O.J. Mayo signs with Dallas, Courtney Lee the next option?


Even before New Orleans officially matched the Suns’ offer sheet to Eric Gordon, the Suns set their sights on O.J. Mayo by bringing the free-agent shooting guard in for a visit on Friday.

Now it’s time to go to a Plan C after both Mayo himself and Mavs owner Mark Cuban tweeted that the former Grizzly has become a Maverick. ESPNDallas’s Jeff Caplan corroborated those tweets by reporting that Mayo and the Mavs have agreed on a multi-year deal, citing a source with knowledge of the negotiations.

I have not spent much time analyzing Dallas’ cap situation, but Caplan reported the Mavs had $4 mil of cap space to offer. Even if this ends up being a sign-and-trade with Memphis to get Mayo more money, this move is surprising considering Dallas’ widely known desire to sign one-year deals to keep their books as clear as possible for another run at a superstar free agent next summer.

Gambo had reported that Mayo wanted at least $8 million from the Suns so it certainly feels like this must be more than a straight signing into cap space if Caplan’s figures are correct. The Suns were very wise to pass on Mayo at that $8 mil price as I have been worried about a deal for him clogging the Suns’ cap with no true star players.

With Mayo off the board, I assume the Suns will be spending some time Tuesday speaking with Courtney Lee’s agent. Although the Suns would become Houston Rockets West with such a signing, Lee is the best young shooting guard available by far.

The 26-year-old is known as a quality defender and he has hit 40 percent of his treys in three of his four NBA seasons.

Obviously Lee is more role player than star, but he would be a real nice fit for this Suns team if the contract numbers are right, especially since he is already used to playing with the team’s new point guard and power forward.

It’s kind of funny that Lee is the Suns’ best option at this point because the Rockets renounced his restricted rights largely to free up as much cap space as possible for a major move but also because they drafted shooting guard Jeremy Lamb. If Houston had not moved one spot ahead of the Suns to take Lamb, perhaps he would be providing wing depth for Phoenix and the Suns would have no need for Lee.

As things stand now, the Suns only have one natural wing on their roster in Jared Dudley. Surely Michael Beasley will be a small forward on this team considering the team’s glut of power forwards, but they really need to sign at least one and probably two wings to round out the roster.

By my math, the Suns have about $44.5 million in committed salaries and thus another $13.5 million left to spend on the free agent market after the Scola/Childress swap. Now this number could be a bit off depending on whether Scola’s contract will start at $4.1 million and whether Dragic and Beasley start where I project them to, but in any case the Suns have a nice helping of change left to spend.

The past few days, I have been a proponent of front loading a deal for a shooting guard to preserve future cap space, but after reading up on Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ I realized this isn’t really possible to a degree that would make it useful. The Suns could offer the same 4.5 percent decrease that they can offer as an increase to their other free agents, but even then starting Lee at say $9 million would result in paying him $8.6 million a season over three years, which means that the high first-year salary would only lead to slightly lower but still way too high second- and third-year salaries.

You may remember that crazy Nick Collison deal from a few years back in which OKC frontloaded his extension to save future cap space, but not only was that done under the old CBA it was also an extension for a player already on the roster and it was done in the form of a signing bonus involving room the Thunder had to spare under the cap. I do not believe the Suns could do a deal like that in unrestricted free agency, but in any case it seems extremely unlikely that it would actually happen.

In an ideal world I would like the Suns to keep as much of that approximately $13.5 mil of cap space dry for next summer when combined with Hakim Warrick’s team option that will be declined and Bassy Telfair’s expiring deal, they can once again be major players on the open market.

Since they so desperately need a wing who can play major minutes this season it makes tons of sense to offer Lee more money than anybody else will pay on a one-year deal (like $8 or 9 mil) and then try to get Lopez to sign for the qualifying offer of $4 mil. Then the Suns could sign another wing like Michael Redd for the $2.575 room mid-level exception.

Or if Lopez finds a better offer, perhaps pay another wing his aforementioned salary slot and find a backup center for the room mid-level.

If Lee is Plan C for the Suns, then apparently Shannon Brown is Plan D, as it has been reported that the team is still talking to him. I prefer Redd to Brown and I vastly prefer Lee to either if that’s the choice, but if the Suns do go for Redd or Brown it’s essential they only sign them for only one year (Brown wants a multi-year deal).

The Suns are almost too deep at power forward and point guard, fine at center with Marcin Gortat likely to play heavy minutes and Channing Frye lurking as a backup even if Lopez doesn’t return but terribly thin at the wings.

It’s obvious where the Suns must spend their remaining free-agent dollars, so now we will see whether they can reach common ground with Lee or circle back around to their former wings, Brown and Redd.

As much as I prefer Lee, it does not make sense to tie up too many future assets on him if he won’t take a one-year deal.

How Lee played with his former Rockets teammates

According to the NBA’s stats tool, the Rockets outscored opponents by 3.0 points per 100 possessions with both Scola and Lee on the floor compared to 0.6 with Scola but no Lee. Similarly, the Rockets with Dragic and Lee outscored the opposition by 2.9 per 100 (including a solid 101.8 defensive rating) and were 0.9 per 100 better with just Dragic but no Lee. Overall the Rockets outscored opponents by 0.6 points per 100 on the season.

Both Scola (46.5 percent compared to 51.4) and Dragic (44.9 percent compared to 49.2) shot much worse with Lee on the floor than when he sat, which is strange since he is a floor-spacing three-point shooter.