Grading Ryan McDonough's Trades as Suns GM

Ryan McDonough has been given a very hard time by fans recently, angst mainly stemming from the crazy happenstance of Isaiah Thomas, Goran Dragic, and Brandon Knight.

But no GM is perfect, and I think all of Planet Orange would agree that the Suns have not suffered from any particularly over-priced and strategically misplaced free agent signing that has held them back on any level.

Overall it would appear that his big moves tend to be spot on.

This post will look at every trade that has taken place so far in the Ryan McDonough era. I am going to rate them as impartially as possible, while admittedly looking at each move through purple and orange hazed glasses. I will use the standard high school grading system of A through F, and will be supplemented with + and - on those trades that do deem a little nudge one way or the other.

(All trade verbiage is courtesy of basketball-reference)

With that being said, let us begin:

July 10, 2013

As part of a 3-team trade, the Phoenix Suns traded a 2014 2nd round draft pick (Lamar Patterson was later selected) to the Milwaukee Bucks; the Phoenix Suns traded Jared Dudley to the Los Angeles Clippers; the Los Angeles Clippers traded a future 2nd round draft pick to the Milwaukee Bucks; the Los Angeles Clippers traded Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to the Phoenix Suns; and the Milwaukee Bucks traded J.J. Redick to the Los Angeles Clippers

This trade was literally the first move of any kind McDonough made as General Manager, and boy was it a doozy.

From the Suns’ perspective, they traded a second round pick and Jared Dudley for Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler.

For me, this is an easy one to grade. While Dudley is a bit of a dime a dozen player, he was a fan favorite. But he was also nothing to build around. Eric Bledsoe on the other hand was an up and coming point guard who had spent several seasons backing up Chris Paul in LA and even to this day could be the 5th best point guard in the NBA if healthy.

Re-signing Dudley recently does not boost the grade at all, although it is an ironic twist.

Since Caron Butler never played for the Suns, (more on that soon) and I have never heard of Lamar Patterson, the trade ended up being Dudley for Bledsoe. Bledsoe is still on the Suns and is their starting point guard, though injury prone, and Dudley only spent one year with the Clippers. Grade: A+

July 27, 2013

Traded Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a 2014 1st round draft pick (Bogdan Bogdanovic was later selected).

When the Suns originally signed Scola as an amnesty pickup, he was always going to be a trade piece. But one who would likely garner decent value for a veteran team needing additional depth to make a playoff push. At the same time, the Suns were trying to get younger and more athletic, two attributes Plumlee and Green provided in spades.

On paper this is a win for both teams and fans of both sides could claim victory in the trade. However, the Pacers never really made it anywhere with Scola, and both Plumlee and Green helped the Suns nearly make the playoffs, although they would each eventually become expendable. Grade: A-

August 29, 2013

Traded Caron Butler to the Milwaukee Bucks for Viacheslav Kravtsov and Ishmael Smith.

I’ll keep this summary short and sweet. Ish Smith was the main piece moving in either direction. However, while he would be a fan favorite on that near playoff team, his tenure wouldn’t last long, and he would move on quickly. Nothing special on either side, just moving pieces around to help with depth. (I will always remember only a few days before this move went down seeing Butler wearing the new orange threads at the Suns jersey announcement at Scottsdale Fashion Square, then ironically seeing him traded before he ever had a chance to wear it on the court.) Grade: B

October 25, 2013

Traded Shannon Brown, Marcin Gortat, Malcolm Lee and Kendall Marshall to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor and a 2014 1st round draft pick (Tyler Ennis was later selected). (Pick is top 12 protected.)

Shannon Brown could dunk, Marcin Gortat refused to, Malcom Lee was caught in the middle, and Kendall Marshall was a bust. Moving them all in return for a First Round Pick and the contract of a player who would never play for the Suns, was a whole bunch of nothing. I totally see McDonough’s plan with this move, and on paper it appears that it gave everything the Suns needed: moving on from a set of players who did very little for the Suns’ future, and acquiring a First Round Pick as an asset to help build with.

If you think about it, it is entirely possible that the McDonough could have received more from this haul, but that was never the intention. He would have never received a star player, but what he did get was cap relief the following season and the First Round Pick to boot. I liked the trade then, and I still like it now. Grade: A

July 12, 2014

Traded Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception to the Sacramento Kings for Isaiah Thomas.

In my opinion, the original Thomas move was inspired. I believed then as I do now that bringing in Isaiah Thomas was the perfect move for the Suns The only problem was they didn’t have an apparent exit strategy if it didn’t work out – which it obviously didn’t. Thomas added insurance should Bledsoe not re-sign, and was also insurance should Bledsoe or Dragic get hurt. Most importantly, the move for Thomas also gave the Suns a serious glut at a position that many teams do not even have a single decent player at, so essentially they cornered the market with marketable and tradable point guards should a team come begging for one.

Unfortunately they were not given the chance to take advantage of this luxury. Thomas wanted to start, and Dragic was tired of sharing the ball, and the two forced the Suns’ hand in a way that management did not want to. But more on that soon. Grade: B+

December 24, 2014

Traded Anthony Tolliver to the Detroit Pistons for Tony Mitchell. Anthony Tolliver was supposed to replace Channing Frye, but he didn’t. Tony Mitchell then only lasted for two and a half weeks before being waved. This is a small transaction meant to save a couple bucks. In terms of level of interest and importance, who cares. But, did the trade serve a purpose to benefit the Suns in some way? Yes. Grade: B for Boring

January 9, 2014

Traded a 2015 1st round draft pick (MIN 1st-Rd Pick was later selected) to the Boston Celtics for Brandan Wright. (The 1st round pick is top-12 protected in both 2015 and 2016. If the pick is still held in 2017 it will become two 2nd-round picks.)

You hate to see a team move a first round pick for a player that would only last a few months, but Brandan Wright was a very good backup center for the Suns and one that most fans, including myself, wanted the Suns to re-sign.

The First Round pick was originally Minnesota’s and it appears to have been converted into a Second rounder which nearly makes the entire trade a complete wash. A little bit of an odd situation, one in which the Suns paid almost nothing for a rent-a- player, but still a move of draft picks for a player that was only around for a couple of months. Grade: B-

January 15, 2015

As part of a 3-team trade, the Phoenix Suns traded Shavlik Randolph to the Boston Celtics; the Boston Celtics traded Austin Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers; the Los Angeles Clippers traded Chris Douglas-Roberts and a 2017 2nd round draft pick to the Boston Celtics; and the Los Angeles Clippers traded Reggie Bullock to the Phoenix Suns.

I had forgotten that the Suns were actually involved in the deal that sent Austin Rivers to the Clippers. An extremely average backup point guard, who is now making over $30 million for them. Sheesh.

Anyway, this is a minor deal from the Suns’ perspective, although another in a long line of three-way deals that McDonough has been involved in. I refuse to grade the deal negatively just because it was an unimportant move. The Suns essentially netted Reggie Bullock for Shavlik Randolph, which in the grand scheme of things is relatively meaningless. That being said, I can see the purpose of this trade. The Suns were never playing Randolph, and they needed a wing player at the time, something that Bullock filled in for. Win, win, I suppose. Grade: A

February 19, 2015 – A day, that will live, in Phoenix Suns infamy.

(In regards to these trades, I will break down and grade each of them individually, as well as then once as a whole. While each had to be completed to make the others work, they were still individual moves on their own merit, and should historically be judged as such.)

As part of a 3-team trade, the Phoenix Suns traded Goran Dragic and Zoran Dragic to the Miami Heat; the Miami Heat traded Norris Cole, Justin Hamilton and Shawne Williams to the New Orleans Pelicans; the Miami Heat traded Danny Granger, a 2017 1st round draft pick and a 2021 1st round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns; and the New Orleans Pelicans traded John Salmons to the Phoenix Suns. (2017 1st-round pick is top-7 protected)

At the time the Suns had two sets of brothers on their roster, and after Goran Dragic threw his fit over playing time, both Dragic’s were shipped off to Miami, with the Suns receiving two first round picks and John Salmons in return. With Goran being the only major piece in the deal from the Suns perspective, I’ll focus on him.

Goran was disgruntled about playing out of position. He wanted to be the main ball handler. He also said that he no longer "trusted" management. Reports were that he was fine playing alongside Bledsoe, but once Thomas was added to the mix, he quickly became fed up. However, reports were also circulated locally that the Suns had intended on trading Thomas all along (he was always a valuable trade commodity) and should Goran had just held his tongue, the situation would have resolved itself. Instead, he didn’t, he demanded a trade, and the Suns relented.

For his services the Suns were given two first round picks. A very nice haul for a team not looking for a veteran in return. Because of the situation, (albeit a situation the Suns placed themselves in, but one that from all reports was on the verge of being resolved anyway) and the fact that on this trade alone the Suns did receive a good return, I’ll give it a: Grade: B+

As part of a 3-team trade, the Phoenix Suns traded a future 1st round draft pick to the Philadelphia 76ers; the Phoenix Suns traded Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee to the Milwaukee Bucks; the Milwaukee Bucks traded Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall to the Phoenix Suns; and the Philadelphia 76ers traded Michael Carter-Williams to the Milwaukee Bucks. (PHI 1st round pick received from PHO is LAL's and is top-5 protected in 2015 and top-3 protected in 2016 & 2017.)

This is probably the most contentious trade in Suns history. But we must first look at this trade on the surface for what it is: the Suns essentially moved a backup point guard, a backup center, and a highly coveted draft pick, for Brandon Knight. From this perspective, if you trade two backups for a near All-Star level point guard, that is a coup. Even when throwing in a first round pick, you’re still making a darn good deal. We will look at the Goran Dragic angle in a few moments, but to look at this trade head on, in my opinion, this really isn’t that bad of a trade. The biggest eyesore is that the Suns gave up a first round pick that will likely be (though it still has not been converted) a very high and nice pick.

However, what makes this trade palatable in my opinion, is that you are trading an unknown commodity for a known commodity:
- The Lakers may make a move or two and suddenly that draft pick is in the teens and not valued very high.
- Brandon Knight was an all-star level point guard in Milwaukee, and when healthy could be the best backup point guard in the league, or at l worst a very nice trade piece, a situation which may come to fruition this offseason.

And, since this trade happened second, and Goran Dragic was already off the roster, it can be argued that the Suns had upgraded as well, since Knight is several years younger than Dragic, and already a better scorer.

All that being said, I grade this trade a: Grade: B

As part of a 3-team trade, the Phoenix Suns traded Isaiah Thomas to the Boston Celtics; the Boston Celtics traded Tayshaun Prince to the Detroit Pistons; the Boston Celtics traded Marcus Thornton and a 2016 1st round draft pick to the Phoenix Suns; and the Detroit Pistons traded Gigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko to the Boston Celtics. (PHO 2016 1st round pick received from BOS is CLE's pick and is top-10 protected.)

(Until I began doing my research for this post, I actually did not realize that all three moves on this day were each 3-team trades – a common theme for Ryan McDonough, but more on that later.)

Essentially the Suns pulled off the trade that had been locally reported as something that was an inevitability: Isaiah Thomas was traded. Boiling it down, this trade amounted to being Thomas for a first round pick trade. Looking at it from a different angle, you could also say that the Suns traded Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception for a late first round pick.

This trade is extremely tricky to grade because hindsight is 20/20. In the second trade of the day, the Suns traded for Brandon Knight, who was nearly an Eastern Conference All-Star. Then this past season, Isaiah Thomas was an Eastern Conference All-Star, whereas Knight suffered through several injuries and the Suns floundered to their worst season in franchise history (excluding record, but you cannot fault the expansion team for not being any good).

When the Suns traded for Thomas initially, no-one contemplated that he would ever become an All-Star, and when the Suns traded him away, no-one was screaming that they had just traded an All-Star. And yet, here we are, a season later and you could easily say that the Suns traded an All-Star for a late first round pick.

Would Thomas have been a Western Conference All-Star had he been paired up with Bledsoe with Dragic gone? Honestly, no. But he would have been a fan favorite and could have been a nice piece going forward. This alone helps to make grading this trade slightly easier. Grade: B-

Let’s look at the three February 19, 2015 trades as on every large one:

Suns Traded:
PG Goran Dragic
PG Zoran Dragic
PG Tyler Ennis
C Miles Plumlee
PG Isaiah Thomas
Future First Round Pick (Lakers Pick which is still top-3 protected in 2017, then unprotected after)

Suns Received:
SF Danny Granger
SF John Salmons
PG Brandon Knight
PG Kendall Marshall
SF Marcus Thornton
2016 First Round Pick (Cleveland’s pick which was top-10 protected)
2017 First Round Pick (Miami’s pick which is top-7 protected)
2021 First Round Pick (Miami’s pick)

To break this down to its core, on February 19, 2015, trade deadline day, the Suns traded Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and the coveted Lakers pick, for Brandon Knight, and three first round picks.

Goran Dragic was a fan favorite, Isaiah Thomas was a very nice player, and Suns fans had high hopes for the possibilities of the Lakers pick. Brandon Knight is a good point guard, when healthy, and three first round picks have a lot of possibilities as well, regardless of their possible placement in the draft. What makes these moves so hard for Suns fans to accept was that Dragic’s exit was very rushed and seemingly forced, and the Lakers’ pick has the possibility of being very high in the draft. However, Brandon Knight is six years younger than Dragic, and while the Lakers pick may eventually strike gold and become a top-3 pick, the Suns received three other first round picks, each of which have significant value, especially in trades.

With all that being said, I am going to be a lot less harsh on these moves as a whole than other people have been. The Suns may not have shown that they had a specific direction for the future at that moment, especially since they still retained two starting point guards (something that most fans question) instead of finding a way to gain a shooting guard, which at the time was a desperate need, but the moves were not all-in- all a massive bust for the Suns. In fact, they could turn out to work quite well for them, should Knight remain healthy and accept a backup role, (or he is moved for a piece that the Suns are really enamored with) the Lakers pick does not end up striking lottery gold, and the other three draft picks turn into solid pieces (one of which – the Cleveland pick – may already have. More on that later). Overall Grade: B+

June 25, 2015

Traded Andrew Harrison to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jon Leuer.

The Suns traded a back of the bench player for a part-time starter, who just received one of the most ridiculous contracts in NBA history. Because of the return on the trade, regardless of his extremely average statistics, this was a solid move for the Suns, all things considered. Grade: A

July 9, 2015

Traded Reggie Bullock, Danny Granger and Marcus Morris to the Detroit Pistons for a 2020 2nd round draft pick.

Marcus Morris was the biggest pain in the Suns you-know- what since Robert Horry. Additionally, the Suns were in the running, and reportedly a very close number two, in signing star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Trading Morris, Granger, and Bullock helped create the cap space to try and sign Aldridge as well as sign Tyson Chandler.

While the Suns lost the Aldridge sweepstakes, (and reportedly did not seek either of the Morri’s "permission" to split the pair up which created a massive rift between Markieff, the coaching staff, the front office, and Planet Orange) the trade itself accomplished something many Suns fans felt was actually impossible following his domestic dispute problem as well as on court antics: McDonough traded Marcus Morris.

Bravo, Ryan McDonough. Bravo.

Grade: A+

February 18, 2016

Traded Markieff Morris to the Washington Wizards for DeJuan Blair, Kris Humphries and a 2016 1st round draft pick. (2016 1st-Rd pick is top-9 protected)

Local commentators reported that the Suns would absolutely trade Markieff Morris by the trade deadline, and while it literally took until the last few minutes, after an excruciating eight months of speculation, a deal was struck, and the biggest local sports enemy was gone. As any Suns fan knows, not only was this the biggest sigh of relief for everyone, but Markieff did little to nothing to help the Wizards in their unsuccessful playoff push, and both the Morri’s off court antics continue to this day. Fortunately for Planet Orange, they are now the concern of two Eastern Conference foes, (get it? Foes? Hahaha) and we can sit back and laugh, and laugh.

In return, DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries did nothing more than help make the salary swap work, with the main jewel coming Phoenix’s way, a top-9 protected lottery pick only made the trade that much sweeter. A pick that would turn out to be extremely useful very quickly.

Again, no-one seemed to believe that the Suns could get a first round pick in return for Markieff Morris, and many believed that they would see the same kind of return as the Marcus trade, a second rounder sometime off in the future. But again, Ryan McDonough struck trade gold, and Suns fans were left pleasantly surprised at the haul.

Bravo, Ryan McDonough. Bravo.

Grade: A+

June 23, 2016

Traded Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis and a 2020 2nd round draft pick to the Sacramento Kings for Marquese Chriss. 2020 2nd-rd pick is DET's pick

I personally sat at a bar on draft day excited that the Suns had just drafted Dragan Bender. I knew that the Suns had coveted Marquese Chriss as well, and so I hoped that either he or Domantas Sabonis would be available when the Suns selected at 13. Only four picks later it was reported that the Suns had traded up and were selecting Marquese Chriss at number 8. Regardless of the players the Kings eventually selected with the Suns’ original picks, the trade was essentially Bogdan Bogdanovic – who had only hours before stated that he would be staying in Europe for another season – the number 13 pick from Washington, and the number 28 pick from Cleveland.

In many fans and commentators opinions, a great deal.

Much of Planet Orange, myself included, was excited about what Bogdan might have brought to the team, although, like a draft pick yet to be used on a player, he was simply a dream, not a sure thing. The 28th pick was highly unlikely to result in any player of significance, and there is no doubt that the 8th pick would be a better place to select than the 13th. So while I am still interested in seeing Bogdan in the NBA, he would have been behind Devin Booker on the Suns regardless, so to make a move to further solidify the power forward position, which had been essentially a revolving door for several years, was fantastic. Grade: A

In simple summation, I am personally very happy and content with the moves General Manager Ryan McDonough has made thus far. I was never too upset about the point guard saga involving Dragic, Thomas, and Knight (especially since Dragic seemed to bring it all down upon himself) and while I too would have loved to still have the Lakers draft pick, in the process of all those moves, they ended up with the necessary pieces to trade up in the draft for Marquese Chriss, and according to people who actually watch college basketball (sorry, I really don’t) he could be a very nice piece for the Suns moving forward.

A couple things that I have learned in the research for this post is:
- Most of McDonough’s trades showed a very deliberate plan that evolved very quickly into something the Suns needed. Whether it was salary dumps, player dumps, or position swaps, I can see a reason for just about everything.
- McDonough loves the 3-team trade and has already made five of them in less than three years (could he pull off another?)
- Most of the players that the Suns have traded away have given their teams very little. One can argue that even Goran Dragic is playing at a very average level. In fact, statistically, the only player who was traded away that has produced at a higher level with another team than with the Suns is Isaiah Thomas, and for most fans and spectators, Thomas was the afterthought anyway.

I had a lot of fun doing research for this post. This was honestly the first time that I attempted to research these moves on any level and was not sure how I would feel overall going in. My personal opinion stayed the same – I believe that Ryan McDonough is an under-rated GM (though I certainly do not place him on any sort of management pedestal) and believe that once the Suns finally have an opportunity to land a star free agent, that coupled with McDonough’s tremendous scouting ability and his trade savvy, those fans who at this moment believe he’s a bust, will change their tune.

What do you think? How would you rate these trades? How would you rate Grading Ryan McDonough's Trades as Suns GMMcDonough so far? Please comment below! Feel free to critique!