The writing has been on the wall since Josh Jackson was drafted last year, but once the Phoenix Suns traded up for Mikal Bridges using their unprotected 2021 first round pick gained from the Goran Dragic trade, it likely sealed T.J. Warren’s fate. Either Warren would be thrust into his ideal long term role of microwave scorer as the sixth man or dealt before he saw the court again.
I’ve been leaning more towards the former throughout this summer, but Thursday’s sudden trade with the Houston Rockets has definitely shifted my mindset.
After Phoenix continued their all-around reset shipping off Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss, arguably General Manager Ryan McDonough’s biggest mistakes made during his current five-year tenure, for Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, it created more roster questions than answers. Once ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted out that Anderson would be Phoenix’s starter at power forward, it moved free agent signing Trevor Ariza to his natural small forward position.
All of a sudden, there’s another logjam on the wing. If Ariza indeed does start in the frontcourt alongside Anderson and Deandre Ayton, that leaves Josh Jackson, Mikal Bridges and Warren all fighting for rotation minutes off the bench.
Sure, all three are interchangeable as backups at the 2-4 (Warren just 3-4), but Phoenix also needs to find spot minutes for the likes of Dragan Bender, Davon Reed and Melton. That trio fits as ideal two-way pieces that could grow along with the top portion of this young core (Booker, Ayton, Jackson, Bridges). Eventually, Bender will look to fill Anderson’s role with more defensive upside attached while Reed and Melton are the lanky, switch-versatile guards/secondary playmakers who will make Phoenix’s aggressive switching scheme on defense go.
Wojnarowski also noted in his story further breaking down the Suns-Rockets trade that Phoenix was still in the market for acquiring a starting quality point guard before training camp. Again, this makes things even more bleak for the hopes of Warren suiting up in Suns’ colors once more, because he’s their best asset to get such a move done right now.
The Suns went even further this offseason on the youth movement surrounding their star in Booker. I don’t see Josh Jackson being shopped at this point unless it’s for an All-Star at the position, which the Suns would have pulled off if one was actually available.
Signs continue to point in the direction of Warren, who is just now beginning his 4-year, $50 million extension, being the one used to help fill their more pressing, win-now need. Simply put, Warren’s lack of perimeter shooting and defensive versatility compared to his teammates on the wing makes this choice rather easy.
As far as cap space goes, the Houston trade made it possible to achieve max cap space with only one move: stretching Ryan Anderson’s restructured contract at Knight’s figure of $15.6 million. Trading Warren would push that number over $40 million in room, easily allowing Phoenix to continue retooling its roster around the likes of Booker and Ayton next summer.
With that being said, what value could Warren net in return? Let’s find out below as I outlined five trades that could be viewed as mutually beneficial.
Clippers-Suns: Patrick Beverley and Wesley Johnson for T.J. Warren
Beverley has been consistently brought up by many when pursuing a stopgap option who would provide much-needed on-court leadership and accountability. Beverley also seamlessly slides into the model that Phoenix seems to be building on both ends of the floor. His former teammates from Houston, Ariza and Anderson, are now in the Valley so why not make it a reunion?
And from the Clippers’ point of view, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander needs to see action early and often throughout his rookie campaign. Beverley would be an ideal role model for a year, but Warren would step in and provide a scorer off the bench who provides long term starter insurance. The reason why is due to Tobias Harris declining an extension earlier this summer from Los Angeles. If he walks for nothing in July, they have Warren who would be on a massive bargain compared to what Harris likely fields as an unrestricted free agent.
Beverley also is coming off microfracture surgery on his knee, which he just got cleared from earlier this month, ultimately knocking down his own trade value.
Wesley Johnson, who had to be thrown into make salaries work, would either be waived right upon arrival or ride the bench most of the time. He likely gets the pink slip ahead of Daniels due to the latter’s shooting ability.
Pairing Beverley in the backcourt allows for Booker to play both on-ball (39.9% catch-and-shoot percentage since 2013) and off-ball plenty throughout his fourth season, which is a theme in today’s exercise of finding the right compatibility from this team’s starting point guard.
Pacers-Suns: Cory Joseph and Bojan Bogdanovic for T.J. Warren and Troy Daniels
Another defensive-minded point guard is what heads back in return for Warren, but this time around shooting goes back both ways. Bojan Bogdanovic would slide into a bench role as a catch-and-shoot spacer along the same lines as Anderson and Ariza while Daniels adds another sniper to the collection Indiana is putting together.
The only salary in this deal going past 2019 is Warren, who would give the Pacers their answer on the wing to go along with Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner. Warren and Doug McDermott actually would be an interesting 1-2 combo at the 3 to roll with. We all know McDermott can shoot the lights out, but Warren could feast off ample cutting opportunities with the spacing Oladipo, Turner and McDermott will always provide.
From Phoenix’s point of view, Joseph could be re-signed at a way lower figure than the elite names if they wanted him back. He also fits the profile of someone Elie Okobo and Melton can model their games after while picking up the NBA nuances.
Meanwhile, Bogdanovic provides the necessary depth at forward allowing no real minutes to be clogged. As the last line of depth at forward, Bogdanovic’s role would be drastically less in Phoenix than it is now. He’s someone to watch for who gets bought out when the time arrives.
Honestly, the point guard rotation ending up as Joseph-Harrison-Okobo with Booker and Melton seeing time as well, doesn’t sound too bad.
Raptors-Suns: Delon Wright and C.J. Miles for T.J. Warren and 2020 Milwaukee pick
Trying to figure out the “type” Phoenix’s front office has for their primary initiator seems to e taking shape. It wouldn’t be someone who pounds the ball with no movement like Eric Bledsoe and Knight, but more so in the archetype of Beverley. If the point guard takes 10 shots or less per game, that’s likely the best-case scenario for how they want the offense to operate around Booker.
Delon Wright fits that billing, and he’s someone who continues to fly way too under the radar to most. Wright’s current situation could allow for him to be freed by an eager team like the Suns, too. Kyle Lowry is under contract through 2020, but so is his backup Fred VanVleet.
More often than not, Wright played off the ball during the 2017-18 campaign, but his efficiency and three-point shooting took steps forward. In Phoenix’s system, Wright sticks out like a sore thumb from this list as the No. 1 target.
Wright not only is 26-years-old, but his per-36 numbers suggest someone who’s ready to shine once he’s called upon: 13.9 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists (+2.5 AST/TO), 1.8 steals, 0.8 blocks on 46.5/36.6/82.9 shooting splits.
The 6’5” guard also will be a restricted free agent in 2019. If the Suns swung a trade for him, I imagine they work on quickly hammering out an extension. The thing is, Wright’s contract wouldn’t break the bank at all estimating it being around $8-10 million per year (something like a 3-year, $28.5 million deal makes plenty of sense from both sides).
C.J. Miles, who has a player option for 2019-20, would be brought back with Wright to match Warren’s $11.8 million salary. Miles has shot 37.2% on over 6 attempts per game from beyond the arc since 2014. From the corners, where the likes of Bridges, Ariza and Anderson stand out, Miles has hit 45.6% of his looks on that same timeframe.
Warren would provide Toronto with their alternative route in case Kawhi Leonard walks away after his 1-year stint. Warren would slide up to the 4 while OG Anunoby would take Leonard’s spot. If Kawhi stayed, Warren still gives them a wing under control for three more years at a respectable figure.
Throwing the 2020 Milwaukee pick Toronto’s way also makes them heavily consider this, in my opinion. Wright is on the cusp of becoming more well-known for his two-way chops, but he needs to see consistent playing time first.
If we’re talking about deals being very beneficial for both sides, this one is exactly that. Phoenix sheds Warren’s contract while Toronto can now commit 100% of their attention to VanVleet being Lowry’s eventual replacement while recouping a first-rounder in the process.
Cavaliers-Suns: George Hill for T.J. Warren and Troy Daniels
It’s time for Collin Sexton to take the mantle in Cleveland after LeBron James left town again. However, George Hill is currently blocking his way of becoming one of the bigger sleeper picks for Rookie of the Year.
What’s ironic is before Hill was shipped from Sacramento to Cleveland in February, the deal was originally dead in the water. The reason why should give Phoenix reason to pursue him.
According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, before Cleveland re-engaged Sacramento and just finished it off later, the Cavaliers wanted Hill to accept a buyout in advance if LeBron James did indeed end up leaving.
George Hill, they didn’t want to buy him out this year. What they wanted to do was protect themselves in the event that, if LeBron James left, whether George Hill would be willing to take a buyout on the $20 million he’s owed on his contract after this season.
Well, Cleveland has their point guard of the future now and hope is there for Hill to be easily pried out of there. Hill has one year remaining on his contract, technically two, but 2019-20 is only $1 million guaranteed (easily allowing them to waive without penalty on the salary cap). This makes it even better from the Suns’ point of view, as Hill really is an expiring contract over anything else.
However, the on-court product with Hill is still legit. During his days in Indiana, he was one of the better on-ball defenders who was flexible enough to slide between playing on and off ball without issue. Hill has also progressed into being one of the best perimeter shooters at his position. Attempting 32.2% of his three-pointers from the corners, the IUPUI product converted on 47% of those opportunities.
Adding another dead-eye shooter to the group already being assembled in Phoenix goes right in line with what they are trying to construct. Spacing and versatility is the name of the game and Hill has both of those traits in spades.
Cleveland has one of the worst rosters, at least looking from a longer lens, than most. From Day 1, Warren would be the small forward who replaces LeBron in the starting lineup and would have great opportunity to put his usual scoring numbers.
At least on the surface, I think Phoenix could make a convincing case for making not only the Hill/Booker backcourt happen but allow Cleveland to kickstart the Sexton/Warren era plus whatever they collect from a future Kevin Love trade.
Timberwolves-Suns: Jeff Teague for T.J. Warren and 2020 Milwaukee pick
There are no All-Stars available for the Suns, but they could look a tier below to find Jeff Teague, who shined the last time he was under the eye of an innovative coach (All-Star under Mike Budenholder in Atlanta). Teague definitely has his struggles defensively compared to the rest on this list, but the additions of Melton and Bridges makes me feel more comfortable going in this route.
Minnesota has had what some may describe as a rocky summer. Not only did Jimmy Butler decline his initial extension offer, but friction has seemingly been brewing between Butler and its young core of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. If I was a betting man, I would place a money line down on Butler being dealt before he hits the open market next July.
The Timberwolves could have there immediate replacement for Butler in Warren, though. Right away, Warren would take Taj Gibson’s spot in the starting unit, adding way more speed than the slow-plodding big. Towns is already one of the best rebounders league-wide, so another rebounder isn’t really needed next to him.
A 5-man lineup featuring Tyus Jones, Wiggins, Butler, Warren and Towns would probably be one of the highest ranked teams in terms of pace. What’s interesting is that the Timberwolves did better with Jones than Teague in most lineup combinations from an advanced stats point of view.
It’s hard to know what Tom Thibodeau would do if McDonough approached him with this type of offer, but I find it hard to believe he wouldn’t consider pulling the trigger on it when glancing at the long term ramifications of their current core.
And then from the Suns’ point of view, Teague immediately steps into being the best backcourt partner Booker has had. Teague is more of a shooter and facilitator than Bledsoe ever was while also not taking much shots away at 11.2 field goal attempts per game at both Indiana and Minnesota.
Odds are Teague would accept his player option the following season then at age 31, but Melton and Okobo are patiently waiting their turn to take over.
Phoenix’s starting lineup and second unit would then be as follows: Teague-Booker-Ariza-Anderson-Ayton; Harrison-Jackson-Bridges-Bender-Chandler. That roster might not be able to make the playoffs, but I could at least see them pushing towards my barometer of around 32-35 wins (set my projection at 32-50 before Phoenix-Houston trade went down).
Minnesota, if this scenario actually happened in negotiations, would probably push for one of Okobo or Melton, but I wouldn’t budge. Instead, I would toss them the future Milwaukee pick to make up the difference.
Even though we are just over three weeks away from training camp, another move is seemingly on the horizon for Phoenix. The point guard void needs to be filled one way or another, and all signs continue to point in Warren’s direction for how they solve it.