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Phoenix Suns likely to make more trades, but won’t improve Suns future that way

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Suns GM Ryan McDonough has a reputation for making trades, but has only acquired one long-term starter while sending out four in 14 tries.

NBA: Phoenix Suns-Media Day Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns, in the seventh year of a disjointed rebuild, reportedly are involved in trade discussions about several of their veteran players.

Rumors abound that P.J. Tucker (Knicks?), Tyson Chandler (Blazers?) and/or Brandon Knight (Sacramento?) could be on the move in the coming weeks.

Who knows, maybe a trade will come down today. But more likely, McDonough will wait until the deadline comes (late February) before pulling the trigger.

The Suns rotation would be getting younger as a result, with recent draftees T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Devin Booker, Tyler Ulis, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender all needing more court time to realize their NBA potential.

The big question for the Suns is what will come back in those trades. The trading of veterans could help free up rotation time for the kids, but only if other veterans don’t come back in those same trades.

Building through the draft

GM Ryan McDonough knows that his squad is rebuilding through the draft, and over the past twelve months has made several moves in that direction to potentially hasten the process.

“One of the things that’s been important to us is trying to build through the draft,” McDonough said to Bright Side last month. “I know the Suns historically haven’t done that as much, or at least not to the level that we are doing it, but I feel like it’s the most sustainable way to build a contending team in today’s NBA. Especially since the salary cap is going up, individual contracts are going up.”

Devin Booker (2015) has been billed by national writers and players as a future All-Star and potential Team USA member. Alex Len (2013) and T.J. Warren (2014) are starting-caliber, quality Top-8 rotation players on just about any roster. Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis (2016) all have good futures.

Trade history

The Suns better be good at the draft because they’re not very good at getting better via trades.

Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough has been trying to acquire a star since he signed on to rebuild the franchise in 2013. I once coined it “trading up” and mistakenly came to the conclusion that McD would focus on trading up from there on out.

Unfortunately, the more time passes the more it becomes apparent that McDonough’s strengths in trade discussions lean more toward trading down and out than trading up.

Of McDonough’s 14 trades since becoming GM, only one trade has acquired a full-time starter for more than one season.

No wonder the Suns, in year four of the McDonough era, had the worst record of any Suns team through January 1 in the franchise’s 49 year history. In fact, McDonough has presided over the two worst starts in franchise history, which are McD’s third (10-24) and fourth seasons (12-23) on the job.

McDonough’s best trade to date is still his first: swapping role player Jared Dudley for Eric Bledsoe, who immediately became a perennial 18/5/5 producer and is now in year four as a starter and borderline All-Star talent with the Suns.

To be fair, the Suns inability to acquire long-term starters via trade goes back a lot further than McDonough. The last long-term (more than 2 years) Suns starter acquired via trade was... Jason Richardson in 2008? Boris Diaw in 2005?

Here’s a challenge for you dear readers: tell me the last 2+ year full time starter the Suns acquired via trade before Eric Bledsoe.

McDonough’s best trades as GM have been to trade down (trade talent for picks) and over (acquire short term role players).

Players like Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, Brandan Wright and Jon Leuer have been acquired for next to nothing in recent years. But they flamed out and were all gone within two seasons.

The highest quality incoming talent McDonough has acquired since Bledsoe was fellow point guard Isaiah Thomas, who was technically a trade but functionally a free agent signing. McD got IT for next to nothing, but there was no starting position open, chemistry was toxic and he panic-traded Thomas less than nine months later.

In terms of draft picks, McDonough keeps kicking the can down the road.

He cashed in his best chip - a lightly protected Laker pick - for two years of Brandon Knight, who will now likely be moved to another team for, hopefully, an only slightly-worse pick in a future draft.

He turned a Luis Scola and a 2013 second round Laker pick into three months of Isaiah Thomas and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic - who’s never come to the NBA - only to ultimately use them to acquire Marquese Chriss in the 2016 draft, who won’t be a useful NBA rotation player until at least 2017 or 2018.

He turned Goran Dragic into a pair of future lightly-protected picks who we won’t likely even be around to use.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

Net result

Four years. 14 trades. 25 assets out. 20 assets in.

What do the Suns have to show for it? One long-term starter (Bledsoe), one rookie starter (Chriss), one reserve (Knight) and two future picks (Miami’s 2018 and 2021).

Zero playoff appearances for incoming trade assets.

On the flip side, the Suns have sent out several long-term starters to other teams in those same trades. Isaiah Thomas is now an All-Star.

Marcin Gortat, Goran Dragic, Thomas, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris have all been full-time starters on their new teams since the trade. All but Markieff has been a starter in at least one playoff series for their new team.

In addition, role players like Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis, Anthony Tolliver, Reggie Bullock, Jared Dudley and Luis Scola reached the playoffs as well, in varying roles.

Ten outgoing trade assets have been in the playoffs since being traded from the Suns.

And that doesn’t count free agent defections like Channing Frye, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright, and probably others.

More trades to come

McDonough needs to keep dealing.

He needs to make a deal or three sending out even more veterans because there’s just too many interchangeable parts taking up minutes ahead of the young players.

He thinks the trade market will be big this year.

“Since both conferences are pretty bunched,” McDonough said to Bright Side. “If I had to guess I’d say there would be more early action this year where teams are saying all right, we’re not going to wait until February, the trade deadline.”

McDonough guessed that trades would start in December, but nothing happened across the league. In fact, the first real trade is taking place right now with Kyle Korver being shipped to the conference rival Cavaliers as Atlanta begins its tear down.

Will the flood gates open now? And, how will the Suns get involved?

For McDonough, it’s all about relationships.

“I think the key for me is being honest and open,” he told Bright Side. “I’m probably more open with other GMs - not about evaluating the players on our roster - but saying here’s what we are looking to do, who do you like on our roster? I’ll go through your roster and tell you who we like. Just because I think that’s how deals get done.”

McDonough has completed 14 deals in 3.5 years at the helm. Those 14 deals have involved 10 different NBA franchises, though he’s most commonly dealt with the Pistons, Clippers, Celtics, Kings and Wizards (twice each).

“As a GM, it’s hard to guess if teams don’t give you a whole lot,” he said of trade negotiations with other GMs. “You’re like, all right I think every other team likes Devin Booker but we’re not trading him so… so you waste a lot of time if there’s not that openness and honesty.”

Who will the Suns deal with over the next month, and how many players and picks will change hands?

Who knows.

What we can surmise from McDonough’s trade history though is the following:

  • He will likely trade down or out (future picks)
  • Any returning players won’t be long-term answers at any position
  • Moves most likely will happen right at the deadline in late February

If McDonough is going to turn around the Suns long-term, it will most likely only come through the draft. Any moves made between now and June most come with an eye firmly on the Draft, be it 2017 or later.