Step 2: Clear the books
The Suns have a lot of deadweight to clear from the books this summer if they want to carve out space for a few impactful free agents. It’d be a major risk to do so before securing word or even an inkling that their top targets would sign on, but since we’re operating in an ideal offseason, let’s roll with it for the time being.
Phoenix enters the offseason with $112.5 million in total cap allocations, which includes the cap holds of its pending free agents (but does not include the contract of the team’s first round draft pick).
If the Suns renounce the rights to free agents like Troy Daniels ($6.2 million), Dragan Bender ($5.9 million) and Jamal Crawford ($1.6 million) while also waiving Jimmer Fredette ($2 million), that’s a significant chunk of change with $15.7 million freed up. However, with the 2019-20 NBA salary cap set at $109 million, further steps will need to be taken.
Once Tyler Johnson opts in for $19.2 million, the Suns can stretch and waive his contract to set his cap figure around $6 million, freeing up an additional $13 million in space. To get to max money, it’d be a matter of dumping both T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson to teams who can absorb them into cap space without sending any money back to Phoenix in return.
Again, this is all a tough ask, especially without a guarantee from a max-level free agent beforehand. However, Warren clearly has no place in this team’s future given his lack of defense, injury-proneness and the logjam on the wing. Jackson looks closer to a draft bust than the two-way terror he was supposed to be as a former No. 4 overall pick, with poor decision-making both on and off the court and while Johnson was solid in Phoenix last year, he’s best suited as a third guard off the bench.
If the Suns can find a way to dump their two young wings with upside onto teams with cap space (an admitted loss, given Warren’s value as a microwave scorer and Jackson’s original draft position), they should absolutely do so. At some point, it’s time to cut losses to make moves for the future.
In the process, they’d get to around $70 million on the books — $39 million from the salary cap, and $62 million from the luxury tax line at $132 million — with Richaun Holmes, Ray Spalding and George King still on the books to pad the end-of-rotation depth.