The saga continues for Bright Siders as we explore different ways to make the best team in the NBA better. The trade deadline is a week away now, and who doesn’t love the prospect of making a deal?
Sure, the Phoenix Suns don’t need to make a deal, but you’ve got to turn over every stone.
Before we get too far, let’s set the stage. Your Phoenix Suns are a league-best 43-10, in pole position for home court all through the playoffs. They are the best road team, clutch team and have the best record this year against the best teams. They’ve won big in the playoffs with this exact core. They are even deeper this year at center and backup shooting guard.
They don’t need to make a deal but there are a couple of sore spots in the rotation, even if everyone gets healthy. They could use a fourth wing for their rotation (like Torrey Craig’s role a year ago) and more dependable scoring playmaker off the bench behind the Big Two.
We’ve proposed a couple of ideas here at Bright Side of the Sun, formulating transactions that could land Jerami Grant, Josh Hart or Harrison Barnes in Phoenix.
We had some more names on the list, but in the past few days it appears that Nicolas Batum and Robert Covington are off the market after RoCo was traded to the Clippers along with Norman Powell for table scraps in a clear effort to make the playoffs this season whether Paul George or Kawhi Leonard return to action or not. The Clippers (27-27) have been treading water all season, and an infusion of scoring and defense could buoy their playoff odds. No way they jettison Nic Batum now.
Since the beginning of the season, we’ve had the rumor (originally from Flex from Jersey) of Thaddeus Young coming to the Suns in trade. Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.com reports that the Suns still have interest in Young, but have not agreed to the Spurs asking price of draft capital, Saric and Smith. Even back when Flex first brought this up last summer, he said the deal would most likely happen at the deadline or as a buyout. It appears Young may end up on the buyout market for free to anyone with a roster spot available. The Suns don’t currently have one, but we’ll see what happens at the trade deadline. If the Suns still don’t have a roster spot after the deadline, they would have to consider releasing one of their long-term injured players (Frank Kaminsky, Abdel Nader) to make room.
You can bet, though, that the Suns would like to acquire a player markedly better than Thad Young before Thursday’s deadline. Sure it’s possible that Thad Young could hit the Suns rotation with some Biz-magic out of nowhere, but the aged Young is a limited player. He’s good at mid-post passing and finding ways to get into the paint (averaged 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in 24 minutes per game a year ago), but he doesn’t stretch the floor at all. In the Suns system, Young would be camped in the corner a lot to stretch the floor for the pick and roll. But everyone knows he can’t shoot, so the defender is going to constantly cheat to help in the paint.
Who’s left on the market that’s better than Thad Young? How about two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis.
Sabonis is a nightly triple-double threat, but is being made highly available by the Pacers because he’s got some short-comings in the areas of defense and rim protection that make it tough to play him exclusively as your center. He also doesn’t make enough threes (though he’s a lot better than Thad Young) to effectively play next to a big who can defend the paint.
Flex from Jersey has reported the Suns interest in Sabonis, and Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report today confirmed that any Sabonis/Suns deal likely takes part after this season, if one happens at all, as a sign-and-trade option of Deandre Ayton if he and the Suns don’t come to a contract agreement on their own. John Gambadoro of 98.7 Arizona Sports said on the radio yesterday that the Suns still don’t see Ayton as a max player, so they’d rather trade him this summer if that’s his market price. Having Ayton on the books at $30+ million ensures the Suns a long ride on the luxury tax train, and owner Robert Sarver has never liked that thing.
Sheesh. The Suns offense would be fun to watch with Sabonis as a powered-up Super-Dario/Super-Frank. He can create his own shot, draw contact, pass to open shooters and rebound at a high level. He’s truly a triple-double threat (points, rebounds, assists). But the Suns defense, with Sabonis as the primary big, would suffer a great deal. Sabonis does not protect the rim and really can’t hope to stop any of the top dozen centers and power forwards in the game. You can’t play Sabonis next to JaVale or Bis and expect to win a lot (the Pacers proved this, trying him for years next to DPOY-candidate Myles Turner) because he doesn’t stretch the floor with his shooting and can’t keep up with mobile wings on defense.
Anyway, we’ve got months to ruminate over this possible (horrible, IMO) outcome. There won’t be any Sabonis/Ayton trade this week.
Who else can the Suns acquire?
Dennis Schroder is still on the market, and makes about the same money as Jalen Smith for a clean swap. Jake Fischer confirmed on my podcast last month that the Celtics have indeed made this offer to the Suns in January, so it’s likely still available. Schroder would be a serious upgrade over Elfrid Payton as the third point guard, and could absorb minutes from Landry Shamet for the rest of the season. Schroder played well in a three-guard rotation in OKC two years ago with CP3 and SGA, so you know he could do that again with CP3 and Book. The question is whether the Suns want him to take minutes from Cam Payne and Shamet.
Suns folks want the ever-available Eric Gordon from the Rockets, but I’ve laid out here that Gordon is win-now, regret-it-later move. If his team wins a championship, his 2023-24 salary become guaranteed at over $20 million. You want Gordon to potentially squeeze out Cameron Johnson? Plus, there’s no guarantee he keeps up the three-point shot-making. This guy shot 31% and 32% on threes the last two years before this one (42%) and that would be his primary skill in Phoenix.
Another faction of Suns fans want big wing Kenrich Williams from OKC. His game and salary are perfect for a Smith-swap (he’d be like a Torrey Craig type here), but the Thunder want a first round pick for Williams and their GM Sam Presti has never settled for less than his asking price. The Suns could offer their ‘first available’ with heavy protection, but is it really worth giving up a future first round pick — thereby making it impossible to include any firsts in any other deals for half a decade — for your 4th best wing who might play 20 minutes a game at best?
Scratch Josh Hart off your lists. Sorry John Voita. He was just traded for C.J. McCollum, as I’d literally written here before the Shams notification popped onto my phone. Larry Nance Jr. was included in that deal too, so take him off your board as well.
The Suns won’t go after Jerami Grant (one of the ideas above) because Grant wants a big role (no. 1 or 2 scorer) and an even bigger contract. His game is not very efficient though, and does not lead a contender to want to make him their top scorer on a big contract in the coming years where he is already approaching 30 years old.
Maybe Harrison Barnes? It’s possible the Kings are really interested in a tear-down and it’s possible their front office is not smart enough to require a high level, long-term prospect back for Barnes. But that’s just not likely. It’s more likely the Kings won’t have any interest in a package of Shamet/Saric/Smith and a late first a few years down the road.
To recap, that’s Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, Domantas Sabonis, Eric Gordon, Jerami Grant, Josh Hart, Larry Nance Jr. and Harrison Barnes all very unlikely to be acquired by the Suns this week.
What will the Suns do?
Still linked to the Suns with a clear runway for landing are Dennis Schroder (trade) and Thaddeus Young (buyout) for Jalen Smith (to Boston) and Elfrid Payton (Elf on the Shelf/release).
Are Schroder and Young enough to move the needle closer to a championship? Sure they can move the needle a teeny bit. They shore up the Suns remaining holes without much sacrifice. Schroder/Young would be a solid upgrade at 3rd point guard and 4th wing.
How about something better?
I know you want something bigger. Maybe the Suns will surprise us and find a better role player for Dario’s contract (about $9 million this year) + Smith’s ($4.4 million) and maybe even Shamet’s ($3 million going out / $10 million coming back due to the poison pill extension pending).
As you look around, though, keep the money in mind: the player you want’s contract should expire no later than a year from now. The Suns won’t want to take on big long-term money on aging veterans while they navigate extensions for Ayton, Cameron Johnson and Devin Booker in the coming three off-seasons.
Another thing to consider: James Jones has been okay with acquiring young players from teams who don’t want to deal their player’s upcoming restricted free agency (Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, Landry Shamet).
To that end, here’s a name to consider that hasn’t been mentioned yet: Charlotte’s P.J. Washington, taken one spot behind Cameron Johnson in the 2019 Draft.
There’s no rumor tying the Suns to Washington. No smoke, let alone fire. But indulge me a moment as I try to think of something better than Thad Young.
Washington is a burly forward who can shoot it from long range (38% career), fill in at both forward and small-ball center, and is approaching restricted free agency a year from now. He’s a good young player, but he’s lost time in the Charlotte rotation to Miles Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jalen McDaniels and the rumor is that he’s available.
I’m not sure there’s any interest from the Suns, and the Hornets likely would want to upgrade their talent in any deal of Washington rather than just take on Jalen Smith’s expiring contract. I don’t even know if the Suns would sacrifice a future first for Washington, but I do know they did that exact thing to acquire Landry Shamet this offseason in giving up their 2021 first for him.
It’s just an idea, anyway. I’d rather have P.J. Washington than Thaddeus Young or Jalen Smith. But I can’t speak for the Suns position on this.
Stay tuned this week to see what the Suns actually do, if anything.