The Suns and Bulls meet Saturday evening in 2015 NBA Summer League tournament.
Ever since John Paxson.....
A win over Chicago and the opportunity to play on Sunday will rely heavily on the performance of T.J. Warren. Warren has been a strikingly efficient hoop filler through four games. The Suns' Summer League leading scorer has averaged better than 20 points per contest and is shooting just shy of 57% from the field. Coach Nate Bjorkgren talked about Warren's shooting after Thursday's win over Milwaukee.
"He has a real ability to score that ball. You saw tonight in the second half, he cuts to the right place, he has a great nose for the ball. He has a great read on knowing when to cut and when to hold and also tonight he had 4 assists. So not only was he getting to the paint to create for himself but he was creating for others.
Just as in other games, when asked about scoring Warren addressed his primary focus of summer league. Defense.
"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive, the coaches have been stressing a lot of defense. We just wanted to get out on the defensive end and get into our opponents and make them feel uncomfortable."
"Just trying to focus in on the defensive end. Offense is always going to come. I just want to become an all around two way player, and just keeping toning up my defense as well as my offense."
That defense will be critical against a Chicago team that features it's own high volume scorer in Doug McDermott, as well as Tyrus McGee and and first round pick Bobby Portis. Portis and McGee have combined to hit 17 of their 32 three point attempts.
"In the second half there (against Milwaukee) we picked it up on both ends and we keep telling these guys so much, it's our defensive intensity which is what creates our offense," Coach Bjorkgren said.
Phoenix will counter with its own first round draft pick, Devin Booker. Like Portis, Booker's week in Las Vegas has seen peaks and valleys, but his progress in Las Vegas has been undeniable. T.J. Warren talked about the importance of Booker's ability to score the basketball.
"Devin is a tremendous basketball player, he has a knack for scoring as well, and he can really shoot the basketball. I know it's a confidence booster for him too, to be out here and showcase what he can do, and prove that he's ready to be here."
Coach Bjorkgren remarked on Booker's growth.
"He keeps growing everyday. He does. He's a threat out there. All the little parts of the game. Defensively, I thought his ball pressure and his physical play against those guards in the second half changed the game. We started to get into the body a little bit more and playing him more physical and you saw him run out to those corners and knock down a couple corner 3s so he's doing a nice job."
Looking foward, Booker talked about the offensive opportunities he'd like to see with the Suns.
"In transition that'd be nice. I know with players like Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight those looks will be wide open for me. I'm out there to space the floor for them, so they can have angles to attack, so however I get it, I like it."
Phoenix and Chicago tip off from the Thomas and Mack Center at 5:00p PT on Saturday.
Until yesterday, the Phoenix Suns had officially signed only one player in free agency - new starting center Tyson Chandler - while trading away three bench players in Marcus Morris, Danny Granger and Reggie Bullock.
Yesterday, the team completed the signings of four more free agents to complete the depth chart across the board and position the team to enter the 2015-16 season with a much more balanced roster than last season. Now in the fold are Brandon Knight, Mirza Teletovic, Sonny Weems and Ronnie Price.
The free agency haul includes two projected starters, two main bench players and a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency third point guard.
New center Tyson Chandler, 2013 All-Star and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, will start the season at center ahead of the still-developing Alex Len. He will provide the Suns with their best combination of rebounding and defense, as well as a pick-and-roll dive threat, in a long long time.
Combo guard Brandon Knight will slide into the starting lineup beside Eric Bledsoe to make a two-headed point guard pairing that will attempt to confuse defenses by being able to start the offense from either side of the floor. This plan worked in 2013-14 for the Suns because Goran Dragic was good at playing off the ball when Bledsoe was in the lineup. Now we must see if Brandon Knight can do the same.
The two will handle all the playmaking duties throughout the game, likely only sharing the floor at the start and end of halves and alternating the remainder of the time.
At small forward, P.J. Tucker will try to fend of the challenge being brought by T.J. Warren for the starting role. Tucker fits well as the small forward in a two-point lineup because he can camp in the corner to pull the defense out of the paint.
Warren and Markieff Morris don't appear - on the surface - to be a good pair to share the floor with the two-point lineup because each wants to work in the midrange and neither is a good - or willing - three point shooter. Knowing that, defenses will clog the paint when both are on the floor.
Either Bledsoe or Knight will run the playmaking for the second unit all season, barring injury. Even if one were to be injured, you'd likely only have to find 10-12 minutes per game from a backup point guard to keep the team afloat. Ronnie Price will fill those shoes most of the time, just trying to keep the team afloat.
Backup shooting guard minutes will be filled primarily by Sonny Weems, unless he can't make his three-point shot on a consistent basis. He has proven in Europe to be able to make 37%+ on threes over the past three seasons. If he can do that here, he will have a good season. Weems runs the floor well and knows how to catch-and-shoot and stay within his role. What he won't do is hog the ball.
Behind Weems are the slashing Goodwin and sweet-shooting Devin Booker. Neither projects to get a lot of playing time unless there are injuries, or unless they dramatically outplay Weems early in the season.
To keep the floor spread, you might expect to see Warren paired with power forward Mirza Teletovic. The Bosnian will be a catch-and-shoot threat whenever he's on the floor, pulling the defense out and allowing Warren to get to work in the midrange on drives to the hoop for the pullup, floater or layin.
The team's most proven backup is center Alex Len. Will will likely dominate other teams' backup centers and he's even supposedly added a three-point shot to his repertoire, making him doubly dangerous on offense.
Further down the depth chart are exciting rookie Devin Booker and third-year player Archie Goodwin on the wing.
On the front line, Jon Leuer may not get many chances to play but he will be a solid backup in case of injury or ineffectiveness in the top 10 players.
For the first time in three years, the Suns have exceeded the salary cap as they've decided it's time to wins games rather than bide their time with a late lottery pick.
Frankly, with the talent of Len, Morris, Bledsoe, Knight, Tucker and Warren the Suns were never going to be bad enough to be one of the worst teams in the league and "earn" that high draft pick next year. So the front office decided to go all in and grab one of the few high-level free agents ready to switch teams and fill out the team with veterans who could bring a high level of professionalism to the team culture.
The Suns have been given high marks for free agency this year, and are now being projected as the 8th seed in the West by those who like to run numbers.
The Suns are primarily buoyed by adding Tyson Chandler without losing any major impact players in the process.
The Suns still don't have that sure-fire perennial All-Star on their roster yet, but just might have the league's best collection of "pretty good players" who can band together to win a lot of games.
While this year's free agency is done, the Suns do still have something called the "room" exception ($2.85 million) and minimum-salary exceptions available to add players who slip through the cracks and might impact the rotation next year. Player signings at this point are not for any more money than the Suns have to spend because the high level free agent pool is pretty shallow.
But next year, the Suns will be ready to spend again. They can release P.J. Tucker (only a little bit guaranteed in 2016-17) and Sonny Weems to get as much as $26 million available to spend while still having eight of their best players under contract.
Nearly all teams will have money next summer as the cap jumps $20 million, but the very best West teams will still be strapped for cash or they would have to renounce one or more of their best players to get a ton of money to spend.
And, of course, there's always trades to be had. With so few top-level free agents changing teams each year, the Suns most likely route to add that perennial All-Star is via trade. And the Suns assets will only get better as time moves on. Future draft picks get closer, and youth continues to develop.
The Suns future is brighter now than it appeared to be a few weeks ago.
The Phoenix Suns signed all the guys today they agreed to sign, which officially puts them over the cap and leaves them only the "room" exception for future signings this offseason.
While I noted the other day the Phoenix Suns have some maneuverability left under the salary cap, up to maybe $6 million in money to spend on free agent(s) or salary matching in trades before inking Weems, Price and Knight to their contracts, we are quickly approaching the day that some of the flexibility goes away.
Having that flexibility is important. At the moment, the Suns could absorb someone else's contract in a salary dump - up to roughly $6 million - as teams like New Jersey or Oklahoma City realize they've overspent in recent years and face the dreaded repeater tax. That's not a ton of cap space, but it's more than most NBA teams have at this time.
The Suns also could make a player trade that brings back up $6 more in salary than they send out, something also valuable to those same teams who want to shed salary and might be willing to part with a good player to do it.
But the Suns ability to use their last free cap dollars in any way they wish is running out of time. Soon, they will have to sign the free agents with whom they've already agreed to deals.
The Suns may decide they've got everything they need right now, and many of us would agree. The Suns now have depth at every position. The only open question is Markieff Morris' comfort level going forward without his brother. If he buys in, he might realize that Tyson Chandler is the best thing that's ever happened to Keef's career.
The stretch four hasn't flown to Phoenix yet to put ink to paper, but that's more likely just a timing and convenience thing.
Judging by his twitter profile, he's already feeling the warmth.
Just like Tyson Chandler, Teletovic's $5.5 million contract won't fit into any exceptions available to the Suns this summer, so he's got to take up cap space.
By operating as a team under the cap - telegraphed by the outright Tyson Chandler signing - the Suns have the advantage of signing players without the need for a sign-and-trade which would require assets going back to the Mavericks and Nets. The Suns clearly did not want to do anything to enrich a West rival (the Mavs) with a sign-and-trade, plus that requires the Mavs to have cooperated in enriching the Suns.
But the Suns cannot spend more than $70 million in contracts, unless they use a limited number of cap exceptions. They cannot exceed that cap number (forget the luxury tax) this season without using cap exceptions, including Bird Rights, the "room" exception and veteran minimum salaries.
Note: the Suns lost any trade exceptions they had when they went under the cap, so forget the Dragic TPE. It no longer exists.
When the Suns sign Teletovic, Weems and Price, they will be right at the cap. Then re-signing Knight would put them over the cap, using his Bird Rights.
Off to Phoenix!! ????— Sonny Weems (@SonnyWeems13) July 15, 2015
Last week, the Suns agreed to a reported $5.8 million, 2 year deal with a team option on the second year with Sonny Weems. Depending on the exact salary breakdown per year, that deal could conceivably fit into the "room" exception for teams like the Suns who are under the salary cap. Likewise, Ronnie Price's veteran minimum deal could be signed using a cap exception after the Suns exhaust their cap space on other deals.
But that's only true if the Suns spend their cap space before signing Weems and/or Price. If the Suns still have cap room when ink hits paper, then Weems and/or Price will be signed using that cap space.
With Weems heading to Phoenix, expect his deal to be officially signed in the next 1-2 days. That gives the Suns a short window in which to use the cap room otherwise.
If the Suns sign Weems and Price using cap space, that's fine. No skin off the players' backs. They get the same money regardless.
While those exceptions would still be available, as needed after signing all these guys, they cannot be combined in a single transaction and cannot be used in trade. Those cap exceptions - the only ones available to teams who were under the cap to start the summer - were designed to only be used for free agent signings, while pure cap room can be used for any purpose including trades.
This is one reason the Suns didn't fly Weems and Price to Phoenix last week the second they agreed to deals. Just like Brandon Knight, who apparently (and logically) is going to sign last of all, the later you sign these guys the more opportunity you have to spend money somewhere else first.
With Weems heading to Phoenix, the Suns cap room is coming to a head as well.
Another consideration for the Suns is Jerel McNeal's 2015-16 contract. If McNeal is still on the Suns roster on July 21, right after summer league ends, then his 2015-16 contract becomes fully guaranteed. I verified that guarantee date with the Suns front office the day after he signed the deal last spring.
Until then, McNeal's non-guaranteed contract could be converted into cap room for the Suns or for a trade partner (via his release). There are several teams facing luxury tax penalties who could use a non-guaranteed contract like McNeal's in exchange for one of their guaranteed ones. In extreme cases, like the New Jersey Nets, his $980,000 contract could equal three times that in actual cash savings for the team owner. The Nets have already agreed to a buyout with Deron Williams to save some cash, among other deals they've made recently.
So, for another six days at least, Jerel McNeal has some value as a trade chip for teams needing the cap space or the tax savings.
Short of a trade, expect the Suns to release McNeal right after Summer League. He has not performed well this summer, even being outplayed by Mickey McConnell and Mike James. In his defense, he's been miscast as a point guard. The Suns are loaded at shooting guard with Brandon Knight, Sonny Weems, Archie Goodwin and Devin Booker (and even P.J. Tucker), so McNeal's only shot to make it this year was in the third or fourth point guard role.
The Suns have done very well this offseason, the dalliance with LaMarcus Aldridge notwithstanding.
The Suns could rightly decide that they are done for now. They can still execute trades, of course, just limited to the salary-matching rules in place for most of the rest of the NBA. Once they've signed Knight, Weems, Price and Teletovic, they be an "over the cap" team, so the salary matching on trades must be within 150% going in and out.
Here's an example of what I mean: After signing all these players, the Suns could still trade Morris for another player making $4-12 million (within 150% on salaries), but would be prohibited from trading Jerel McNeal for a player making $6 million. Make sense?
Stay tuned to see if the Suns do anything interesting right before signing Weems to his contract.