The Suns signed six players yesterday and have made many changes since the end of the playoffs.
Suddenly, the Phoenix Suns roster is full again. That’s what free agency and a deadline or two will do for you.
Over the past few days, the Suns have guaranteed Ish Wainright’s contract for the upcoming season, fully guaranteed Cameron Payne’s and reached terms with six players on new contracts for the veteran’s minimum.
They re-signed free agents Josh Okogie and Damion Lee, one of whom started the final 25 games last year while the other was third on the Suns in minutes during much of an injury-plagued season for his teammates, to veteran minimum deals. Both are good players, but limited in their individual skills (if they could be broken down to one player, they’d be really good).
And of course, they still have All-Stars Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal, plus the aforementioned Payne and Wainright.
Here’s the in versus out on everyone since the playoffs ended, including the Bradley Beal trade and the drafting of second-round pick Toumani Camara. These rankings are subjective, just as ‘who is better’ is highlighted in green.
Within two hours of the opening of free agency, they signed sharpshooter Yuta Watanabe, big man Drew Eubanks and forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Chimeize Metu. All of these players are 6’8″ to 6’11”, have high motors and can defend. They each agreed to one-year veteran’s minimum deals with second-year player options.
Watanabe, 28, is probably the best of the signings. At worst, he’s a taller Damion Lee, which already makes him more playable. At his best, he’s a great shooter who adds gravity to the offense and improves the Suns defense with his length and switch ability. You can’t let Watanabe — who made 51% of his corner threes last year and 44% of his threes — get open like you did Josh Okogie or Torrey Craig.
Keita Bates-Diop, 27, also has some potential, but he’s basically a carbon copy of Torrey Craig and Josh Okogie. He shot okay from deep last year (39%) and has some defensive versatility.
Both Watanabe and Bates-Diop are entering at least their 5th NBA season (this is Watanabe’s 6th), but only one of them was pretty good. Eubanks is likely a minor upgrade over Landale, and Metu has high energy like Biyombo but doesn’t offer the same rim protection.
I’m not trying to downplay the value the Suns got in free agency. The Suns cleared the bar, but it was low. The back end of the bench is on balance better than the one the Suns had in the playoffs.
Here is the list now, starting today. All rows in BLUE are beautiful.
You can see that there is still a BIIIIG drop-off from the 4th best player to the rest of the list. They still don’t have a proven, reliable 5th starter or 6th man. I know Coach Vogel talks about Okogie and Payne in those roles, but we’ve seen that action before and it didn’t deliver in the playoffs.
Upgrades are still needed.
The Suns roster stands at 15 players if you include second-round pick Toumani Camara, who has yet to sign a contract. My guess is he eventually signs a two-way deal, depending on who else the Suns can find on the market or in trades. Each team can now have up to three guys on two-way deals.
As expected, they are well above the second tax front, so the only way they can get demonstrably better in the middle is via trades or good players unexpectedly signing vet contracts.
The only mechanisms the Suns have to change their roster now are trades (that can bring back no more than 10% more salary than they send out) and veteran minimum signings.
Here’s Keith Smith’s list of the best remaining free agents as of this morning, although you can now remove Max Strus from the list.
More than half of these guys would be a good fit for the Suns, and a few might end up having to take the minimum in the coming days simply because cap space and waivers are drying up. That’s a good thing, since the Suns only have minimum salary offers… with one exception.
The one exception is Torrey Craig. Torrey has Early Bird rights, meaning the Suns can re-sign him to a deal up to the league average, which is about $12.4 million per year. Torrey’s representatives are likely trying to increase the Suns’ offer, while the Suns will either move on (with KBD) or pay as little as the market demands.
While the Suns have 15 guys, they can certainly still prioritize one of the free agents over Isaiah Todd, Ish Wainright or Toumani Camara. And they don’t have to decide yet. Teams can have more than 20 players on their roster during the offseason.
So we might see the Suns sign one or two more players today now that the dust has settled, teams’ money is drying up, and good players are left to decide between playing time and money. Some teams will steal in the free agent market by signing someone well below their market value, and we hope that team is the Suns.