Trading TJ for Defensive Talent

Devin Booker so quickly captured the hearts of Suns' fans that it's worth remembering a year ago we were salivating over the long-term potential of another rookie, TJ Warren. Booker's stunning season has radically changed the team outlook, especially the guard rotation. Should the Suns keep Knight now? How will Booker and Bled work together? Is Archie going to carve out a role for himself in the crowded backcourt? Take a further step back and the team looks overstocked with scorers: Bled, Knight and Book will expect 15-20 shots each night, then factor in the upcoming lotto pick too. Can TJ flourish as a starting, score-first SF on that team or is he looking at a long-term 6th or 7th man role instead? He could easily work in the starting unit, he was a lotto pick after all. Nonetheless, he's become arguably the Suns' 3rd best trade chip behind a healthy Bled and the summer's top 1st rd pick. (Book's pretty much untradeable by now.) There are 2 large contracts the Suns should look to move, so TJ's rookie-scale contract gains in importance as a trade sweetener. If the Rockets don't sign Durant, for example, would they see a future in a Harden-TJ combo instead? Here are some trades that can help this woeful Suns team improve on defense:

#1 Blazers - TJ & Tyson Chandler for Al-Farouq al-Aminu & Ed Davis
Aminu and Davis are unheralded hustle players, active on D and two of the more successful role players over the last 2-3 years. The Blazers badly need a 3rd scorer to save Lillard and McCollum from excess minutes. The Suns would boost their perimeter and interior defense. Aminu has grown into one of the most versatile defenders league-wide, guarding 4 different positions, and Davis has an OReb% of 14.2, 9th best in the league among players with major minutes. They fill important gaps that have hamstrung the Suns team defense throughout the season. Alongside more of a stretch 4 like Leuer, and perhaps even Motiejunas, the Suns would have a number of lineup options. Outrebounding opponents has been one of the main keys to victory this season. Like the Dubs and Spurs, build a team around elite shooting and more mobile bigs capable of grinding out 2nd chance points and getting stops.

* alternate 3-team trade involving PHX-PDX
BKN: Brook Lopez for BK, TJ & Vonleh
PDX: Ed Davis, Al-Farouq al-Aminu & Noah Vonleh for Lopez
PHX: BK & TJ for Davis & Aminu

#2 Rockets - TJ & PJ for Capela & Ariza

If the Rockets lose Dwight, which looks more and more likely, they'll probably try to sign Horford or Whiteside. While the Lakers can offer Whiteside the post-Kobe LA market and a decent young core, HOU has solid pieces to win now. By adding Whiteside, TJ and PJ, the Rockets can easily climb right back into contention. If they strike out in pursuit of a star center, maybe Chandler becomes an option in this trade as well. But the Rockets must give Harden scoring help and TJ's sneaky midrange game could be the perfect offensive complement for such an elite drive & dish scorer. PJ more or less offsets the loss of Ariza on defense. With Beverly, Montrezl, Dekker and perhaps TJones, the Rockets would have a solid rotation by training camp. Ariza's offensive game has declined recently but his D has remained excellent even in this disappointing Rockets year. As for the 21 year-old Capela, his defensive presence would be an incredible addition alongside Len or Tyson. Why wouldn't the Rockets just keep Capela instead of chasing Whiteside? Whiteside has shown more of a dominant offensive game. And most importantly, the Rockets remain overreliant on Harden's offense. They need a dependable second option and TJ is far better than nearly all the FA options.

Warren's knee injury cut short a promising season. But like Booker, he has shown out as a naturally-gifted scorer when given minutes. Teams focus their defenses around him and he can still find ways to get quality shots, either for himself or teammates. Playing next to a Harden or Lillard, TJ would have an incredible opportunity to become a prolific shooter on a playoff team. Of the 3 trades discussed here, the Brooklyn one would be the favorite. Some playoff team might easily target Chandler as a key acquisition next year. Knight's trade value has become a large question mark, though. Brooklyn offers the starting position and has a skilled backup passer in Shane Larkin. That current Nets team will struggle in Brook Lopez's peak years, and so hopefully they deal him sooner rather than later. The Nets may even have shut he and Young down this week for trade reasons. His recent inspired play would energize an already overachieving Portland squad, and the Blazers have shrewdly found excellent role players. Meanwhile the Nets could build around Knight, RHJ, TJ and Thad Young. Vonleh has underwhelmed in limited minutes this year, but he's still only 20.

The Suns must prioritize defensive improvement, and it starts with the coach and players. No one wants to see TJ leave the Suns like this, with a season-ending knee injury half-way through the season. He's going to get much better, the comparisons to Bernard King even look plausible after watching Warren boost his 3 pt shooting to 40% in his 2nd year. For 50+ attempts, the only other 1st/2nd year player with that kind of average this season is rookie Raul Neto of the Jazz (43%). Yet with the rise of Booker and the return of Bled it's time to sacrifice shooting and offense in order to get younger defensive talent.

Al-Farouq al-Aminu

Aminu - jack of all trades defender

Ed Davis

Rockets' Regression

Ariza's Defense

Brook Lopez

Clint Capela highlights