The NBA’s annual in-season trade deadline is just a week away, and the Phoenix Suns are starting to crop up in the whisper-circles that they are interested in adding another wing shooter to the rotation.
Here’s the rumor, in three parts, shared by NBA insider Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report.
“Phoenix has maintained its efforts to move Dario Saric, and it appears the Suns are searching for an upgrade to their wing rotation.”
Dario Saric makes $8.5 million this season and $9.24 million next year, all guaranteed. Rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered last July, he has not played at all this season and is unlikely to play at a significant level at any point until next year.
The Suns have filled in admirably for Saric’s absence as Ayton’s primary backup this season, signing JaVale McGee and Bismack Biyombo for less combined $$ than Saric makes, but are rather thin on the wing now.
Abdel Nader (knee) has missed most of the season and the Suns never replaced Torrey Craig last offseason because they focused more on Ayton’s backups.
Sure, backup guards Landry Shamet (ankle) and Cameron Payne (wrist) are down right now, but both will be back within a couple of weeks to stabilize the back court so the Suns don’t necessarily need to replace either of them. However, they have both been inconsistent at best and bad at worst this season, so don’t put it past the Suns to want more consistency and production back there.
The Suns are the most balanced team in the league with the best record by far. They plugged the hole that sprung a leak in the Finals by adding a lot of depth and size at backup center.
But in the process, they made themselves a bit more vulnerable in other areas that could hurt come playoff time.
List of the Suns true needs:
- A 15-20-minute-per-game wing who can spell Jae Crowder*, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, just like Craig did last year
- A good shooter/ballhandler who can reliably spell Chris Paul and Devin Booker, just like Cam Payne did a year ago but has not been as effective this year.
*Crowder wouldn’t mind a bit more depth at his big wing position.
Jae Crowder on his mentality with his wrist: "It's one of those things where the past few days I've had to put my mind around just playing with it. I didn't want to. I wanted to try and get all the way healthy and much as possible but we keep dropping bodies left and right."— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) February 1, 2022
The Suns don’t need any big role players, though they certainly wouldn’t turn one down. At the least, they need to rely as little as possible on Elfrid Payton, Ish Wainright, Jalen Smith and (unfortunately) even Landry Shamet once the playoffs start.
My guess is that they trust and are counting on Cam Payne to get right and be that high quality 18-minute-per-game backup like was from the Bubble through the Finals.
So, the Suns are probably thinking ‘wing’ that can back up anyone from Booker to Crowder.
“Eric Gordon has been linked by league personnel as a possible target, as he and Chris Paul shared a successful stint in Houston.”
‘Linked by league personnel’ is basically saying that there’s no second or even third-hand knowledge that the Suns are indeed eyeing Eric Gordon in particular. Just speculation many times removed from the Suns front office.
But hey, that’s how a lot of rumors start out and sometimes they come to fruition.
Gordon makes a lot of logical sense on the basketball court. He’s a knock-down shooter having a great year and proven to be good in the playoffs. Though I’m sure he’s still got PTSD from Game 7 of the WCF against the Golden State Warriors where the Houston Rockets missed 27 straight threes and Gordon missed 10 of his own attempts (2 for 12, while James Harden shot 2 for 13). Chris Paul missed that game after pulling a hamstring late in Game 5 with the Rockets taking a 3-2 lead in the series. That was pre-Suns Chris Paul’s best chance at a ring.
Setting that the one game aside, Gordon has been a solid playoff performer throughout his career with consistent productivity from regular season to playoffs (about 16 ppg, with 36% three point shooting).
He can handle the ball, create his own scoring opportunities and knock down threes, on the court a perfect pairing next to Paul or Booker and sometimes with all three.
This year, languishing in Houston, Gordon is producing his best season in a while, making 43% of his threes (after making only 31% and 32% the last two years) and putting up about 14 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds in 30 minutes a night.
He makes sense this year on the basketball court, and maybe that’s all that matters. However, we cannot ignore...
“Of note with Gordon here: The veteran guard’s contract becomes fully guaranteed for 2023-24 if his team wins the championship and Gordon reaches a minutes requirement.”
Suns General Manager James Jones has been a master of salary cap management, often to the chagrin of onlookers as he builds the league’s best team.
From dumping T.J. Warren, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton and a few second round picks for cap space to sign Ricky Rubio in 2019, to declining to engage Deandre Ayton’s representatives on extension talks in 2021 unless they were willing to negotiate below the max.
While ‘losing’ on most deals — including taking on the league’s worst contract in the aging Chris Paul — Jones has a beautiful cap sheet for the foreseeable future. By getting Cameron Payne, Chris Paul, Dario Saric and Jae Crowder all expiring or mostly non-guaranteed by summer of 2023, and Bridges (and hopefully Ayton) on small discounts, Jones has the financial freedom to at least conceive of keeping Cameron Johnson. The 2023-24 season is when Johnson would join Booker, Bridges and Ayton in their expensive new deals. If Jones wants any chance at keeping all of them, he needs a clear cap sheet in 2023-24.
That’s where Eric Gordon presents a big obstacle: if his team wins a championship, he’s guaranteed $20.9 million in 2023-24.
Jones wants to win a championship with Chris Paul at the helm before having to replace Paul with someone else after he declines or retires.
He also wants to keep contending in 2023 and beyond, and he knows he’s already got four players who can carry the torch forward as they hit their primes in 2023. If he needs to replace them with lesser players, the product on the floor would decline even further than Paul’s absence.
Sure, 18 months is a long way away. They would have more than a year to dump Gordon’s contract if needed. But dumping Gordon’s contract to clear cap space would cost assets. No one’s gonna want to spend $21 million on a 35 year old shooting guard. Still, he found takers for Warren and Jackson.
A lynchpin here could possibly be getting Houston to take Landry Shamet in the deal along with Saric and Jalen Smith. Shamet is the only non-core-four guaranteed good money in 2023-24, with a $10 million salary on the books. Including Shamet at least reduces the ‘new money’ problem by half.
But then, swapping 24 year old Shamet for 33 year old Eric Gordon has upside limitations, and don’t forget that Gordon shot just 31% and 32% on threes the last two years before this and has a career 3P shooting% lower than Shamet’s.
One final note: Monty Williams loves Shamet, and James Jones must love him too because he extended Shamet on a big contract when he didn’t have to.