The sense throughout the second half of last season and leading into the offseason was that the Phoenix Suns wanted to upgrade the power forward position.
With the news of a potential Chris Paul trade being discussed, that seems even more obvious now, as Kelly Oubre Jr.’s required departure in a potential CP3 deal would leave behind quite an opening. That also indicates there’s a certain shift taking place into a certified win-now mode, and upgrading power forward would be the next move, an easier one to make in free agency pitches with Chris Paul in tow.
Despite the 8-0 run in the bubble, it’s unlikely the Suns would roll with just Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson at forward. Even if they were to add another wing through the NBA Draft, that’s a bit light.
Luckily for the Suns, in a bad free agent class, its strongest position is at power forward. We’ve covered three names extensively that are all fairly different players: Jerami Grant, Davis Bertans and Christian Wood.
Those guys seem to be in the right stages of their careers to fit with where the Suns are at being a team on the rise. With that in mind, there are a couple of veterans also in the market that could be of interest. Again, if Paul’s the big move, these guys would now likely be of higher interest.
If it’s one of these six names, I should remind you that would require the Suns to renounce Aron Baynes and Dario Saric, as well as decline Frank Kaminsky’s team option. Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro believes Saric will be back, so with his $10.4 million cap hold, that would make it tricky to squeeze in one of these names.
Either way, for the sake of completion, let’s cover the rest of those names to paint the entire picture of eight-figure targets for the Suns in free agency at the 4 spot.
Gallinari’s a tough sell. First of all, his market is going to be competitive, as he’s flat-out one of the best players available this offseason. Despite the lack of teams with cap space, sign-and-trade possibilities are still there.
So is Gallinari a snug enough fit for the Suns to make it worthwhile in pursuing him? Not exactly.
Gallinari, 32, is a career 42.7% shooter from the field, and as he shot over 41% from three-point range on high volume the last two years, he’s a bucket-getter.
Now, Gallinari provides excellent spacing while being an extra offensive weapon for skilled teams, but what would the Suns exactly get out of that? They have two guards that need the ball in their hands, plus Deandre Ayton’s touches to consider.
While Gallinari’s a smart team defender, he’s not going to give a defensive boost. And he’s always hurt, playing over 70 games in a season just twice in 12 years and not since 2013 (he played 62 of 72 games last season).
He’s a very good player that would surely make the Suns better, but there are smarter ways for Phoenix to go about adding pieces around Booker and Ayton. Gallinari’s precision as a shooter is the only real positive and definitive difference in him stylistically from someone like Oubre or T.J. Warren. He’s a better player, sure, but it’s hard to imagine the Suns would be able to maximize him with the offense going through others first.
Gallinari, of course, played with Paul in Oklahoma City. Paul has raved about Gallinari as a teammate and the Italian has reciprocated the compliments, saying Paul is the best leader he’s ever played with. That should be mentioned, and again, even if the fit isn’t perfect, he’s still a great player that would take Phoenix up a notch.
The market for Millsap is going to be interesting to monitor. The 35-year-old was a four-time All-Star in Atlanta, but in his three seasons for Denver since, has largely been a disappointment.
It was quickly realized that instead of Millsap being the third star alongside Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, he would be more of a veteran role player putting a young team in the right spots to grow while plugging in the required gaps. Remember, Denver signed him to a three-year, $90 million deal.
Despite his production dropping, Millsap was a huge part of the Nuggets’ growth. This season, Millap had a 9.3 net rating, by far the highest on Denver and one of the best in the league overall.
That sounds like the right guy for the Suns, and also lots of playoff-hungry teams.
Millsap is an effective defender still at this age, even though more of it is about team defense than his overall impact on the game. On the offensive end, he still shot 48.2% from the field last year, and his three-point shooting is close to 40% the last two seasons on roughly three attempts per game.
In the same style of Dario Saric, Millsap can be a “connector” of sorts for an offense, as he knows what the right play is and can take some dribbles to make it if necessary.
A point on longevity has to be presented, though, as he turns 36 in February. There’s going to be at least some source of hesitation to sign Millsap for more than one year entering his 15th season.
The big question is how much he goes for. Millsap will have lots of teams over the cap that want to give him the full mid-level exception, at $9.3 million per year.
If he asks for a larger deal, which he should, what team would be willing to pay up? Is it a team like the Suns, for something like two years and $26 million? Does he want more than that?
If the Suns prioritize reliability over anything in a power forward upgrade, even if Millsap’s probably a year or two too old to inspire 100% confidence, he’s likely the best bet.
Bouncing off what was said above on Millsap, an Ibaka pursuit would come from the same thought process.
The difference is that while Millsap is more of a glue guy in this stage of his career, Ibaka is still a player who can play at a high level on some nights, particularly offensively.
Ibaka averaged a career-high (!) 15.4 points per game last season for Toronto at the age of 30 and added 8.2 rebounds a night. His scoring also comes on strong efficiency, with a field goal percentage above 50% in each of the last two seasons.
He has proven himself as a reliable three-point shooter if teams are asking for low volume, as his career numbers are now at 36% on 1.8 attempts per game after posting 38.5% on 3.3 a game last year.
But where Ibaka thrives is in the midrange, where he’s continually been one of the league’s most efficient bigs. He hit 45% of his shots there last season, a great mark, and that’s actually down from his 50% and 51% numbers the two seasons before that, respectively.
Simply put, Ibaka is a very good pick-and-pop big.
The Raptors have had one of the league’s best-ever defenses the past two years, good enough to win a championship a year ago, and Ibaka was prominently featured in it. A slight red flag, however, is that Ibaka had easily the lowest net rating among all Raptors rotation players at 3.1, and his 105.5 defensive rating was high, comparatively speaking. While he’s still a decent bet to be a plus on that end, Ibaka not at all the difference-maker you’d believe him to be.
Like Millsap, Ibaka can play a role as a key cog that teams need in order to be great. Again, that’s why he’s going to have a ton of suitors, and the question is the same with him of how far beyond that $9.3 million MLE a team with cap space would be willing to go.
And also like Gallinari, I’m not sure the Suns are the best fit. What Ibaka does best is what Ayton primarily does now as a screen-setter and scoring off that, particularly as a shooter from the midrange. It’s a bit clunkier than you’d like.