PHOENIX, ARIZONA – APRIL 18: Kevin Durant #35 and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns during the … [+] second half of Game Two of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Footprint Center on April 18, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Clippers 123-109. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
While other NBA contenders pivoted toward long-term cost savings this offseason, the Phoenix Suns doubled down on their star-laden model. After acquiring Kevin Durant ahead of the February trade deadline, they shipped nearly every remaining draft pick they had to the Washington Wizards for Bradley Beal in June.
That will make the Suns the first major litmus test as to which methods of roster construction are viable under the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement.
The new CBA sought to increase leaguewide parity by introducing harsh penalties for the highest-spending teams. Teams that are more than $17.5 million above the luxury-tax line didn’t have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception this offseason, can’t receive players via sign-and-trade and can’t sign players on the buyout market if they were earning more than the $12.4 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception before getting waived.
The Suns now have nearly $163 million tied up between Durant ($47.6 million), Beal ($46.7 million), Devin Booker ($36.0 million) and Deandre Ayton ($32.5 million) alone. That all but guaranteed they’d go over the $182.8 million second apron upon filling out the rest of their roster, which meant they could only offer minimum-salary contracts to free agents.
That didn’t stop them from cleaning up in free agency, though. While they didn’t make an impact splash like Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks or Max Strus, they scooped up a number of notable role players in the opening hours of free agency, including Yuta Watanabe, Keita Bates-Diop and Drew Eubanks. They later added Eric Gordon and Bol Bol on minimum deals as well.
Other teams will be keeping a close eye on the new-look Suns this coming season. If their all-in deals for Durant and Beal deliver their first championship in franchise history, they might spawn imitators moving forward. But if their formula falls short, it could deter teams from going with such a top-heavy approach.
There’s reason to believe the Suns’ gamble might pay off. Although Durant and Booker played in only eight regular-season games together last year, the Suns outscored opponents by 15.9 points per 100 possessions with that duo on the floor. In the playoffs, the two combined to average nearly 63 points per game on 53.3% shooting overall and 42.9% shooting from three-point range.
Beal is coming off two relatively disappointing seasons, but he averaged more than 30 points per game with the Wizards in both 2019-20 and 2020-21. Adding another three-level scorer alongside Durant and Booker should give the Suns a top-five offense this year and could make them nearly unguardable in the playoffs. Durant, Booker and Beal each routinely command double-teams, but it’s impossible to send additional help at all three.
That’s the bullish perspective on the Suns, but there’s also reason to doubt whether their Big Four model is sustainable beyond this season.
After playing all 82 games in both 2017-18 and 2018-19, Beal has missed at least 12 games in each of the past four seasons. Durant missed the entire 2019-20 campaign after tearing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals, and he has played only 137 games over the past three seasons combined. Booker missed 14 games in 2021-22 and 29 games last season, too.
If any of them miss extended time in the regular season, it’s unclear whether the Suns have enough depth to stay afloat in the cutthroat Western Conference.
The Suns could always pivot before the February trade deadline and flip Ayton for multiple depth pieces. According to longtime insider Marc Stein, they nearly traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Tim Hardaway Jr., Richaun Holmes and JaVale McGee leading up to the 2023 NBA draft, but “the Suns balked at McGee’s inclusion.”
That framework “initially held appeal to the Suns,” according to Stein,” because it would have given them two players they like in Hardaway and Holmes who could plug into a rotation with numerous vacancies” around Durant, Booker and Beal. However, they’ve since decided to move forward with Ayton on the roster, as they believe his value to them “is at an all-time high with the additions of Beal and Durant,” according to Turner Sports’ Chris Haynes.
During his introductory press conference, new Suns head coach Frank Vogel said he thought Ayton “can be one of the best centers in the league.” Ayton showed that type of upside during the Suns’ march to the 2021 NBA Finals, but he’s been far more inconsistent over the past two seasons.
With Durant, Booker and Beal dominating touches on offense, Ayton might be a relative non-factor on that end of the floor. If he allows that to affect his defensive effort, the Suns could eventually decide to trade him for multiple rotation players.
They’ll likely have to make that decision by the February trade deadline. After the end of the 2023-24 regular season, teams above either salary-cap apron can take back no more than 100% of the salary they send out in a trade. Teams above the second apron also won’t be allowed to aggregate contracts in a trade, send out cash in a trade or sign-and-trade one of their own free agents to receive another player’s contract in return.
Regardless of what they do with Ayton, the Suns figure to be over the second apron in 2024-25 as well. They could find themselves in a similar spot next offseason, needing to reload their supporting cast with players on minimum-salary contracts. They’d be far more limited in the types of Ayton trades they could make, too.
If the Suns get off to a hot start and cement themselves as a championship contender, they might decide to stay all-in for now and worry about the Ayton dilemma later. However, the upcoming second-apron restrictions will loom large over them from now until the trade deadline, particularly if they stumble out of the gates.
Other teams will be paying close attention, too. The sustainability of Big Three and Big Four models is one of the biggest unanswered questions about the new CBA.
How the Suns fare this season—and what they decide to do with Ayton—could influence whether other teams take the same approach moving forward.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NBA.com, PBPStats, Cleaning the Glass or Basketball Reference. All salary information via Spotrac or RealGM. All odds via FanDuel Sportsbook.
Source link : https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryantoporek/2023/09/12/the-phoenix-suns-will-be-a-litmus-test-for-the-nbas-new-cba/
Author : Bryan Toporek
Publish date : 2023-09-12 11:00:00
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