The best way to approach the Suns at the trade deadline is to be along for the ride. In both 2018 and 2019, James Jones surprised us all. However, the two years do have something in common that can help us at least imagine what a deal might look like should the Suns shop around.
The connective tissue between the 2018 trade that netted the Suns Tyler Johnson and the nearly completed deal for Luke Kennard last year is obvious: They are both combo guards who can shoot at a high level. Even the near-trade for Dillon Brooks has some of that same juice in it, even if Brooks is less of an initiator and passer than the other two.
Though the Suns are a better team than they were either of those two years, they still do not quite have a player like that. When both Devin Booker and Chris Paul are off the floor, the Suns have been outscored by 6.8 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. Though many Suns followers are optimistic about Cameron Payne, his downhill game is still coming back since his injury and he is not quite as consistent as Monty Williams would like.
That means Jones should be in line to potentially grab a backup combo guard once again if he chooses to do so.
Let’s take a look at the Suns’ potential targets. By my count, this group encapsulates just about everyone the Suns might look at for this role: Devonte’ Graham, Spencer Dinwiddie, Alec Burks, Austin Rivers, George Hill, Patty Mills, Norm Powell.
Graham, Mills and Dinwiddie are more typical point guard types, whereas Hill and Rivers are bigger 3-and-D guards, and Burks and Powell are bigger guards/wings who would likely have to play alongside Payne or Paul to be at their best.
Let’s go through one by one, in order of how gettable I think they are:
1. Austin Rivers, New York Knicks, $2.2 million
Rivers has been a healthy scratch since Feb. 13 now that Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley are taking the bulk of the minutes he played early in the year. Prior to that, though, Rivers was providing his typical value. You know you’re getting eightish points per game, solid enough bench defense, and league-average three-point shooting. It’s not an acquisition you’re going to call your closest Suns fan friend about, but he’s solid.
Considering he’s out of the Knicks’ rotation, it would likely only take a second-round pick to get him — or maybe even less if he’s bought out.
2. George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder, $9.6 million
Like Rivers, we haven’t seen Hill in a while. He last played for OKC on Jan. 25 and is likeIy to be part of the Thunder’s firesale this month. However, the bigger question with Hill is what he truly has left in the tank.
Last season in Milwaukee and in 14 games with the Thunder, Hill has been an above-average three-point shooter, which shows he’s reliant upon high-level creators to generate open shots for him. Fortunately, the Suns have that in Chris Paul. But approaching age 35, it’s hard to determine what level of defensive role he could have in a deep postseason run.
3. Norm Powell, Toronto Raptors, two years and $22.5 million
This one would require a slightly different calculation for Jones, as Powell’s two remaining years would basically erase the Suns’ salary cap space in 2021, assuming Paul stays the course with his contract and does not opt out. The Suns could theoretically look at Powell as a rental and then look to trade him again this summer, but that’s unlikely.
Toronto isn’t having the type of season they expected and could look to transition toward the future, which could put Powell on the market. If that were to happen, the Suns would likely have to offer some of their better assets, including a future first-round pick and/or Jalen Smith. The reason is that Powell has been excellent the past two seasons, developing into a 40-plus percent three-point shooter as well as a nice downhill scorer and strong, physical defender.
4. Alec Burks, New York Knicks, $6 million
The reason Burks is so low here is because he’s had a nice season and the Knicks are unlikely to be major sellers. It’s one thing to get rid of Rivers, but it’s another to trade Burks, who’s played in every game since Jan. 21, is scoring 12 points per game, and is shooting 39 percent from deep.
The 6-6 Burks would provide nice positional versatility as well and give the Suns a proven veteran playoff performer on the wing. Because he’s expiring, it likely wouldn’t take too much to get him, either. Maybe two second-round picks?
5. Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets, $11.5 million
Dinwiddie technically has a $12.3 million player option for 2021-22, but after tinkering with the financial possibilities of his contract for multiple years now, he is expected to forge his own path after this season. The veteran guard also hardly has a role on this Nets team these days, with two elite ball-handlers absorbing the majority of minutes at the guard spots.
It’s hard to know what Brooklyn’s plans are with Dinwiddie, especially after an ACL tear in December. But the Nets risk losing him for nothing if he opts out this season, and while his value is depleted while he’s injured, the Suns could be willing to give up a player like Jalen Smith in order to secure Dinwiddie ahead of his free agency and acquire his Bird Rights, which would allow them to go over the cap to re-sign him this summer.
6. Patty Mills, San Antonio Spurs, $13.5 million
Like the Knicks, the Spurs are not in a position to aggressively sell off key players, but they are also pivoting toward the future. Mills is scoring 13 points per night this season on extremely Sunsish .446/.394/.894 shooting splits. In the past, Monty Williams has expressed how much he values Mills as a teammate and locker room presence. The two developed a relationship while Williams was a front office member in San Antonio.
It just seems hard to imagine that the Spurs would part ways with Mills during such a great season when they are in position to avoid the play-in game and have a go in the postseason.
7. Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets, $1.7 million
The Hornets are finally winning, and like the Spurs are just good enough to hopefully avoid the play-in game and win with their young players. Charlotte is also not in a position to have to worry about Graham’s next contract, and could also look for a sign-and-trade with him this summer. Altogether, having him even in a smaller role next to Terry Rozier and Malik Monk is useful as the Hornets make their first playoff run in awhile.
However, a package centered around Jalen Smith could make sense for both sides to get the 26-year-old scorer to the Valley.
All that said, there is to me a path for the Suns to upgrade their backcourt without giving up too much. Any of these six players would be a nice addition to the Suns’ rotation for the playoffs, while some provide a potential long-term piece as well. Jones clearly sees this position as something the Suns need, and could try again in 2021.
We know the Suns need a JaVale McGee or Kehm Birch-like backup big man as well, but it would not be a surprise if they look at both positions in an effort to truly go ten deep come playoff time.