The Phoenix Suns have rightfully been blasted over the past few years due to moves that lacked foresight. However, Suns GM James Jones revamped the team on the fly to his exact liking during his first offseason as full-time general manager.
Out are the bets on potential in Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender. In are seasoned upperclassmen rookies Cameron Johnson and Ty Jerome. Less than three months after his interim tag was officially removed, we are recognizing a clear vision Jones has put into place.
What should be recognized further, though, is how Jones and the Suns’ front office kept multiple avenues open over the next calendar year. Heading into the season with $36.2 million in expiring contracts — Tyler Johnson, Aron Baynes, Frank Kaminsky, Dario Saric, Cheick Diallo, and Jevon Carter — flexibility is now the name of the game.
Former Suns GM Ryan McDonough always had the assets stored up to finally push the rebuild forward, but being overly patient flushed those ideas down the drain. McDonough’s regime didn’t want to trade Eric Bledsoe and Josh Jackson for Kyrie Irving two summers ago. Afterwards, Bledsoe requested a trade early in the regular season from the salon while Jackson’s value torpedoed as teams around the Association realized his college archetype wasn’t going to materialize on the professional level.
Sure, Phoenix wouldn’t have their first No. 1 pick in franchise history one year later, but it’s one example of how being too patient has cost them immediate improvement. An All-Star was available for a discounted price and the Suns got cold feet. Multiple reports have outlined that a three-team trade sending Irving to Phoenix, Paul George and Bledsoe to Cleveland, and the Suns’ No. 4 overall pick to Indiana was nixed by McDonough.
Although Jones went about destroying really all the remaining remnants of the McDonough era, even if meant short-circuiting future second-round selections through 2022, he smartly kept Phoenix’s books open for all options realistically on the table between now and February.
If Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton take leaps having the Suns overachieving around the halfway mark, don’t be surprised if Jones and Co. consolidate some assets and make a push. Dario Saric could turn into Phoenix’s long-term solution at the power forward position, but upgrades are available elsewhere.
What exactly are those choices? Whether it’s in February, which seems the most plausible when factoring in all of this expiring money, or next summer, these three names make an awful lot of sense between now and then.
Griffin stands out way more than the other two options, because he’s still a bonafide All-NBA, All-Star caliber player. Griffin showed in Detroit he’s not close to slowing down if he’s asked to carry the primary load averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.4 assists on a career-high 30.2 usage rate.
In Phoenix, Griffin would have an opportunity to extend his career playing as the pseudo third option behind Booker and Ayton.
I’ve envisioned Saric as a playmaking fulcrum for the Suns, but the possibilities would be endless with Griffin in his spot. The former Oklahoma Sooner has drastically improved his perimeter shooting over the years as well, quietly becoming one of the best pull-up bigs in the league.
Also, don’t forget that this scenario relies on the Pistons stagnating or even regressing this upcoming season. The idea of Detroit taking a step back is on the table, because the only real “impact” signing they made was Derrick Rose. Reggie Jackson and Rose paired with Griffin and Andre Drummond isn’t taking you far in playoff settings.
A slow start next season could lead to not only the Pistons realizing the writing is on the wall, but Griffin as well. This new age of player empowerment allows many ideas to run wild.
What would the framework of a Griffin deal look like, though? Again, compared to the two listed below him, the price will be more expensive for a player that still looks to be in his prime.
Suns - Blake Griffin
Pistons - Tyler Johnson, Dario Saric, Frank Kaminsky or Aron Baynes, 2020 Suns 1st, 2022 Suns 1st
For Griffin, there are two scenarios here I wanted to quickly go over. Detroit trading Griffin will be asking for some sort of building block in return. If the Suns don’t want to trade Oubre or Bridges in a package for the 30-year-old, more draft capital will have to be sacrificed. Expiring contracts and two picks should get the job done, if the Pistons want to reset completely due to a poor start.
Suns - Blake Griffin, Langston Galloway
Pistons - Tyler Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, 2020 Suns 1st
Booker and Ayton are really going to control how the Suns operate over the next six months. If both are able to propel this improved roster from basement dweller to playoff contender, all-in moves need to be considered.
Kelly Oubre has all the opportunities to become an above-average two-way starting wing, but would he be the reason you say no to Griffin? It’s a question that would be debated plenty, but a hypothetical starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Booker, Bridges, Griffin, and Ayton is mouth-watering.
Another feather in the cap of Griffin here is contract status. His deal expires in 2022, which would be the same summer Ayton and Bridges are in line for lucrative extensions. If Griffin enjoyed his multi-year stay in the Valley, he can re-sign for a smaller amount than his gigantic cap hold while allowing the Suns to avoid huge tax payments also retaining their prioritized players from the 2018 draft.
Next up on the list is Love, whose been connected to Phoenix multiple times over the years. Now, with Jones running the operation, maybe the door has opened even further. Love and Jones have a strong bond from their playing days together in Cleveland, as the All-Star forward called Jones his favorite teammate ever.
Being dealt from Cleveland to Phoenix wouldn’t be what Love is hoping for with immediate contention, but best believe he’ll buy-in to whatever Jones says.
During his last full season in Cleveland alongside LeBron James, which would be a similar idea in terms of his role with the Suns as a secondary option, Love converted 41 percent of his catch-and-shoot three opportunities. Providing optimal floor-spacing for Ayton and Booker while also rebounding at high levels provides a smooth fit upon arrival.
It also helps that the Suns’ new point guard has plenty of on-court experience with Love. Rubio and Love were together during the early days in Minnesota, helping each other develop amidst chaos mimicking what Booker experienced during his rookie contract.
Suns - Kevin Love
Cavaliers - Tyler Johnson, Dario Saric, Elie Okobo
Unlike Griffin, Love’s contract actually goes longer through the 2022-23 campaign. That’s an issue because paying Love $29 million while also preparing the Brink’s truck for Ayton and Bridges wouldn’t be the smartest way to avoid high cost-cutting methods. This is also the reason why Love’s trade idea is much less than Griffin, because Cleveland will have to salary dump him anywhere he goes.
The Cavaliers will be at the bottom of the Eastern Conference again next season, so Love will be one of the most attainable “big fishes” in February. After seeing the Suns prioritize stretch-4s like Saric and Kaminsky, Love certainly fits the type Jones is looking for to pair with Ayton.
Orlando is one of the most interesting teams to follow over the next calendar year. What in the world is their long-term plan? Is Aaron Gordon a legitimate building block or not? We still don’t know the answer because the Magic keep drafting bigs (Jonathan Isaac, Mohamed Bamba, and Chuma Okeke) while keeping veterans like Nikola Vucevic and Terrance Ross around. Gordon’s contract also descends in annual value each season, which makes it all the more tradable between now and 2022.
So, what’s it going to be Orlando? We should find out the definitive answer in February. If the Magic are back in playoff push mode, no reason to not go make that extra revenue for the organization. However, if they slide, Gordon is going to become a very attractive asset to many teams around the league, whether they are rebuilding or contending.
In the right role, Gordon has super role player equity. With the Magic as a top option, who knows if that ever clicks for him. Being coached by Monty Williams and accepting the No. 3 role could do wonders for Gordon’s career.
Indeed, there is some hidden Draymond Green-like qualities for the 23-year-old forward. Gordon and Green were two of the few forwards in the league who cobbled together an advanced stat line last season featuring all of the following: +2 VORP, +15 AST%, +1 STL%, +1.5 BLK%.
Also, don’t forget about Gordon’s continuously improving outside jumper. During the first three years Gordon played in Orlando he only shot 29 percent on catch-and-shoot threes. Over his past two seasons, though, Gordon is hitting at a promising clip on high volume at 38.9 percent.
Once you glance over that number and other advanced metrics, you realize more and more that Gordon might be destined to breakout fully once he’s unleashed in the manner that optimizes his strengths.
Next to Booker and Ayton, an aggressive defense-first trio consisting of Gordon, Oubre and Bridges would be terrifying for opposing teams. The switching concepts would be on overdrive with those three flanking Ayton.
Suns - Aaron Gordon
Magic - Tyler Johnson, Dario Saric, 2020 1st
Gordon, a Bill Duffy client (Oubre and Ayton are also represented by BDA Sports) and former Arizona Wildcat, would be a crucial piece added to the puzzle. Fitting right within their age timeline, Gordon could grow alongside the Suns’ two main building blocks forming a sustainable contender throughout the 2020s.
Between 2020-2022, there’s a 2.5 year window for Phoenix to really ascend up the ladder. Armed with enough expiring salary to bring aboard a max contract, Jones circling early 2020 as the timeframe to execute a star trade wouldn’t be surprising.
There’s also an option where the Suns approach this methodically, though, re-signing multiple of these expiring deals next offseason (Johnson, Saric, Baynes).
In order to capitalize when the iron is hot, flexibility needs to be maintained all throughout the process. McDonough was ready to go, but was hesitant when the phone lines lit up. Will Jones do the same? From what we’ve seen over the past few months, Jones doing the exact opposite of McDonough has a high probability of occurring.
Which power forward should the Suns prioritize, if they want to make an all-in push at February’s trade deadline?
This poll is closed
None, Dario Saric will be the long-term answer