Phoenix Suns nation is under siege, has been for a very long time and doesn’t look like anything is changing any time soon.
The Suns played their 50th game on Thursday night and have won only 11 of them — a 22% winning percentage that is worse any they’ve experienced yet during this horrific “tank for high pick” phase — including losses in 13 of their last 15 games.
How is this possible, after the Suns started the season with a 20-point win over Dallas on opening night, sporting the most top-end talent they’ve had since the tank started?
Suns coach Igor Kokoskov talked with a grim chuckle of the “long list of challenges we have” that were relevant in the moment going into Portland game on Thursday night.
How about the challenge that 23-year old Kelly Oubre Jr. is one of the oldest players on your team? Or that 21-year old Josh Jackson qualifies as a “veteran” with more NBA experience than half the rotation because he’s in his second year? Or that the team’s best talent keeps sustaining injuries? The list goes on.
Thursday night’s game against the lackluster Blazers started off the bat looking winnable. The Suns had a 47-41 lead late in the second quarter, and were still within a point (73-72) late in the third, but eventually their litany of injuries caught up with them.
Starting center Deandre Ayton and backup Richaun Holmes have been out all week with ankle injuries. Starting forward and second-leading scorer T.J. Warren is out indefinitely with a deep bone bruise in his ankle. Then in the third quarter, starting guard De’Anthony Melton came up lame after a putback.
Missing four rotation players eventually put the Suns in a tailspin from which they couldn’t recover. Any team that’s forced to play Dragan Bender and Quincy Acy 48 minutes at center, and Elie Okobo and Jamal Crawford all the point guard minutes is going to suffer. Hard.
With the trade deadline looming in two weeks, will the Suns add reinforcements via the trade market?
Don’t hold your breath. Suns interim GM James Jones says the Suns won’t make a panic trade, per a radio interview with Burns and Gambo this week.
“If you do something because you feel pressure — you do something short-sighted — it always ends up coming to bite you in the end,” he said.
“The reason a lot of these players are available is because their teams don’t think they fit long-term. Your teams think those guys are declining in value and so they’ll try to push them upon you and if you’re desperate and they know that’s something that you need they’re hopeful that they can trick you into setting yourself up for short-term success but long-term failure.”
Clearly, Jones is not inclined to execute a trade just to add someone who can play basketball at an NBA level. If he makes a trade, he’s looking for someone who can help long term.
Would any acquisition be an older player, like someone along the lines of last year’s free agent acquisition of Trevor Ariza (33 years old), 2017’s top choice in Jared Dudley (32 at the time) and 2016’s top free agent Tyson Chandler (32 at the time)?
“We’re focused on adding veterans, just not the veterans that are at that declining point.”
Jones has seen what happens. It’s like a generational gap.
“For the most part, our team is all under 22,” Jones said. “So if you try to add someone that’s 33-34 years old, it usually just doesn’t work. There’s too big of a gap.”
“Especially when you factor in the speed and the pace of the game has increased,” Jones said. “The elite players, there’s very few of those guys between the age of 32 to 35 that maintain a high level and take a jump.”
That likely takes the Suns completely out of the Mike Conley Jr. market. Conley is a potential All-Star every year and available for a high price from the Grizzlies, but Jones noted above that he’s not looking to add someone very close to a decline that another team doesn’t think is part of their future.
So what WOULD the Suns do at the trade deadline? Would they do anything at all?
Maybe. But don’t be surprised if the Suns let the trade deadline pass with nothing happening. They don’t want more draft picks, so you can’t expect them to trade Warren to a playoff contender for a low first round pick. And they won’t trade their developing young players for a 32+ year old veteran on the decline.
And because of that, Jones doesn’t think he can make the team much better through a mid-season trade.
“It’s very, very hard to project or to say that we’ll be able to add a player that fits with us long-term via trade,” Jones said. “It’s just not something teams are looking to do, where they’re looking to get rid of good players and help us grow.”
The swap of Ariza for impending restricted free agent Kelly Oubre Jr. is the only example we’ve seen so far of what kind of trade Jones will make, getting younger and potentially better long term in exchange for an aging vet on the decline.
But even the Oubre trade has downside. Oubre needs a new contract, and his cap hold this summer will already make it tough for the Suns to throw money around in free agency. I don’t see how the Suns would add yet another guy in that same position, potentially taking up the remaining space before free agency even starts.
Opposing teams and agents keep trying to link the Suns to their disgruntled players, but Jones isn’t biting.
Life under Jones is measured, and unlikely to produce blockbuster trades in the near future.