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If the Phoenix Suns are going to trade, it's to trade "up" - how do those work out?

Last year, Suns GM Ryan McDonough (seemingly) traded down in the Luis Scola trade. This year, he is likely looking to trade up. But how often do trade ups pan out?


Outside of the Eric Bledsoe contract drama, it has been a relatively quiet offseason for the Phoenix Suns, especially compared to last summer.  At this time a year ago, Ryan McDonough had already landed Eric Bledsoe at the expense of Jared Dudley, and shipped Luis Scola off to the Indiana Pacers for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and a draft pick (Bogdan Bogdanovich).  By the end of the offseason, McDonough had made four trades, including a trade with Washington that eventually boiled down to Marcin Gortat for a draft pick (Tyler Ennis).

So why has McMiracle been so quiet this summer?  Last year, he had the advantage of coming into a situation where he wasn't attached to his players; he didn't waste any time cleaning house with the waste that was the 2012-2013 Phoenix Suns team.  Now, McDonough has spent a year with this team that he has constructed.  These are his assets, and he is not going to let them go in a trade for naught.  It's likely that he is biding his time, waiting for the opportunity to trade up.

By trading up, I mean sending out multiple players for one clearly better player.  An example that most Suns fans should be familiar with is the Charles Barkley trade.  Phoenix sent the Philadelphia 76ers Tim Perry, Andrew Lang, and future Suns coach Jeff Hornacek in exchange for Sir Charles.  Phoenix absolutely fleeced Philly, with Barkley winning the MVP that season, taking Phoenix to the Promised Land, and ultimately becoming one of the best Suns in franchise history.  This is the best case scenario for a trade up; The Suns converted three decent players (all of which were starters in the previous season) to a better player that significantly improved the team.

But does trading up always work out?  Let's take a look at some examples over the last few years.

Trade ups over the last three years

I tried to stick to trades that are clearly trade ups, with actual players being traded, not just draft picks.  So, for instance, the Steve Nash trade did not make this list since the Lakers didn't actually send out any of their players, and hence did not trade up, so to speak.  It gets dicey when you start playing the hypothetical game with how draft picks could have turned out, so we'll stick to what we know.  Three team trades are fair game, so long as they follow the few-guys-out-one-guy-in rule.  Some of these trades included other players coming in for the team trading up, but only if they are an afterthought of the trade (e.g. Lazar Howard in the James Harden trade. Sorry Lazar).

Andrea Bargnani to New York, Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, 2016 first round draft pick, 2014 and 2017 second round draft picks to Toronto (2013). This is a trade up in theory, although it's difficult to associate Bargnani with trading up.  This is probably the biggest fail of a trade up on the list.  New York regressed (2012-13 record: 54-28, 2013-14 record: 37-45) , and Bargs did very Bargs-y stuff. Loss.

Andre Igoudala to Golden State (sign and trade), Andris Biedriņš, Richard Jefferson, Brandon Rush, draft picks, cash to Utah (2013). This was a three team trade with Denver that involved some other parts, but this is the real meat of the trade. The trade was also a sign and trade for Iggy, but Golden State had to give up a lot for it, so I included it.  We've yet to see if those draft picks will come back to haunt the Warriors, but in the short term, I think it's safe to say this was a successful trade up.  The Warriors won 51 games with Igoudala last season, who helped shore up the defense (jumped from 14th best Def Rtg in 12-13 to 4th best in 13-14) and gave the team another ball handler. Win.

Luis Scola to Indiana, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, draft pick (Bogdanovich) to Phoenix (2013). Here's McMiracle at his finest.  At the time, this seemed like a pretty good trade for both teams.  As it turns out, however, Phoenix won this trade by a longshot, with Green and Plumlee becoming important cogs for the Suns.  Scola improved Indiana's bench, but he was overall underwhelming, especially for what the Pacers gave up for him.  Loss.

Brandon Jennings to Detroit (sign and trade), Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Viacheslav Kravtsov to Milwaukee (2013). The Brandon trade is difficult to judge.  Jennings is the better of the Brandons, but their stats are comparable. Knight is also younger and is still on a rookie deal.  Detroit had the exact same record in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014, so it's difficult to say that Jennings makes the team much better.  This has potential to change, but right now I can't really justify calling this one a win. Loss.

Rudy Gay (Hamed Haddadi also part of deal) to Toronto, Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Tayshaun Prince, draft pick to Memphis, Jose Calderon to Detroit (2013). Gay was involved in just about every trade rumor in 2013, including one with the Suns.  Gay threw up contested long 2 after contested long 2 in TDOT, and eventually got shipped out 11 months later. Loss.

Joe Johnson to Brooklyn, DeShawn Stevenson, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Williams, draft picks to Atlanta (2012). Brooklyn gave up a boat load for Johnson, but the pay off huge.  Teaming Johnson and Deron Williams together in backcourt transformed Brooklyn from bottom-feeders to a top four Eastern Conference team. Win.

James Harden (Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook, and Lazar Hayward also part of deal) to Houston, Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, draft picks to Oklahoma City (2012). This was highway robbery; Darryl Morrey took advantage of the contract disputes between James Harden and the Thunder, and came away with the All-Star he had long coveted. Harden ended the Rocket's four year playoff drought, and made the All-NBA third team.  Win.

Andrew Bogut (and Stephen Jackson) to Golden State, Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh, and Kwame Brown to Milwaukee (2012). Since Jax was immediately traded to the Spurs, Bogut was the center piece here.  Bogut gave Golden State their defensive anchor, renovating one of the league's worst defenses into a pretty good one when he's healthy. Win.

Gerald Wallace to New Jersey, Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams, draft pick (2012). Call me a hater, but I don't think Wallace and his 7.7 ppg on 39% shooting was the reason for Brooklyn's turn around in 2013.  Loss.

Chris Paul (and draft picks) to L.A. ClippersEric GordonChris KamanAl-Farouq Aminu, draft pick to New Orleans (2011). I don't think I need to spend too much time on this one.  Clearly a win.


Those are the best examples of trade ups I could come up with over the last three years.  There were five successful trade ups, and five that didn't pan out.  What does that tell us?  Well, trading up is something of a crapshoot.  Sometimes it works out, but only when a team knows exactly what it needs.  Take a look at the successful trades; they all involve either a star player, or in the case of the Golden State trades, qualified defenders who play within their roles.  In the unsuccessful trade ups, the trade up players were all second tier guys.

The take away here is that trade ups are really only worth it if the trade up team is swinging for the fences for a big name player. Trade ups for a player that only makes the team marginally better tend to be riskier.  Of course, the big name trade ups don't come around that often.  No team is going to part with a star unless he is somehow disgruntled with his current team, or vice-versa, or if a team thinks they are going to lose a player to free agency for nothing.  Timing is everything with trade ups, and McDonough knows this. So don't fret over the lack of trades this summer; opportunities will present themselves (remember, the Harden trade went down three days before the season started in 2012).  McDonough hustled Indiana last year. He doesn't want to be on the receiving end of a swindling, and won't make any trades that only have the potential to make the team marginally better.  If he is going to trade up, it will likely be a swing for the fences.  In McDonough, we trust.

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