Thursday evening the world was getting ready for the NBA Draft when Woj broke the news that the Suns were sending the No. 32 pick and TJ Warren to Indiana for cash. This was the first of many moves that night that left the basketball world scratching their head. Warren, a 25 year old wing that averaged 18 points per game last year, was clearly someone that Phoenix didn’t see in their plans going forward. With the Suns having a logjam at the wing position, they gave away two young assets, to attempt to soften the blow from some of their past cap mistakes. This all starts where most basketball mistakes start, Brandon Knight.
In July 2015 the Suns signed Brandon Knight to a five-year $70 million contract. At the time, the Suns had future All-Star Goran Dragic, future first team All-Defense Eric Bledsoe, Isiah Thomas before his “Brinks Trucks” days, and sharpshooter Seth Curry who finished last season third in the NBA in three point percentage. The Suns did a horrible job recognizing that talent and decided Brandon Knight was the best option. So, to get off of the Brandon Knight contract, the Suns moved him to Houston in exchange for Ryan Anderson, who was moved to Miami for Tyler Johnson and his huge contract.
The next questionable cap move was for the Suns to sign Devin Booker to his contract extension a year early. Igor Kokoskov believed this would help the suns recruit free agents in the 2019 offseason, but it looks quiet the opposite. By the end of the night the Suns’ acquisitions of Ty Jerome, Dario Saric, and Aron Bayes, add up to roughly the same salary that TJ Warren had, putting them back where they started in regards to cap space.
Including Cam Johnson, Ty Jerome, and Aron Baynes, the Suns have around $87 Million committed before any of their cap holds. That would leave around $22 Million in free agency. We can assume Phoenix will resign their restricted free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. to a multi year deal estimated somewhere in the $15 million per year range. This would leave them with an estimated $7 million left. There is a world where the Suns push their chips to the center of the table, offer all $22 million to RFA Malcolm Brogdon, and then resign Kelly Oubre Jr afterwards, to put them well over the cap and into the luxury tax. Do the Suns, who still have a handful of young players, want to enter the luxury tax this early into their window? Would they stretch Tyler Johnson’s $19 million this season in an effort to create an extra $9.5 million in cap space? This is a move that would allow them the opportunity to sign a guy like D’Angelo Russel but would mean that paying Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges would be a tough check to cut. It also wouldn’t allow them to grow their team anymore through free agency, and Phoenix who drafted guys like Dragon Bender, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss in the last few drafts, would have to bank on their young guys becoming good enough to take this team on a run. Are the Suns jumping the gun? Is their window still years away? When you look at the most recent NBA Finals, the best players on the court were Steph Curry (31 years old), Kawhi Leonard (27), Kevin Durant (30), Klay Thompson (29), Pascal Siakam (25), and Kyle Lowry (33). With everybody in Phoenix’s core that they are building around being just 23 years old or younger, the Suns should recognize that they are not ready.
Knowing the cap space is tight, and knowing the window to win isn’t now, the draft just looks even more curious. Why go for a safe bet with less upside? Why not acquire the most talented guy available?
But what if the suns aren’t looking to win now? They might be trying to win, just not a championship. Could they be settling for just decent? The Suns might be looking to make a run to get into the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Phoenix ownership has been scorched in recent history for how cheap they’ve been, and how incompetent they’ve seemed to be, and with an average of just 22 wins per season over the last four seasons, you can’t blame the fans. This is an organization that made the playoffs for 28 out of 35 years from 1975-2010. These fans are used to being successful and seem to be running out of patience.
Suns fans seemed to have reached their boiling point draft night when they moved out of the #6 spot, which would have landed them a talented young lead guard, so that they could acquire Dario Saric and Cameron Johnson at #11. Saric is on his last year of his rookie contract, though being 25 years old, due to him spending years playing overseas. In their defense, Dario’s fit next to Ayton makes sense, with him shooting 40% on 5 attempts per game during his last season in Philly, which was the last time we saw Dario in a starting role. As for Cam, he was one of the players in the draft that had a huge range for where people predicted him to get picked, but judging by Coby White’s reaction, I don’t even think his friends expected him at #11. He is the oldest draft pick to be selected in the lottery in a decade and had injury history with his hip. He’s known to be the best shooter in the draft, but it took him five years in college to get recognized, and that’s worrisome. A large part of why you draft guys that are upperclassmen from prestigious programs is because you want them to contribute right away in year one, even if it means 16-20 minutes a game. What’s ironic is the comp for Cam Johnson is Doug McDermott who was also a 6’8 forward that was selected #11 overall and shot 46% from three in college. In five season in the league Doug only started 14 games and is really more like a 7th or 8th man on a roster. Not great considering they started the day with a #6 overall pick.
It really feels like there is something going on what we don’t know about. Do the Suns have another move to tie all of these strange moves together? We’ll have to wait until June 30th to find out.
Make sure to check out Kyle Brandon on twitter and every week as part of the podcast Shot Callers presented by 48 Minutes.