As the NBA’s summer free agency continues to cool down, there are plenty of reasons the Suns should feel optimistic about making another run to the Finals in 2021-22.
With the exception of wing Torrey Craig, who signed with Indiana, and center Dario Saric, whose offseason ACL surgery will likely relegate him to spectator status the entire season, Phoenix will have back all of their major pieces from last year. They also managed to fortify their bench, adding 3-point specialist Landry Shamet (39.7% for his career), 27-year-old point guard and Knicks castoff Elfrid Payton, and journeyman center JaVale McGee, who was signed at the behest of Chris Paul and whose massive 7-foot-6 wingspan alone should be useful in Saric’s absence.
But that doesn’t mean the Phoenix brass can just call it a day and sit poolside drinking margaritas while they wait for the season to begin (October 20). There’s still more work to be done, namely finding a 15th man to fill out the roster (plus two two-way players).
It’s no secret that the Suns are thin inside and looking for additional help at power forward. Toronto All-Star Pascal Siakam seemed to be in the running for a moment, but it appears he’s no longer an option. Same goes for most of the other big names amongst the power forward crowd. There are, however, a few viable options still remaining, with two in particular seeming like good fits for Phoenix.
Millsap Tops List of Remaining Power Forwards
Four-time All-Star Paul Millsap is certainly at the top of any remaining power forward list. The bruising veteran, who spent the last four seasons in Denver after four in Atlanta and seven before that in Utah, is without a team as he enters his 16th campaign, but not without interest.
The 6-foot-7, 260 pound Millsap has been linked to the Bulls, Clippers, Warriors and Nets, and with good reason. Though last year was a further notch down in terms of production — averaging for the Nuggets his fewest minutes (20.8) and fewest points (9.0) since his second year in the league, while registering a career low in rebounds (4.7) — Millsap’s leadership, career 34.3% from three and willingness to bang inside off the bench are still valuable commodities.
The question with Millsap though, at this point in his career, is how exactly how valuable. Last season he re-signed with the Nuggets for one year and $10 million, and in the previous three seasons in Denver he averaged $30 million annually, according to Spotrac. The best the Suns could offer is a portion of their non-taxpaying exception, presumably somewhere south of $5.9 million so as to avoid being hard-capped for the season. That’s quite a monetary slide for Millsap, who turned 36 in February, but it seems commiserate with his production at this point and could be enough for a guy whose made over $192 million in his career and is looking to nab a ring before he hangs ‘em up.
In Phoenix he would be a nice substitution for starter Jae Crowder, both able to apply muscle defensively and shoot from three, and he and Crowder would likely share the floor at times when the Suns go small or Ayton finds himself in foul trouble. Millsap also brings a level of back-to-the-basket consistency that Crowder lacks, meaning Suns coach Monty Williams could potentially run some sets through Millsap on the block.
Patterson Brings Range and Reliability
32-year-old Patrick Patterson would not have anything near the impact of Millsap, but as the 15th roster spot, the Suns could do a lot worse. Last season with the Clippers, Patterson played in just 38 games, but he was a useful role player when L.A. needed him, splitting time at center and power forward following a mid-March back injury to Serge Ibaka. For the year, Patterson averaged 5.2 points, 2.0 rebounds and 0.8 assists.
Like Millsap, Patterson is comfortable from behind the arc, connecting on 35.7% of his 3-point attempts in 2020-21 and 36.9% for his career. Over a stretch of four games at the end of March, which included wins over San Antonio, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, Patterson went 9-for-12 from the field and 7-for-10 from three.
Regarded as an exceedingly positive influence in the locker room, the Kentucky product has also shown a willingness to stay within his role and not overextend, as illustrated by the fact that he committed only 11 total turnovers last season and has averaged below one turnover in all but two of his 11 seasons.
While Patterson, who would likely be signed to a veteran’s league minimum of $2.6 million, is no longer a player who can be called upon in the playoffs (he saw nary a minute in 19 Clippers playoff games last season) the Suns could benefit from having Patterson eat up minutes during the regular season while maintaining an additional threat from long-distance.