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Who could the Phoenix Suns be holding their assets for? Three names to keep an eye on

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Jimmy Butler and Paul George’s movement were too far ahead of Phoenix’s timeline. However, these franchise-changing players fit the billing.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

With a direction seemingly chosen by the Suns’ front office on which way to go, committing to the youth, they have decided upon a Golden State or Minnesota path towards contention. Going through the growing pains and then expediting the roster with a star in his prime that will help ascend them to title contention once that 2019-2021 timeframe arrives.

Minnesota’s head coach and general manager, Tom Thibodeau, decided to go ahead and challenge for a top four playoff spot right away, once he realized what he had with Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. They are ready to take the next step, but the Suns still have another two years at least until that’s put into motion, I imagine.

If Devin Booker continues his evolvement on offense, while Josh Jackson shows he’s a capable and consistent two-way impact prospect, Phoenix becomes an attractive piece for any NBA star looking to head elsewhere in his prime within the next two to three seasons. That doesn’t even include Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss, who’s progressions will be paramount for the Suns to grow into perennial contenders.

However, I don’t see this being a free agency move like the Warriors. The Suns have been big game hunting since the trade deadline, including talks about DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis, respectively. General manager Ryan McDonough is building his roster in such a unique manner. Even if they filled the roster with veterans, a la Sacramento, it would be 60% age 23 and younger.

That’s not only a smart way of building success from the inside, but it also attracts those franchise-altering superstars from the outside.

Here are the three names, ranked from best to worst odds, I have my eye on the most as we inch closer towards 2019 when we will likely see that trade for contention pulled off. (I was going to include Giannis Anteotokounmpo here, but, for the time being, we’ll exclude him with his current situation in Milwaukee.)

Kyrie Irving

Not only is time running out for LeBron James in Cleveland. If James bolts out to the Western Conference, with the Lakers as heavy favorites, Kyrie Irving will also look to pursue a way out soon after according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

If this is really the case, I would imagine an ideal scenario for both parties would be to play out the 2018-19 season and see how they fare. If Irving can’t lead them to a deep run or sees a roster going nowhere fast much like Paul George with Indiana, then we will see a trade where the star that is leaving gets pennies on the dollar for him.

Advantage heavily swings towards a team like Phoenix in this scenario. Not only do they have all of their upcoming picks, but they also own Miami’s 2021 unprotected alongside a pick falling likely in the teens in 2018. Also, they will have one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, possibly No. 1, so they have attractive trade chips throughout their team if they need to include any.

When does Irving examine the landscape post-Cleveland, which teams will offer him the best chance to compete while term throughout his prime? In the summer of 2019, Irving will only be 27 years of age while still being under contract for another full season, which gives any franchise trying to convince him to stay long-term any sort of shot if it’s not a destination he desired. Even though Irving’s contract would contain a trade bonus for that contract year, a team such as Phoenix, who’s salary perfectly matches up by shedding all of their non-core salaries off their books, would easily be able to swallow such a pill.

The Suns, if they have their eyes set on a run at Irving, could have the chips fall right into play when LeBron bolts.

Alongside a promising core who would be ready to compete for the playoffs all around ages of 22-25, Irving could see Phoenix as a destination for championships throughout his mid-30s. I mean, including Irving into a lineup of Booker, Jackson, Chriss, and Bender would be one of the best starting units in terms of overall potential and production if all goes to plan with the core four’s developments.

When thinking of teams who have point guard needs down the line and would probably align with where Irving wants to play, Phoenix would be going up against Los Angeles (Clippers), Miami, San Antonio, and New York (dependent upon if David Griffin ends up there in 2018 or not).

The Clippers would be an appealing option for Kyrie with the LA market alongside Blake Griffin. Outside of Griffin, everyone outside of their draft picks would be off the books as well. However, you have to wonder really what a Kyrie-Griffin duo would really accomplish in the West. Miami’s roster isn’t going anywhere fast around then, while San Antonio, outside of Kawhi Leonard, has nothing much to offer him for long-term success.

Phoenix is positioned well compared to the Clippers in this aspect, assets. Here’s a realistic trade they could offer Cleveland, which Los Angeles and Jerry West really couldn’t top.

Cleveland receives: T.J. Warren, Eric Bledsoe (S&T scenario), Brandon Knight, 2019 1st (top three protected, unprotected 2020 if so), and 2021 1st via Miami

Phoenix receives: Kyrie Irving

If the Suns decide to extend Warren’s contract, which at this point would come as a surprise if they didn’t, he provides them their sixth man scoring punch off the bench behind Jackson, but he becomes a viable trade chip in a star trade.

Cleveland, without picks and young prospects on their roster along the wing, would be ecstatic to obtain Warren. Not only that, but they would obtain an expiring contract in Brandon Knight who can provide scoring off the bench or in a starting role. Either way, he saves them money after a season. Also, if they wanted to find their point guard, Bledsoe could sweeten the deal in a sign-and-trade. Adding in their 2019 and 2021 first rounder from Miami should not be an issue because if Phoenix keeps all of their 2018 selections, the roster will be filled to the brim with under-25 talent.

This deal would allow Cleveland to stay afloat in a rebuild, too. After giving away their 2019 first rounder (top 10 protected) to Atlanta in the Kyle Korver trade deadline deal, the Suns correct their mistake while giving them three first rounders, in total, for 2020 and 2021. Adding young pieces around Warren and Bledsoe would be better than letting Irving walk eventually, and Irving himself could pull a George and hurt his value anyways by requesting a trade and telling them his intentions a year in advance.

By far, I see this as the most realistic superstar trade McDonough could pull off without even relinquishing his main possessions.

Klay Thompson

Even though the Warriors are on the top of the NBA mountain now, it doesn’t mean it won’t end here soon.

Once the 2021 season would roll around, this version of the Golden State Warriors would be nearly financially unsustainable. And with Klay Thompson in need of a rich extension come July 2019, he could be the first domino to fall.

With Phoenix in the position they are set up to be in around that offseason, why not try to steal a future Hall of Famer away from the Bay? Even though some might question the fit alongside Booker, Thompson’s lockdown ability on the perimeter complements both of their lights-out shooting.

Today’s NBA continues to move towards positionless basketball with the five best athletes out on the court, and Booker is capable of handling spot point guard duties alongside Thompson, so the fit is there.

At age 29, Thompson would help push Phoenix towards a title run against his former team, but there is another team that could have its eyes on him. That team is the Lakers, where his father, Mychal, played during one of his three stops while in the Association. If Los Angeles is able to add LeBron and George in 2018, Thompson could set his sets over there. However, in a sign-and-trade scenario, Phoenix could send picks and an expiring that will be in demand with Knight. Here’s what the Suns could offer Golden State if Thompson wants out, while not losing him for nothing.

Golden State receives: Brandon Knight, 2020 first rounder unprotected, 2021 first via Miami

Phoenix receives: Klay Thompson (S&T)

This clears the way for Golden State to extend Draymond Green to his supermax extension a year early or gives them the flexibility to add cheap bench pieces to complement Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Shelling out four supermax deals is not a smart business move to make for sustained success without bottoming out. Letting one of their stars go gives them more chances to compete for titles when their big three ages well into their mid-30’s.

Thompson will command a boatload of money, but, luckily for Phoenix, it falls right into their plans for the summer of 2019. They would be able to add in Thompson to their roster outright, but acquiring him via sign-and-trade could help sweeten the deal for Golden State. Anytime you are letting a star out, you better make sure you are fully ready for all options if you are in a front office role.

How fun would it be to see Booker and Thompson raining threes from the outside, while Bender and Chriss develop inside-out alongside a versatile weapon on both ends with Josh Jackson? Anyway, you look at it, if all four develop to their expectations, adding in a superstar quality player will make a distinct impact on a roster such as the Suns.

However likely it might or might not be when 2019 rolls around, Thompson should be considering the Valley of the Sun if he leaves, because it could offer him the clearest path to add, even more, titles to his resume.

Anthony Davis

This is a crucial year for the Pelicans. Not only is this the first full season of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins as a duo, but it could be there last if Cousins senses greener pastures elsewhere. Even if Cousins stays around, what does New Orleans have on the roster? Really, outside of Jrue Holiday, there are no buildable pieces.

The Pelicans’ front office will be stuck between a rock and a hard place next summer if Cousins bolts. By 2019, Davis, I sense, would want to be on his way out with no improvement in sight as he holds a player option for 2020-2021.

However, to get Davis in Phoenix, it would take having to move some frontcourt assets. Whether it’s Chriss or Bender, maybe both, would need to head out to the bayou. That’s if the Suns want to go toe-to-toe against Boston’s litany of draft capital for Davis’ services.

With Danny Ainge swinging and missing on acquiring Paul George and Jimmy Butler, Davis is the next best bet for what he could possibly be hoarding his assets up for. If not, then I guess the Celtics’ general manager is aiming to conquer immediately and throughout the next decade, post-LeBron.

New Orleans receives: T.J. Warren, Brandon Knight, Dragan Bender, 2019 1st, 2021 first via Miami

Phoenix receives: Anthony Davis

This is the best offer I would toss at New Orleans for Davis if I was in McDonough’s shoes, but, compared to Boston, this doesn’t stack up with what they have at their disposal. With Ainge, though, he might not want to include Terry Rozier in any deal, so there’s always a shot.

Let's say Davis somehow ends up in the Valley, a lineup of Bledsoe or inexperienced point (Luka Doncic, Collin Sexton, and Trevon Duval are names to keep an eye on in 2018), Booker, Jackson, Chriss, and Davis would be terrifying. This gives Booker ample amounts of space to create for himself while having team-oriented passers like Jackson would thrive in such a setting.

Meanwhile, this gives the Pelicans a scoring wing to build around, while also providing them two first rounders in 2019 and 2021 to help facilitate their rebuild after Davis and Cousins depart. Also, they would be able to add in Bender as their big of the future. Compared to Cleveland, New Orleans actually owns all of their upcoming draft picks.

If you haven’t noticed, by the way, Knight is an asset when aiming towards 2019. If he stays in Phoenix through the next two seasons, then he will be on an expiring deal. With how cap space is becoming more valued now, a contract like Knight’s will be a commodity if kept until then. Never would have expected it when he was first signed by the Suns, but Knight could be the linchpin in bringing a superstar to Phoenix down the line.

What do you think, Suns fans? Do you think Irving, Thompson or Davis would help ascend Phoenix as a perennial title contender around their young core? The time to make that move is coming soon if they want to hang a banner in Talking Stick Resort Arena.