Phoenix's free agency batting average took another hit Thursday when Philadelphia guard John Salmons chose a bit more money and more playing time in Toronto over the Suns and OK'd a sign-and-trade deal to the Raptors.
Phoenix had been courting Salmons, who at 6-foot-6 could have filled both the backup shooting and point guard roles for the Suns, for about a week and felt they had a deal done Sunday with a second-round pick and their $3.6 million trade exception going to the 76ers.
But former Phoenix general manager Bryan Colangelo, who has been battling the Suns for several players as he tries to rebuild the Raptors with an up-tempo, Phoenix-like style, had enough money under the salary cap to offer Salmons just over $1 million more than the five-year, $22 million deal the Suns presented.
Salmons also gets to stay much closer to his Philadelphia roots and fight for a starting position on the Raptors, although Toronto also signed two-time Euroleague MVP Anthony Parker to a three-year deal to play the shooting guard spot.
"John had two great choices and chose Toronto based on a variety of factors," Salmons' agent Joel Bell told the Philadelphia Daily News on Thursday. "He wanted to think through all the possibilities before he reached a decision."
The Suns figured to move quickly in the offseason to fill out their roster with both rotation players and reserves. But after trading away both of their first-round picks to pool money in an effort to re-sign free agent Tim Thomas, Thomas chose a longer, richer deal from the Clippers.
Free agents like Detroit's Lindsey Hunter and Utah's Matt Harpring signed deals to stay with their teams, while others like Bobby Jackson (New Orleans) and Speedy Claxton (Atlanta) signed lucrative deals to change uniforms.
The Suns have money to spend — the $65.4 million tax threshold was $2.5 million higher than they expected — and they have both the trade exception Salmons turned down, which is usable until Aug. 21, and the mid-level exception of $5.3 million at their disposal.
The Suns have only 10 players under contract for next season — three under the NBA minimum roster of 13.
"I'm a little disappointed we're not further along and a little surprised we're not," Suns director of basketball operations David Griffin said. "But we weren't putting all our energy on John Salmons. We have been pursuing other deals on parallel tracks and we'll shift our focus in that direction."
The sign-and-trade avenue is still open to the Suns. There was little initial interest in Washington's Jared Jefferies, but the additional room under the tax threshold might make that option more plausible.
Among the guards in the free agent market, Minnesota's Marcus Banks and Washington's Chucky Atkins are probably the most intriguing names left, although playing time would come into play with Banks as it did with Salmons. The Suns also have shown interest in ex-Sun Tony Delk, Minnesota's Marko Jaric and have kept in contact with Eddie House, who has yet to sign with another team and was scratched off Toronto's list when Salmons signed.
Wing players on the market who could interest the Suns include Jumaine Jones and Devean George, and big men such as Aaron Williams are still available.