As soon as the Phoenix Suns agreed to a five-year max extension with Devin Booker in July 2018, they sacrificed more than $17 million in 2019 cap space, as his new $27 million salary replaces what would have been a $10 million cap hold. Their moves over the last year reflect that move; later in the summer, they made the move for Ryan Anderson, who was eventually traded to Miami for Tyler Johnson, putting another ~$4 million on their books compared to what Brandon Knight would have been making previously. At the deadline, they moved the one-year contract of Trevor Ariza to Washington to obtain the last few months of Kelly Oubre’s rookie scale contract, which comes with his $9.6 million restricted free agent cap hold, further cutting into their 2019 cap space. These moves were all precluded by the Booker extension, with the knowledge that the Suns were not likely to have significant cap space, so they cashed in on a bit of that cap space earlier than needed to pick up a pair of rotation players in Oubre and Johnson.
Technically, the Suns could move on from Oubre and open up about $20 million in space, depending on what they want to do with the team options for Jimmer Fredette and Ray Spalding, but it’s hard to imagine they gave up Ariza for those few months of Oubre without intending on keeping him. He played well for them down the stretch and the restricted market may not be kind to him, considering the other wings who are available and the teams with money to spend. He’s by no means a perfect player, but the Suns should be happy to pay him his market rate this summer. Should a team come in with a ridiculous offer sheet – anything north of $15 million a season, in my estimation – then Phoenix can certainly let him walk without a second thought, but the operating theory at this point is that Oubre will be back in the Suns’ rotation next season.
Point guard is a perpetual need for the Suns. Booker is a primary playmaker and scorer for the team, but they’ve long struggled to put another playmaker next to him who can also defend the point guard position. They’ll have the No. 6 pick to either trade for a point guard to complement Booker’s skills or draft Darius Garland or Coby White, any of which is a better option than what they rolled out last year. Phoenix isn’t bereft of point guards on the roster with Johnson, Elie Okobo, and De’Anthony Melton all capable of playing that spot, but none of those guys are starter-level players and it can be a bit of a sore spot for the Suns.
A far greater need for Phoenix is their utter lack of forwards on the roster. Between Oubre, T.J. Warren, Mikal Bridges, and Josh Jackson, they have a number of wings, but nobody who can adequately step up to the 4 about whom you feel good. Jackson played a ton of minutes at the 4 out of necessity last season, but the Suns were abhorrently bad in those minutes. Warren was only slightly better. They can go back to Jackson and Warren at the 4 next season, but splitting up their assets this summer to acquire both a point guard and a forward would be an ideal outcome.
Considering that Booker is the team’s primary playmaker moving forward, using No. 6 to bring in Garland or White may not be the best use of resources. It’s possible De’Andre Hunter will be gone by the time they’re on the clock at No. 6, but if he’s available to them there, he should be at the top of their board, under the reasonable assumption that Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett are both gone as well. He would check every box for which they’re looking from the forward position – he’s a very good individual and team defender and thrives in a low-usage role as a floor spacer who can knock down open shots.
Brandon Clarke would be another very good fit with what the Suns are building; he would be particularly interesting if the Suns could find a way to trade down a handful of slots and still pick up the defensive terror out of Gonzaga. Grant Williams would be another smart target, though the feeling around the league is that he’s closer to their second-round pick at No. 32 than he has at No. 6. I don’t necessarily agree with that lower assessment of his talent and what he can bring to a team, but if that’s the way the league is trending, then perhaps they can gamble on him being available at No. 32.
Taking a forward or stretch big man with their draft pick(s) would open up the mid-level exception to use on the point guard spot. Patrick Beverley should be their primary target there, as he could bring some much-needed defense to proceedings in Phoenix. Whether he can be signed to the mid-level exception is an open question, particularly to a Suns team that doesn’t look all that close to winning in the playoffs, but if they can lock him up on a multi-year deal at the MLE, they’d be very happy with that. Cory Joseph would be a poor man’s version of Beverley, should the latter pick another destination.
Another option is to lean into Booker at the point guard spot and use their cavalcade of wings and combo guards to slow down opposing point guards. Both Bridges and Johnson are decent options defensively in that role and splitting that time between the two of them would keep both fresh throughout the season. Melton is another good defensive player at the point guard spot, though he brings with him some offensive limitations that might make him untenable as a starter.
Backup center behind Deandre Ayton is a sore spot, but they have full Bird rights on Richaun Holmes if they liked what they saw from him last year. They can also look to use their second-rounder on a big man, whether that’s Bruno Fernando, Daniel Gafford, or Jontay Porter, should they get what they want with their pick at No. 6.
Phoenix doesn’t have a lot of money to spend this summer, but they’re still in a good position moving forward. They can open up quite a bit of space next year, depending on how their 2019 business goes, both on the free agent and trade market, where they may be looking to move Jackson and his $8.9 million fourth-year team option. He’s almost certainly a negative value on that amount, or really any amount over the minimum, but there should be a team out there interested in taking on a reclamation project in the hopes that his restricted rights are worth something in 2021.
The Suns have their core moving forward in Booker and Ayton, plus a number of strong role players in Oubre, Bridges, Warren, and Melton. They’ll add another top pick to the squad this year to continue to flesh out their young group. Hitting on draft picks will be essential for them, as it always is for young teams with multiple high picks.