After co-interim general manager James Jones bought out Tyson Chandler less than three weeks into the regular season so he could go join his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, many started to connect the dots with Jones’ deep connection to former teammate and good friend LeBron James.
Well, we might have been on the verge of Jones helping out LeBron once more on December 15 by shipping Trevor Ariza there, but talks quickly broke off once Phoenix was insistent on including one of the Lakers’ young core pieces (Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart).
According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, Phoenix was in talks with Los Angeles leading up to when Ariza’s trade restriction would be lifted. LA was willing to give up Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s bloated expiring contract plus a future second-round pick for Ariza, but that wasn’t close to getting it done from the Suns’ point of view. The Suns countered by asking for Caldwell-Pope and second-year shooting guard Josh Hart, a former teammate of Mikal Bridges at Villanova.
Jones and owner Robert Sarver were originally seeking a point guard plus some sort of draft asset in return for Ariza. The Lakers’ offer wasn’t satisfying their tastes, especially with no inclusion of Hart or any other young prospect, which made them pivot to their offer with Washington for Austin Rivers and Kelly Oubre Jr.
So far this season, Hart has proven to be the easiest piece to slide in with LeBron James’ arrival averaging 9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1 steal, and 0.7 blocks in only 25.2 minutes. Unlike Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, who have had their moments of inconsistency next to the GOAT, Hart has thrived as a defensive pest and catch-and-shoot marksman.
It makes sense why the Suns were adamant on Hart, because they were close to getting Dillon Brooks from Memphis before the enormous debacle between Memphis and Phoenix.
If this deal would’ve happened, Phoenix would’ve had their long-term backup behind Devin Booker while also adding in yet another young 3-and-D prospect who could help cover gaps with other defensive minuses on the floor. With no point guard including back with Caldwell-Pope and Hart, the Suns would've likely rolled this starting lineup out: Booker, Hart, Bridges, T.J. Warren, and Deandre Ayton.
From the Lakers’ side of things, it’s understandable why they didn’t want to let go of Hart for Ariza. Not only is Ariza 10 years older than Hart, but the former Villanova Wildcat has been better on both sides than the seasoned vet through a quarter of the season.
Even though there might’ve might been some pushback from Sarver after what happened with Chandler immediately showing more effort with the Lakers, this goes against the notion of Phoenix being reluctant to even discuss framework of an Ariza deal with them.
Hart would have been the crown jewel of any Ariza deal, in my opinion. He’s already better than Oubre Jr., and would’ve been able to fit within multiple roles for Phoenix.
Alas, it will never come to be as Ariza is on the way to Washington after playing two years alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal from 2012-2014.