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What does the Craig acquisition tell us about the Suns plans?

The Suns probably acquired Craig to enhance their chances at another, bigger trade

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Lizzy Barrett/Getty Images

On Wednesday night, a week before the 2021 NBA Trade Deadline, the Phoenix Suns quietly acquired another big(ish) wing defender to add to their rotation. To get Craig, the Suns finally traded away their most prized player acquisition of the last decade, nicknamed affectionately as CC by the fanbase. The Suns sent a small amount of Cash Considerations to close the deal.

Torrey Craig, 6’7” and 220 pounds, was a useful defender of bigger wings for the Denver Nuggets the last three seasons before spending the last two months buried on the Milwaukee Bucks bench. He appeared in all 33 of the Nuggets’ playoff games over the past two seasons, averaging 5.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 21.4 minutes and making 14 starts in those 33 games.

You might remember the name because he blocked Devin Booker at the buzzer last year in a regular season game to seal a Nuggets win. I mistakenly recalled that player as Jerami Grant, but a twitter friend corrected me.

Why would the Suns, who already have a deep rotation in place, need another wing? Especially one who can’t shoot the three-ball very well (career: 32 percent)?

Craig joins a crowded field at his relative position that includes Devin Booker (starter), Mikal Bridges (starter), Jae Crowder (starter sometimes), Cameron Johnson and Abdel Nader. Already, the depth is so deep that Nader only plays when one of the aforementioned is out or when they’re unusually short on smaller guards.

Oh yeah, there’s that smaller guard crew of Chris Paul (starter), Cameron Payne, Jevon Carter, E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway that still can’t find the minutes for more than two of the backups in any one game unless there’s a shortage on the wing.

All tolled, when you add Torrey Craig to the mix, that’s eleven — 11 !! — guys fighting for minutes at 3.75 positions, assuming Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky play a few minutes a game at the four spot next to Deandre Ayton.

Add in the aforementioned bigs, that’s 14 players who legitimately deserve minutes every single night, and would get minutes on any other NBA team in the league. You can quibble over Nader, Kaminsky or Carter here but all three of those guys have made a big difference in at least two Suns wins in their last 52 games.

Already, no Suns player averages more than 34 minutes per game (Booker) and every one of the 13 incumbents mentioned get 10-plus when they hear their named called. It’s just that they don’t always hear their named called because Monty simply can’t play 13-15 players every night.

Now add Torrey Craig to the mix. Craig takes up the 15th roster spot previously manned by Damian Jones.

Why would the Suns make their depth even deeper, while still leaving the big man depth to Frank Kaminsky alone since they clearly don’t trust rookie Jalen Smith with any real minutes?

Two reasons I can think of.

One, Craig at 6’7” is bigger than most of the Suns available guards/wings. None of the small guards are over 6’2”. When Bridges gets into foul trouble because he’s always guarding the opponent’s best player, having Craig around gives Monty one more option if said opponent is a big wing. And the West is full of big wings.

Two, if the aforementioned is true, then all that means is there’s even less time for the 6’2” and under group to get minutes. And they were each already dealing with sitting out 50-60% of the games anyway.

So maybe the Suns have a many-for-one trade lined up — or at least on the table for consideration — that would leave them short a few people when it’s done. Now, the Suns can afford to do a 3-for-1 or 2-for-1 trade by the trade deadline without ending up short in the rotation.

Of course, you’ve got to remember the caveat here. The receiving team on that many-for-1 trade have to have the roster spots to absorb the incoming booty of guards. No NBA team can exceed 15 players under guaranteed contract. And almost no NBA team has any open roster spots at this time.

That doesn’t mean the Suns can’t do what is “effectively” a many-for-1 trade. It’s just that the other team will need to match bodies by sending back expiring contract player(s) the Suns can quickly release, like the Thunder did with that Meyers Leonard for Trevor Ariza trade yesterday.

Either way, the Suns are now OUT of the buyout market (unless they cut someone else, but that’s a whole other can of worms), and totally IN on the ability to get an upgrade at some position in a modest many-for-1 trade.

Do I think the Suns should send out any of their top ten players in the next week? No.

But could they marginally improve their championship chances by trading a pair of the smaller backup guards for an upgrade in that group? Sure. I’m down with that.

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