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Suns’ trade chips are truly eye of the beholder

Phoenix’s assets are more likely to be used to acquire B-level All-Stars than true superstars.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

During the previous two summers, the Phoenix Suns were in the thick of trade rumors involving superstars.

First, it was the Kyrie Irving melodrama that led to him being dealt to Boston. The only reason that happened in the first place was due to former general manager Ryan McDonough saying thanks but no thanks to a deal that would’ve sent the star point guard to the Valley for only Eric Bledsoe and Josh Jackson. Less than three months later, a disgruntled Bledsoe forced his way out via Twitter three games into the regular season.

Fast-forward through a 21-win campaign, and Phoenix was right back in the trade rumor circus. This time it involved arguably the best two-way player in the league currently: Kawhi Leonard. The trust between Leonard and the Spurs seemed to fracture after they mistreated his quad injury. From there, the Los Angeles native was hellbent on leaving one of the most respected organizations in the NBA. In the end, Phoenix was one of the final few teams offering deals to San Antonio for Leonard’s services along with Washington, Denver, Portland, Toronto, and the Los Angeles Clippers.

San Antonio settled on the Raptors’ package that involved the best win-now piece with DeMar DeRozan, but, according to a league source familiar with negotiations at the time, felt the Suns made a “very competitive” offer for Leonard, but declined to include Deandre Ayton.

McDonough’s patience might’ve cost him his job in the end. Of course, the Suns would’ve never ended up with Ayton if they traded for Irving, but it’s a case study in risk management. Meanwhile, San Antonio was never going to accept Phoenix’s offer if they prioritized an All-Star in return.

Under the direction of new Suns general manager James Jones, it will be very interesting to see how the chips fall from a trade scenario standpoint. At the moment, outside of Anthony Davis, no true superstar seems to be disgruntled enough to try to force his way out within the next few months.

That doesn’t mean Phoenix should ignore the trade route moving forward, though. It won’t be for Davis — nope, stop suggesting the Suns will trade Ayton because it won’t happen — but there are other options out there who check boxes to help make an ascent.

The Suns own all of their future picks plus a 2020 first-round pick via Milwaukee, sans the 2021 second-round pick shipped to Brooklyn. Add those chips along with five names who might need to keep an extra bag packed this offseason: Tyler Johnson, T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, Elie Okobo, and De’Anthony Melton.

Phoenix’s main trade assets are Johnson’s $19.2 million expiring contract and Warren, who could be viewed as a starting forward for multiple teams around the Association. Warren is due $35.3 million ($11.8 million annually) over the final three years of his contract, which really is a bargain for a three-level scorer. Combining the figures of Johnson and Warren adds up to $30.1 million, enough to be in the range of almost any highly priced All-Star.

From there, the Suns’ young assets are truly eye of the beholder based on which teams they are in negotiations with.

Jackson’s latest legal trouble probably torpedoed his trade value, as he’s set to make $7.1 million next season with an $8.9 million fourth-year team option. Honestly, it’s not even set in stone whether Phoenix should even pick up Jackson’s option in October. He certainly hasn’t proven to live up to his No. 4 overall draft status during his first two seasons. For a team with a strong enough backbone of a culture — Miami and Brooklyn are two easy choices here — they might feel compelled to take the dice roll on Jackson panning out in a different situation.

In Phoenix, both Warren and Jackson have been supplanted by Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges as their prioritized wings of the future — and their two newest additions simply fit better on-court alongside Booker and Ayton. Moving forward, unless the Suns somehow bungle upcoming negotiations with Oubre, Jackson and Warren will be in roles off the bench moving forward. For the greater good for both of these wings, a trade might be the best route.

Also, we can’t forget about the Suns’ two young point guards in Okobo and Melton. If Phoenix ends up selecting either Darius Garland or Coby White at No. 6, one of them will be on the move. Even if they don’t go in the point guard direction on draft night, it’s likely one will be dealt this offseason to focus further on their development.

McDonough drafted Okobo at No. 31, but then traded for Melton when Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss were sent to Houston for Ryan Anderson. It’s hard to juggle the minutes of two rookies playing at the same position, as we saw multiple times throughout the season where former head coach Igor Kokoskov would bounce back and forth between using one of Okobo or Melton then DNP-CD the other. Neither ended up reaching 1,000 minutes of playing time.

Really, it’s quite possible both of these young facilitators could carry the most trade value in terms of Phoenix’s true young pieces that can be thrown in trades. Again, no one really knows how much Jackson’s arrest sunk his value yet.

In the end, how do the Suns’ assets stack up compared to other teams expected to be active on the trade market? Honestly, it’s not high up there when you realize Warren is injury-prone while Jackson has yet to live up to his billing. It definitely won’t be enough to obtain the likes of Davis or even Bradley Beal, but there are still candidates out there who would help Phoenix immensely.

It’s not the sexiest outcome, but be on the lookout for names such as Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love. And we can already rule out Mike Conley, per Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro. Why do Lowry and Love stand out? Well, it’s due to their high salaries matching up well with Johnson and Warren, along with the young pieces.

For example, if Kawhi Leonard ends up bolting Toronto for greener pastures, forward-thinking GM Masai Ujiri will put Lowry on the block immediately. With how Ujiri has set up the Raptors, they are in a position to tear down completely and rebuild around Pascal Siakam. Expect the Suns to dial up Toronto if Lowry indeed becomes available because of his expiring contract and the intangibles he would bring to Phoenix. Lowry not only would be a great backcourt partner for Booker, but he’s a great playmaker who would know how to set up Ayton for shots on a consistent basis.

What would a proposed deal possibly look like between the Suns and Raptors? Something like Johnson, Warren, Okobo and the 2020 Bucks pick for Lowry makes a lot of sense to me. Not only would Toronto get back another expiring contract in Johnson, but they would have an immediate starter with Warren and a long-term upside play involving Okobo.

Love is a much more difficult road to go down, because he’s also looking on the verge of becoming an albatross deal if his body continues to break down. However, it’s hard to overlook the relationship between him and Jones, who he called his favorite teammate ever when Jones joined Phoenix’s front office. A trade sending Love to Phoenix would likely be Johnson, Warren, Jackson for Love in a straight three-for-one swap. I have a hard time envisioning Cleveland being able to extract much value out of Love.

These are only two players, but, as you can tell, the Suns are more limited than originally expected when it comes to realistic trade targets during an all-important summer where improvement across the board finally needs to occur.

Now we wait until June and July to find out the track Jones will choose to go down with building out this roster. If it indeed involves trades, as Jones has already exhibited twice with his interim tag still on, these five members currently on Phoenix’s roster along with all of their future draft capital will be on the table.

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