Everyone expected the Phoenix Suns to trot off the hardwood at the end of the postseason this year covered in orange and purple confetti, but instead, they crept back to their locker room while boos from their own fans rained down on them.
Phoenix possessed the best regular-season record in the NBA entering the 2022 playoffs, were fresh off an NBA Finals appearance from the last season, and wielded one of the deepest and most talented rosters across the league.
However, that all mattered not as the team drove deeper into the postseason.
After a tougher than expected opening series against the New Orleans Pelicans, the Suns started out their second round strong. They carved out a 2-0 lead over the Dallas Mavericks, but then allowed Luka Doncic and company to tie the series up. The Suns did bounce back in Game 5 to secure a 3-2 series lead, but then lost two straight in embarrassing fashion.
But even with Phoenix’s premature beginning to their 2022 offseason, they need to attack it all the same. Here’s a roadmap of how the organization will likely proceed.
Phoenix Suns 2022 Offseason: Pending Free Agents
Ayton represents the biggest question mark around this team. He remains just 23 years old and a solid player already. He averaged 17.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, and shot 63.0 percent from the field this year.
Those figures are more than respectable for a third option on a championship contending team. Ayton is a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer though, which means he could sign on for one more year with the Suns for $16 million, or another team could offer him a deal which Phoenix could then match.
Ayton has been rumored all year to want a max contract extension from Phoenix, which they neglected to give him unlike the other top rookies in his class last summer. Phoenix would like to keep him, as free agency and the trade market are unlikely to provide a better replacement, but doing so will clearly take some work.
McGee represented one of the NBA’s best backup centers this past season. He is a true veteran at 34 years old, but looks just as athletic and energized as ever.
McGee wasn’t that far off from Ayton as far as stats go. When he played 23 minutes or more in six games this year, he averaged 13.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. If Ayton leaves in free agency or a trade, McGee becomes more important. Phoenix likely prefers to see him back next year either way.
People forget Biyombo is only 29 years old even though he looks like he could be 40. If Phoenix misses on Ayton, or McGee, or both in free agency they could bring him back. Otherwise, it is unlikely he re-signs unless he accepts a veteran’s minimum salary.
Biyombo put up stats comparable to Ayton as well in this offense. In nine games where he played 25 minutes or more, he averaged 14.8. points and 9.9 rebounds per game.
Holiday played primarily as a third string point guard this past season. It is unlikely Phoenix brings him back as a restricted free agent, with his qualifying offer set at $5.8 million. As an unrestricted free agent, it is possible he comes back on a cheap deal though depending on his market value.
Payton battled with Holiday for third string point guard duties throughout the season. He now enters unrestricted free agency though, and remains unlikely to return unless he does so also on a dime.
Wainright actually played more than Aaron Holiday in the playoffs if you can believe that. He has potential as an older rookie to turn into a solid defensive role player off the bench. Phoenix may choose to accept his $1.8 million qualifying offer for next year.
Phoenix Suns 2022 Offseason: Contract Extensions
Bridges’ new deal kicks in next season for $21 million, so it will likely be difficult to carry Johnson, Ayton, Bridges, Paul, and Devin Booker all on $20 million+ deals. Phoenix obviously wants to lock him up long term, but will likely need to move some money around to do so this summer.
Phoenix Suns 2022 Offseason: NBA Draft
The Suns do not possess a pick in either round in the 2022 NBA Draft. The Oklahoma City Thunder own their first round pick (30th overall) and the Indiana Pacers own their second-round pick (58th overall).
A trade represents the only avenue that might lead Phoenix to some draft capital. They already carry some talented young layers though, assuming Booker, Ayton, Johnson, and Bridges all return for next season. With that said, the draft is not that important for them.
Phoenix Suns 2022 Offseason: The Big Trade
During the 2021-22 season, Ayton was presumably the only player unhappy, or somewhat unhappy with his role on the team. He averaged 29.5 minutes per game during the regular season—his lowest ever in his career.
In the Game 7 elimination bout vs Dallas, he played just 17 minutes, likely making him even more upset with the team. Overall, his strife with Phoenix seems to circle around the fact that he will always be the third option behind Paul and Booker—sometimes even being passed up by Johnson, Bridges, or Jae Crowder.
To make any exchange work, the Suns must conduct a sign-and-trade deal probably with a team looking to secure a young talent and part ways with some veteran pieces which might help Phoenix amidst their next title quest.