Second Tier Protected
Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, and Mikal Bridges
While I would listen to an argument that for some reason one or more of these players could be left unprotected, I’m not buying it. Jackson, Warren, and Bridges are by no means in the same tier as Booker and Ayton at the moment, but they are still all too young, have way too much upside, and losing any one of them for absolutely nothing would hurt the roster tremendously this coming season and potentially kill and and all chances at being competitive.
That said, they are all protected for different reasons.
Josh Jackson was the fourth overall pick just one year ago. While the first half of his rookie season (and this past Summer League) left much to be desired, during the second half of 2017-18 he was the second best player on the roster. There is zero reason to give up on him since his ceiling is so high and there is no reason to believe that his game won’t improve dramatically this year when playing next to a competent starting point guard in Brandon Knight (more on Knight in a moment).
T.J. Warren will either step into the reserve role and becoming a scoring monster off the bench or will continue to hold down the starting small forward fort should Jackson’s year not evolve as planned. And even though his new contract extension will kick in this season, it is by no means a bad contract especially for a player that projects to be a 20p and 7r per game player in his prime.
Mikal Bridges too should absolutely protected, not because of his projected play but because Phoenix just mortgaged some of their future in Miami’s unprotected 2021 first round pick just to get him. His age too (22) and four-years of college experience with a two-time NCAA National Champion makes him a tremendously valuable young player as he should begin reaching his prime much sooner than most rookies and therefore should be contributing to a winning basketball team if not right away, very quickly. While I personally wouldn’t be heart-broken if he was left unprotected, there isn’t a reason to on this roster and I believe he would be safe.