Suns missed massive opportunity that will haunt them at trade deadline

The Suns missed a massive opportunity in free agency.
Phoenix Suns, Royce O'Neale
Phoenix Suns, Royce O'Neale / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns have focused on improving their roster this summer, despite being well over the second tax apron. They drafted Ryan Dunn and Oso Ighodaro before adding Monte Morris and Mason Plumlee in free agency. The Suns finally got their point guard, added another big man, and found a bit of depth with limited draft capital and minimum contracts to offer. It was a job well done, but there was a missed opportunity.

Phoenix re-signed Royce O’Neale to a four-year contract worth $44 million. It was viewed as a slight overpay (subscription required), but the Suns had little leverage. The franchise traded for him before the deadline and was unable to offer more than a minimum contract to other free agents. They had O’Neale’s Bird rights, so bringing him back was the only answer for the Suns.

Phoenix had the opportunity to sign him to a shorter deal with a higher annual salary in hopes of flipping him for multiple pieces at the deadline. The Suns have their 2031 first-round draft pick plus a couple of second-rounders to trade. Giving O’Neale more would have been costly, but created an avenue to upgrade before Feb. 6.

Suns should have given Royce O’Neale more to trade him at the deadline

Phoenix could have followed the Pacers’ blueprint. They gave Bruce Brown a two-year $45 million contract in the 2023 offseason before flipping him as part of the Pascal Siakam trade. If the Suns worked out a team option for the 2025-26 season, several teams would have been willing to acquire a $20-plus million expiring contract before the deadline. Even a $14 million starting salary would have helped the Suns.

Giving O’Neale that much would have allowed the Suns to trade him for multiple pieces and avoid aggregating contracts in a trade. This deal would have added needed depth and given the franchise a serious shot at contention.

The Suns remain thin behind their Big 3. Grayson Allen, Jusuf Nurkic, Mason Plumlee, Monte Morris, and O’Neale figure to play crucial roles, but Phoenix cannot have an eight-man rotation all season. They need others to step up and could be scrambling when an injury strikes.

Every dollar they added to Royce O’Neale’s contract meant spending significantly more. The franchise has a $216 million payroll as is, but new owner Mat Ishbia has not been afraid to spend to improve his roster.

Giving O’Neale $20 million this season would have opened more trade avenues and allowed the Suns to trade him for multiple role players before the deadline. The chance is gone now and may have been the organization’s shot at building a true title contender out of this roster.

The Phoenix Suns have the star talent to compete for a championship, but their lack of depth haunted them last season. They added a few pieces this offseason. It is enough to vault them up the standings? Time will tell. If not, the Suns will regret the contract they gave Royce O’Neale in free agency.