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Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder is a vital part of the team fabric. (Photo: Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Phoenix Suns

Suns
Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder is a vital part of the team fabric. (Photo: Mark J Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns backed up their 2021 finals loss to Milwaukee with another devastating regular season, claiming league best – by a full eight wins – 64-18 campaign.

A comfortable first-round win over an upstart Pelicans outfit had the Suns confident of running through a weakened West, only for Luka Doncic and his Mavericks to spoil the party, though injury and COVID didn’t help the Suns’ cause.

Now their attention turns to team building and specifically what to do about Deandre Ayton — the man the Suns drafted over Luka.

The Roster

The Suns roster is without a doubt championship calibre, though with a future that is balancing on a knife’s edge. The Suns are loaded up and down the roster, but their success clearly starts in the backcourt.

Love him or loathe him – and there are very legitimate arguments either way – Chris Paul transformed these Suns into contenders. It was his particular brand of intensity that coalesced a young and talented, though ultimately unproven side into a contender.

Paul turned 37 years old during the playoffs and has clearly lost a step or two, averaging a career low 14.9 points per game this past season. He has handed more of the shot making duty over to Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson (Devin Booker already carries plenty of responsibility) and concentrated on setting the table, leading the league in assists for the fifth time in his pro career.

Alongside him, Booker posted career highs in points (26.8), rebounds (5.0), steals (1.1), blocks (0.4 – yeah, it’s not much but it’s still a career high!) and three-point percentage (38.3%). If there was any doubt after last season, Booker has emerged from the dreaded ’empty calories’ status to a fully blown superstar.

Bridges finally earned an All-Defensive nod this year, after being unlucky to miss out in 2021. He’s the very model of a modern role player. Long and athletic, a defensive demon, a good catch-and-shoot option with enough juice off the bounce to attack a compromised defense. He’s making the extension he signed last season look very good for the Suns.

Cam Johnson is an elite shooting forward. Jae Crowder an outstanding defensive pest. JaVale McGee continues to belie his early career woes with outstanding play even as he enters his mid 30’s. The Suns even turned Bismack ‘Hands of Stone’ Biyombo into a legitimate starting centre for a fleeting moment.

The swing piece for Phoenix, though, is Ayton. The Bahamian didn’t get the contract extension that he felt he deserved at the end of last season, yet was able to compartmentalise and concentrate on the basketball to be played. He produced 17.2 points and 10.2 boards whilst shooting 63.4% from the floor. His offensive game is expanding and his defense has progressed impressively since his rookie year. We’ll discuss Ayton’s contract situation a little later in this piece, but it’s fair to say that he’s an integral part of the Suns squad.

Team Needs

The Suns wish list would probably include a few minutes alone with Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine. The chance to turn 37-year-old Chris Paul into 27-year-old (or even 32-year-old) Chris Paul would make this Suns team a perennial contender for the next half a decade.

Barring an unlikely episode of time travel for their veteran point guard, planning for a future without him is the Suns top priority. Paul is still a gun, but a combination of age and injury history means that the Suns need to have a better backup plan than Cameron Payne, Elfrid Payton or Aaron Holiday. Their team is expensive – and about to get even more costly -so their options are limited.

Phoenix’s only other pressing concerns is re-signing its own free agents in Ayton, Biyombo and McGee, as well as sorting out extensions for Johnson and Crowder.

Otherwise, this roster is set.

The Cap Sheet

As mentioned earlier, this team is about to become very expensive.

The Suns currently have nine players under contract (including Johnson’s team option) for $128 million.

They have free agents to look at re-signing, too. In order of urgency:

  • Ish Wainwright (See ya!)
  • Elfrid Payton (au revoir)
  • Aaron Holiday (Likely won’t be offered anything more than the minimum)
  • Bismack Biyombo (has earned a bigger contract than the Suns are likely to stomach)
  • JaVale McGee (if he takes something similar to the $5 million he’s on, he’ll stay)
  • Deandre Ayton (DEFCON ONE!!!)

Ayton is clearly the priority, here.

Given he refused to sign a sub-max offer last offseason and has only gotten better, it’s clear that he will only sign a max deal – the question is where.

(It’s worth noting Ayton is a restricted free agent – any deal he signs with another team can be matched by Phoenix.)

There are only four teams (Detroit, Indiana, Orlando and San Antonio) that have the cap space to sign Ayton outright, though Portland can get in the mix if it so chooses. Given it will likely cost them Josh Hart, it seems unlikely.

Orlando have their front line of the future and the Pacers have Myles Turner. The Spurs start the criminally underrated Jakob Poeltl, though Ayton would clearly be an upgrade over the Austrian. If the Suns desperately want Poeltl, could a sign and trade be negotiated?

The key player here is Detroit. With Cade Cunningham, Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey in place they will be looking for a mobile big man to round out their young core. Ayton would fit the bill perfectly.

Should Ayton leave the valley, re-signing McGee and Biyombo becomes that much more important, as does reintegrating Dario Saric after a year on the sideline with a knee injury.

Let’s turn attentions to Johnson, who should sign an extension at some point this season.

Johnson averaged 12.5 points (46/43/86 shooting splits) off the bench for the Suns last season, finishing third in 6th Man of the Year voting. He’s good enough to start for a raft of teams in the league and the Suns will have to pay him as such. Expect a long-term deal in the $18-20 million range. It the Suns can get his at something closer to $15 million per year they’ll be doing back flips.

The Draft

The Suns are sitting this draft out.

Their first rounder is sitting amongst Sam Presti’s pile of picks – which this writer imagines he keeps in a Scrooge McDuck style vault – whilst their second rounder went to Indiana as part compensation for Torrey Craig, acquired at the trade deadline.

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