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Exploring the early buyout market for “Contending” Suns

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Houston Rockets v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

At 21-11, I think we can say it: the Phoenix Suns are contenders.

Don’t just take my word for it. Basketball-Reference’s playoff probabilities report, which simulates the remainder of the season 10,000 times every day, only gives 5 teams at least a 5% chance of winning the championship as of today: Utah, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, the Clippers, and Phoenix.

But when you enter the trade deadline positioned as one of the top teams in the league, something funny happens that Suns fans haven’t experienced in quite a long time...an arms race.

The waiving of Damian Jones this past week came at a bit of a strange time for the Suns, but I believe that’s what it was building up to. Now with a vacant spot on the roster, James Jones is free either to explore the buyout market, or to make more flexible trades that send out one player in exchange for two (or two for three, three for four, etc.)

We can talk trades another day — and for an FYI, the way the Chris Paul was structured means the Suns cannot trade a future first round pick earlier than the 2027 one.

So for now, let’s take a gander at the how the buyout market is shaping up across the league.

DeMarcus Cousins

Look, I’m sorry. I don’t think it’ll happen either, but we should probably explore the possibility. It’s not super often that a 4-time All-Star winds up on the buyout market.

Cousins comes with a plethora of issues. He has historically been a high-usage player, and that mostly continued to be the case in Houston this season, where he took 15 shots per 36 minutes. Beyond that there was the issue of him not making those shots (with his 51% TS ranking solidly below-average), and of him struggling to defend quicker players in space.

Sounds like a lot, right? Well, there’s more.

Cousins is not exactly known for his easygoing demeanor. In fact, him and Chris Paul have quite a long history.

If you can get past all that, there may be a very redeeming talent here for a minimum contract. Cousins is still a terrific rebounder. He’s still a gifted passer for his size. And, interestingly enough, Houston’s defense was better with Cousins on the court this season as opposed to when he sat.

Still, it’d be tough to convince me that Boogie is all that much of an upgrade over Saric even in the areas where he still excels. I’d pass pretty easily.

Blake Griffin

What’s more rare than a 4-time All-Star on the buyout market? A 6-time All-Star!

There was a time when Suns fans were frequently coming up with mock trade packages for Blake Griffin. A couple years later, he’s been reduced mostly to a floor spacer, and if Detroit can’t find a trade partner (they won’t), a buyout will be the next natural step.

Just as with Boogie, the trick here is convincing such a high-usage player to take a backseat for the sake of winning. Again, Blake has had some phenomenal highs throughout his career but is he better than Saric or even Frank Kaminsky right now? I’d say no, but Phoenix’s ability to elevate role players is much greater than Detroit’s.

Andre Drummond

This one is a bit different.

Andre Drummond has the type of flaws that are easy to nitpick when you make $28 million a year. He’s not nearly efficient enough to warrant “star” status, and his defense leaves plenty to be desired.

But as a role player, that all goes out the window. Drummond is immensely talented, moreso than any current bench player on the Suns. We’re talking about a guy averaging 17.5/13.5/2.6 per game, which is not easy to scoff at.

Would he fit in the system like Saric does? Well, given that Saric still has by far the best net rating on the roster, perhaps not. But if Saric continues to miss time then the Suns will need another big body, and Drummond (if available) is no doubt the best one on the market.

If the rumors about Brooklyn being interested are true, then they instantly become much scarier with Drummond slotted at the 5. Taking three offensive superstars and then giving them the best rebounder in the league to clean up after missed shots is a recipe for success.

JaVale McGee

Maybe you’re not into Drummond. How about his more feasible teammate?

With Cleveland in the gutter of the East, the 33-year-old McGee is just as much of a buyout candidate as Drummond for the second half of the season. And he’s still perfectly productive for his low price, averaging 7.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and a block in just 15 minutes per game.

This is a nice option because it’s more traditionally what you’d expect to find on the buyout market. McGee is a low-usage player who likely doesn’t mind receiving only a few touches or even minutes per game. He’s also a 3x champion, with 43 games of playoff experience in just the past few years. That can’t hurt to have on the end of your bench.

Aron Baynes

There aren’t technically any rumors about the former Suns big man being available. But at 16-17, the Raptors fanbase has been out for blood, and the affable Aussie has made for a fine scapegoat.

It’s true, Baynes is not what he was in Phoenix last year. He’s shooting just 42% from the field, and just 22% from deep. He’s averaging barely over half a block per 36 minutes.

Toronto finally went away from Baynes in the starting lineup recently, opting for Pascal Siakam as a small ball C instead. So far, the results are good, with the Raptors having won four of their past six (including two wins over Milwaukee and one over Philly).

But even with a role reduction, Baynes has still played over 21 MPG in the most recent stretch. So while Toronto is clearly not happy with his overall performance, would they go so far as pursuing a buyout?

For now, it’s hard to say. But if this team slips a bit more in the standings, they could very well go that route. And if they do, nobody would be a more perfect boost to the Suns’ chemistry than Baynes.

Dewayne Dedmon

Dedmon is not technically a “buyout” option, because he’s already a free agent. The Suns could pick him up tomorrow pretty easily if they wanted to.

There’s real intrigue here due to just how good the 7-year veteran was as recently as the 2018-19 season with Atlanta. That year, Dedmon started 52 games at C, posting a career-high 10.8 points to go alongside 7.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. He flashed real shooting ability for the first time too, knocking down 38% of his threes.

But as soon as Dedmon turned 30 last year, his production fell off a cliff, shooting just 40% FG combined between Sacramento and Atlanta. He was most recently waived by Detroit in late November, and has been searching for a new home since.

In my opinion, there’s sufficient reason to believe that Dedmon, a veteran with a long history of good health and competence, could help a team like Phoenix. After all, Sacramento is not a shining example of an organization where players automatically thrive.

However, maybe other clubs know something we don’t. The Lakers just signed Damian Jones to a 10-day contract, and that they would choose him over Dedmon might suggest that the overall market for Dedmon is a frigid one.

Got another name in mind? I’m curious to hear it below. What do you think the Suns should do with their final roster spot?