Phoenix Suns free agency: Big-man targets who fit and who don’t

Sacramento Kings, Hassan Whiteside (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
Sacramento Kings, Hassan Whiteside (Photo by Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports) /

With Phoenix Suns free agents-to-be Cameron Payne, Torrey Craig, Langston Galloway, E’Twaun Moore and Frank Kaminsky, the Suns will have some flexibility on spending and would be well-served to seek a backup big with their primary stack of money.

Chris Paul’s return, if that happens, dramatically restricts the financial capital available, so the Suns will have to be selective – or proactive if GM James Jones shakes things up via trade.

In any event, the offseason makeover begins Thursday at the draft — where the Suns have the No. 29 overall pick and could find immediate help with scoring and playmaking— and continues in August with the dawn of 2021 free agency.

The Phoenix Suns should make a backup big their top priority in the free agent market, and here are a few names to pursue or take a pass.

Serge Ibaka: This move is dependent on Ibaka opting out of his current deal with the L.A. Clippers. He did not play in the postseason because of a back injury but is capable of strong rebounding and rim-protecting defense when healthy. He’s not a traditional five, though, and his offensive contributions would have to trump his defensive deficiencies.

He’s only 31 years old and you can’t teach height (Ibaka is a 7-footer).

Determination: Pursue him.

Hassan Whiteside: We’ve been calling for him since before the 2021 trade deadline, and things are no less desperate now. With Dario Saric on the shelf until February 2022 or later, the Suns risk overloading Deandre Ayton. So, while limiting Ayton’s regular-season minutes is important, it’s also important to finish among the top four in the West to guarantee home court in the first round of next season’s playoffs.

Whiteside is still a potentially top-level defender and rebounder. The fact that he’s never going to be much of a threat as a scorer doesn’t matter for this group – assuming Chris Paul returns. The Phoenix Suns have scorers; they need help on defense. Whiteside could be had at a reasonable price.

Determination: Pursue him.

Andre Drummond: We’ll make this quick. Drummond, who is likely to pursue a deal with the Lakers, showed his limitations during LA’s brief postseason appearance. The Phoenix Suns don’t need a guy who may still believe he needs to be a big part of the offense —  and there likely will be somewhat of a bidding war that would drive Drummond’s price too high anyway.

Determination: Pass.

Also in the “pass” category for the Phoenix Suns are Richaun Holmes, who is terrific but has priced himself out of the Suns’ plans; Jarrett Allen, who also will make up to $18 million next season and is likely to return to Cleveland; Enes Kanter, whose defensive liabilities eliminate any pursuit.

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Potential lower-end “pursue” targets are the undersized Montrezl Harrell and Paul Millsap, both of whom may be available at the midlevel exception next month.

Millsap, especially, would provide toughness and Jae Crowder-like veteran leadership for a likely playoff run.