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While the rest of the NBA prepares for a new CBA designed to punish big spenders with three max-level players, the Phoenix Suns are bulldozing it head-on. A Bradley Beal trade felt unrealistic, but the power of his no-trade clause ultimately cemented the formation of the Suns’ latest Big 3.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Suns have agreed to send Chris Paul, Landry Shamet, multiple second round picks and pick swaps to the Washington Wizards for Beal. Jordan Goodwin is also included in the trade, according to The Athletic’s Josh Robbins.
On Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski added that Isaiah Todd — the 31st pick in the 2021 NBA Draft — was included in the package as well.
To make the deal work financially, the Wizards are guaranteeing an additional $10 million or so on Chris Paul’s contract, which only guaranteed $15.8 million of his $30.8 million figure.
The framework of the deal is expected to be finalized in the next few days, but this is the general idea, with Beal’s 15 percent trade kicker being voided:
So how did the Suns net a three-time All-Star for what amounts to salary cap relief? What does Beal bring to the table, how does he fit in with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, what are the salary cap ramifications, how does Phoenix build out the rest of its roster, and what might be coming next?
Let’s answer all those questions and more by taking a look at five things to know after the Bradley Beal trade.
1. No-trade clause and Suns’ bold approach make it happen
Ultimately, Beal’s true no-trade clause allowed him to virtually choose his next destination, since he had the power to veto any deal he didn’t like. It reportedly came down to Phoenix and Miami, and while the Heat could’ve offered a more pick-heavy return, it seems Beal ultimately chose the Suns as his next team.
At that point, the Wizards’ hands were tied as they veer toward a full-scale rebuild…though it’s fair to wonder why they remained so devoted to that path despite the cost.
Few teams in recent memory have botched the trade value of their franchise player quite like the Wizards, who had to settle for second-rounders and cap relief in the form of Paul (who may be rerouted elsewhere) and Shamet, who makes $10.3 million this year before his salary is full non-guaranteed for the following season.
In any case, their loss is the Suns’ gain, as they landed a player far better than they could’ve reasonably expected in free agency, especially with their limited cap flexibility. Owner Mat Ishbia has pledged that money won’t stop him from being aggressive, and once again, he’s proving it with a bold approach to building out his roster.
2. Salary cap ramifications of Bradley Beal trade
The Suns may have added a better piece than they could’ve hoped for otherwise, but that still comes with its limitations moving forward. Beal is an incredible scorer and underrated playmaker who can adapt on or off the ball, but his contract is part of the reason his trade value stooped so low.
Over the next four years, the soon-to-be 30-year-old Beal is owed approximately $208 million. Next season, the trio of Beal, Booker and KD will make $131 million — just $3 million shy of the $134 million salary cap. The Suns were always going to be an above-the-cap team, but paying that much to three guys on a 15-man roster means they’ll be zooming past the $162 million luxury tax line, the $169 million first luxury tax apron and quite possibly even the $179.5 million second luxury tax apron.
Pushing past the second apron comes with consequences, since the Suns would then lose their mid-level exception, as well as the ability to add players via sign-and-trades or on the buyout market (if they’re bought out for more than $12.2 million). It would also reduce the amount of extra salary they can absorb in trades from 125 percent to 110 percent.
While $5 million doesn’t feel like much, that taxpayer MLE is a valuable roster-building tool for teams in the luxury tax. Moving forward, the Suns’ free agency pitches will have to rely heavily on selling the allure of competing for a championship with Book, KD and Beal…hoping that’s enough to convince some MLE-caliber free agents to take veteran minimum discounts.
As ESPN’s Bobby Marks covered in full detail, the consequences of exceeding that second luxury tax apron get even more severe next summer. At that point, the Suns wouldn’t be able to aggregate salaries in a trade, send out cash in a trade, or add players in a trade who were signed-and-traded. It could even freeze their first-round draft pick seven years down the line for repeat offenders.
In an NBA that will soon penalize teams for trotting out Big 3s, the Phoenix Suns said:
3. Avenues to building out rest of roster
The question, then, is how can the Suns build out the rest of their roster? After the trade is made official, the only players on the books for next season will be Booker, Durant, Beal and Deandre Ayton, Cam Payne (only $2 million of his $6.5 million is guaranteed), Ish Wainright ($1.9 million team option), Jordan Goodwin ($1.9 million partially guaranteed contract) and Isaiah Todd ($1.8 million guaranteed contract).
Assuming the Suns fully guarantee Payne’s contract, those six players will make a combined $173.7 million — just $5.8 million away from the second luxury tax apron. They have a number of free agents they can re-sign to ease their cap hit, including Jock Landale and Torrey Craig:
However, it’s hard to look at the Suns’ cap sheet and not wonder if a Deandre Ayton trade will soon follow. DA is making $32.5 million next season, and while his deal is not an albatross by any means, it’s too inflated for what he’s actually providing on the court.
There is optimism that perhaps Phoenix’s head coaching change can revitalize Ayton, since Frank Vogel is a defensive-minded coach who’s used to working with high-level rim protectors. If anyone can coax that 2021 NBA Finals run version of DA, it’s Vogel.
At the same time, the cap numbers are what they are, and it’s no secret the Suns have been queasy about paying max money to a center when they feel they can get 80 percent of what he does for two-thirds of the price. An Ayton trade for a starting center and another depth piece on the wing might be Phoenix’s best avenue to adding any sort of talent before settling for veteran minimum signings the rest of the way.
Stay tuned for some Deandre Ayton trade scenarios on Tuesday.
4. Expect more Point Book after Bradley Beal trade
On the court, Beal’s availability should be the biggest question mark, not fit. He’s missed 32, 42, 22 and 15 games over the last four seasons, though some of that may be due to the Wizards’ uncompetitive situation in D.C. Playing for a contender, Beal’s availability, defense and all-around play will hopefully be rejuvenated.
Assuming he and the rest of the Suns’ star trio stays healthy, however, the biggest adjustment will come in the form of more Point Book. Those lineups have been successful for a while now, but they were rarely seen unless Chris Paul was injured.
Now, they’ll be a little more reliant on one of the league’s most efficient scorers to shoulder more of the load as a facilitator. Booker has averaged 5.5, 4.8 and 4.3 assists per game in his three seasons alongside CP3, but the two seasons before the Point God arrived, he put up 6.5 and a career-high 6.8 dimes per game.
Between Booker, KD and Beal, the Suns have enough ball-handling and playmaking to make up for the lack of a true point guard. Beal’s growth as a playmaker has flown under the radar because of Washington’s perpetual mediocrity, but he’s averaged more than five assists per game in four of his last five seasons.
This move puts more pressure on assistant coach Kevin Young to craft an offensive system with plenty of versatility, but given his pick-and-roll prowess and the level of interchangeable talent at his disposal, it’s hard to see Young or the Suns’ star trio failing just because they don’t have a traditional floor general out there to orchestrate.
This move alone doesn’t make the Suns overwhelming title favorites, full stop. Winning a title remains a daunting task for any team, and one that requires a bit of injury luck as well. That shouldn’t be an indictment on Phoenix’s aggression as the longest-tenured franchise to never win a title, however.
One thing is clear: Ishbia and the Suns won’t ever look back on these years and say they regret not going for it. It may or may not result in a title, but Beal is better than any “depth” move they could’ve made otherwise this summer, and they got him for a fraction of his true worth.
If the Suns fall short of their goal, however, Beal’s no-trade clause — which comes with him to Phoenix — could make rebuilding or retooling on the fly exceptionally difficult. Once again, it’s an all-in move from Ishbia and company.
5. Chris Paul deserves the Ring of Honor
The Wizards were reportedly interested in keeping Paul on their team, but it appears the feeling is not mutual for the 38-year-old veteran. He may be shipped to another contender like the LA Clippers very soon, potentially providing Washington with more salary cap relief.
Those negotiations will most likely prevent the deal from being completed until after the draft, but the CP3 era is officially over. So before we get too lost in looking ahead, it needs to be stated: In just three seasons, Chris Paul will go down as one of the best (and most important) players in Suns history, and he’s a no-brainer for the Ring of Honor.
Paul’s willingness to be traded to Phoenix and join forces with Devin Booker is what validated Book’s standing as a guy other players want to play with. Durant and Beal have since reaffirmed that sentiment, but Paul was the first to see the potential here. Alongside Book, Monty Williams, DA, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Jae Crowder and too many others to name, the Suns became an NBA Finals team, a 64-win team, and an eventual “super-team.”
Ironically, his departure ensures that last one finally applies, but no one should forget how instrumental Paul was in building Phoenix back up, and how legitimately great he was during those first two seasons. One down year for a 38-year-old shouldn’t cloud what he meant to the growth of Booker and this entire franchise. His undying competitive nature, no-bullshit leadership style, and hilariously obnoxious rip-throughs will all be missed.
As for Landry Shamet, his time in Phoenix won’t be remembered fondly, but it appears his contract was not as terrible as everyone claimed in the end. Perhaps a change of scenery is what he needs to get his career back on track.
A few seasons ago, the Suns had Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. They turned those two into Chris Paul, had three tremendous, era-defining seasons together, and then turned him and Shamet into Bradley Beal…with a Kevin Durant blockbuster sandwiched in between.
There are legitimate questions about how Phoenix will add depth to such a group without diving face-first into that second luxury tax apron, but having a legitimate Big 3 sure makes all of it easier to stomach.
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