The NBA Finals have yet to conclude, but Monday brought with it the next domino in what is sure to be an interesting offseason, with news that Fred VanVleet had declined the players option on his deal with the Toronto Raptors. In walking away from the final year, the point guard left over $22 million on the table, to see what he may be able to fetch on the open market.
It may be that VanVleet ends up back with the Raptors, although there was talk of him joining all manner of teams going way back last season, so that is far from a guarantee. What it does mean is that a legitimately good guard is now available and that, in theory, all 30 teams are in play for his services.
Could the Phoenix Suns get involved in the VanVleet sweepstakes and more importantly, is it in their best interests to do so?
Obviously making a play here is hard, because the Suns have little cap room to work with this summer. If Jae Crowder is being touted as a player they may look to bring back for another go with the organization, then attempting to add an actual All-Star to go with what they already have is never going to happen.
Only we know now that the roster the Suns have right now is not going to be the same as what they begin next season with. This is where it gets interesting. Current floor general, and all-time great, Chris Paul, has been discussed at length recently. All of the possible outcomes for him and the Suns can be found here, but the main point is that he could well be waived.
It is also possible he is waived and then has his contract stretched over five years, which suddenly creates some wiggle room. Still not enough to entice VanVleet and create a viable rotation around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, but it makes the situation more flexible. But what if Deandre Ayton is also moved?
The center has been spoken about by new head coach Frank Vogel as the team’s first and best line of defense next season, and he is. But the Portland Trail Blazers have long liked the look of Ayton, even if a Suns insider claims a trade is unlikely. He could be just the borderline All-Star that Damian Lillard wants to see join the team to make them better.
Perhaps Lillard is moved, and the Trail Blazers go with Ayton, Shaedon Sharpe, Anfernee Simons and the third pick in this year’s draft to go into a rebuild. We are not here to discuss whether or not the Trail Blazers should do these things, and it may be that the insider is correct and no deal will happen. It is unlikely the Suns can create a bidding war for Ayton, but they wouldn’t have to.
All they need is one other franchise who strikes out on their own top targets this summer, to get desperate and see Ayton as the solution to their problems. This happens every year, it is just hard to see in this moment because every team has the best intentions for the offseason and believes they’ll get the guys they want. When that doesn’t happen, Ayton won’t look so bad to others.
Suddenly if both Paul and Ayton are gone, an opportunity would exist to sign VanVleet to close to the kind of money he would want. It would also allow the Suns to bring back the likes of Jock Landale and Terrence Ross if they wanted to, and still have enough money left to go after a couple of the above average free agents who would be left.
The loss of Ayton would obviously be felt, but the makeup of this roster would suit VanVleet better than a lot of other teams in the league. He would be the third option offensively, and would get a ton of open looks all year long. With the greatest of respect to the player, he is not averaging 20.3 points while hoisting up the offense of the Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets or San Antonio Spurs.
The Suns have already shown they can thrive having a small lead guard on the floor like Paul, and VanVleet is a decade younger. Ayton was the reason for this a lot of the time, but Durant still gives plenty on the defensive end and it would be up to coach Vogel to find more of the Torrey Craig types who work hard and make up for the fact VanVleet would be picked on because of his size.
VanVleet is also 29-years-old, and is another player who is in his prime and wants to win right now. The Suns can’t wait around to see if another guard comes up via trade six months from now. Point guards in their prime who have won a championship do not come along often, and the organization simply cannot waste any of Durant’s time in Arizona.
He would also represent an ideal replacement for Paul with this current roster. A player with experience who still has plenty of miles left on his body and who would not need any time to adjust to the levels required for a deep playoff run. This wouldn’t be adding a rookie to come in and learn from Paul, who could hand over the reins gradually.
It would be bringing in a durable player who averaged the second most minutes per game last season (36.7). As a parting point, perhaps the Suns can work out a sign-and-trade with the Raptors, that could yet include Ayton. It is not easily done, but if the Suns have a chance to add VanVleet, and waive Paul in the process, there is enough of a reason there to do it.