If you watched last night’s poor showing against the Clippers, you likely noticed that Brandon Knight did not see a single second of playing time in the second half. Knight has logged just 24 minutes over the Suns’ past three games, as Tyler Ulis has become a regular member of the rotation.
Decreased playing time hardly means a trade is inevitable. After all, many said a season ago that the Milwaukee Bucks would cut their losses with Greg Monroe, and yet he continues to play 20 MPG off the bench and make $17 million doing it.
Because trade rumor season is ramping up, I want to give Suns fans a detailed guide of which teams might actually be realistic suitors for Knight. I’m not Ryan McDonough, nor do I have contact with him (but Ryan if you’re reading this, let me know if you need someone to grab your coffee and your rebounds in shootaround). That being said, based on past trades it’s not hard to guess what the Suns are looking for in a Knight trade.
First of all, you need teams with underachieving high-salary players on short-term (ideally expiring) deals to match salary. This is the role that Kris Humphries played last season for the Suns, as his $4.6 million in salary was a necessity to facilitate the Markieff Morris trade. Despite that, Humphries played only four games with Phoenix. It’s a similar concept, where the Suns are looking for bad players they can bench on high-salary deals.
Beyond that, we can only assume that the team is looking for any lower-quality prospects and draft picks it can find to ramp up the rebuild. Knight’s trade value is a lot lower than when the Suns acquired him, so they’re unlikely to get something equivalent to the Lakers pick they lost.
The following is a list of teams that have bad contracts as well as some lower-class prospects and future picks to give up. To put them on the list they also have to at least potentially have interest in Knight and be theoretically interested in giving up the types of pieces the Suns want.
The Hawks are about to have a very interesting summer when Tiago Splitter, Kyle Korver, Kris Humphries, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Muscala, Mike Scott and Tim Hardaway Jr. all hit free agency at the same time. They have a few pieces locked up long-term, such as Dwight Howard, Paul Millsap (who’s being involved in trade rumors of his own), the struggling Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder. But that’s not much to build a team on.
With the team’s backup PG being Malcolm Delaney, a 27-year-old rookie shooting 37% from the field, they could look for more backcourt scoring. The Hawks could even experiment with Knight as a starting SG, as opposed to rotating Sefolosha, Hardaway and Korver (all expiring contracts) in and out of the starting SG role.
If the Hawks are fielding calls for Millsap as a .500+ team, they likely recognize their dearth of prospects and are thinking about starting a rebuilding process of their own. Even if they hesitate to trade picks, what they can offer the Suns is a lot of cap flexibility in the form of expiring contracts such as Splitter and any combination of the aforementioned players who will soon be free agents.
The Hornets fit the mold for a team that could possibly use Knight to fuel their playoffs push. At 19-16, Charlotte is sitting in the East’s fourth seed. They are only a game and a half behind the Celtics. But despite a career year from Kemba Walker, backup PG Ramon Sessions is shooting 39/30/74 and putting up 14 points and 6 assists per 36 minutes.
There are plenty of bad contracts here to acquire. Marvin Williams is on a 4-year, $55 million deal and could be swapped for Knight straight up, but that doesn’t free up any cap space for Phoenix. The Suns could also facilitate a deal by taking on two of the following: Belinelli, Hibbert, Hawes, Lamb. All are middling players making more than $5 million to come off the bench. But they’re still all productive, which makes Charlotte trading a package of them for just Knight unlikely.
This is not the most appealing, or likely, partner.
The Bulls are a solid defensive team that ranks 20th in PPG, 28th in FG%, 30th in 3P %, and has an angry Rajon Rondo on their hands.
If the Bulls are looking for a scorer to complement non-scoring PGs Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, the Suns could be a match.
Rondo is set to make $14 million this season, but only $3 million of his contract in 2017-18 is guaranteed if waived by June 2017. In other words, the Suns could acquire a quasi-expiring contract in Rondo by paying him only $3 million next season instead of $14 million.
Given that Rondo is angry about a loss in playing time, if he demands a trade I doubt it’s to a team that would more than likely want to bench him and then waive him.
This is another long shot.
Another team trying to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race. If the Pacers want a scoring punch off the bench, perhaps they could upgrade by replacing Rodney Stuckey/Aaron Brooks with Knight. Brooks has been the main backup to Teague to this point, shooting 42/35/91 and averaging 6 points and 2.5 assists in 15 minutes per game.
To give one example of matching salaries, the Suns could swap Knight and John Jenkins for Rodney Stuckey and Lavoy Allen. Both players are having rough seasons, and although Stuckey’s $7.5 million would still be on the payroll in 2017-18, Allen’s $4 million next year is decided by a team option and could be declined.
Beyond that, the Suns could hope to swindle Indiana out of a pick. The Pacers are one of the rare teams in the league with no first-round picks owed to them as well as no first-round picks that they owe to others. They’re at a clean slate with all first rounders available.
Now losers of five straight, the Brandon Jennings experiment has not worked. Rose has solidified his role as starting PG, while Jennings is shooting 38/31/78 off the bench and has failed to rejuvenate his career.
If the Knicks want to take a risk on Knight, they could swap Jennings and someone like struggling stretch four Lance Thomas to match salaries. Jennings is on an expiring deal, but Thomas has another 3 years and $21 million guaranteed to him. That’s not great, but it’s probably a reasonable rate these days for a 28-year-old forward who has shot 40% from deep for two consecutive seasons.
Courtney Lee for Knight works straight up, but I see no reason for the Knicks to do that.
The Knicks have all of their first-round picks in the coming years, but may be a little more hesitant to give those up as they’ve already traded the rights to their second-round picks from 2017-2021. Trading for one of their rookie prospects such as Baker or Hernangomez on top of Jennings/Thomas would be impossible without the Suns surrendering a low-salary player of their own on top of Knight/Jenkins (Jones, Williams, Ulis).
The Magic are all over the place this season. Most recently they beat the Lakers by 19, the Grizzlies by 10 and the Knicks by 12, only to fall to the Pacers by 13 and the Hornets by 19 in the same week.
Overall, the team’s PG position is a mess. Prospect Elfrid Payton lost his starting job to veteran D.J. Augustin, but even Augustin is shooting 40 percent from the field and averaging 5.7 assists per 36 minutes.
C.J. Watson has been a complete disaster, shooting 29 percent from the field in 26 games.
This team is one of my favorite scenarios. With Jeff Green struggling (9.3 PPG, 39% FG), the Suns could start a proposal by swapping Knight for Green and his expiring $15 million deal.
Because the Suns positioned themselves $12 million under the salary cap, they could even offer to take on an additional bad contract. The Suns could take on both Green and C.J. Watson for Knight and Jenkins and still be under the cap. Green’s deal expires after this season, and only $1 million of Watson’s $5 million salary for next season is guaranteed.
Instead of Watson, the Suns could try to convince Orlando to part with struggling 2015 first-rounder Mario Hezonja.
It’s also important to mention that all of Orlando’s first-round picks are available.
This one is mentioned quite often, and for good reason. The Sixers have a center logjam to free up. They could trade either Okafor or Noel and throw in an expiring contract such as Ilyasova or Sergio Rodriguez or an almost-expiring contract like Gerald Henderson ($1 million guaranteed in 2017-18).
The question here is, how bad do the Suns want either Noel or Okafor when Len/Chandler are eating up all the center minutes already and doing a decent job of it? And if they trade for Noel, what happens this summer? Extend either Len or Noel? Extend both, which would be an enormous amount of money?
I’m not convinced the Nuggets will have any interest in Knight when defense and turning the ball over is already their problem. But with Mudiay struggling and Jameer Nelson as the only backup, this could be a potential match.
Assuming the Nuggets make this trade with the intention of chasing the West’s eighth seed, they’re probably not going to part with Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari or Kenneth Faried while all three have strong years.
But Darrell Arthur/Jameer Nelson is enough salary to match. Arthur has two more guaranteed seasons after this one making $7.5 million/year, and that’s for being a career 18 MPG role player. Nelson’s contract also extends into next year, but he’s a savvy veteran PG who doesn’t turn the ball over.
The Nuggets gain some things in Knight but lose others in relinquishing Arthur/Nelson. On top of that, the Suns save no cap space with this move. This may not be the best pairing without intriguing prospects/picks thrown in that both sides can agree to.
The Rockets are surprising everyone this season, and after winning 16 of their last 18 are even nipping on the heels of the 2nd-seeded Spurs.
I frankly don’t know why this team needs Brandon Knight when it leads the league in offense, has a phenomenal ball handler in James Harden and the leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Eric Gordon.
But should they decide to look for another scoring guard, the Suns could take on a package of Corey Brewer and K.J. McDaniels to match salary, in addition to looking for picks. The Rockets own all of their own first rounders.
Both Brewer and McDaniels are guaranteed salary next season (a total of $11 million). You won’t get anything out of Brewer at this stage in his career, but McDaniels is a wing prospect in the mold of Archie Goodwin searching for a home in the NBA.
The Kings could use a long-term PG solution, as both Collison and Lawson are on one-year deals. And they have tons of less-than-affordable contracts, from Anthony Tolliver and Garrett Temple to Arron Afflalo and Rudy Gay. They also have intriguing prospects such as Willie Cauley-Stein, who has lost a bulk of his playing time in his sophomore campaign.
Those are all the ones I could think of, folks. If you think any team that I didn’t mention is a realistic partner, leave your thoughts in the comments.