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Ranking the Phoenix Suns’ trade value and likelihood of a deal, player by player

Who will the Suns trade in the next two weeks? Who will the Suns acquire?

Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As the trade deadline approaches, the Phoenix Suns’ front office will have to rank their players on likelihood to be a contributor on a playoff-level team and to what degree, and then put all the rest of them on the block.

First, let’s start with the simple list. This is the order in which I would rank them in terms of value to the Suns and to a playoff future versus trading them for other parts.

The list is not ordered by talent, nor is it ordered by how the Suns’ front office sees them or even by how other teams would rank them.

This list is how I would rank them as necessary pieces to the Suns’ next playoff team.

  1. Devin Booker
  2. Deandre Ayton (R)
  3. Mikal Bridges (R)
  4. Josh Jackson
  5. Kelly Oubre Jr. — RFA
  6. T.J. Warren
  7. De’Anthony Melton (R)
  8. Elie Okobo (R)
  9. Richaun Holmes — RFA

You might notice that only three of these nine were on the 21-win team a year ago, and only two of these nine were in the opening night starting lineup a mere three months ago.

The Suns turned over that 21-win roster, including giving up on three of their last four draft picks (Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis, Davon Reed) as well as their top-5 pick in 2013 (Alex Len), while bringing in four NEW draft picks while saying they wanted to start winning more games.

Those additional wins have not materialized. In fact, the Suns (11-42 record) would have to go 10-19 the rest of the year just to match last year’s abysmal record.

I am not going to list guys like Dragan Bender, Troy Daniels, Jamal Crawford, Ryan Anderson or anyone on two-way or 10-day contracts, because any inclusion in deals would only be for other outside-the-top-nine bodies or salaries.

The top three players are the least likely guys to be traded in the next two weeks, and (in my opinion) the most likely to be on the team the next time the Suns make the playoffs.

Devin Booker — only if you give me an overall Top-20 NBA player back

  • Pros: One of the very best offensive wing players in the NBA, can only be stopped by double and triple teams. Can pass and shoot, and always sets up the defender to beat him off the dribble.
  • Cons: One of the very worst defensive wing players in the NBA, though he has the athletic ability to become “not awful” some day.
  • Current: Top-6 wing player in the West (according to media and player voting for All-Star); Top-30 in NBA overall; ranked last week with 18th highest trade value in league by Bill Simmons on
  • Ceiling: Multi-time All-Star, second or third team All-NBA and No. 2 banana on contender.
  • Floor: What he is right now — a high scorer on a bad team who never makes an All-Star team, let alone All-NBA.

The Suns would only trade Booker for a player that is clearly better than he projects to be over the next five years, and there is nearly zero chance that any team with a better player than Booker would trade that player in the next two weeks. No fewer than 25 of the league’s 30 teams are in the playoff hunt right now and you simply can’t hope to improve your chances by trading your best player for Booker. Not that Booker can’t win, but the caliber of player he’d be traded for is already a team leader in a playoff chase this year.

Deandre Ayton — only if you give me a young, Top-10 big man back

  • Pros: Supremely skilled and talented as a back-to-the-basket scorer and gobbling rebounder. Sees the floor from the post, has vision and passing ability to create high-efficiency shots either through passes to the weak side, passes to cutters or bull-rushes to the rim. Around the rim, one of the very best finishers already in the NBA.
  • Cons: Low “idle” setting; avoids contact; one of the very worst defensive front-court players in the NBA, though he has the superior athletic ability to become “pretty good” some day at latter two faults to negate the negative impact of the former.
  • Current: Top-15 center in the NBA; top-10 rebounder; top finisher; 2nd in the running for Rookie of the Year; ranked last week with 24th highest trade value in league by Bill Simmons on
  • Ceiling: Multi-time All-Star, second or third team All-NBA and No. 2/3 banana on contender.
  • Floor: What he is right now — there’s no way his career apexes as a rookie.

Similar to Booker, there’s no way you trade Ayton — who likely has a 9-year career ahead of him with the Suns, at least — for anything less than something better right now, and there’s no way a team with a better big man trades him for Ayton in the next two weeks. You may have wished the Suns had drafted someone else in June, but those teams aren’t trading their rookie for Ayton right now just like the Suns wouldn’t trade Ayton for theirs. You could only trade Ayton for a young center clearly better right now (Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic, for example) but those teams wouldn’t even entertain that idea while in a playoff hunt.

Mikal Bridges — only if you give me a current and future All-Star back

  • Pros: Already one of the most willing and reliable wing defenders on the Suns, with the potential to be one of the best in the league in short order. Bridges is getting eaten up on isolation defense against the league’s best offensive players in late-game situations, but he’s been very effective in all other areas, including help defense. He also has a proven three-point stroke (40% in college) that will settle down in time to be reliable in the NBA (34.7% this year, just below league average).
  • Cons: Not a natural rebounder or passer, and very limited in shot-creating with the ball in his hands. He can drive and get to the hoop, but that’s mostly only when the defense wasn’t expecting it.
  • Current: Solid rotation player; would probably start for more than half the teams in the league right now; likely to make an All-Rookie team.
  • Ceiling: Tayshaun Prince with three-point range; Prince was a strong contributor to playoff teams (12 points per game) and league champ (2004, Pistons); 2nd-team All-NBA Defense four times.
  • Floor: What he is right now — there’s no way his career apexes as a rookie.

Unlike Booker and Ayton, you can definitely trade Mikal Bridges for a like player. There’s probably a dozen similar players in the NBA right now, all with varying degrees of contract demands and free agency rights. Most likely, the Suns keep Bridges unless he becomes “the key” part of a trade for an All-Star level talent, where the other team wants Bridges over Josh Jackson or Kelly Oubre Jr. or T.J. Warren in order to part with a player who could rival Booker and Ayton as the team’s best player.

And that’s it. That’s the long list of players who the Suns should only trade if they are getting something clearly better in return. Booker, Ayton and Bridges.

Now we get to all the interchangeable parts, which is all the proof you need of how the Suns royally screwed up this rebuild with bad draft picks.

Anyone else on the Suns roster is eminently tradable and would not be missed any more than, say, Shaquille Harrison is missed. They also have little chance to make the Suns “eat crow” over trading them away, because the Suns would only trade this next group if there was talent coming back.

Josh Jackson — Only if you give me a cheap multi-year rotation player back

  • Pros: Plays with constant intensity and effort level, always trying for the hero shot or pass; can create his own shot out of nowhere and produce at an above-average level in many of the secondary categories on any given night (scoring, rebounding, steals, assists, blocks); engaged defensive effort on most possessions.
  • Cons: Plays out of control; more likely to rack up more turnovers and fouls than any of the other secondary categories; Iffy shooting motion; low shooting percentage; terrible at help and weak side defense; bad free throw shooter.
  • Current: Rotation player on any team but not likely a starter on any but the bottom five.
  • Ceiling: High energy wing off the bench or in starting role as 4th-7th best player on a good team; profiles a lot like a wing version of Montrezl Harrell or Kenneth Faried — productivity based on pure energy and aggression.
  • Floor: What he is right now — fringe starter on worst team in league.

Unlike the top three players on my list, Jackson starts a run of utterly replaceable rotation players. If the Suns traded Jackson for a future draft pick or a young player at another position while keeping the rest of their wings, the team would hardly notice because they’d still be loaded at that position.

For this next year, I see Jackson as the second most-valuable wing on the team behind Mikal Bridges because of his combination of youth and salary control (he’s sure to make less than either Oubre or Warren in ‘19-20). Until NEXT year, that is. For the ‘20-21 season, Jackson’s team option jumps to almost $9 million, which is right around the mid-level exception and suddenly requires the Suns to stop giving him passes for being so young and start requiring him to be an above-average NBA player. And that’s quite a leap for Jackson from here to there.

Kelly Oubre Jr. — Only if you give me a multi-year rotation player back

  • Pros: Plays with fairly-consistent intensity and effort level along with really good perimeter defense; one of the most reliable wing defenders on the team (almost on par with Bridges) with very long arms capable of containing a ball handler, get steals and block shots.
  • Cons: Inefficient shooter, relies too much on his left hand and can’t physically force his way to the basket through a defender; below average three-point shooter.
  • Current: Rotation player on any team but not likely a starter on any but the bottom five.
  • Ceiling: High energy wing off the bench or in starting role as 4th-7th best player on a good team.
  • Floor: What he is right now — good guy off the bench.

I only rank Oubre below Jackson because of the contract issues. For roughly the same production, the Suns will have Jackson for $7 million next year and a team option after that, while Oubre could command $10-15 million this summer as a starting point on a four-year guaranteed commitment.

Considering his RFA status this summer and the Suns inability to aggregate him into any larger deals than a one-player swap these next two weeks, I don’t see how the Suns could get solid return for him over these next two weeks. I’d rather they just keep him the rest of the season and wait to see how free agency works out.

T.J. Warren — Just give me something kinda shiny back

  • Pros: Professional scorer at all levels, including from behind the three-point line (42% this year); can average 15 points in under 25 minutes per game scoring against any defense; a hot commodity for a playoff team that needs scoring production off the bench
  • Cons: Can’t do anything else at league average level; bad passer, rebounder, defender; not a good fit with Booker and Ayton in a lineup
  • Current: 25+ minute per game rotation player on any team; starter on some teams, maybe even playoff-level
  • Ceiling: Where he right now
  • Floor: What he is right now

Warren is owed about $12 million per year over the next three years after this one. For that money, you can expect 20 points per 36 minutes but not much else, which just about as close to perfect on the value scale as you can get. The Suns don’t need Warren anymore, with Bridges, Jackson and Oubre all being better fits around Booker and Ayton. In a trade, any of a first round pick, rookie-contract upside player or equal-value veteran rotation player would be a welcome return.

Now we get down to asset-level players who can easily be traded as long as what comes back has roughly the same profile — high value at minimum-contract level.

All three of De’Anthony Melton, Elie Okobo and Richaun Holmes — who I ranked 7-9 on the Suns’ most valuable list — bring more value than their minimum-level contract suggests. So, any inclusion in a trade should net something of similar value.

You don’t dump any of these guys just for cap relief since you’ll have to replace them away. And you don’t throw them into a larger deal unless it’s a good one that returns a clearly-better player at their position with several under-contract years left.

That’s all, folks.

In case you didn’t notice, the Suns’ current top nine players include just two of their five high lottery picks in McDonough’s six drafts. Gone are Alex Len (#5, 2013) and Marquese Chriss (#8, 2016), while Dragan Bender (#4, 2016) is buried and will be off the team by May. Josh Jackson (#4, 2017) could easily fall off this list a year from now. Of all McDonough’s high lottery picks, only top overall 2018 pick Deandre Ayton looks like a multi-year starter on an improving team.

And while the 2018 Draft currently looks like a huge win for the McDonough memoire (four of the top nine), remember that we also thought the 2016 was a booming win out of the gate (Chriss, Bender and Tyler Ulis). And now they ALL will be without an NBA contract in hand just three years later, despite signing four-year deals.

Most likely to be traded in the next fortnight

  1. T.J. WarrenOur own Evan Sidery broke the news over the weekend that Sarver advised Warren be traded last summer after demanding they acquire Mikal Bridges and signed Trevor Ariza in free agency. Warren has been in a bad mood all season, and now he’s simply out indefinitely from a sore ankle. You’d think they will finally grant Sarver’s wish in the near future. But the Suns would want NBA talent back for T.J., not a draft pick. And interim GM James Jones has been skeptical that other teams would send good talent to the Suns in trade.
  2. Troy Daniels — Yes, Daniels seems like a good fit with a playoff team as a shooter off the bench. But also remember that 18 months ago the playoff-hunting Grizzlies gave the Suns a second-round pick to take Daniels off their hands. Daniels won’t command much more than a top-55 protected second round pick, and the Suns won’t be giving anyone a pick just to take Daniels off their hands. He’s much more likely to follow in Tyson Chandler and Austin Rivers’ footsteps with a buyout after the deadline passes.
  3. 2020 Milwaukee pick (protected top-10) or Suns 2020 pick — For anything with NBA-level talent.
  4. One or two of the Suns other wings — With or without trading Warren, the Suns can afford to trade one of Bridges, Jackson or Oubre if there’s an equal or better talent available in the same age range at power forward or point guard.
  5. 2019 Suns pick — Only for a huge piece to a future playoff team.
  6. 2021 Suns pick — Only for a huge piece to a future playoff team.
  7. Anyone else — Sure, the Suns could trade just about anyone else on the roster, but none of them are as obvious as T.J., Troy, and the Milwaukee pick.

Most likely to acquire in the next fortnight

  • Young, proven NBA talent with 2-7 years of NBA experience in a regular NBA rotation, regardless of contract status or position.

Least likely to acquire in the next fortnight

  • Significant future draft picks
  • Rookies
  • Anyone younger than 23
  • Anyone older than 29
  • Bad contracts

The least-likely list reads like McDonough’s favorite assets, so you will need to get used to a new regime in Phoenix that wants win-now NBA players rather than assets.

To use an old analogy that shows my age: Jones prefers bird in hand while McDonough always went for the two in the bush.

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