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.
Sonny Weems and Ronnie Price
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.
So why does the timing matter?
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.