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Center of the Sun, 1/18/16: Where the Phoenix Suns have little to offer during trade season

Your weekly status update of the 2015/16 Phoenix Suns.

Unsuccessful lob attempt #457
Unsuccessful lob attempt #457
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

With the Phoenix Suns standing at 13-29 exactly one month before the February 18th trade deadline, after committing a combined $122 million in guaranteed contracts to free agents Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler over the summer, logic would dictate that the Suns would fall under the 'sellers' category as the trade season picks up steam.

Pity for GM Ryan McDonough, the rumor mill has been uncharacteristically quiet across the NBA this season, possibly because more teams than usual -- contenders and rebuilders alike -- are more or less comfortable with what they have. Underachievers like Houston and Milwaukee are either too talented or too young to tear anything down and start over, and those in playoff position seem to be pretty locked in with their current rosters.

The Suns' long-awaited opportunity to pounce on a disgruntled star player feels light years away at this point, with no signs of significant turbulence appearing among the elite. In the meantime, the Suns have turned the practice of disgruntling their own players into a science, saturating the very market of which they were hoping to take advantage.

Of course, not everything finds its way into the media -- Knight wasn't included in many, if any, deadline rumors before being traded a year ago -- and the chances are excellent that if a significant trade does occur for Phoenix, it won't be anything that we anticipated.

But will the Suns be buying, or selling?

If McDonough's recent interview with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe is any indication, they haven't made up their minds yet.

"The first thing I do every morning is check the standings," McDonough said. "And somehow were still [4½ games] out with a half a season to go. So we’re not waving the white flag. The main decision for us over the next five weeks between now and the trade deadline is, which way do we want to go? We’re still weighing both sides. Do we want to try to add and make a run at the playoffs? Or do we want to look longer term and maybe add a few more young guys to build with our young core?

These comments came before the 30-point loss in Minnesota Sunday night, which hopefully drove the last nail in the coffin of the Conbuilding Fallacy. 'Weighing both sides' is exactly what the organization has been suffering from since the summer of 2010. The fanbase is finally, collectively, on to the ruse and no one outside of the front office is interested in chasing the playoff carrot anymore.

Now, it's entirely possible that the decision has been made to scrap the season and look strictly to the future during trade season, and McDonough is only paying the requisite lip service to satisfy the bull[dung] quota our media culture demands.

Suns fans can only hope. They don't have to call it 'waving the white flag,' but they really need to wave the white flag -- especially if the outlandish decision to make a playoff push would entail placing Devin Booker and/or T.J. Warren on the trading block.

I mention Booker and Warren because at a glance of this Suns roster, there seems to be nothing else that would entice another team to relinquish anything useful. Unfortunately, there don't appear to be many options at hand if the Suns are looking to sell, either.

Chandler, initially intended to be the ideal complement to LaMarcus Aldridge in the frontcourt, has been a disastrous signing thus far. His 8.8 points per 36 minutes are the lowest since 2005/06, his last season in Chicago. His 50.8 FG% is the lowest since 2004/05. His 0.9 blocks per 36 are the lowest of his career. He has failed to buoy the defense, as the Suns' defensive rating is -3.7 with him on the floor.

Chandler has made a career out of coming back from the dead to make an impact on contending teams, but would anyone gamble on a 33-year-old struggling center with three years remaining on a $52 million contract?

Exacerbating matters for the Suns has been Chandler's complete lack of chemistry with Knight -- himself fresh off a $70 million free agent deal. Errant lob passes that even a prime Chandler would struggle to contain have become a nightly source of amusement, with reports of one landing in Ahwatukee still being investigated.

Knight is enjoying a career year with the Suns, scoring 19.7 points per game, but he has been miscast as a starting point guard since Eric Bledsoe went down with a season-ending injury. With his struggles to take care of the ball and stay in front of anyone on defense, Knight's skillset portends more to a career as a Lou Williams type -- a smallish microwave scorer off the bench that doesn't have a true position -- than as an NBA starter.

Many teams could use some extra firepower, but it's unlikely that any would be willing to pay a starter's salary for a player as flawed as Knight. And since mountains were moved to secure his services just 11 months ago, it would seem to satisfy more than just McDonough's pride to keep Knight in tow and let him develop longer. Even if he has already hit his ceiling, his contract will look a lot better in 2017, when the salary cap is projected to reach $108 million.

With both Chandler and Knight highly likely to stay on board through February, will the Suns finally be able to unload Markieff Morris in the next month? Is there even a market for the enigmatic forward?

It depends on whom you listen to.

While it seems insane for the Cavs to risk team chemistry for a temperamental power forward with Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson already on the roster, LeBron James tends to get what he wants, and if he wants Kieff, that's probably the best chance the Suns will have to finally close the book on Team FOE.

The Cavs possess a $10.5 million trade exception because of something to do with Brendan Haywood, meaning the Suns wouldn't have to take back any salary in return. That might seem like a disappointing outcome, but if the Suns made a replica jersey for the trade exception and sold it at the Team Shop, it would probably outsell Kieff's at this point.

The Suns have waffled all season between showcasing Kieff with starter's minutes and chaining him to the bench, and the results have been mostly equal. As unpalatable as it seems, the best course of action might be to hold onto him until he finally starts playing well. NBA GM's have very short memories, and a string of 20+ point games would be the best-case scenario for all parties involved -- even if it takes him all season.

The most likely candidates to be moved appear to be forwards P.J. Tucker and Mirza Teletovic, and as Sean Deveney of the Sporting News has reported, the Suns are only waiting until they feel the playoffs are out of reach before fielding offers.

While neither player is a 35 minute per game starter, both offer valuable NBA skills and represent just the type of small, low-risk acquisition that playoff teams tend to make while they prepare for April. Just don't expect much of a return.

For a frame of reference, here is what teams received last year when selling rotation players to playoff teams:
  • Minnesota received Troy Daniels, cash, and a pair of second-rounders for Corey Brewer
  • Utah received Grant Jerret, Kendrick Perkins, Tibor Pleiss and OKC's protected 2017 first-rounder for Enes Kanter
  • Denver received Will Barton, Victor Claver, Thomas Robinson and a protected 2016 first-rounder for Arron Afflalo (this ended up being a steal for the Nuggets due to Barton's emergence, but that wasn't the case at the time)
  • New York received a pair of second-round picks for Pablo Prigioni
We can hope to nab the next Barton, but more likely, we're looking at a pair of second-rounders or maybe a heavily-protected first, along with [insert washed out veteran or draft bust here] to make the numbers work.

Indeed, this would be anti-climactic to say the least, but adding a top-3 pick in June to a roster already replete with Booker and Warren, and to a team that wasn't all that bad before losing Bledsoe, should at least give us a reason to come crawling back for the 2016/17 season.

Just don't pin your hopes on any deadline fireworks.

Tank Watch

The Suns entered Sunday's game against the Timberwolves with massive draft implications hanging over their heads, and they didn't disappoint. They dutifully ran from one end of the court to the other, waved their hands around at times, fired the ball in the general direction of the basket, and left no doubt that they are gunning for Minnesota's 4th place spot in the upside-down standings.

The Suns are now even with Minnesota at 13-29, and have surely circled the 11-30 Nets on their hitlist.

On the Horizon

The Suns return to The Stick for a three-game homestand.
  • Tuesday, January 19 vs Indiana
  • Thursday, January 21 vs San Antonio
  • Saturday, January 23 vs Atlanta
Don't rest, Brooklyn. Don't even blink.

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