The Phoenix Suns are in need of a point guard of the future. Fred VanVleet might be exactly who they are looking for.
Of course they were tanking on purpose, but one of the primary reasons that the Phoenix Suns were so bad in 2017-18 was because of the fact that once Eric Bledsoe decided he no longer wanted to be here, the Suns were without a competent point guard to lead the team. You can pick and choose who your favorite point guard was last season, but in the end, while several of them had some good games and hot streaks, none of them were really any good, and none of them will be on the roster next season.
Brandon Knight coming back helps the Suns immediately as he is an immediate upgrade over nothing. Many Suns fans believe that Knight actually could be the point guard of the future if he stays healthy and proves to all of his doubters with his play this coming season that he is a good player in the NBA. If he plays with a chip on his shoulder and even comes close to earning the near $15M that Phoenix is paying him justifying what they spent to acquire him, not only will he be a tremendous upgrade, but he will electrify the fanbase.
However, because he is coming off of an entirely missed season while recovering from a torn ACL, not only might he not be the player that the Suns thought they were trading for when they acquired him in 2014, but he might actually succumb to the same or similar injury, leaving the Suns without a starting quality point guard to guide the team.
The Phoenix Suns themselves might not trust that he can be a starting point guard, something that is apparent in that they seem to already be looking for a replacement elsewhere.
The first possible replacement is draftee Elie Okobo whom the Suns selected 31st overall. With the potential to be a good scorer, there is the possibility that he could grow and develop into the franchise point guard of the future – as many fans of his believe will happen.
Yet he was still a second round pick for a reason so the franchise putting their hopes in him would not be wise. He may not even really be able to make an impact in 2018-19 anyway and could take a year or two to acclimate to the NBA and develop his game.
In the meantime, the Suns still need a solid starting point guard so they can start giving themselves a chance to win.
The Phoenix Suns have also been rumored as a possible destination for Lonzo Ball should the Lakers have to trade him to acquire any of the potential new big three in LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George. It seems that the San Antonio Spurs might not want anything to do with Ball, and if LeBron does end up with the Lakers, it doesn’t make sense for Lonzo to remain there because his style is that of a ball-handler and distributor, which is of course LeBron’s forte.
But while Ball might too seem like a viable fit in Phoenix, it is possible that Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough has moved on from his quest to acquire Ball that began with the 2017 NBA Draft, and the Suns themselves might not have any interest in him either – if the possibility of even Acquiring Ball even exists as it is.
This then brings us to restricted free agency and Fred VanVleet.
An undrafted signee of the Toronto Raptors in 2016, VanVleet has emerged as a quality point guard with very good offensive instincts and a great shot.
Here is a highlight package that includes about a minute of VanVleet tearing up the Suns.
Having backed up Kyle Lowery for his two seasons in the Association, VanVleet has never started a regular season game, although his 2017-18 statistics show that he probably should be.
His 2017-18 per-36 minutes were quite good with averages of 15.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists while shooting 41.4% from beyond the arc. His role in Toronto is similar to that of Manu Ginobili where he may not be a starter, but he ends games. Of the five playoff games that he appeared in after returning from a shoulder injury (the final game of the Washington Wizards series and the four game sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers), VanFleet finished the three games with scores of 10 points or less, being pulled late only in the two Cavaliers’ blowouts.
If VanVleet has any drawback, it is his size. He is a small player. At only 6’0″ and 195 pounds, he isn’t the tall point guard that seems to fit what the Suns are generally looking for. Okobo is 6’2″, and Lonzo Ball is 6’6″.
His height doesn’t seem to dissuade him from defense, though, as he has a career 106 Defensive Rating and 2.0 steals his rookie season per-36min and 1.6 last season.
VanVleet isn’t just a decent player, he was counted on to play side-by-side with Lowry, the far more experienced and expensive point guard.
So why would the Raptors give up on a 24-year-old up-and-coming point guard who plays as well as he does and should be the air apparent to Kyle Lowry?
Because the Toronto Raptors have zero cap space and are actually already scheduled to be paying the luxury tax before they even re-sign VanVleet.
According to Spotrac.com, the Raptors have the second least amount of practical cap space in the NBA at -$25.5+ million behind only the Cleveland Cavaliers’ $40.8+ million. The Raptors are one of only three teams that are currently within the luxury tax threshold, already facing over $4 million next season with 12 players already under contract before re-signing VanVleet.
To make matters worse, they have the aging Lowry (who reports say Toronto has been trying to trade this offseason) set to make $31M this coming season and over $33M in 2019-20. Depending on that VanVleet is offered, they’ll have well over $40 million allocated if they do decide to match it.
If Toronto cannot move at least Lowry, (or DeMar DeRozen who is set to make $27,739,975 in each of the next three years), then they might not have the financial impetus at all to re-sign VanVleet, a player would would still be a backup even if he was finishing games, forcing the Raptors to pay many millions in luxury tax penalties.
Any team could swoop in and make an offer to VanVleet, but with their own cap space and the ability to create more, the Suns might be able to make one that no one, including the Raptors, can match.
Could they offer $10M? $12M? Even $15M?
Granted $15M goes a lot further now than it once did with the hyper-inflated salary cap, but $15M (which could be where Toronto just absolutely cannot go), is a lot of money for a point guard that looks really good, although who has never been a starter (he has one playoff start).
Brandon Knight would presumably still be on the roster for at least part of this coming season until he proves his health and talents and is a commodity that teams might be willing to trade for.
In the meantime, the Suns would have two point guards on the roster for less than what the Toronto Raptors are paying for one (Knight and VanVleet versus Lowry), with VanVleet the potentially affordable point guard of the future ready to take the reigns as the franchise’s point alongside Devin Booker for many years to come.
The Phoenix Suns might be waiting out the trade possibility of another player like Lonzo Ball before they make a decision on VanVleet, but free agency begins at 9PM AZ on July 1, so we might know who the Suns’ point guard of the future is before next week.