With the 2018 NBA Draft just 23 days away, the Phoenix Suns front office continues to toil away in the analytics mines, their cheeks bedaubed with toner smudges, dry erase marker staining their fingertips like they’ve eaten nothing but Fun Dip for weeks.
But what else is one to expect of general manager Ryan McDonough and his band of merry men? He is, after all, the one who told azcentral.com last week that this draft has “four or five players in normal drafts that would be in the mix for Number 1, if not the Number 1 pick. …It’s a really talented draft. I think this will be one you look back on historically and say that was one of the better drafts this decade.”
Those four or five players McDonough spoke of are likely Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Michael Porter Jr., and any one of those players has the potential to turn into a foundational piece for a franchise. Therefore, the image of an intern rushing a bleary-eyed McDonough another cup of coffee while he pores over a new batch of scouting reports in search of the best of the bunch to select first overall probably brings a few smiles to Suns fans — or pained grimaces to those who’ve forgotten how to smile. It’s like the Suns were the first ones to the box of doughnuts in the break room; now all they have to do is figure out which one to lick.
But should they lick any? (I really hope I’m still speaking metaphorically.) There’s another option available to McDonough and the Suns, and that option is to trade the pick for a proven player.
That’s where things get knotty. It would take an extreme act of self-assuredness to deal away the franchise’s first-ever No. 1 overall pick, especially with the talent pool at the top of this draft. Doing so would be a gutsy gambit, one that would thrust McDonough into Executive of the Year or goat-in-waiting conversations, with very little chance for middle ground.
So why risk it? Simple: You swap an unknown quantity for a high-level known quantity, become relevant as a franchise again, and get to hold a pillow over #TheTimeline’s face until it stops moving. But this only happens if the player returning in the trade is worthwhile. For instance, were McDonough to even consider trading the pick for Dennis Schröder or Kemba Walker, he’d deserve to be driven out of town via old timey handcar. However, not all trade considerations constitute exilable offenses.
Rumors swirled in the wake of the Toronto Raptors’ sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, and after Dwane Casey was fired, talk of blowing up the 59-win team only strengthened. The blue chip pieces on that roster are DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, but even though DeRozan made All-NBA Second Team this season and Lowry fills a position of need (point guard), neither are foundational pieces, as evidenced by their continual wilting at the hands of the Cavaliers. There are other arguments to be made against acquiring them, but the first should suffice. You don’t trade a chance at a potential star for players who’ve established themselves a tier below.
Hassan Whiteside is another rumor-mill player who doesn’t make sense for Phoenix. He is on the right side of 30, is owed $25.4 million next season (2019-20 is a player option for $27.1 million), and performs as one of the league’s best centers when engaged. But Whiteside’s playing time diminished last season with the Miami Heat, due to a combination of injury and attitude, and Miami was forced to discipline him for conduct detrimental to the team. Center is a position of need for the Suns, but if they desire a dominant center, there’s potentially at least one available to draft who should come with fewer headaches.
John Wall? Again, no. The five-time All-Star point guard averaged 19.4 points and 9.6 assists in 2017-18; however, those numbers were down from 2016-17 and came in just 41 games — the fewest he’s played in his career. The Suns can’t trade the No. 1 pick for a former No. 1 pick who is coming off his unhealthiest season, hasn’t elevated the Washington Wizards into elite status in the East, and signed a contract that will have him earning $40-plus million dollars per year in his 30s. He’s a terrific player whom the Wizards could make available, but he only makes sense if the Suns were a point guard away from contender status. (Hint: They’re not.) Besides, there are enough red flags wavin’ to make K’naan proud.
Karl-Anthony Towns recently churned through the rumor mill on suspicion that he and head coach Tom Thibodeau aren’t exactly on the same page. But before addressing the Phoenix side of matters, let’s first address the Minnesota Timberwolves. As in, uh, why would the T-Wolves deal Towns? Granted, Towns isn’t the strong, hard-nosed defender Thibodeau probably wishes he had, but it makes no sense for the rookie-averse Thibodeau to deal away a young All-NBA Third Team center for an even younger unproven draftee. Minnesota is in win-now mode, and trading away an All Star is a step backward.
As for Phoenix, making a play to acquire Towns comes down to personal preference. One side can argue that Towns gives the Suns an All Star at the center position and a player who will be in uniform a while once he signs the ‘30-percent of cap’ max extension he’s eligible for this summer. The other side can argue that keeping the pick and taking Ayton as your center of the future not only saves cap space but could also be the better long-term plan if it is believed Ayton will develop in the mold of Joel Embiid (who was All-NBA Second Team, by the way).
But forget about it. Minnesota’s not dealing.
So that’s pretty much it. Perhaps there’s another superstar available for some obscure reason that the rumor mill hasn’t gotten wind of. Maybe Anthony Davis has developed a crawfish allergy. Or maybe Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t get along with Mallory Edens’ new puppy. Unlikely though.
Suns fans should settle into the idea that Adam Silver will announce the first overall pick on June 21 for Phoenix. McDonough already has, saying last week, “I think the overwhelming likelihood is that we keep the pick.”
That’s the wisest course of action…unless, say, there were available a multiple Defensive Player of the Year and MVP candidate who is in his prime. If such a player were healthy and indicated a willingness to play in Phoenix, that might be worth keeping the door cracked.