The Phoenix Suns, hamstrung by Goran Dragic's very public trade demands and criticisms, got the return they wanted for the Slovenian guard. But it took a LOT of moving players and assets to get the job done.
The Suns had stated their desired return for the Dragon to be a young player with star potential and/or a pair of first-round picks. In the end they received exactly that, plus some spare change, but the cost was much more than just Dragic.
At 12:40 PM Arizona time, it looked like the Suns would just play out the season and wait until the summer to deal with their issues. Then at 12:45 PM, it appeared they were just going to cut their losses with Dragic in an unremarkable trade with the Miami Heat for Danny Granger and two future first-rounders.
That's when the levees broke.
Here is the nutshell version:
IN: Brandon Knight, Danny Granger, Marcus Thornton, Kendall Marshall, John Salmons, 2 future first-rounders from Miami (one being unprotected in 2021), and a protected first-rounder from Boston (via Cleveland)
OUT: Goran Dragic, Zoran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Miles Plumlee, and that top-5 protected pick from the Lakers
Check out this excellent article from SB Nation's Tom Ziller if you want to know more about the other teams involved and why McDonough involved them.
The Suns got their 'young player with star potential' in Brandon Knight, who could arguably be a better player than Dragic right now, and although they had to kiss goodbye that Lakers pick that will either be incredibly useful or borderline useless, they got three first-rounders back.
Any number of Granger, Thornton, Marshall and Salmons might or will end up on the waiver wire, but at any rate these are just salary dumps that will have little impact on anything.
By the time the dust settled, the Suns had established their young core of Knight (23 years old), Eric Bledsoe (25) and Alex Len (21), and if any one of Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren or Reggie Bullock can make a difference, all the better. Although there are still some holes on the roster (backup PF, for one), McDonough got rid of a lot of clutter, cut ties with his unpopular Isaiah Thomas acquisition, and opened a window for the young players on the team to receive playing time in the near future, if not immediately.
Was it worth the cost?
Let's dig in and hash it out.
1. Obviously the meat and potatoes of today's madness, aside from blowing up the failed 'PG3' experiment, is Brandon Knight. Knight has played most of his young career in obscurity, first in moribund Detroit and then with the comically bad Bucks in 2013/14, before finally getting some recognition this year and even attracting some All-Star talk. How good can Knight become, and how does he compare right now with Goran Dragic?
Austin Elmer: In the long run I think Knight becomes a better player overall than Goran Dragic. He has the athleticism, length, and shooting stroke to succeed in this league. Knight needs to improve his decision making, but that should come with more experience. This season, Knight has had a better year than Dragic so far. Knight has been better than Goran in every category of basic statistics besides turnovers and 2P FG%. Also, after everything that's happened in the last few days with Tragic, the Suns' locker room chemistry should improve with the removal of Dragic and the addition of Knight. Cheers to more guards from Kentucky.
Kellan Olson: If Knight can play his role at the shooting guard position I think he has All-Star potential. The Suns obviously love him, as they tried to get him for Goran Dragic in the past. I think he’s the best fit for shooting guard out of anyone from 3PG and I really hope he can adapt to the role successfully. He’s not that close to the player Goran is now, but he has the potential to be better. He needs to add more to his game or become a better all-around scorer.
Sean Sullivan: The future has yet to be determined, but I think Knight gives the Suns another reason to be excited about the future for sure. Knight is only 23 years young, and still hasn't reached his full potential. Right now, I think it's safe to say that Knight is already a better two-way player than Dragic, and is more athletic as well. He isn't as offensively skilled as Dragic, not yet anyway, and not as efficient either. However, he is still learning the game and improving, and has a higher ceiling overall. Time will tell if he reaches it.
Ray Hrovat: Knight might be a better player for the Suns right now because he's a better fit as a more natural two guard and a better defender than Dragic. If the Suns are looking to truly contend in a couple of years once Len, Goodwin and Warren are entering their primes, then Knight certainly makes more sense than Dragic long-term. Having said that, Knight is never a player I especially coveted, and he's been a bust until this season. I'm skeptical, but hoping he can fit with Bledsoe to make the effective and not disgruntled (so, "gruntled"?) backcourt we thought we had coming into this season.
Geoff Allen: In a vacuum? I still think Dragic is a better player. As a few people have mentioned, Knight seems like he could be a better fit for this team. But the skill set is different, and we should recognize that. Knight is a much less efficient finisher at the rim - just 43.2% conversion. And it isn't that he doesn't slash - he went to the rim 7.5 times per game, more than Dragic has this season. For Knight to continue to grow, he needs to both temper his penetration, but also finish at a higher percent, given the state of the Hornacek offense and his role as the backup point guard.
Dave King: Gogi was a really, really good player. He will be sorely missed in Phoenix. But in Gogi's words, "It is what it is." Now he has a great opportunity in Miami with Chris Bosh and (what?) Hassan Whiteside to give him the front line he never had in Phoenix. Dwyane Wade will have flashes of brilliance as well. Good for Gogi. Knight will have a hard time filling Dragic's shoes. Having said that, I'm looking forward to a clearer rotation now with fewer players having demands on rotation minutes. Knight should be able to replace the stats that Goran put up this season, and maybe even better them (three point shooting, for one). He should continue to improve over the years and in two years might be better than Dragic.
Jim Coughenour: Goran Dragic is probably a slightly better better point guard at this stage of his career than Brandon Knight is, but he's not necessarily a better shooting guard than Knight. Knight will be asked to play off the ball more in Phoenix and it remains to be seen if he will embrace this role and succeed in the transition... which Goran struggled with. It's not inconceivable to suggest that the Suns might have actually upgraded at the two short term and definitely appear to have a chance to be better four or five years from now when Knight is in his prime and Dragic is declining.
2. Isaiah Thomas and the Lakers pick were considered to be excellent assets -- Isaiah for his insanely cheap contract and the Lakers pick for it's high boom potential -- and ultimately the two combined to become Knight. Does this meet whatever hopes you might have had for a return on these investments?
AE: I'd always hoped the Lakers pick would turn into an early lottery pick for the Suns and then we would draft a stud power forward to boost our frontcourt. Therefore, Thomas and the Lakers pick for Knight is a little disappointing, but at the same time I'm really excited to have Brandon Knight in a Suns uniform. In the long run I didn't see Thomas panning out for the Suns. I'm also sad we had to get rid of Tyler Ennis to make the trade work. I would have liked to see what he could have contributed in the future.
KO: Yes. The thing the Suns were searching for was an All-Star caliber player or a young player with the potential to be one and Knight qualifies. The Lakers pick was a big asset, but there’s a good chance an improved Lakers team in 2016 decreases its value and I think that’s what the Suns are banking on. Personally I was never looking for a big return for IT and an $8.7 mil expiring and a first-round pick is just fine with me.
SS: As of right now, I'd say no. Like Austin, I was hoping for a stud power forward or center, either this year or next, with that Lakers' pick, and I thought Isaiah was valuable for his dynamic scoring and production. But at the same time, I understand why the Suns made the move, and I'm more than ok with it. Brandon Knight is a very good player, and was the 8th overall pick himself in 2011. So you could at least say the Laker's pick was a wash, especially given the uncertainty of all draft picks. I still wish the Suns could have gotten a bit more for Isaiah, but they had to make a lot of moves at the last minute, and I think they did pretty well, considering.
RH: I don't think so. Is Knight a true difference maker? On the one hand, I think the Lakers pick is a bit overrated by some because it won't convey this year due to protections, and the Lakers could be a decent team again next season. So, maybe a pick in the teens? IT was sort of found money this past summer, so can't complain too much there either. But again, Knight has never been a player who particularly excited me, and I think the Suns overpaid a bit. Is a projected future lineup of Bledsoe, Knight, Warren, Keef and Len good enough to contend? Feels like the Suns still have a lot of "B" grade players, though maybe a better balanced roster now.
GA: I see this very much as a lateral move, at best. Knight is a quality starter, but he's four years into the his NBA career, and nothing about him or his growth leads me to believe he's more than a 2nd or 3rd fiddle. I, unlike perhaps some of the others, had actually hoped to use the Lakers pick or IT to secure a SF, as to me that remains the biggest hole on the team.
DK: Let's put it this way: Dragic > Knight > Thomas. At the very least, Thomas was a bad fit from day one and needed to be moved. In fact, as it all shook out, the Suns were more successful in the win/loss with Ish Smith and Gerald Green getting 25 minutes a night than they were with Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was quite effective, but he had a negative impact in the locker room and in the chemistry of the team. The loss of the Lakers pick really, really hurts. We hoped that would be a top-10 pick eventually. Now, I really hope it's not.
JC: Taking Goran out of the situation one could argue that the Suns traded Thomas, Plumlee, Ennis and the Lakers 2015 protected pick for (soon to be restricted free agent) Knight and the Cavaliers 2016 protected pick. On the surface this doesn't look great. Overall, the Suns lost the best player (Dragic) and best draft pick in the deal. That generally indicates defeat. The Suns better be prepared to re-sign Knight, who hopefully won't try to force his way out of Phoenix, and Brandon better flourish in the backcourt with Bledsoe or else this could fail spectacularly. The Suns are really putting some eggs in the Brandon Knight basket.
3. For those nostalgic for the summer of 2014 and Eric Bledsoe's contract stalemate, Knight will be entering restricted free agency this summer and will surely demand a hefty price tag. How much of a damper does this put on yesterday's activities, if any?
AE: It only puts a slight damper on yesterday's trades. I don't see Knight demanding as much money as Dragic will this summer and the Suns will have the necessary cap space to re-sign Knight. Also, the Bledsoe stalemate was pretty ridiculous I doubt the Suns want to repeat that nightmare. Knight's contract price will eventually come down to how well he plays and fits with the team for the second half of the season.
KO; I think the damper depends on how content Knight is with playing shooting guard and being off the ball (where he’s best). If it’s not a good fit with Bledsoe for these two months it could get shaky. However, I think the Suns made this deal knowing they will re-sign him no matter what. They can afford him.
SS: I'm not too worried about it, to be honest. Compared to the gamble that the Suns could have been making with re-signing Dragic, and paying him up to $20 million per year, I don't think it's that big of a concern. Even if he demands a Bledsoe type of deal, around $14 million, or the max at $15 million, that would still be only the starting point of negotiations to re-sign Dragic. The Suns will keep Knight, and will save some money doing so...either way.
RH: There's enough to digest for now without worrying about that. At least they can match any offers for Knight and (fingers crossed) Knight won't be a passive-aggressive malcontent for the rest of the season. I'm most concerned that Knight becomes a player worthy of a huge contract.
GA: I think you have to take it into consideration. I disagree with the others because they seem to be evaluating it as a straight Dragic for Knight swap. In terms of real, immediate value, we actually traded both Dragii, Ennis, Thomas and Plumlee for Knight (no one should count Thornton). So when evaluating any concern over Knight's cap situation, you have to take into account the fact that we lost three, perhaps four rotation players for one. Those guys all have to be replaced. As a result, I am extremely worried about the potential that Knight is a mini-max guy.
DK: This gives the Suns another chance to reboot next summer in the free agent market if needed, with or without Knight. The Suns have two months to figure out how badly they want to get into a bidding war with Knight.
JC: Hopefully it's not a factor. If the Suns aren't prepared to do what it takes to retain Knight this trade is very ill conceived. Considering the Suns just traded for a talented 23 year old restricted free agent I'm assuming they plan on bringing him back. The Bledsoe saga was unique in that a perfect free agent storm culminated in him never receiving an offer for the Suns to match. I don't see lightning striking twice. However, it will be interesting to see how Knight goes from being the man on the Bucks to sharing the spotlight in Phoenix.
4. The public displeasure of Dragic was handled much more swiftly than other such instances -- Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, even Reggie Jackson to name a few. Given how quickly the issue was rectified, how do you perceive Dragic's legacy as a Phoenix Sun?
AE: I will never forget his insane 23 point quarter against the Spurs in the playoffs and I'll always remember how well he interacted with the fans and how much he loved the city of Phoenix. He was a good player while he was here and eventually he didn't see eye to eye with the Suns management. His ending with the Suns was sad and I'm angry about how he left but I understand why he left. Overall his legacy should be a positive.
KO: My biggest problem with the Dragic drama was him screwing over the Suns with the public nature of the trade request and team list. While it wasn’t what Sacramento and Houston could have offered for the present, that Miami return might be the best offer for the future depending on that 2021 first-round pick (no protections). With that in mind, it didn't really tarnish anything. Goran was great.
SS: Right now it's tough to separate the messy divorce from the beautiful marriage. But Dragic had many great years in Phoenix. Dragic's legacy will no doubt be somewhat tarnished due to the circumstances surrounding his departure, but for 99.9% of his time on the Suns, he was a fan-favorite, a cornerstone, and just a very good player all-around. He will be missed.
RH: Lots of us, myself certainly included, are unhappy with Dragic's inflammatory statements about his lack of trust for the Suns' FO. That was completely uncalled for, and severely compromised his formerly angelic image, in my eyes. Once the scars heal, his legacy will be as the guy who went full Dragon to conquer the Spurs in the 2010 playoffs and then went on to be a pretty good starting PG for Phoenix. If he goes on to be a perennial All-Star with the Heat, it will be a huge demerit on McDonough's and Hornacek's legacy.
GA: Superficial wounds heal quickly. We all have had our doubts about Babby and Sarver in the past (looking through old stories and comments from the 2012-13 season should remind people of that), and there is probably more than a kernel of truth to what Dragic said about the whole situation. Dragic's legacy will be as the face of the franchise in an era we'd probably like to forget. He chose that boat, he can live with it, and so will we.
DK: I see the Suns creating a "dragon" video on his first visit to the Valley, which won't be until next season. He will get cheered, maybe even a standing ovation (after the tribute video). This won't do anything to blacken the majority of fans' hearts.
JC: To be honest, I don't think there's much of a legacy to perceive. Dragic is more of a footnote in the history of the franchise that will be mostly buried in a very forgettable patch of basketball. Off the top of my head I think Raja Bell might be a decent parallel for comparison's sake. Each had an indelible moment (the Kobe clothesline and the Spurs fourth quarter) and both were very good, but not great, players. I'll probably associate the word "trust" with Goran and remember that he sort of forced his way out of town, but guys like Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion left under less than amiable circumstances and I don't hold resentments over those situations. Players leave teams. Things get said. No big deal.
5. While Dragic for Knight is more or less a lateral move right now (disregarding Knight's age and potential), the rest of the roster has been significantly uncluttered if you ignore the slew of veterans that found their way to Phoenix in the aftermath. Things should be quite a bit simpler now, so does this team have a better or worse chance of retaining their hold on the eighth seed and making a playoff appearance?
AE: The Suns chances of making the playoffs are worse but not because the Suns got worse. The Suns chances are worse because the Thunder, who are tied with the Suns for the 8th seed, got better during the trade deadline by adding Center Enes Kanter, back up point guard D.J. Augustin, and shooters Kyle Singler and Steve Novak. If the new Suns learn how to mesh well with the current roster quickly than the Suns have a chance to hold on to the 8th seed. It's looking to be another dogfight to get in the playoffs, just like last year.
KO: I want to say better because it looks like Dragic was miserable, but there was too much roster shuffling. They are worse, but there’s a chance that Bledsoe and Knight are terrific together right away. OKC got better too as Austin went over.
SS: To be honest, I don't have much hope for the 8th seed this year. The Suns still haven't gotten better, or addressed their need to sign another power forward (though that may change now that Thomas Robinson has been bought out). But the playoffs this season weren't as much the goal as building a foundation that could continue to improve in the future, while ensuring the Suns have enough salary flexibility to acquire free agents this summer, and make additional trades as well. The Suns have done that, and have even improved their ability in this regard, and that's a good thing.
RH: "Uncluttered"? Well yeah, if you consider two of the Suns five most productive players (Dragic and IT) to be clutter, then yes. I'd like to say they have a better chance than before because the chemistry was clearly wrong, but they didn't really do anything to plug their holes in these deals. There's also a new hole at backup PG, and it took a lot of work to make that happen! Then there is the roster unrest, and Horny trying to fit the new pieces together. I didn't like the Suns chances to make the playoffs this season before today, and don't like them any more now.
GA: Gotta agree with Rollin here. 'Uncluttered' is probably not the correct word. Regardless of how to define what happened, the answer is definitively no. Unlike Kellan, I do think it has to do with what we did on the deadline, though you can't really discount what OKC did, either. We lost too much, too fast, and got back too little in return for us to expect to make a playoff push. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but it seems really, really unlikely.
DK: The playoffs were not happening with the team as it was, and they still aren't.
JC: Technically, the Suns aren't in the eighth seed anymore by virtue of an OKC victory last night and the Thunder holding the tiebreaker over Phoenix. Barring some cataclysmic collapse the Suns weren't making the playoffs before the trade and they aren't making it now... so I'll offer that the chances are pretty piss poor. This will be the Suns fifth straight season missing the playoffs, tying a franchise record set in the team's third through seventh years of existence, and the drought doesn't appear to be getting any closer to ending. Go Suns.
BONUS QUESTION: Pretend Goran Dragic is reading this right now and express your feelings to him. Extra internet points will be given if you do it in haiku form.
AE: The Dragon attacked
So the village decided
Let the Knight slay him.
KO: I did not like how you handled that. Good luck in Miami.
SS: Fun while it lasted
Hated the way it ended
Now time to move on.
RH: Trust is two-way street
Are you happy now, Goran?
Hope a shark bites you
GA: Haiku's aren't fun At least its the East Go enjoy yourself
DK: I'll miss you, man. Now who am I going to interview in the locker room that will be honest and open about what just happened? Won't be the same. Good luck, Gogi.
JC: Even though you're gone... We will always have the Spurs... Have fun in South Beach