Suns offseason preview: Five things Phoenix needs to prioritize

Suns offseason preview: Five things Phoenix needs to prioritize

Suns

Suns offseason preview: Five things Phoenix needs to prioritize

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The Phoenix Suns phenomenal 2020-21 season ended in disappointing fashion after blowing a 2-0 lead to the Milwaukee Bucks. Some may frown on their run given the number of injuries to key players on their side of the bracket, but availability and good health shouldn’t take away from this considering how grueling a Finals run is.

The Suns have the means to make their 2021-22 roster even stronger than last season’s. Most of their moves this offseason will revolve around retaining their current starters but they can also add another role player or two via trade or free agency. They should be able to avoid the luxury tax for one more season before heavy tax payments come.

Re-sign or extend Chris Paul

Chris Paul, Phoenix Suns

Chris Paul has secured himself a lot of money after carrying Phoenix to their first Finals appearance in 28 years. The 36-year-old guard has a player option worth $44.2 million to decide on by August 1. If Paul exercises it, he becomes eligible to extend for an additional two years and up to $96.6 million.

As great as Paul has been, he could be risking money by opting in and hoping for that extension. There’s no guarantee that Phoenix will want to pay him close to $50 million annually through age 39, especially given how expensive the roster will get starting in the 2022-23 season. His safest bet to add more long-term security might be to decline his player option and re-sign with the Suns on a new long-term deal with a starting salary smaller than his $44.2 million player option amount.

According to Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report, Paul intends to decline his player option or a long-term deal, perhaps in the three-year $100 million range. Such a contract would have him lose some money in the first season but would guarantee him an additional $56 million over the next three. It might not be his maximum potential dollar amount through an extension, but that is still a lot of money to add on.

Recent playoff teams that could offer Paul a maximum salary or close to it are Dallas and New York. It seems unlikely Paul would leave the Suns, but those are the main realistic options for him if he were to leave. If anything, they could drive up Paul’s price, so it will be interesting to see what his next contract ends up looking like.

Extend Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges

Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

After reaching the Finals, it is safe to say that Phoenix’s 2018 draft was a resounding success. It took Deandre Ayton time to get to where he is and is on track to being among the best centers in the league. Also, Mikal Bridges has slowly evolved into a great two-way player and one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. The trade for him, which was initially viewed as an overpay, turned out to be an absolute heist from Phoenix’s end.

Both players become eligible for rookie-scale extensions in August and should receive them. Ayton may have elevated himself into the conversation for a maximum contract after his impressive playoff performance. Bam Adebayo, who received a maximum contract after his contributions towards helping Miami advance to the 2020 Finals, could be an analog for Ayton. A maximum five-year contract for Ayton is projected at $167.9 million over five years, which has an average salary of $33.6 million.

Bridges’ number is a little more fluid. He will probably earn less than the maximum but should still get a contract at least in the $20 million range. One recent comparison to look at in negotiations is OG Anunoby who received a four-year, $72 million extension last offseason. If Bridges believes his value is closer to that of a maximum player than what Anunoby got, the disparity in negotiations could lead him to restricted free agency where he could get more.

Re-sign Cameron Payne

Cam Payne

Nobody could’ve seen what was about to come when the Suns signed Cameron Payne to a two-year minimum deal right before the bubble. The former first-round pick made an improbable comeback as one of the most reliable backup guards in the league. After shuffling through many different backup point guards over the past few seasons, Phoenix has finally found one.

Payne will become an unrestricted free agent and the Suns hold his Early Bird rights. They can re-sign him for up to four years projected at $47 million, which should provide more than enough spending power to bring him back. Contractual comparisons could start as low as Delon Wright ($8.5 million), which might be a favorable annual range for the Suns with lots of other news contracts adding up.

Cameron Payne ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

Cameron Payne ProFitX 2021-22 Projection

If Payne were to get offers with starting salaries significantly higher than his $10.1 million projection on ProFitX, Phoenix wouldn’t be able to match such an offer even if they were willing to. There could be teams with cap space that could easily outbid the maximum amount the Suns are allowed to offer Payne via his Early Bird rights. Wherever Payne plays next season, he’s earned himself a lucrative long-term deal.

Fortify their bench

Phoenix’s front office will have their work cut out for them when it comes to filling out their bench. Their depth this past season after Cameron Payne, Cameron Johnson, Dario Saric, and Torrey Craig ran thin. Assuming they re-sign Payne, Johnson is the only other reserve from that group that is set to return.

Saric could miss the entire 2021-22 season after tearing his ACL during the Finals and the Suns are limited in what they can offer Craig in a new contract. They also still need a veteran backup center in case Jalen Smith needs more time to develop and could use an additional 3-and-D wing if possible.

With Saric potentially out for all of 2021-22, he will likely become expendable. He has two years, $17.8 million remaining on his contract, which isn’t hard to move but will likely require an incentive to get off of. One thing the Suns could try to do is trade the 29th overall pick with Saric for a healthy rotation player on a similar contract. The goal of such a deal would be to address their bench needs or acquire a player with a similar skillset as Saric.

Even if they re-sign Craig, the Suns could use an additional player who could provide relief scoring and adequate perimeter defense. If they can’t find such a player in a trade, perhaps they can find someone who fits that description with their mid-level exception (MLE). If Paul declines his player option and re-signs with Phoenix on a deal with a first-year salary significantly less than his $44.2 million player option, they could have room under the hard cap to offer the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (NT-MLE) while also factoring in a first-year salary for Payne in the $8-10 million range.

The Suns should still pursue another backup big man even if Smith becomes a rotation player next year, especially with Saric injured. There are several cost-effective options that could become available for around the minimum or the Bi-Annual exception currently projected at $3.7 million.

Projecting future spending

The Suns will likely be hovering around the luxury tax assuming Paul and Payne are back and could exceed it depending on how much they earn and if they also utilize their MLE. Where the expenses really start being felt is in the 2022-23 season when Ayton and Bridges’ presumed extensions kick in.

As an example of how deep in the luxury tax the Suns could be, they would be roughly $8 million over the luxury tax for a $13 million payment with just 10 players assuming Ayton gets a maximum contract ($29 million projected starting salary), Paul earns $30 million and Bridges earns $20 million. That projection doesn’t factor in Payne and whoever they use the MLE on in the 2021 offseason.

Adding onto that projection, if the Suns were to sign Payne to a long-term deal on his Early Bird maximum amount and use their entire NT-MLE, the second-year salaries for both those players would add an additional $68 million in luxury tax payments. Two more veteran minimum contracts to get to the 14-player minimum would add an additional $16 million in luxury tax payments. This projection would give the Suns a $97 million luxury tax payment and $270 million in combined payroll and tax payments.

It’s going to be difficult for the Suns to ask for discounts from their core. The heavy expenses will be difficult to come to terms with considering they could be paying close to $100 million in tax payments just in their first season in the luxury tax. The repeater tax seems like something that could be avoidable once Paul’s next contract comes off the books, but they could be right back in it if Devin Booker becomes supermax eligible in the next two seasons. If the Suns front office feels like this group can continue to contend for championships, they’ll have no choice but to pay up.

2021-22 SALARY SITUATION

Guaranteed salaries: $126,837,361 (assuming Paul exercises his player option)

Non-guaranteed salaries: $0

Total salary: $126,837,361

Luxury tax space: $9,768,639

Exceptions:

Non-taxpayer Mid-level: $9,536,000

Bi-Annual: $3,732,000

Chris Paul

Salary: $44,211,146 (player option)

Cap hold: $43,426,755

Type of free agent: Bird (unrestricted)

Additional notes: If Paul exercises his player option, he is limited to adding an additional two years via an extension on top of his $44.2 million salary. He can add up to $96.6 million in such an extension.

Devin Booker

2021-22 salary: $31,650,600

Remaining salary guaranteed: $101,500,200 through 2023-24

Additional notes: Is eligible to sign an extension that can add two years and up to $79.7 million. Doing so would make him ineligible for potentially signing a designated veteran extension (supermax).

If he earns All-NBA honors in 2021-22, he becomes eligible to sign a supermax extension in the 2022 offseason. It would add four years, is projected at $200.2 million, and would kick in in the 2024-25 season.

Deandre Ayton

2021-22 salary: $12,632,950

Remaining salary guaranteed: $12,632,950

Additional notes: Is eligible this offseason to sign a rookie-scale extension for up to 25 percent of the 2022-23 salary cap.

Jae Crowder

2021-22 salary: $9,720,900

Remaining salary guaranteed: $19,904,700 through 2022-23

Dario Saric

2021-22 salary: $8,510,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $17,750,000 through 2022-23

Additional notes: If he is ruled out for the 2021-22 season, the Suns could apply for a disabled player exception worth up to 50 percent of his salary that season ($4,255,000).

Mikal Bridges

2021-22 salary: $5,557,725

Remaining salary guaranteed: $5,557,725

Additional notes: Is eligible this offseason to sign a rookie-scale extension for up to 25 percent of the 2022-23 salary cap.

Cameron Payne

Cap hold: $1,669,178

Type of free agent: Early Bird (unrestricted)

Jalen Smith

2021-22 salary: $4,458,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $15,082,614 through 2023-24

Additional notes: Has team options for 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Cameron Johnson

2021-22 salary: $4,437,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $10,324,899 through 2022-23

Additional notes: Has a team option for 2022-23.

Torrey Craig

Cap hold: $1,669,178

Type of free agent: Non-Bird (unrestricted)

Jevon Carter

2021-22 salary: $3,650,000

Remaining salary guaranteed: $7,575,000 through 2022-23

Ty-Shon Alexander

2021-22 salary: Two-way contract (Year 2)

Remaining salary guaranteed: $0

Langston Galloway

Cap hold: $1,669,178

Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)

Frank Kaminsky

Cap hold: $1,669,178

Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)

E'Twaun Moore

Cap hold: $1,669,178

Type of free agent: Non Bird (unrestricted)

Abdel Nader

Cap hold: $1,669,178

Type of free agent: Bird (unrestricted)

2021 Pick No. 29

2021-22 salary: $2,009,040

Remaining salary guaranteed: $10,317,899 through 2024-25

Additional notes: HoopsHype’s draft expert Bryan Kalbrosky has the Suns selecting Corey Kispert with the 29th overall selection in his most recent mock draft.

According to Kalbrosky, Trey Murphy III is ranked as the 29th best prospect based on an aggregate of mock drafts published as of June 26, 2021.

Note: ProFitX is a dynamic financial and performance index powered by Artificial Intelligence with front-office optics displaying 17 visual and time-series models for 480-plus NBA athletes. The Athledex models historical, dynamic and future performance data to monitor and project insights on contracts, performance, injuries, team fit, development, and potential.

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