The Phoenix Suns are down bad.
Their losing streak has hit five straight games. Overall, they’ve lost six of their last seven. Their next two games could very well be losses too — on the road against the Kawhi-full Clippers and then home to host the even-healthier, surgent Pelicans. The Suns have not had even a three-game losing streak in the regular season, let alone five or seven, since the pre-CP3 days.
Injuries are piling up and the level of play is disintegrating fast.
They could really use an infusion of new talent, couldn’t they? Teams can make trades for another two months, but new reports suggest that the Suns may have limited authority in trades this season while the Suns are up for sale.
For now, the Suns have to make do with what they have. Suns head coach Monty Williams has been there for both the 8-straight and, now, 5-straight losing streaks.
"We were here our 1st year when we went through a stretch like this and we just kept doing the next right thing. That's what we've got to do right now." Monty Williams#Suns lost season-high eight straight in Dec. 2019.— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) December 14, 2022
They've lost season-high five straight in Dec. 2022. pic.twitter.com/8Tp1ultkP0
In between those losing streaks, the Suns have been a title contender with the league’s best record and two playoff runs.
Less than two weeks ago, the Suns were defying odds and riding high. Despite missing a trio of key players for a month, they had the best record in the West at 15-6, an MVP candidate in Devin Booker and took home a handful of early-season awards including Player of the Month (Devin Booker), Player of the Week (Deandre Ayton) and Coach of the Month (Monty Williams).
That was just 12 days ago! The wheels have come off since then.
First, they dropped a winnable game at home to the lowly Rockets, a mere blip on the radar, before simply forgetting how to play basketball. They barely showed up in a pair of embarrassing losses to the Mavericks and Celtics then got getting molly-whopped twice in New Orleans. They couldn’t even get right against the Rockets last night, missing nearly every shot in the first half as they built a 22-point deficit.
Along the way, they got back Chris Paul (0-4 since his return) but lost Devin Booker (ankle, hamstring), Deandre Ayton (ankle) and Cameron Payne (foot) to day-to-day soft-tissue injuries.
You can’t blame injuries for the losing streak, because the losing came first. Booker (averaging 29 points per game through Dec. 2) scored just 11 points in 30 minutes in the Dallas debacle before rolling his ankle late, then just 14 points in 36 minutes in the first Pelicans loss before pulling the hammy. Ayton (averaging 19/11 over the last month) failed to show up for the Rockets loss with just 5 points on 2-10 shooting and 3 rebounds in 14 minutes before rolling his ankle right before half.
Now the Suns are down to geriatric Chris Paul, the also-limping Mikal Bridges (knee hyper-extension that might have been aggravated on Wed night) and a band of erstwhile backups to face some of the best teams in the league.
Word is that, given the circumstances of a 5-game losing streak that could easily become 7+, both Booker and Ayton could play in the Clippers game tomorrow night.
The Booker news comes from our buddy, insider Flex from Jersey:
I'm told Devin Booker is doing much better and baring any unforseen setback should return to action on Thursday vs the Los Angeles Clippers. The injuries keep piling up with Ayton, Payne & Bridges all getting hit tonight. Tough times right now for Suns but these things happen.— FLEX From Jersey (@FlexFromJersey) December 14, 2022
And the Ayton news comes from our friendly traveling beat reporter, Duane Rankin of azcentral.com.
I would bet you that, if the Suns were still #1 in the West, Book and DA would be taking a few more days off to get 100% right.
Sure would be nice to have some reinforcements.
Like, some kind of replacement for Jae Crowder, the Suns 5th starter during their Cinderella run through the West who inexplicably decided just to stay at home this season while the Suns work out a trade.
No trade has yet materialized, and recently NBA-insider Eric Pincus added a new obstacle Suns GM James Jones might be facing while trying to trade Crowder in a deal that makes the Suns better.
Suns can’t trade any future first round picks?
Insider Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report quotes a source as saying the Suns may not be able to commit to anything ‘long term’ until a new owner is in place and, in Pincus’ words, “that may only be an issue if the Suns have to give up first-round compensation.”
The Suns have all their draft picks going forward. Sure the picks might not be very high up (likely 25-30th overall), but a first round pick still has value. In the last two years, Jones has traded his 2020-2022 first round picks for Chris Paul, Landry Shamet and Torrey Craig.
If the Suns are stuck to trading only players for players, and not taking on any new significant future money either, that would seriously impact the Suns ability to improve the team this season and beyond.
Interim team governor Sam Garvin spoke to Duane Rankin of azcentral.com ($) and the Arizona Republic this week. Garvin — who’s been in the Suns partnership with Robert Sarver since 2004 — is handling day-to-day ownership duties this season while the suspended Sarver is trying to sell the team to the highest bidder. Looks like bids are already in the $3 billion range.
It’s quite possible Garvin and Sarver have decided that payroll and assets are in a holding pattern until a new owner is in place. That could mean GM James Jones has authority to make trades as long as the net result is basically the same money and future picks.
Before the season, Garvin put a lid on extension offers to Cam Johnson, reportedly topping out at $10-30 million below market (depending on what rumors you believe).
“I’ve always been a Cam fan,” Garvin said to Duane. “and I rely on James to determine what was the best offer we could make to help retain Cam and keep us competitive. Kind of what happened 18 months ago with DA (Deandre Ayton). We didn’t get there then, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to get there in the end. I don’t know why [Cam] kind of said [negotiations were negatively impacted by the unclear ownership situation]. I wouldn’t need anyone’s authority to do it, but I rely on James and our basketball ops staff to do all the negotiations and the numbers.”
Sure, he has authority to give the extension. But he could easily have had a ceiling on that dollar amount to stay below market.
Garvin also says he expects a Crowder trade at some point, and has given authority to James Jones to execute it.
“The arrangement that [Crowder’s] not coming in, but getting paid was worked out by James. I know James and his team, Ryan (Resch), Trevor (Bukstein) and Morgan (Cato), they’ve had a lot of discussions with a lot of teams that are interested in Jae. As James said, there’s no magic wand of a timeline. It’s going to happen when it’s going to happen, but I think Jae is going to go somewhere and do well and I think we’re going to get value for Jae.”
Again, the Suns front office might have the authority to figure something out, but there may be limits on what they can include as assets in the deal. We don’t know. We only know that no deal is done yet.
How involved is Robert Sarver still, despite being suspended? Garvin explains, in his own way.
“For super extraordinary items, I have the ability to consult with (Sarver) and get his opinion on it, but day-to-day stuff, regular trades, business decisions, all business and basketball matters, I’m the final say.”
“I communicate with Robert regularly. The suspension bars him from being involved in any day-to-day contact with employees, coming on any NBA premises, anything like that, but there’s a mechanism allowable by the NBA where on ‘extraordinary items,’ if I need to, I can communicate with him. So we communicate regularly. I wouldn’t say it’s often, but regularly.”
Garvin made jokes about what constitutes ‘super extraordinary’ — using examples like acquiring 3 max contracts to double the team’s payroll, or moving the team to another city — while at the same time saying he talks to Sarver regularly.
“He’s still the majority shareholder. He owns 30% of the shares, and he’s managing the sale. So for super extraordinary items like that, I have the ability to consult with him and get his opinion on it, but day-to-day stuff, regular trades, business decisions, all business and basketball matters, I’m the final say.”
It could very well be that there are rules in place — no trades of future first-round picks, no commitment to take on more future money than already on the books — that are hamstringing any Suns deals this season.
We will find out, based on whatever Jae Crowder trade eventually takes place. If the Suns bring back only the same or less money in future years, and refuse to include any first round picks, you have your answer.
What can the Suns trade? Here’s a breakdown of their assets, the likely value of those assets, and likelihood of them getting traded, according to our Bright Side contributors (me, Brandon, John V and Ethan S).
We collectively think...
- the Suns best trade assets — Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson — are unlikely to get traded this year
- Deandre Ayton is also very unlikely to get traded this year, given that he can veto any trade and, frankly, there’s few available players he’d be worth trading for that make the Suns even better contenders.
- Jae Crowder is the only guy teams might think could start or play big minutes for them in the playoffs (and those are really your best buyers for Jae)
- everyone else on the roster is mostly salary-filling — rebuilding teams won’t get excited over them and contending teams might not even see them as playoff-level rotation players
The Suns best available trade assets this season — assuming they want to build rather than re-build — are Jae Crowder and their first round picks, with everyone else just being salary-matching fodder.
So you can see why James Jones is waiting for the best possible deal on Jae, especially if he can’t even include any first-round picks or take back any new future-year money in the deal yet.