Since hearing that Devin Booker was left off the All-Star squad a week ago, the Phoenix Suns have devolved into the worst version of themselves.
And now they wait with the rest of us as the final hours before the 1:00 PM trade deadline approaches.
A week ago, the Suns were playing relatively well and within striking distance of a playoff spot. Now, they are 20-31 and six full wins off the pace with only 31 games to go.
Before the bad news last Thursday, they were 11-11 on the road including a pair of 20+ point wins over the Mavericks and Knicks and a great win over the Celtics in just the last two weeks. On the flip side, they and had only lost one road game all season by 20+ points (21, to the Clippers), and that was without Devin Booker in the lineup. They were 20-27 and within striking distance of the 8th seed in the Conference.
But since the news, the Suns have gone an ugly 0-4 that includes a pair of 20+ point blowout road losses and another loss to the lowly Pistons who had dropped 6 of their past 7 and were missing a ton of injured players themselves.
Over the course of this 0-4 week, three new players have contracted day-to-day injuries (Tyler Johnson, Ty Jerome and Dario Saric) to add to the three already out, and another three have been dragged through NBA trade rumors (Elie Okobo, Jevon Carter and Kelly Oubre Jr.).
The Oubre leak — Suns are “fielding calls” — has no merit beyond, yes, the Suns answer the phone when it rings. But still, players see the tweets just like we do.
"We're players in this game and at the end of the day, I can just play and control what I can control. The higher ups are going to do what they do to help organizations get better and you just got to deal with what comes with it." #Suns Kelly Oubre Jr. on trade talk. pic.twitter.com/77jBDZJ33G— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) February 6, 2020
Oubre, who was traded a year ago at this time, played unfazed against Detroit and led the team with 30 points (including 5-9 on threes).
Heck, Ricky Rubio should be on the injured this too. He’s been playing through an ankle injury that’s cut his production in half (6.7 points per game and 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio vs. 12.9 and 3.5:1 a/t before that).
The only regulars on the whole team that are both healthy and NOT in trade rumors are Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton.
Booker is taking the All-Star snub and rash of injuries especially hard. After being the league’s 2nd leading scorer since Christmas (31.9 PPG, 1.5:1 a/t ratio), trying to will his team into playoff contention and himself into the All-Star game, Booker has popped just 23 points per game with barely over 1:1 a/t ratio in the 0-4 stretch.
The trade deadline can’t come soon enough.
After 1:00PM today, the roster for the rest of the season will be set.
Will anyone be shipped out for bench scoring?
All season, the Suns have struggled to get consistent scoring production off the bench. None of Elie Okobo, Jevon Carter, Tyler Johnson or Cameron Johnson have consistently produced in a bench role, while those who might (Frank, Dario, Aron) have either been forced to start or been injured.
Our own Justin Niedzeliak, host of our Fanning the Flames podcast, did some research on the injuries and concluded the Pelicans are the only direct competitor suffering more injury depletions than the Suns this year.
Starting from the West's 5 seed, the number of games missed by each team's top 8 in MPG this season:— Justin (@SoSaysJ) February 6, 2020
UT - 23
OKC - 39
Dal - 35
Mem - 21
Por - 79
SA - 9
NO - 103
Sac - 79
Min - 79
If we include Ayton's suspension, the Suns are behind only the Pelicans. https://t.co/1rbAKKy7Ky
Even if everyone suddenly got healthy, though, the Suns still need a scoring playmaker off the bench to prop up the team when Booker is out. And it sure would be nice to have another threat on the floor even next to Booker at times.
Rumors leaked this week that the Suns were interested in Luke Kennard from the Pistons as a target. Kennard, when healthy, has posted 16 points in 32 minutes per game this year, including 40% of 6.5 threes, and 4.1 assists per game. He fits the mold that GM James Jones seems to like: high basketball IQ over athleticism; production over potential. But he’s suffering from tendinitis in both knees this year, and has been nicked up much of his pro career so far (similar to the way you remember T.J. Warren, probably).
Late Wednesday night, news-breaker Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that the Suns and Pistons are haggling over protection on the future first round pick to be included along with Okobo and Carter, so the deal might not happen. And after seeing Okobo and Carter live and in-person in their building on Wednesday, the deal might be dead now anyways. Carter and Okobo combined for 6 points and 1 assist in 24 minutes of play. The Pistons bench outscored the Suns bench 39-13.
Could the Suns target another scorer instead? Sure. I can guarantee that Kennard is not the only target the Suns identified this week. He’s a productive young guard scorer/playmaker on a non-playoff team whose team might not be building around, similar to Jordan Clarkson who was traded by the Cavaliers to Utah a couple weeks ago.
Who else fits that mold? There’s Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. in New York. Malik Monk in Charlotte. Jordan McRae in Washington. Tomas Satoransky and Denzel Valentine in Chicago. Evan Fournier in Orlando. Langston Galloway in Detroit.
Minnesota and Golden State are holding fire sales but already shipped most of their parts out the door. Who knows what’s left to trade in those places.
For more on Suns trade assets, where I broke down a number of potential targets for bench scoring, check this out:
Will Tyler Johnson’s $19 million expiring contract be traded?
We sure thought teams would want to clear space this summer just like every summer, but many teams are actually adding rather than clearing. So Tyler Johnson’s contract is not really in demand all by itself.
One thing that we are seeing is cap space diminishing in the summer of 2020. Atlanta lost $20M+ in the two trades and Memphis certainly will lose room as part of the Iguodala trade. Could be the summer of the midlevel exception.— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) February 6, 2020
No one wants Tyler’s contract for free agency THIS summer, but he could be used to help someone clear contracts that go into the 2021-22 season if the Suns are willing to forgo that summer themselves. Right now, the Suns project to a lot of space in 2021.
What big-salary stars with multiple years left might be available?
The Suns seem uninterested in acquiring D’Angelo Russell despite his being made available by the Warriors. Minnesota already tried and failed to get him this week because they wouldn’t give up good enough draft picks to close the deal.
It’s not even worth discussing I guess, but is pairing Booker and Russell really worth tying up ALL the first round picks for the next 4+ years (assuming GS wants a pair of first rounders, the Suns would be unable to use twice that many in trades due to protections and cap rules). The Suns didn’t even want Russell last summer for straight cash (about $29 mil/year for five years), so now they won’t want him for multiple picks too.
You can probably just stop thinking about Russell unless the draft compensation requirement goes way down.
Could Bradley Beal become available? He signed an extension this summer to stay in Washington for loyalty reasons, but found himself this week in the same predicament as Booker: snubbed from the All-Star team for not having enough wins.
If Washington is willing to talk, is Beal more worth the draft picks than Russell? Hmmm... You’d have to assume the Wizards would require a very good young player in return as well as picks. Maybe Bridges. I doubt they’d want Oubre back.
What other big-contract players might be available for the price of cap relief and draft picks?
We don’t know until we know, I guess. For example, OKC is 31-20 and a virtual lock for the playoffs but is willing to trade big-ticket Danilo Gallinari ahead of his free agency this summer.
Most any big-time player from another team will require just the right amount of luck and timing to acquire them. Who knows if the Suns are a team that can pull it off.
Will Aron Baynes be shipped out for assets?
He’s been great this year. He’s been bad this year. He’s been injured a lot too.
He has been incredibly valuable in turning Deandre Ayton into one of the league’s best young defenders and screen setters (unfortunately, Baynes is not a good offensive tutor). After a year as a turnstile, Ayton is 6th in the league in paint defense and holds his opponent to 40% shooting on all shots as the primary defender (4th in the league among regulars, 2nd most shots-per-game defended). The Suns are fielding a top-10 defense with Ayton in the starting lineup.
But what if a contender offers a late first round pick for Baynes, who will be a free agent this summer?
What’s more valuable: two more months of Ayton-whispering, or another asset for trades (late-first)?
Will Dario Saric be traded?
Not a single rumor has come out regarding Dario Saric, who has had a relatively quiet and somewhat disappointing season in Phoenix.
Theoretically, he’s a perfect guy to come off the bench for a contender or playoff hopeful — plays hard, plays smart, net positive on the scoreboard.
You’d think the Suns should try to flip him for a front-line prospect in a similar contract/role situation, the way the Suns did with a two-month trial on Oubre last spring. That’s the little surprise trade I’d like to see.
All is quiet on the desert front as of Thursday morning. There are no active Suns trade rumors making the rounds.
Here’s SB Nation’s list of all the players thrown into the rumor mill this week.
Come back here for updates all day long...