After another season in the lottery, the Suns picked up Josh Jackson with the fourth overall pick in last week’s NBA Draft to fill a hole on the wing as a defensive complement to Devin Booker’s offensive firepower. The two of them will grow together over the next several years with the hope that they can provide everything a wing combination needs — secondary ball handling, 3-point shooting and a lockdown defender. Booker fits as a ball handler and shooter but is abysmal defensively; Jackson profiles to be an active defender immediately and will only get better on that end as he gets stronger.
The Suns start the summer over the cap but can quickly get back under if they were to move on from Alex Len or re-sign him to a smaller contract before moving on to their other business. He has a cap hold of more than $12 million but a much smaller qualifying offer of $4.2 million. It’s possible that Len signs the qualifying offer or comes back to the Suns on a longer deal, but if he’s not willing to do either, the Suns may renounce his big cap hold to get in on the free agent market.
Renouncing Len and Ronnie Price would leave them with just shy of $20 million in space.
The Suns can always fill in on the wing around Booker and Jackson, as you can never have too many quality wings, but at this point, their bigger problems lie elsewhere. If Len leaves, they’ll have a hole at the center position that they can fill for cheap on the free agent market — a guy like Dewayne Dedmon or Willie Reed would improve the Suns defensively and on the boards, while an offer sheet to Mason Plumlee would bring some offensive punch with his passing ability. Alan Williams, the Suns’ Arenas-limited restricted free agent, should be back with the team unless he receives a monster offer somewhere else. He’s exactly what a team looks for in a backup big since he plays with boundless energy and is one of the best rebounders in the league.
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At point guard, Eric Bledsoe has popped up in trade rumors recently and Brandon Knight is perpetually on the block, though nobody is willing to go near his atrocious contract. The Suns could even go after a big-name point guard in free agency and then trade Bledsoe to the team from which that point guard came, either in a sign-and-trade or a separate transaction. However, it’s unlikely the Suns will be significant players in the point guard market. How does swapping out Bledsoe for a more expensive guy like Jrue Holiday, George Hill or Jeff Teague help the team long-term? Keeping Bledsoe on a contract at least $6 million per year less than those guys will receive this summer is probably the prudent move, with the idea of taking his future replacement in the draft next season.
The Suns, with $20 million in space (minus any amount set aside for Len), could be a key player on the lower end of restricted free agency. They don’t have enough money to max out Otto Porter Jr. or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but they can make life very difficult for a team like Milwaukee by throwing an offer sheet at Tony Snell that would push the Bucks into the luxury tax. A four year, $50 million offer sheet for Snell would make the Bucks sweat to avoid the tax and might be enough to pry him away to give the Suns a young 3-and-D wing to go with Booker and Jackson.
Re-sign Len to a three year, $15 million deal to get his cap hold off the books first and they’d still have about $3.6 million to spend as well as their $4.3 million room exception to add to their depth in this scenario.
The Suns won’t have significant cap space this summer and aren’t on the right timeline to go after a big fish, but they’ve got a good core with Booker, Jackson and whichever of the Marquese Chriss/Dragan Bender big man duo ends up developing into a key player to lead them into the future. This summer should be about using their space to go after restricted free agents who match their timeline and perhaps finding a trade destination for Bledsoe. Another lottery pick next season would do them well to complete their young core moving forward, but at that point they will be all but ready to start competing in the Western Conference.