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If the Phoenix Suns are planning on keeping Deandre Ayton after all, the last remaining path to improving their roster this summer is through veteran minimum contracts.
Whether the offers they received in trade talks were underwhelming or they truly believe coach Frank Vogel can restore DA, it appears — for now, at least — that Ayton will get the chance to redeem himself after a season of regression was followed by an even worse postseason.
There are risks in relying on things to suddenly click for Phoenix’s most inconsistent starter under a new coach. The human element shouldn’t be ignored, but Vogel will have the same difficult task Monty Williams faced in trying to convince DA to buy in defensively despite giving him fewer touches. That ask will be even tougher now that Bradley Beal is joining Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
Unless 2021 Playoff DA returns, the Suns will be overpaying for his services. Ayton’s $32.5 million max salary this season is too much for a center who doesn’t create much of his own offense and hasn’t found that night-in, night-out consistency. Turning his salary into a cheaper center who could do 80 percent of what he does and a rotation-level wing was Phoenix’s last realistic avenue to building out their depth.
Now, they’ll be limited to veteran minimum signings in a shallow 2023 NBA free agency pool. Between Booker, KD, Beal, DA, Cam Payne ($6.5 million non-guaranteed), Ish Wainright ($1.9 million team option), Jordan Goodwin ($1.9 million non-guaranteed) and Isaiah Todd ($1.8 million), the Suns are already up to $173.8 million. For reference, the salary cap for next season will be $136 million, and the luxury tax is $165 million — which the Suns are nearly at with Booker, Durant, Beal and Ayton alone ($161.6 million).
Throw in the rookie salary of second-round pick Toumani Camara and that’s another million or so. That puts the Suns at nine rostered players with six spots to fill in free agency — and that’s assuming Camara is given a full roster spot rather than a two-way contract.
Even if they rounded out those last six spots with vet minimum deals, they’re already past the first luxury tax apron ($172 million) and will blow right past the second tax apron ($182.5 million) with ease. Once they do so, that will eliminate their ability to use the taxpayer mid-level exception, which starts at $5 million annually.
Making a bid on restricted free agents like Cam Johnson, Rui Hachimura or Grant Williams is out the window, because even if those guys temporarily lost their minds and signed an offer sheet from Phoenix, their respective teams would love to match a veteran minimum offer to retain them at that price. Sign-and-trades are a no-go as well, since any sign-and-trade would hard-cap the Suns at $172 million (the first tax apron). It’s a logistical impossibility to satisfy the math for a sign-and-trade while still keeping Phoenix below that line for the rest of the summer.
So to recap, the Suns won’t have their MLE or the bi-annual exception, bidding on any respectable restricted free agents is a fool’s errand, and sign-and-trades aren’t happening either. Instead, Phoenix will be limited to re-signing their own free agents and handing out veteran minimum deals.
The Suns own bird rights on a couple of their own free agents, which they could use to sign them to higher-priced deals than normal. We’ll talk about that in the coming days, but in terms of scouring free agency for external upgrades, Phoenix will have to bank on players wanting to come to the Valley at a discounted rate. If any of these targets receives a better offer, there’s a good chance money talks.
But because free agency can be so unpredictable, and because players will want to join forces with Vogel, Booker, Durant and Beal, we should take a look at some potential veteran minimum targets for the Suns….right after we paint a very clear picture of who is not coming to Phoenix this summer.
Suns dream targets that aren’t happening
I know, I know: This is the same guy who said Bradley Beal wasn’t happening, and we all know how that turned out. But that frozen take was a matter of miscalculating how badly he wanted to come to Phoenix specifically, and how he would weaponize his no-trade clause to reach his desired destination.
Players will still want to come to the Valley, but the key difference is Beal is getting paid $46.7 million this year. If you’d have told him he had to take a pay cut to come here, well…we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.
To that end, it’s hard to see unrestricted free agents like Gabe Vincent, Russell Westbrook, Bruce Brown, Lonnie Walker IV, Max Strus coming to town after their strong postseason outings earned them a pay raise. Fred VanVleet, Kyrie Irving and James Harden aren’t coming here on vet minimums or in a sign-and-trade package. Brook Lopez, Harrison Barnes, Jerami Grant and Kyle Kuzma would have to be crazy to take such a steep discount when they’re worth more than the MLE.
Even guys like Caris LeVert, Kelly Oubre Jr., Josh Richardson, Georges Niang, Jalen McDaniels and Jakob Poeltl stand to make more money on the free-agency market than Phoenix can offer. Alec Burks has a $10.5 million team option with the Detroit Pistons, and as we already covered, restricted free agents like Austin Reaves, Coby White, Cam Reddish, Matisse Thybulle, PJ Washington and Tre Jones should be able to do better by either staying with their respective teams or looking for an offer sheet elsewhere.
Landing any of those names would be an absolute coup for the Suns considering what they have to offer. But unless their respective teams turn their attention elsewhere and the market completely dries up, it’s difficult to see a single one of them taking such a hefty discount.
Ring-chasing vets for the Suns
Dennis Schroder — Schroder starting in 50 of his 66 games for a Western Conference finalist may have increased his price tag, but since the Los Angeles Lakers don’t own his bird rights and always set their sights on bigger prizes, could Vogel — Schroder’s former coach — poach him from LA? Schroder played on the vet minimum last season and did well, averaging 12.6 points and 4.5 assists in 30.1 minutes per game. He’s never been much of a shooter (33.7 percent for his career), but he’s an experienced vet who puts forth effort on defense and can run an offense. Selling him on a backup spot in Phoenix as the Suns turn things over to Point Book could be tricky, but it’s worth a shot.
Patrick Beverley — One year ago, Pat Beverley was celebrating his heart out as a feel-good (albeit meme-able) story for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the play-in. My, how things can change in a year! At least, that’s what the Suns would be hoping in this case, since A) Beverley underwhelmed for the Lakers and Chicago Bulls last season and B) It was just last November when he shoved Ayton in the back. Assuming those two would let bygones be bygones, and that Devin Booker doesn’t actually hate Pat Bev for his multiple cheap shots against the Suns, and that Beverley could do better than the 34 percent he’s shot from 3 over the last two years, and…wait, what does he bring to the table again? Oh, right: much-needed defense and tenacity as the exact type of smash-mouth personality the Suns are sorely lacking at the moment.
Kevin Love — Let’s flash back about 10 years. Did anyone have Kevin Love outlasting Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge as useful rotation players in their careers? Because as much as Love is a veteran minimum guy these days, he proved he could still contribute on a winning team during the Miami Heat’s run to the Finals. In 21 regular-season appearances, the soon-to-be 35-year-old averaged 7.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. Although he shot a dismal 29.7 percent from 3, he stepped up big-time in the postseason, draining 37.5 percent of his long-range 4.4 attempts per game. He’s a great locker room guy, and all the Suns need him to do is spread the floor and rebound. Love doesn’t address Phoenix’s need for wing defense, but he’d be a solid depth play if Miami lets him walk. According to Action Network’s Matt Moore, the Suns and Lakers are on Love’s list.
Danny Green — Green feels like a bit of a crapshoot at this stage. The 36-year-old played in just 11 games between the Memphis Grizzlies and Cleveland Cavaliers last season coming off an ACL and LCL tear in 2022. He played sparingly, averaging less than 12 minutes per game in Cleveland and being a non-factor in the playoffs. However, Green is another respected locker room vet, and although it was a tiny sample size (37 attempts), he still shot 43.2 percent from deep last year. If he can defend even relatively well in bench minutes at this stage, his 3-point shooting as a career 40 percent sniper would justify a minimum deal.
Robin Lopez — The Suns are probably set at the center position behind DA, since re-signing Jock Landale and Bismack Biyombo may be the way to go. Landale probably should’ve earned the backup position full-time, and Bizzy is the exact type of rim-protecting big who would thrive under Vogel. But in the event one or both of those guys leaves, how about bringing back the less-heralded Lopez twin? Robin played last season on the minimum for Cleveland but was used sparingly in a frontcourt-heavy rotation. He averaged just 3.0 points and 1.4 rebounds in 8.1 minutes per game, suiting up for only 31 games. However, if the Suns need a third-string big, they could do a lot worse than Lopez, who improved his game after leaving Phoenix and carved out a niche for himself as an interior anchor, underrated post-up threat and hilarious locker room personality.
Jae Crowder — Easily one of the most contentious inclusions on this list, Jae Crowder would have a lot to prove if he returned to the Valley. While his quarrel seemed to be primarily with Monty Williams and his Suns teammates never said anything bad about him, Bossman would have to win over the fanbase again after sitting out more than half the season. He’d also need to prove he’s not washed after a disappointing 18-game stint with the Milwaukee Bucks where he was phased out of the playoff rotation. However, even though Crowder has lost a step defensively and is no longer a starting-caliber wing, the soon-to-be 33-year-old still shot 43.6 percent from deep in Milwaukee this season. Perhaps, rather than sitting at home trying to simulate regular-season basketball for four months, Crowder would have more to offer with a whole offseason and fully training camp under his belt this time.
Jeff Green — “Uncle Jeff” was borderline unplayable at times during the Denver Nuggets’ postseason run to the title, but beggars can’t be choosers. Green spent last season on a $4.5 million contract as part of the non-taxpayer MLE, but approaching his 37th birthday in August, it’s hard to see him still being worth that amount. If Green wants to chase championships, he could obviously just stay in Denver with the reigning champs. But if the Nuggets feel they can tighten up their rotation without him, or if the allure of rejoining Kevin Durant stands out, Phoenix would provide Green with a new challenge. You can never have too much wing depth, even as he nears the end of his career.
Will Barton — Barton won’t turn 33 until next January, and despite his dwindling minutes for the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards this season, he has more to give than the 6.8 points per game he averaged last year. It was just a season ago that he was still a double-digit scorer in Denver, so perhaps he simply needs to be on a more functional team to make an impact as that high-energy guy off the bench. The Suns need wing depth, and even in a down year, he still shot 36.7 percent from 3. There are risks here, and Barton’s shot selection isn’t always the best, but he could be rejuvenated playing on a team with a little more stability.
Blake Griffin — The 34-year-old forward is far from his “Flyin’ Lion” days, but on a veteran minimum, there are worse guys to have in the locker room. Griffin spent last season playing on a minimum deal with the Boston Celtics, averaging a career-low 4.1 points and 3.8 rebounds a night. But the Celtics used him sparingly, playing him 13.9 minutes per game in his 41 appearances, and he shot 48.5 percent from the field overall. Still, there are better uses of a roster spot than a potentially washed Griffin, especially since he still doesn’t spread the floor the 3-point range (34.8 percent last year).
Ish Smith — This is the only logical way the Suns can finally stop Ish Smith Revenge Games from happening! In all seriousness, Smith didn’t play very often for the Nuggets last year, and when he did, he didn’t offer much outside of 2.5 points and 2.3 assists in 9.3 minutes per game on putrid .397/.167/.500 shooting splits. He certainly won’t be earning $4.7 million again like last year and shouldn’t be getting many offers. Yeah, it isn’t pretty, but this sort of paints the picture of what kinds of players Phoenix might have to settle for.
Cory Joseph — Somehow, Cory Joseph is still only 31 years old. It feels like he’s been around forever, and yet, after spending the last three years with the Detroit Pistons (and two years with the Sacramento Kings), it also feels like he vanished from the face of the earth a long time ago. Can Joseph can still contribute on a winning team? Last year he averaged 6.9 points and 3.5 assists in 19.8 minutes per game, all while shooting 38.9 percent from 3. He was making $5.2 million on the room exception, but to play for a contender, he’ll have to dip down to the vet minimum.
D.J. Augustin — “Give me your tired, your poor, your washed up, aging third-string point guards.” — Emma Lazarus/Gerald Bourguet
The Houston Rockets’ situation was less than stellar last year, particularly with their veterans. It might be time for Augustin to rescue himself by reuniting with Vogel, who coached him for a few of the best seasons of his career with the Orlando Magic. Augustin may be 35 now, but he’s still a career 38.1 percent shooter from deep, and was a double-digit scorer as recently as 2020-21. The Suns could do worse at the veteran minimum.
George Hill — How about another former player of Vogel’s, only this time, the starting floor general of those Indiana Pacers teams? Hill spent the five best years of his career playing under Vogel in Indy, and that kind of rapport can be valuable, even if Hill is now 37 and best-suited for a third-string role. Maybe his flameout with the Bucks proved he’s washed, but he did make 52.4 percent of his 3s in 11 games back with the Pacers to close the season. Maybe Hill just prefers being in more familiar, comfortable settings and should therefore reunite with Vogel to close out his career.
Wes Matthews — The Suns can’t be choosers when it comes to wing depth, but Wes Matthews is clearly no longer the 3-and-D threat he once was. He’s lost a step defensively, he posted .363/.315/.857 shooting splits last year, and he’ll turn 37 in October. The Bucks own his bird rights, but if they make the right call and let him go, the Suns should really only consider this option if they strike out everywhere else and simply need a warm body.
Goran Dragic — Boy, the Bucks really struck out with their “formerly good players repurposed as cheap depth signings on a title contender,” huh? Dragic was unable to make an impact as Milwaukee floundered its way through a first-round playoff exit as the top seed in the East, but he did make 41.2 percent of his 3s over his — double-checks — seven appearances for the Bucks. As fun as this storyline would’ve been a few years ago, the ship has sailed on this 37-year-old ever going full “Dragon” mode again.
Rudy Gay — Gay has a $6.5 million player option, and as he approaches his 37th birthday, nobody in their right mind is going to give him more than that on the open market. So right off the bat, it’s unlikely he’s anywhere to start the season but Utah (unless the Jazz decide to trade him after he opts in). But if Gay doesn’t want to waste any more time in Salt Lake City with another rebuild, a vet minimum for about half that amount might not be the end of the world. The Suns would have to hope his career-low 5.2 points per game on .378/.252/.857 shooting splits were simply a product of low minutes on a losing team, rather than being indicative of what he has to offer these days.
UPDATE: Rudy Gay will reportedly exercise his player option to facilitate a John Collins trade with Utah that will send Gay to the Atlanta Hawks, so this one’s out.
Highly unlikely but worth a try
Seth Curry — Good luck getting a career 43.5 percent 3-point shooter for the veteran minimum. The Brooklyn Nets own Curry’s bird rights, and even as his playing time decreased by 10 minutes per game last year compared to the prior season, his combination of ball-handling and shooting will make him a hot commodity in free agency. The only path to Phoenix looks something like this: Jacque Vaughn doesn’t see Curry being in the rotation, the Nets let him walk, and he prioritizes winning (and a reunion with KD) over everything else. That’s a lot of low-percentage scenarios needing to align perfectly.
JaMychal Green — It remains surprising the Golden State Warriors were able to land Green on a veteran minimum contract last summer, but being the defending champs will do that. Perhaps Green is ready to jump ship to another Western Conference contender for the same price. He only averaged 6.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 14.0 minutes per game, but he was highly efficient, shooting 54 percent overall and 37.8 percent from deep. This is the exact type of two-way player the Suns should be targeting, even if they strike out next to bigger offers.
Joe Ingles — Ingles’ value is hard to gauge, but even after a season covered in rust from his torn ACL in 2022, he’s probably worth more than the minimum. Last year, he earned $6.5 million on the taxpayer MLE. Then again, Ingles turns 36 in October, he’s been a single-digit scorer the last two seasons now, and his 6.9 points and 3.3 assists per game last year hardly scream “due for a raise.” The Bucks don’t own his bird rights, so maybe there’s a path for Phoenix to woo a guy who just posted .435/.409/.857 shooting splits in his limited bench role for Milwaukee.
Jaylen Nowell — Typically, 23-year-olds only get signed to minimum money when they’re struggling to stay in the league. Nowell isn’t that, coming off a season where he averaged 10.8 points per game for the Timberwolves. However, the Wolves have a considerable amount of money tied up in Karl-Anthony Towns, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, Kyle Anderson and now Naz Reid after his extension. Jaden McDaniels is eligible for an extension too, so if Nowell somehow gets lost in the shuffle (and somehow nobody else notices), the Suns should waste no time in making him feel wanted.
Jordan Clarkson — Clarkson has a $14.3 million player option for next season, during which he’ll probably get flipped to a contender by the trade deadline anyway. Or, ya know, he can opt out now and make significantly less money to play for Phoenix. Even if the Suns were at the top of his wish list, it’d make a lot more financial sense to opt in, stay in Utah and get traded to a winning situation by mid-February. He could also opt out and earn a multi-year deal worth a lot more than the vet minimum.
Making the most out of the minimum
Aaron Holiday — The Atlanta Hawks somehow used Aaron Holiday even less than Monty Williams did — on a minutes per game basis, at least. There’s little chance he’s in the Hawks’ plans for their expensive roster, even with his bird rights in tow, so maybe the Suns could investigate what he has to offer this time around. After all, Holiday is a tenacious defender who shot 40.9 percent from 3 last year after shooting 44.4 percent the season prior in Phoenix.
Yuta Watanabe — The Athletic’s John Hollinger thinks Watanabe to the Suns on a vet minimum deal is an “obvious” fit, and we’re inclined to agree. Expectations should be tempered for a guy who averaged 5.6 points in 16.0 minutes per game last year, but the 28-year-old is well-liked in the Nets locker room and enjoyed a breakout year, shooting a career-high 44.4 percent from deep. A reunion with KD and the chance to compete for a title sounds like a pretty good pitch.
Svi Mykhailiuk — Svi may have played himself out of vet minimum territory. The Charlotte Hornets don’t own his bird rights, but surely someone was paying attention when he averaged 10.6 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting from deep over his 19 games in Buzz City…right? That’s a small sample size, of course, but Mykhailiuk only just turn 26 and can shoot. He should have a number of options, but the question is who’s going to be willing to pay more than the minimum for a guy who’s remained relatively unproven through his first five years in the league.
Derrick Jones Jr. — Airplane Mode’s career never really took flight, but the Suns could use some athleticism and rangy defense. Jones can provide that in a more up-tempo setting, even if it comes with 30.4 percent 3-point shooting for his career. The couple of highlight dunks DJJ supplies on an annual basis would be worth the minimum alone.
Raul Neto — Another random, low-ley Suns killer, Neto struggled to earn minutes in Cleveland last year. He averaged just 3.3 points and 1.6 assists in 10.5 minutes per game, and although he shot 51.8 percent overall, that included 28.6 percent shooting from deep. This is nowhere near the Cam Payne upgrade Phoenix really needs, but in terms of third-string floor generals, Neto is one option to consider.
Frank Ntilikina — The Dallas Mavericks have Ntilikina’s bird rights, but after giving him 12-13 minutes a game for the last two seasons, do they really want to commit more time and resources to him? Ntilikina is still only 24 years old, but for all that he provides defensively, he remains a liability on the offensive end. He shot just 25.3 percent from deep last year and is a career 32.3 percent shooter from beyond the arc. Even so, the Suns need defense, and Ntilikina’s ability to hound multiple positions in the backcourt would be helpful. There is a bit of redundancy with Jordan Goodwin’s arrival, however, so perhaps Phoenix should steer clear.
Justin Holiday — Two seasons ago, Justin Holiday felt like a prime target for the Suns because of his defense and efficient 3-ball. The last two years with the Kings, Hawks and Mavs have done him no favors, as he’s failed to make an impression three straight losing teams. He’s 34 years old now and hasn’t shot better than 34 percent in a single one of those stops. If the Suns turned their attention to another Holiday brother, they’d be hoping that placing him on a more functional contender would unlock the guy they saw light it up for the Pacers a few years ago.
Stanley Johnson — The Suns are apparently leaving no stone unturned, reportedly bringing in Johnson and Jabari Parker in for a free-agency workout this week. Parker is a bit of a stretch, but it was only two seasons ago that Johnson actually carved out a neat little niche for himself as a small-ball 5 under Vogel on the Lakers. The wing out of Arizona has never really put his career together, spending last season with the San Antonio Spurs and Sioux Falls Skyforce in the G League. He did shoot a career-best 45 percent from 3, although it came on an extremely limited 40 attempts in his 30 appearances with the Spurs. If he can prove he’s ready to contribute on a winning team, that multi-positional defense could be worth a flier.
Reggie Jackson — Jackson didn’t see the floor much during Denver’s title run, and his 27.9 percent shooting from deep during his 16-game regular-season audition was probably part of the reason why. The 33-year-old’s shot selection and defense fell off before the LA Clippers traded him to the Nuggets, but he’s still capable of being a double-digit scorer. After all, it was only two years ago that he was a key contributor during LA’s conference finals run.
Thomas Bryant — Again, the Suns are probably set at the center position, but if one of Landale or Biyombo leaves, Bryant is the type of young, upside swing fans would like to see more of in Phoenix. He’ll only turn 26 in July, shot 44 percent from 3 this season and has clearly flashed potential during his time in the league. However, due to injury, role and the simple fact that he just might not be good enough, Bryant has never been able to put it all together. Denver probably won’t want to keep him, which reinforces the idea that this is not the type of risk a title contender should take.
Frank Kaminsky — Kaminsky joked that he’s good with super-teams on the PHNX Suns Podcast earlier in the week, and the return of Kaminsky Kove would be fun for most of the fanbase (sorry, U of A fans). That stress reaction in his right knee robbed Kaminsky of his chance to build on the best stretch of his NBA career, and he spent all of last season in Atlanta and Houston trying to get it back. He wasn’t able to do so, but a hard-working, 3-point shooting, well-liked big who can handle the ball and serve as a frontcourt connector isn’t the worst thing to have as your third-string center.
Oshae Brissett — Two years ago, Brissett was an unexpected surprise in Indiana, averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game on promising .483/.423/.769 shooting splits. It hasn’t been sustainable, as Brissett’s numbers have plummeted over the last two seasons under Rick Carlisle. His minutes dropped from 24.7 per game that season to just 16.7 this year, and he only averaged 6.1 points on .386/.310/.717 shooting splits. This 6-foot-7 wing could be due for a change of scenery and is still only 25 years old. Expectations would be low, but isn’t that the whole point of landing younger guys on a vet minimum?
Dillon Brooks — Trust me, we’re only including Brooks for the sake of being thorough. For starters, he reportedly wants an annual salary in the $12 million range, which is not only outlandish, but also impossible for Phoenix to match. Second, between the trash talk he never backed up and his abysmal .396/.326/.779 shooting splits on high volume, Brooks was an absolute detriment to the Grizzlies on and off the court. The Suns could use some attitude and toughness, but for multiple reasons, they need to try finding it elsewhere.
Jevon Carter — Carter his coming off his best season yet, averaging 8.0 points and 2.4 assists in 22.4 minutes per game. The soon-to-be 28-year-old shot 42.1 percent from 3 and was a source of both offense and defensive intensity for Milwaukee’s bench. Considering the glowing things he’s said about the opportunity he’s received there, it’s possible he simply takes his $2.2 million player option to (pun intended) keep it a Buck. However, he could potentially make more as a five-year player on a vet minimum, depending on how the league’s pay scale shakes out. Now that Williams is gone, would Carter consider a reunion with Cam Payne and the fellas? His defense would fit right in with Vogel’s mindset, and Phoenix can use all the backcourt depth it can get its hands on.
Austin Rivers — Speaking of backcourt depth, HERE COMES AUSTIN RIVERS!
In all seriousness, Rivers is a good but not great bench piece. He’s best-suited as a third-string guy who occasionally gets hot filling in for the backup. Rivers also hasn’t shot better than 35 percent from 3 over the last two seasons or averaged double-digit scoring since 2017-18. To reiterate: The Suns may be extremely attractive beggars, but this deep into free agency, they may not be able to be choosers either.
Dario Saric — Trading the Homie for Darius Bazley was a cost-cutting maneuver that didn’t help much on the court. The Suns still have a chance to turn Bazley’s contract into something in restricted free agency, but if they can bring back Saric on the vet minimum, a player with his offensive versatility wouldn’t hurt. He may be 29 years old with the athleticism of a 45-year-old, but Saric knows the city and the basketball culture well. He’s a selfless, team player who’s well-liked in the locker room and can spread the floor with his shooting, playmaking and ball-handling. He’s not the defensive wing(s) Phoenix needs above all else, but if the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t use their bird rights to re-sign him, Saric would be a decent depth move.
Montrezl Harrell — Harrell’s NBA career may have already peaked, which is why he’s played for five different teams over the last four years. It also helps explain how the Philadelphia 76ers got him for the vet minimum in the first place…and then proceeded to play him 11.1 minutes per game. Harrell’s defense and lack of size limit his effectiveness, and his efficiency fell off last year. But perhaps a change of scenery to a winning team — unlike the Lakers in 2021 or Wizards and Hornets in 2022 — would help. If anyone can get him to defend on a minimum contract, it’s Frank Vogel.
Drew Eubanks — The Portland Trail Blazers own Eubanks’ early bird rights, but everything feels up in the air as they scramble to figure out how to build around Damian Lillard. That could wind up serving other teams well if Eubanks entertains outside offers, since the 26-year-old certainly has potential. His raw numbers — 6.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game — don’t hint at much, but they came in just 20.3 minutes per game, all while shooting 64.1 percent overall and 38.9 percent from deep. He’s the type of floor-spacing big the Suns would love to have coming off the bench, and although he’s most likely played himself out of the vet minimum tier, it’s worth pitching him on contending for a title in the Valley.
Justise Winslow — Speaking of the Blazers, Winslow is one of those guys who gets drafted in the lottery, only shows flashes here and there, gets injured repeatedly, and somehow their name never leaves the conversation because that two-way potential is too tantalizing to forget. However, the 27-year-old wing has only played in 114 games over the last four seasons, so maybe the Suns would be better off forgetting it.
Keita Bates-Diop — A sneaky-good target the San Antonio Spurs would do well to re-sign with all that available cap space they have. KBD made the minimum last year, but he’s coming off a season where he averaged 9.7 points and 3.7 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game. He also shot 50.8 percent from the floor, 39.4 percent from 3, and doubled as one of the Spurs’ go-to wing defenders. San Antonio wasn’t a good defense (or team) by any means, but Bates-Diop is a 6-foot-8 wing who’s still only 27. The Spurs could set their sights higher in free agency, but with Victor Wembanyama, Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan, they’re in no rush. They own KBD’s bird rights, but if they drop the ball or let him take other meetings, the Suns need to be all over this one.
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