The Phoenix Suns enter February with a 28-21 record and a 2-game lead over the New Orleans Pelicans for the 8th and final playoff spot in the rugged Western Conference. They have gone 16-7 since figuring out their point guard rotation, including a 10-5 record in January.
Will they try to improve their team further before the trade deadline later this month?
The Suns have holes. They don't rebound or pass very well, and they are playing last year's third-team All-NBA point guard off the ball to accommodate their point guard depth. Two of their rotation players are in a death battle with the referees on a nightly basis that they are destined to lose. No one, including the front office, thinks this is a finished product for championship aspirations.
The Phoenix Suns front office has repeatedly said that they are still in rebuilding mode and any trades made in-season before the February trade deadline will help the Suns short-term AND long-term.
This means, on the surface, that the Suns will not trade a number of their young players to acquire a short-term, older player who won't be a part of the next two to four years in Phoenix, unless that move adds flexibility for other moves.
But it also could mean that the Suns, currently in a dog fight for a playoff position, can't afford to trade a major rotation player because any adjustment period could come with just enough losses to kill the Suns chances at the postseason.
Would the Suns be willing to sacrifice a playoff chance just to make a trade this month that could help (or create flexibility) in the future? Their current record is 28-21 and their playoff chances grow by the day. Oklahoma City doesn't look ready to win 75% of their remaining games to smoke the competition for that last playoff spot.
Even Goran Dragic thinks it will come down to the last week of the season again, as of Friday night when we talked off-record in the locker room. Except this time, he thinks the Suns will be better equipped to win those fate-deciding contests than they were last spring.
We know the Suns have a ton of assets. Young players on rookie deals. Draft picks. Quality rotation players by the bushelful.
But what they don't have any more is cap space to absorb a bigger contract. Any acquisition of a large contract would require the Suns to part with a lot of assets.
Already, the Suns have used nearly all of their remaining cap space to acquire SF Reggie Bullock, a "future" play in his second year who has not yet played a significant minute for the team, and C Brandan Wright, a free agent this summer who helps this season as a backup center and just might be a long-term answer. The Suns have Bullock under cheap contract for two more seasons and Wright's "Bird" rights this summer if they want to re-sign him.
Wright was a target I listed last month as a great play for this season, and the Suns "listened".
Brandan Wright - replacing Miles Plumlee with someone more consistent would be nice, and Wright fits that bill. Even better, he's free agent this summer meaning the trade cost won't be high (a second rounder or two, or the Minny pick?)
Those acquisitions leave the Suns with just over $1.2 million left in "spending money", meaning that any trade they make before the trade deadline must either bring back less salary, equal salary or up to $1.3 million more in salary. That's it. For a team "under the cap", the Suns cannot go more than $100,000 over the cap in any trade.
That limitation really hampers any potential trade opportunities for already-established, expensive veterans for a playoff push this season and for future seasons.
Let's look over some potential trade targets who could help the Suns this season:
I have mentioned Bosh before, even though he is not on the trade block. The Suns made an attempt to sign Bosh last summer to a max contract when they had money sitting around. But he re-signed with Miami despite their murky immediate future and even though Wade is out indefinitely there are rumblings of availability.
But even so, Bosh makes $20.6 million this year. The Suns would have a hard time scraping together $20 million to send back to Miami even if they wanted to trade him.
Cross Bosh off the list.
The Knicks won't trade Anthony because they know the league is all about star power.
Plus, he's in the same contract boat as Bosh, making any acquisition of Anthony a bad move for the Suns.
Cross Anthony off the list.
Two weeks ago, it appeared that maybe Love was being marginalized in the Cavaliers lineup and they might want to move him for different pieces rather than potentially lose him this summer (he has a player-option to become a free agent).
But now, the Cavs are on a 10-game winning streak and Love won't be traded this season anymore.
Cross Love off the list.
Denver is likely to have a fire sale pretty soon. They aren't even showing up any more to games. But rumor has it they want to hold onto Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Jusuf Nurkic. Everyone else might be available though.
Afflalo would be a defensive upgrade over Gerald Green and can make threes as well. He's not a microwave, but he's a nice all-around player who the Suns would be lucky to have.
But is he worth the cost to acquire? He makes just under $8 million, so you'd have to package a number of young players with Green to get him.
Don't suggest Isaiah Thomas here. Denver already has Ty Lawson on long-term contract, there's no way they'd want Thomas too. Makes no sense at all.
Would it be worth giving up Green AND Tyler Ennis AND Warren or Goodwin to have Afflalo? That's where it gets hard to swallow.
Alternately, would it be worth including Marcus Morris with Green, and potentially making Markieff Morris regress back into a marginal NBA player without his bro?
Suns fans have liked this guy for years, but he never amounted to anything. Not likely he's traded, and not likely the Suns want him. But he CAN play both PF and C and rebounds well, though he has no offensive range and really doesn't defend that well.
Add in that he makes a lot of money ($9 million) and we're in the same boat as with Afflalo.
Taj Gibson or Luol Deng
Now we're talking about better talents, who might be worth the investment.
Both are about 6'9", making about $9 million this season and are signed for only one or two more years after this one. Deng has a player option for $10 million next season, while Gibson has two more years about $9 million coming.
Either would provide a veteran, winning influence, a modicum of defense and would play power forward for the Suns.
But to acquire either of these guys would still require the Suns to part with Green and one or both of the Morrii or Isaiah Thomas as the headliners.
Would Chicago want Thomas? They already have the diminutive Aaron Brooks backing up Derrick Rose, so probably not. They'd be more interested in the Morris brothers, likely.
Would Miami want Thomas? Sure, they need a point guard for the present and future. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are not the future, and neither (it appears) is Shabazz Napier.
Would the Suns be better after any of these trades?
Depends on what you call better. They'd be trading sure things (long term contracts) for shorter contracts, basically throwing in the towel on at least one value contract signed in the off season.
But if you're in the camp of eradicating the Suns of bad fits (Thomas?) or bad apples (Morrii?), maybe a blow-up trade is worth it to you to sacrifice the current season.
It wasn't too long ago that the Suns played .500 ball while figuring out how to incorporate one new major rotation player in Isaiah Thomas.
Any trade swap of major rotation players at this stage could revert the Suns back to that .500 level again at the worst possible time.