The Phoenix Suns have a small but important cadre of free agents whenever the 2019-2020 season ends, who will they keep and who will walk?
With Devin Booker on a max contract and many players – five – on their first contract, the reality is the Phoenix Suns don’t have a huge free-agent class heading into the offseason. However, the decisions to make are critical for the team.
While the re-signing of Aron Baynes, Dario Saric, and Jevon Carter – the Suns’ three unrestricted free agents – won’t make the Suns Champions, they all played a major role in what was an improved win total over the previous season. Beyond that trio, the Suns have a team option on Cheick Diallo this summer and only have partial guarantees on Elie Okobo’s 20-21 contract. Note, all contracts are based on Basketball Reference for the Phoenix Suns.
Interestingly, all three unrestricted free agents were acquired via trade around the draft at the start of the official James Jones tenure. At the time, the moves were ones creating professionalism within the team. Carter brought defense and anything above class clown would be an upgrade over Josh Jackson. Baynes and Saric were part of their trade down where the team acquired Ty Jerome and Cam Johnson. All three had one year left on their respective contracts and are now free agents, so what will James Jones do?
With Ricky Rubio entrenched as the starting point guard heading into the next season, the real question in the backcourt is who back-ups the Spaniard – as he really needs his minutes managed. That context bodes well for Carter, however, existing contracts do not. Ty Jerome was one of the first-round picks by the club last year bouncing between minutes in the G-League and limited action in the Association. However, as a first-round pick, on guaranteed money who is establishing himself as leader, Jerome not Carter has the first chance to back-up Rubio.
This leaves the team with Okobo’s partial guarantee and Carter. While Okobo is younger and was drafted by the team, it was the previous leadership and head-to-head Carter outperformed the young Frenchmen. According to the statistics, Carter averaged more points, rebounds, and steals, while having fewer turnovers and shooting a better across the field goal, free throw, and 3-point percentages. While Okobo averaged more assists, Carter beats Okobo in every other category and is far and away the stronger defender. The eyes and the statistics tell us Carter is battling with Jerome, but finances may say otherwise.
Dario Saric and Aron Baynes
I’ve put Baynes and Saric together because they essentially do the same thing for the Suns, provide some veteran inside presence on defense while working to stretch the floor with some outside shooting on offense. Unfair or not, injuries – including their own – and the suspension of Deandre Ayton meant both men were asked to do more than anyone anticipated. Both made major contributions across the season, particularly Baynes early during the suspension when his health was optimum, and his 3-point shot was on.
However, as the season went on, Saric proved the more reliable of the two players. I’ve long been a supporter of the motto, “The best ability is availability,” and Saric was a lot more available than Baynes was. Yes, Baynes was asked to start at center, but he wasn’t guarding Moses Malone or Patrick Ewing on a nightly basis here. Despite being banged up himself, Saric played in 58 games, 16 more than Baynes, and third most on the team behind Bridges and Booker. Baynes proves a bit more scoring and shoots marginally better, but Saric is the better rebounder and headier player as seen in his higher steals and assists, which can help in the half-court.
That said, neither player may be back with the team and neither may want to be back. Baynes is 33 years old already and can be a legitimate floor spreader for a contending team. Assuming Deandre Ayton plays the full season, Baynes’ opportunities may be limited because it has been established that “Bayton” did not work out.
Saric, on the other hand, is a heady player who can contribute across the season, but then again there is nothing that he does great. A good glue player who can fit into almost any system with his basketball IQ means he would be a nice add coming off the bench for a contender.
The bottom line is none of the three are likely to be back when the next season begins and the Suns are about to come into some major cap space.