto, although his field goal percentage has risen from 58 percent to 47 percent between those two teams.
The veteran has been a trade target for the Suns over the past year or so because of his ability to move the ball and create some off the dribble. There’s a nuance to his game that could add something along with Jack Crowder and Cam Johnson, assuming the Suns don’t need to replace those guys with Crowder’s trade expiring and Johnson as a tempting trade chip.
It’s just a question of whether he has enough pop music to play more than 20 minutes a night.
A realistic option in the Suns cab
Danuel House Jr. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Daniel House Jr., 29
2021-22 Statistics: 6.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.0 APG, 45 FG%, 42 3FG% in 19.6 MPG (25 games vs. Jazz)
House played 23 games with Phoenix in 2017-18, and Devin Booker is familiar as a teammate. The following year, he became a legitimate rotation player with the Houston Rockets, while playing with James Harden and point guard Chris Paul, another current Suns team familiar with the 3-and-D wing. House shot 42 percent from 3-point range in 2018-19, a career-high he nearly reached in 25 games with the Utah Jazz last season.
Damien Lee, 29
2021-22 Statistics: 7.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.0 APG, 44 FG%, 34 3FG%
Lee, who developed on a championship team, has more ready-made juice than most on this list. He’s not the greatest athlete, but he can attack finishers off the dribble for basic kicking passes or all the way to the basket. Even if he’s a five-line shooter, his energy could be valuable if injuries are welcome in the Suns’ lab.
Prince of Taurus, 28
2021-22 Statistics: 7.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 1.0 APG, 45 FG%, 38 3FG% in 17.1 MPG
He is more offensive than Torrey Craig. Prince, who has been a double-digit scorer throughout his career, also has a bit of playmaking value.
Nemanja Bjelica, 34
2021-22 Statistics: 6.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.2 APG, 47 FG% in 16.1 MPG
I’d include him in the center portion of this practice if I factored in where he played last year with the Golden State Warriors, but he needs more bigs to make me consider him a true center. He rebounds, passes and shoots pretty well. Bjelica isn’t someone you want to rely on, but he’d be a decent power forward backup — or center I guess.
There are problems on the defensive end, but Belika is a smart, team-oriented shooter who at least makes sense on the other end of the floor.