Phoenix Suns: Building a Lineup to Contend for a NBA Championship

Welcome to the NBA offseason. The Toronto Raptors are the latest NBA champions and 29 other teams need to figure out how that can be them next season (although, Toronto has some decisions themselves). This is my favorite time of the year. Playing couch GM every day and seeing the moves that have actually been made. There have been two trades already agreed upon: one Woj blip and one Woj NUKE. The first, the Brooklyn Nets opened up two max slots by trading Allen Crabbe and a first pick for Taurean Prince. They have been rumored to be the favorite to sign Kyrie Irving. Then the Lakers traded the farm for Anthony Davis. I understand that depth is important in this league and the Lakers haven’t shown to be responsible with their limited funds but if you think this team isn’t contending (if both are healthy) you are incorrect. We’re here to talk about the Phoenix Suns and the moves they can make to be a contender in the next couple years. To start, let’s look at what they have now.

The Current Suns

phoenix sunsThe suns have 10 players on their roster for the 2019-20 season as of right now, assuming (correctly) that Tyler Johnson will opt into his $19 million player option. You can cut it down to nine players assuming (hopefully correctly) the Suns reject the team option on Jimmer Fredette. After that, there is really only six players that should be playing minutes on an NBA team.

Tyler Johnson is overpaid but he is a solid point guard and put up 10/3/3 last season. Devin Booker is a top five scorer (25 and younger) and is on a massive contract. T.J. Warren dropped 18 points a game while shooting 43% from deep and had an above average PER last season. Deandre Ayton was the number one overall pick last season and averaged 16/10. At 20 years old, there is much to his game we have not seen yet. Josh Jackson is the son of Andre Roberson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, he only plays defense and is nearly inept on offense. He did up his three point percentage this season, though, and he does play REALLY good defense at times. Lastly is Mikal Bridges. He is a very bouncy forward with a some defensive IQ and a propensity for highlight plays. As it stands, the Suns have one point guard, one shooting guard, a handful of forwards, and one center. There’s work to be done here.

Needs and Resources

The Suns desperately need an upgrade a point guard. The perfect fit next to Booker is a facilitator who plays very good defense, three point shooting is a plus. They also need a two way small forward, which is in my opinion the most important position in the league. Warren averages a steal a game but he is by no means good on the defensive end and the other two have no real offensive acumen. While these players are difficult to come by, there are some options out there that I believe are better than waiting on those three players figuring out the other end. The Suns could also use a starting-caliber power forward, the three forwards on the roster are either too short or too skinny to play long minutes at the position. You’re going to want a 3-and-D player here, with the ability to play small-ball center at times. Lastly, the Suns need depth. A couple backup guards and a backup center is needed. Some wily vets at those positions would mesh well with the young guys they currently have coming off the bench.

The good news is that the Suns have a ton of resources to acquire the resources. If they rescind all their cap holds and Jimmer, they’ll have around $23 million to play with in cap space. They’ll also have $9 million of the standard mid-level exception to use should they go over the cap. Beyond that, the suns have the #6 overall pick in this year’s draft. That is a very valuable trade chip along with their young guys.

The Point Guard Options

There are a few options at point guard considering the talents we want at that position. The first option is in free agency: Ricky Rubio. Rubio averaged 12/6/4 with a steal for the Jazz this past season. He is used to playing next to a high usage shooting guard in Donovan Mitchell and has been told by the Jazz that he is ‘not a priority’ this offseason. So he is available. He is by no means a sniper from range but he hits right under league average and is a fine off the catch. His shooting will be serviceable but his other attributes help the team out much more.

The other two options at PG come in the form of trades. The first is Lonzo Ball. There are risks with Lonzo. He has suffered two significant injuries in his two years in the league. His shot is broken, although he shoots the three about as well as Rubio. There are also great things about him. He averaged 10/5/5 with 1.5 steals. He is a very good defender and a talented passer. Those are the two main criteria we are looking for. He also is 21 years old and has two years left on his rookie contract. The #6 pick alone probably convinces New Orleans to give him up. You aren’t getting a better player than Lonzo.

Last is Mike Conley. He is probably the best player in this group. He is also the most expensive (funny how that works huh?). Conley is one of the three best defenders at the point guard position. He shoots right above league average at the three. He is a very good passer. Those are the positives. The negatives are that he is 31 years old, was injury prone before he hit his thirties, and will make over 30 million a year for the next two seasons. One of your young players, Tyler Johnson, and a future pick probably gets this done.

The Forward Options

There a also a few solid options at two-way forwards in free agency and trades. Tobias Harris is the perfect complimentary star. He can score from any spot on the court, he plays very good defense, and he has never had a problem deferring to another star. He is going to get a max contract so the Suns will have to dump either T.J. Warren or Johnson to get this deal done. Even then, it would be unlikely that Harris considers the Suns among his many suitors. Next is Khris Middleton. He is everything that Harris is, just a couple years older. Again though, he is going to get a max and has tons of suitors more attractive than Phoenix. On to trade options then.

The Boston Celtics are in a weird spot. They may be convinced to part with Jaylen Brown in the right move. My target here though, is Gordon Hayward. BUY LOW ON HAYWARD. It took Paul George two years to fully return to form after breaking his leg, why would Hayward be any different? While he is on a max contract, he is under team control for two more years and was one of the best two-way forwards in the league before the injury. I am betting on him rounding into form. Another trade target, and a favorite of mine, is Josh Richardson. Richardson shoots above average from three, averaged 16 points per game, and plays lock-down defense. He is also on a bargain $10 million a year contract for two more seasons PLUS a player option. He is the cheapest REAL two-way forward in the league. The #6 pick and T.J. Warren convinces the Heat to part with him.

The Fillers

The Suns still need to fill out their roster after getting some of the players above. And they need to be relatively cheap. A great cheap power forward that can start is JaMychal Green. He is a hard-nosed defender and shoots over 40% from three. He can also slide down to center for small-ball lineups. He also won’t make more than the $8 million he made this season. His teammate in both Memphis and LA, Garrett Temple is also a great cheap option. He hovers between average and above average three point shooting. He’s also 6 foot 6 so he can slide between the guard positions and small forward. He will also be a bargain.

At center, my favorite free agent bargain is Dewayne Dedmon. I LOVE Dewayne Dedmon. He comes up every time I think of a team that needs a center. He is the one of only a handful of centers that will hit threes and provide great defense. He will also be the cheapest of those kinds of players. Vince Carter is a savvy veteran player who can still soak up some minutes at small forward. He’s at the vet minimum part of his career now. Darren Collison is a fine backup point guard who shouldn’t cost too much. Taj Gibson gives you a wall on defense and a great rebounder, but nothing else.

The Moves

The Suns need a point guard but they shouldn’t spend $30 million on someone who is so far away in age from their young players. As much as I like Lonzo, I want to save my trade pieces for now. The Suns should sign Ricky Rubio at around $12 million a year, leaving them $11 million in cap space.
Next is a small forward. The Suns should reach out to both Harris and Middleton but will (likely) be quickly shut down. Onto the trade market. While I implore everyone to buy low on Hayward, I am still not comfortable giving a player $30 million a year. The Suns should send the #6 pick and T.J. Warren to the Miami Heat for Josh Richardson. The Suns then have $11 million to play with and the exception if they go over the cap. With that money they can probably get three of the players mentioned in the ‘Fillers’ section. The Suns sign Temple as a backup guard, JaMychal Green as their starting power forward, and Dewayne Dedmon as their backup center.

Suns Post Moves

The Suns now have Rubio and Booker in their backcourt. Josh Richardson and JaMychal Green make up a three and D forward tandem. Ayton is still in the lineup as the second scoring option and will hopefully develop into a Jusuf Nurkic type. Off the bench are vets Tyler Johnson and Garrett Temple as a backcourt, Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges as quick young forwards, and Dewayne Dedmon holding down the fort. This is a better version of the Utah Jazz team that just made it to the playoffs, so I’m saying this team makes the playoffs. The Suns can play small ball with Green at center if Ayton gets schemed out in the playoffs (at this age he would) or just play Dedmon instead.

The Future

Does this team contend for a title? No, but that isn’t the point. The Suns show that they are a competent franchise again, make the playoffs for the first time in forever, and show they are a great ‘sum of their parts’ team. Think of what the Nets did this past season. Now they’re the favorites to sign Kyrie Irving. And you know what happens in 2020-21? TJ comes off the books. $19 million back in their cap. The avenue to a max slot is very easy from their. They can add a legitimate star to their starting lineup without giving up any of their current lineup. And if they really ‘Nets’ this thing, stars will want to go to the Suns. Look out for Phoenix Suns’ Draymond Green in 2020.

  
Agu is a Junior at Marquette University pursuing a Business Management Major with a Spanish Business Minor. He is a Milwaukee native and somehow survived 10 years of mediocrity from his hometown team, the Milwaukee Bucks, and is now writing about them in the midst of their best season. He is new on the scene with no credentials but hopes to have a light Wikipedia page in the future.

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