The situation with Markieff Morris has been beaten to death by now, and if you're anything like me, you are tired of hearing about it. Still, the fact remains that something has to be done. It won't go away because you bury your head in the sand. Eventually, Suns GM Ryan McDonough will have to bite the bullet and swing a trade for Markieff.
That's the bad news. The good news is that if things play out just right, McDonough could finally net that All Star he's been angling for in the form of he Indiana Pacers' Paul George.
I can hear the chorus of naysayers already, and in the defense of everyone who believes it to be a crackpot idea, you're right. Indiana wouldn't do that — today. But a lot can change between August and, say, January.
Let's look at Indiana. Gone are Roy Hibbert and David West — two veteran players who played important (albeit diminishing) roles for the Pacers. They have been replaced for the 2015-16 season with the likes of Monta Ellis, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger, and rookie Myles Turner as the Pacers seek to up the tempo. This is an upgrade offensively but a downgrade in terms of defense and leadership, and for a team that hasn't been ranked higher than 19th in pace since 2010-11, it will surely require an adjustment period.
This shift in philosophy has also led to another surprising development: Paul George's move to power forward. That is a move George himself has sounded less than enthusiastic about but that Larry Bird has stated will happen regardless of George's desires.
Paul George (on playing power forward):
"If I've got to play a couple of minutes at the power forward, I'm fine with it."
Larry Bird (on Paul George being hesitant to play major minutes at the 4):
"Well, he don't make the decisions around here."
So coming into the 2015-16 season, the Pacers will have the following to overcome:
- The loss of veteran leaders
- The loss of their defensive identity
- Implementing a faster play style
- Managing minutes on a backcourt-heavy roster
- Managing the happiness of their star player, who is being forced into a role he doesn't want
For Suns fans, this has all the echoes of Goran Dragic. He accepted playing shooting guard (and occasionally small forward) last season while the team was winning but pushed back once the team struggled. George is now facing the same situation, and if things get off to a rough start and George is unhappy, do not be surprised to see Bird blow it all up.
This is the point the Suns enter the picture. Indiana will not be entertaining offers for George now — no team commits long-term money to Ellis and Rodney Stuckey because they want to rebuild — but if Indiana is no better off by January than they were last season, McDonough should be first in line to capitalize on the situation with an offer Bird would be hard-pressed to pass up.
2016 1st round pick (from Suns)
2021 1st round pick (from Heat via Suns)
2016 2nd round pick (from Suns, top 40 protected)
Four-team trades tend to be messy and complicated, with every team trying to get something it wants out of the situation. Yet this one fits together effortlessly. Here is why each team would make this trade.
Why the Knicks do it
Trade winds have swirled around Jose Calderon for some time. That is no surprise considering he isn't exactly a Phil Jackson point guard. The triangle doesn't need a playmaker; it needs a player who can play within a system. Add into that his inability to remain healthy, and it's surprising he's still a Knick at all. This trade would put an end to that. Calderon would be exchanged for George Hill, a point guard accustomed to playing — and thriving — in a structured system, first in San Antonio, then in Indiana. He is not ball dominant, so he would fit well alongside Carmelo Anthony. Plus, Hill is 29, making him an upgrade over Calderon age-wise while also giving New York a veteran point guard to mentor Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway.
The second-round pick from Phoenix is a sweetener that grants the Knicks a draft pick next summer.
Why the 76ers do it
The Sixers have been in asset acquisition mode since Sam Hinkie took over as GM in 2013, and it is anyone's guess when that process will end. With that in mind, Philadelphia would be thrilled to involve themselves in this deal. Acquiring the first-round pick owed to Phoenix by Cleveland and the second-round pick owed to New York by Houston helps top off the Scrooge McDuckian pile of draft picks Hinkie likely swan dives into on slow days. Meanwhile, Archie Goodwin goes to a place where he will be given plenty of court time to prove himself as a player, providing another young talent for Brett Brown to tinker with.
As for Calderon and Miles, they may not be parts of the Sixers' future, but they serve an important purpose: getting Philadelphia to the salary-cap floor. At present, the Sixers are about $8 million short of that $63 million figure and would have to cut a check to their players to make up for the difference. By taking on these two contracts (which can be bought out or traded later for more players, picks), the Sixers reach the floor and acquire assets in doing so.
Why the Pacers do it
If the Pacers decide to rebuild, doing so quickly would be to their benefit. This deal sheds the long-term money of George, Miles, and Hill, saving Indiana almost $16 million and dropping their salary-cap number to $55 million for the summer of 2016. The Pacers could have that down to $40 million after expiring contracts come off their books, leaving them with approximately $50 million in cap space to pursue free agents with.
Then you have Alex Len and T.J. Warren, who are promising young players who fit into Indiana's desire to play faster. Even Markieff, now presumably happy away from Phoenix, provides the Pacers with a player who fits their system, is reaching his prime, and is on a valuable contract.
Add in two future first-round picks to a team that isn't exactly flush with them (including the ultra-valuable unprotected Miami pick), and the Pacers have an incredible shot to rebuild in a hurry. And they bottom out just in time to make the most of their own pick in the 2016 Draft.
Why the Suns do it
The word "duh" comes to mind. Here is a player who, according to basketball-reference.com, finished 9th in MVP voting for the 2013-14 season, with averages of 21.7 points (12th in the NBA), 6.8 rebounds, and 1.9 steals (5th in the NBA). He was also 9th that year in VORP. Yes, George is coming off a horrific leg injury in 2014, but while his time was limited, his per-36 numbers upon his return to action last season were comparable to 2013-14 (21 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2 steals). George will only be 25 years old this season, and if healthy (and obviously this entire exercise assumes he is and has returned to form), he is the star player the Suns have been searching for, sliding in nicely beside Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and Tyson Chandler.
The trade also allows the Suns to rid themselves of Markieff and his dark cloud and even sends him to the Eastern Conference to boot.
A nucleus of Bledsoe, Knight, George, and Chandler instantly turns Phoenix into a legitimate playoff team in the West and makes them more attractive to free agents when 2016 rolls around. It's hard to imagine LaMarcus Aldridge spurning the Suns this summer if McDonough would have had that good of a roster to plug him into. Al Horford could be the beneficiary next time around.
Make no mistake, this is no sure bet for Phoenix. The Suns would be gambling that George's broken leg that cost him all but six games last season won't cause problems for him in the future. Otherwise, the combination of players and picks it took to convince Indiana to relinquish it's franchise player would result in the Suns essentially acquiring Penny Hardaway 2.0. The possibility of being set back in such a way is terrifying, but since Phoenix is acquiring the best player in the deal, the risk must come with the territory.
The trade would also leave Phoenix's frontcourt woefully thin for the remainder of the 2015-16 season, but Mirza Teletovic is a capable floor spacer at power forward while Jon Leuer and stop-gap bigs (Jeff Ayers, Ryan Hollins, Greg Smith, Reggie Evans, Henry Sims, and Josh Harrellson are available as of writing this...and Earl Barron) could hold down the fort. In that scenario, expect smaller lineups that have P.J. Tucker manning power forward to become more commonplace.
The trade also requires the Suns to hold onto Markieff and his poisonous attitude through the first third of the season. This is not ideal, but trading him before the season starts — when every team (except Philadelphia) believes themselves to be playoff-caliber — will not net nearly the same return as can be had mid-season when teams start colliding with reality. Acquiring the likes of Patrick Patterson, Jared Sullinger, or Meyers Leonard now pales in comparison to acquiring a Paul George later. Plus, those players will still be available if a bigger trade never materializes.
This trade scenario might sound like nothing more than the insane ramblings of a syphilitic brain, but the potential is tantalizing. Admittedly, much would have to fall in the Suns' favor for this to transpire, but the same is true of James Harden going to Houston or Dragic going to Miami for that matter. Opportunity could be preparing to knock, and if fate is kind, McDonough will be the one on the other side of the door. After all, the Suns are due for some good fortune.