Vol.2, Iss.24: The Nerd-Letter 'Run It Back' Edition

With no time to relax, let's take a look at all the off-season questions for the Suns & what options they have available to them.

Let Me Be Honest…..

I didn’t want this to be my next Issue. I didn’t even really want to send it out. Many of you probably don’t want to read it & that’s okay. But ultimately, it was basically ready to go & I do think it will be useful for those of you who are excited for the fast approaching off-season questions.

And while I’m being brutally honest - Yes, it feels really weird to just jump into this & gloss over the amazing season our Suns just had. I’m just not ready to properly talk about that right now. Again truthfully, it still stings to fall inches short. I hope I can give that the attention it deserves when the time feels right. For now, I just want to say that this Suns team regained respect for the franchise. They made me proud to be a Suns fan. They made talking about basketball fun again & without them, there is no way I would’ve achieved some of the things I managed to with the Newsletter this year.

Finally, if you take something from what you read, please share it & help more Suns fans find out about the Newsletter. This goes for all my content but especially this one. Please do not pass off any of this information as your own.

Don’t Stop Now…..

While the Phoenix Suns lick their wounds on what could have been, the rest of the NBA is getting back to business. Unfortunately, this means the Suns brass have to quickly get back to work too. Don’t believe me?

Open up your calendar & look at these dates real quick:

  • July 29th - NBA Draft 

  • August 2nd - Free Agency Begins

  • August 6th - NBA Moratorium Ends

  • September 28th - Training Camp Begins

  • October 19th - NBA 21/22 Season Starts

Throw in the fact that this particular off-season might be one of the most important in franchise history & it’s time to get ourselves up to speed with what needs to be done. And perhaps more importantly, how the Suns can get it done.

Last off-season, I published The Nerd-Letter Issue. I’d recommend reading that before continuing. If you read it at the time, then perhaps just a quick refresher? Items covered there that will be relevant to this Issue & assumed you know going forward: Salary Cap, Cap Holds, Roster Charges, Vet Min Deals, Bird Rights, the MLE & BAE.

Okay, let’s start with a look at the Phoenix Suns current Salary Cap position.

The following 8 Suns make up $80,617,175 in guaranteed salary: Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, Mikal Bridges, Jalen Smith, Cam Johnson & Jevon Carter.

Once roster charges are taken into consideration, that would leave Phoenix with approximately $28 Million in cap space to spend if they wanted to go that route. We all know that isn’t happening though, so let’s not waste any further time & instead delve into the questions that really matter.

Let’s cut to the chase. The way I see it, Chris Paul has 4 avenues he can take with his Player Option for $44,211,146. I’ll run through them in order of my least to most favoured avenues.

Firstly, CP3 could opt out & leave for another team in Free Agency. I happen to think this is equal parts unlikely & depressing, so therefore I choose to not waste any further time on it.

Next, CP3 could opt in & play out the last year of his contract with the Suns. I wouldn’t 100% rule out this option but I still think it is rather unlikely at this stage. Moving on!

Third on the list, CP3 could opt out of his current contract but remain with Phoenix on a new deal. If you believe reports that have surfaced throughout the season (which is often teams & agents negotiating through the media), Paul likely wants something in the vicinity of $100 Million over 3 years.

Finally, CP3 could get a similar contract out of the Suns but do them a favour in the process. Hence why this is my personal favourite option. If Paul opts into his final year, he can still extend with Phoenix to make up the remainder of that $100 Million in the final 2 years he is seeking. There is no restriction on the Suns & Paul starting Year 2 at a much lower amount & it can really help with team building down the track. More on that later.

In short, don’t be too alarmed if we start to see reports that Paul is considering his options. Ultimately, it’s his agents job to turn another All-NBA season into a better contract situation. While Paul may only want to stay in Phoenix, everyone has to do the dance to make sure it’s under the best circumstances for all parties. Leverage is very much part of that conversation.

My Prediction - Chris Paul opts into his Player Option & extends for 2 further seasons with the Suns. Total - $90,000,000 - $100,000,000.

Ayton & Bridges are extension eligible this off-season, along with the rest of the 2018 NBA Draft class.

Let’s start with Ayton. Deandre’s maximum extension is 5 years & almost $168 Million. I’m going to assume that is offered & accepted this August. The most important thing to remember here, is that it isn’t until after next season that this new deal kicks in. For Rookie Extensions, you have to factor in further improvement. Essentially, you are paying for future production. Personally, I think Ayton’s post-season solidified the fact that he will get the ‘Max’ this off-season.

Mikal is a little less straight forward. The Bridges extension can only be for 4 extra years & with 8% raises. It’s hard to argue right now that he is worth paying his absolute maximum. Even with future production in mind.

Last off-season OG Anunoby signed a 4 year, $72 Million extension. If you compare their stats, that could be the starting point & frankly would be a steal for Mikal. But the other important thing to remember here is Mikal doesn’t have to sign. Bridges can wait until Restricted Free Agency next off-season & spend another full season proving his worth. So in order to get it done now, Phoenix will need to come with a good offer.

My Prediction - Deandre Ayton signs the full 5 year Max deal with no options, while Mikal Bridges extends for a further 4 years at between $90,000,000 - $100,000,000. You can see what both of those deals look like in full in the Salary Cap sheets below.

Early Bird Rights - reserved for players who don’t meet the Full Bird Rights criteria, as they have only been on the roster for 2 years.

The reason I wanted to include Abdel Nader here was to just use him as an example. Nader is actually a Full Bird Rights candidate.

The first option with Early Bird Rights is to offer up to 175% of the previous seasons salary, if you want to give them a small bump. So in the case of a player like Nader, the Suns could take his 20/21 salary of $1,752,950 & start his 21/22 salary at $3,067,662.

Now it’s time for the real Early Bird - Cam Payne, come on down!

The key with Cam is that with the Suns acting ‘Over The Cap’, they don’t have any means to replace Payne if they lose him. Especially not without using a mechanism that could sign another player instead. But giving Payne a 75% raise on his minimum salary from last year isn't going to cut it either. That’s just $3,459,769 in Year 1.

Never fear, there is another option with Early Bird Rights. The Suns can offer Cam 105% of the Average NBA Salary last season. That number won’t be completely known for a little while, but I can tell you it will be close to $10 Million. Meaning Payne’s starting salary can be $10,500,000 with 8% raises & up to 4 years in length.

Monte Morris signed an extension last off-season worth a tad over $27 Million for 3 years. I think that’s a pretty good starting point.

My Prediction - Cam Payne signs with the Suns for 3 years & $30,000,000. You can see the structure of a 3 year deal at his full max in the Salary Cap sheets below. Abdel Nader potentially returns on a Veteran Minimum contract.

Phoenix have a chance to add another young player to the roster in just a few days. The key bit of information here is that any First Round pick is another guaranteed salary, with a cost attached to it. The Suns don’t have a Second Round pick at this stage.

For the 21/22 NBA Season, the current Suns pick holds a value of $2,009,040 at 120% of the Rookie Scale for the #29 spot.

I’m not going to pretend to know anything about the 2021 NBA Draft at this stage. I’ll likely dive into the guy we draft, when we draft him. But if you want to start looking at some names; ESPN last had Jaden Springer at 29 in their Mock Draft, The Ringer have JT Thor on their current Big Board (as does Suns fan/draft guru Damon Allred), & Zona last mentioned Trey Murphy III in his post Draft Lottery Mock Draft.

My Prediction - The Suns will draft a player to keep, considering they lose their pick next season & have a good opportunity to add a low cost piece.

Time to round out the roster! Another quick plug for the last Nerd-Letter Issue. You can learn all about Veteran Minimum deals there, including why they are one of my favourite NBA CBA quirks!

After that, you just need to know 2 more things.

First, these are the guys in this boat for the Suns - Frank Kaminsky, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway & Torrey Craig.

Secondly, the Suns could have any of them back on a similar style deal next season. The Cap Hit for Vet Min deals in 21/22 will be $1,669,178. But as Non Bird Free Agents, the Suns could also offer them a 20% raise on their 20/21 salary to come back too.

My Prediction - Your guess is as good as mine. At this stage, I’d predict the Suns will have up to 3 roster spots for Vet Min deals. They won’t use all of those on existing guys. Torrey Craig would be the best to return but Frank Kaminsky might be the most likely. Any spots left will go to guards again, in my opinion.

I’m not going to plug the last Issue yet again, as you’ve either read it by now or have no plans to. But that’s where you’ll find explanations on the Mid-Level Exception & Bi-Annual Exception.

Here’s a new term for you though - the Tax Payer Mid-Level Exception.

This is a smaller MLE available to those teams in the tax. *Spoiler Alert* - that might be the Suns real soon! It can still be split over multiple players & with raises of 5%, just like the regular MLE. However, it can only be used on contracts of 3 years instead of 4.

For Season 21/22, these are the current Year 1 salaries: $9,536,000 (Full MLE), $5,890,000 (Tax MLE) & $3,732,000 (BAE).

Now, it’s time to get your Apron on because things are about to get messy!

I’ll try keep this as brief as possible. Basically, there is a rather large figure that sits above the Luxury Tax line & dictates some of what you can do with these Exceptions. The Apron.

If you are above the Apron (or a move would put you there), you can only use the Tax MLE. You also cannot use the BAE, make Sign & Trades, or have the Arenas Provision protection that other teams have.

Don’t worry about that last restriction right now as it won’t impact these Suns. I promise the rest of the restrictions will make more sense shortly. Hopefully!

My Prediction - The Suns will use the Taxpayer MLE on a big that can play the 4 & the 5. They won’t use the Non-Taxpayer MLE or the BAE in the off-season, in order to avoid being hard capped.

Dario’s injury might be the most underrated aspect of the Suns end to Season 20/21 but also how they fare in 21/22. It probably needs to be talked about more.

Not only have Phoenix lost their best backup big for next season, Saric also eats up a roster spot, has a decent salary to pay & the Suns lose a real chance to trade him for the right deal that may have come along.

At least however, the CBA provides an extra avenue to try & replace him - the Disabled Player Exception. This can be applied for by the Suns to the NBA & is generally approved when it is deemed that a player cannot return before June 15, 2022.

If approved, Phoenix will essentially have 50% of Dario’s 21/22 salary ($4,255,000) to sign a FA, trade for a player or claim one off Waivers. BUT….there’s a small catch. Said target can only have 1 year left on their deal.

My Prediction - Phoenix might apply for the DPE in the off-season but I’m not certain they use it. At least not right away.

Still with me? Alright let’s see if I can keep your attention through this next bit. It’s time to talk all things Luxury Tax. Woooo!

Scenario 1 - Chris Paul opts out & returns on a smaller average annual salary of $30 Million per year.

This would leave JUST enough room below the Apron to bring Cam Payne back on the maximum Phoenix can offer, draft at #29, sign an MLE FA, sign a BAE FA, sign a DPE replacement for Saric AND sign a Vet Min FA to take the roster to 15 total guys. Not bad huh?

This route would also have Phoenix narrowly below the Apron threshold. This is key because once you use all those Exceptions above, you cannot go above that line for any reason at all. You may have heard the term ‘Hard-Capped’ before.

Total Salary Bill - $142,318,393.

Yes, that’s $5,712,393 over the Tax line. Time to pay up Bob! Basically, for every dollar spent over the Tax, you pay a penalty. I’ll skip the boring steps for you & just tell you the damage. The Luxury Tax bill here would be approximately $9 Million.

(Quick side note - there’s a Scenario 1(b) where the Suns make a significant trade to upgrade their talent at the top of the roster & use all the Exceptions to replenish what they lost in the trade. I’m not against it at all, for the right deal. But let’s wait & see if that happens first, cause it will need it’s own entire Newsletter Issue if it did)

My Prediction - The Suns go the below route instead.

Scenario 2 - Chris Paul opts into his Player Option & extends for 2 further seasons at roughly $23 Million each.

Cam Payne can come back up to the maximum Phoenix can offer, the Suns can draft at #29, sign a smaller MLE FA & then round out the roster with 3 Vet Min FA’s who want to join a contender.

Why? A few reasons.

This team is still capable of a ton of internal growth. As great as it sounds to take the 20/21 roster & add 3 more quality veterans to it, I’m just not sure how you build a rotation from that. There were already some issues this year when everyone was healthy & I’d like to see some current guys get more minutes, not less.

Total Salary Bill - $148,234,895 / Total Tax Bill - approximately $21.5 Million.

Then there’s the future.

Keeping CP3 for 3 years but taking the biggest hit on salary now, makes a lot of sense when it comes to continuing to compete going forward. When Ayton & Bridges’ extensions kick in, Paul will be earning significantly less. That’s going to help a lot in continuing to make moves around the edges while dancing around the Luxury Tax. And whilst I don’t care about Robert Sarver’s bank balance, there’s both CBA & Bob concerns to consider when it comes to long term spending.

Either way, we are about to find out if the Suns owner is ready to put his money where his mouth is. Sarver already went on record saying he was prepared to spend when it came to Deandre & Mikal’s extensions. There’s clearly other choices that need to be made too though, when it comes to improving the team as a whole. Ones that could be less scrutinised but have just as much impact on the Suns chances of winning long term.

I’ll be doing my best to keep pointing those out.

Now before I go, let me just address the idea of running it back real quick.

I wanted to just stick to information & facts as much as possible in this Issue & keep opinions out of it. But I just want to make sure it is clear that I don’t believe this team can just roll with this core forever, if certain things don’t develop or change. I’m a big believer in the core going forward. However, not only does this method give the current Runners Up a chance to redeem themselves but it also puts the Suns in a really unique position going forward.

Look at that Cap Sheet above. Next season, the Phoenix Suns will have a plenty of options to make Scenario 1(b) moves if that’s the path they wish to take. Personally, I just wouldn’t rush it unless the perfect opportunity presented itself. Now in 22/23 - after another season of data on this core - the Suns will have a bunch of young talent, just about every size contract you need to make a big trade & all their own draft picks.

The future is looking pretty bright in the Valley. Even if it hurts like hell right now.


Overtime!

This Issue could have ended up being thousands more words, if I tried to cover every possible scenario that might present itself in the coming weeks. So instead, I just tried to stick to what you need to know + 2 (& a half) scenarios. I am more than happy to answer any further questions in the comments below about other possibilities.

*You can refer to my usual CBA Disclaimers at the very bottom of this Issue, which cover off all the things I like to mention when talking Suns cap stuff.

If you are interested in a lot of the nerdy stuff above I’d highly recommend CBA FAQ by Larry Coon for more details. It goes much more in depth & is basically the bible for all things CBA in the NBA. Thanks!

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