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Suns 2021 Off-Season: Jalen Smith is a movable asset

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If the Suns want to win now in 2022, we have to explore the idea of moving Stix.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Explore all options.

As we prepare for the quick turnaround prior to the tip-off of the 2021-22 NBA season — October 19 is just around the corner — the Phoenix Suns and GM James Jones must navigate the NBA Draft and free agency in rapid succession. We saw it last season as everything was condensed to a week in November due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The same will occur this offseason as the NBA races to reset their annual schedule.

While the NBA Draft is this Thursday, free agency begins next Monday on August 2 (have your Shams and Woj notifications turn to “on”) with teams having the ability to officially sign free agents on August 6. Roster moves will once again be occurring in rapid succession. The turnover rate will be great, as it typically is.

Remember that, following the Orlando Bubble, James Jones turned over 53% of the roster. It is not uncommon to see players you’ve grown to love — or hate — move on year over year. We bid adieu to Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Jr., Aron Baynes, Elie Okobo, Cheick Diallo, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and Frank Kaminsky prior to the start of 2020-21 training camp.

As Dave King breaks down in his ‘2021 Free Agency Primer: Suns cap sheet, spending power, trade options’ piece, if Phoenix lets all of those players hit the market, they’ll be left with just $8.4M to spend before hitting the Luxury Tax.

Given the current construction of the roster, with so many players making the minimum-salary and being unrestricted free agents, Jones will have to get creative in how he builds out the 2021-2022 roster. We may have to say “goodbye” to players we have grown to enjoy routing for.

One of those players might just be Jalen Smith.

There is a weird Stix obsession that Phoenix Suns’ fans have. I can’t tell you how many times, when asking our viewers of the Suns JAM Session Podcast who the ‘JAM Star of the Game’ is, “Stix” is the response. My assumption is that people are being facetious, but still, the fact that he is constantly on our minds is puzzling.

We love Jalen Smith because we believe in his potential, although we haven’t seen much of it translate to the court. We believe in James Jones for drafting him. After all, he was spot on with Cameron Johnson so there is clearly something Smith possesses that made him worthy of a Jones’ selection. I know I was hyped when he joined the team.

With Dario Saric injured with an ACL injury for much of the upcoming season, the possibility exists that Jalen Smith, who never received a Summer League rep or a prolonged training camp to improve, could see the court this season.

But will he?

Jalen Smith, who should have been the ideal candidate to add some size against the Bucks in the Finals, saw nothing but garbage minutes in the postseason. The same could be said for the regular season. For whatever reason (and that reason is defense in my humble opinion), Monty Williams did not trust Jalen Smith at all.

Phoenix is currently in “win now” mode seeing as they are coming off of a trip to the NBA Finals. I am reminded of the Nash years, where draft picks were nothing more than chips used at the poker table in an effort to better the roster. The development of young players was something the Suns avoided. They dished prospects like Rajon Rondo, Luol Deng, and Nate Robinson to opposing teams in an effort to clear cap space and focus on right now.

That was the story last season. Phoenix was competing every night for an opportunity to be the best team in the NBA. They did not have the luxury of developing Smith consistently by providing him minutes on the floor. He therefore ended the season averaging 2.0 points and 1.4 rebounds on .440/.235/.714 splits in 27 games played.

As much as you may love him, you have to ask yourself this question: How much time will he see next season and how effective will he be? And think of that in the context that the Suns once again will be completing for top-seeding in the Western Conference. We want Stix to be the answer but, realistically, he is a massive question mark.

Think back to the Suns’ cap sheet. When Dario went down, so too did the chance of using his two-years, $17.7M contract as a trading piece. If James Jones wants to improve the roster via the trade market, he’ll have to get creative. He’ll have to explore all options. And Suns fans will have to be ready to accept that.

Jalen Smith is owed $4.5M next season. Given the fact that the team, if — as stated above — they release all of the minimum-salary contracts, will only have $8.4M to play with, isn’t the Stix asset something that should be explored on the market? Is that the best usage of the money allotted to Jalen Smith? Or could his salary be used in conjunction with another contract, say Jevon Carter and his $3.6M, to obtain an asset that can help the Suns win now?

I’m sure the mere mention of moving on from Jalen Smith will outrage the fanbase. In a perfect world, Smith gets the Dario minutes next season, flourishes as a prospect, and becomes another James Jones hidden gem. My hope is that Suns Twitter brings this article to my feed and reminds me that I was wrong to ever explore the idea of trading Stix.

Until I see something from Smith that changes my mind, however, his contract is more valuable on the market than his performance on the court. As Phoenix tries to get back to the highest level of basketball, they will need players who can perform on that stage. I understand Smith had a unique path to the NBA due to the restrictions surrounding Coronavirus, but if was truly the talent we want him to be, you’d think he would’ve shown enough in practice for Monty to give him more than 5.8 minutes over 27 games.

Currently I view Jalen Smith as someone you have a crush on. You love the idea of him, not the reality of him. Snap out of it! Until dreams become reality, all options must be explored.

Will Jones move him? Probably not. I’m always wrong on these things.

I know the Stix truthers are out there. But are the logically minded basketball people there as well? Let’s ask Twitter!