The Phoenix Suns are entering the 11th hour. The NBA trade deadline looms, as February 9 is the last day that teams can trade assets in an effort to either bolster their roster or commit to a failing season. The expectation for the Suns is that they are the former, a team looking to be buyers on the market, as they attempt to make the postseason for the third consecutive season.
It has been a journey to this point. They’ve had a slew of injuries, have been held hostage by a veteran power forward, and have yet to play quality, consistent basketball with all of their players healthy at the same time.
The trade deadline presents an opportunity for Phoenix. It’s a chance to fortify the roster, to commit to going for a title, and to tell the NBA, “Watch out. Here comes the Suns”. Or, like in years past, they can let it slip by, barely making any noise, and trusting that what they have in place is enough.
We are all asking that question. “Is what they have enough?”.
With the trade deadline approaching in less than a week, it’s time to compile the Suns Trade Deadline Primer. The goal here is to understand what the Phoenix Suns are up against, what possibilities and rumors exist, and what the actual odds are that James Jones will make some of these moves.
There are many variables that exist, from expiring contracts to the impending sale of the team to Mat Ishbia. We’ll learn in the days to come how aggressive new ownership wants to be or how conservative. Is the team looking to win now? Or are they setting themselves up to make major moves this off-season?
The trade deadline should answer these questions.
State of the Roster
Per Spotrac, below is where the Suns stand relative to their roster:
In looking at the Phoenix Suns roster, you can see that James Jones has provided the franchise with flexibility. Of the 16 players currently under contract for the Phoenix Suns:
- Two are two way contracts (Ish Wainright and Saben Lee)
- Six are unrestricted free agents (Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, Torrey Craig, Bismack Biyombo, Damion Lee, and Josh Okogie)
- Two are restricted free agents (Cameron Johnson and Jock Landale)
What does this mean? It strengthens the fact that James Jones has put himself in a position to be flexible this season and in the future.
It also tells us that numerous pet players can be available for trade, if need be. If you aren’t committed long-term to a players contract and they are expiring at the end of the year, generally you want to do your best to try to maximize that asset. Seeing as those players have expiring contracts, they can simply walk away from the team in free agency. And who knows? Perhaps that is what James Jones wants. However, if you want to maximize the asset, you can trade it for a new asset that offers greater long-term returns.
The Suns are the only team in the NBA that owns all of their own first and second round draft picks and doesn’t have extra picks in any round. Picks are a valuable trading tool that increases leverage, although if the team projects to be a viable championship threat, those aren’t lottery picks you’re dealing.
Only Devin Booker is untouchable for the Phoenix Suns, in my personal and humble opinion. Everybody else could be traded.
Is James Jones willing to compromise the organic chemistry the team has developed in an effort to win now? Trading Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul, and/or Mikal Bridges would greatly affect the chemistry of this team. I don’t see this happening.
James Jones recently stated in a private Q&A with Bright Siders that he expects the trade deadline will be, “horizontal”, that is, we shouldn’t expect big names moving rosters. With so many teams still in the playoff hunt since the inception of the play in game, it has changed how teams construct their roster and value their assets.
What do the Suns need?
Make no mistake about it, there are holes that exist in the Suns roster. The team, although talented, has had issues in numerous areas that need to be addressed if they are truly in “win now” mode. I ask the question via Twitter as to what people think the Suns need.
If the Phoenix Suns could address one roster need prior to the trade deadline, what should that be?— John Voita (@DarthVoita) January 30, 2023
In true Twitter fashion, there were some entertaining answers. “Towel waiving on the bench”. “A center that dunks the ball”. “Podcasters”.
After sifting through the serious and non-serious, here is the consensus:
Secondary Shot Creator
A secondary shot creating score is at the top of the list. Devin Booker is a superstar. He is surrounded by a slew of role players who, when asked to play the part, do so. Ask them to step outside of their role? You don’t always get consistent results.
The need for a secondary shot creator in the starting five would relieve some of Devin Booker’s scoring pressure. He carried this team for the first two months of the season, and it took its toll on him. Having a strong one-two punch not only extends Devin Booker’s effectiveness, but also makes the team difficult to defend throughout the game. Defenses cannot isolate one player and attempt to eliminate him.
Point Guard of the Future/Ballhandler
Let’s face it, Chris, Paul’s 37 years-old. This could be his last highly productive year.
The Suns need to start looking forward and find somebody who can be the future distributor of this franchise. Perhaps it’s the same player that is a shot creator. As much as we love Cameron Payne, I think we all know that he ain’t it.
Physicality on the Interior
Good, bad, or indifferent, Phoenix is a finesse team. They don’t get to the foul line – they’re 28th in the league in doing so – they don’t impose their will on the interior, and don’t have an enforcer. They lost all of those when Jae Crowder decided he didn’t want to play.
Phoenix could use a “real” power forward, somebody who possesses all the traits above.
James James Jones observed in his Q&A session with Bright Siders that the challenge in this area is that there are too few stereotypical power forwards available on the market. Therefore, based on simple supply and demand, the asking price set by the market is high.
Now the biggest question: Can you find a player that adequately meets the needs of the team via trade, especially in a buyers market? Or are these challenges that the Suns’ brass will have to answer this upcoming off-season? Are the Suns willing to shake up the core? Or are fringe players that primary target?
How are the impending moves for the Suns going to affect their odds? Here is how the Suns are currently sitting on DraftKings Sportsbook:
Operating under the premise that Jae Crowder will be the only transaction James Jones will make, I don’t expect the odds to change much. Only a splash move will truly move the needle. These odds aren’t really that bad, especially the Pacific Division odds.
Phoenix is currently only 2.5 games out of fourth, which is where they need to get to have at least one round of home court advantage.
Head on over to DraftKings to place your bet right now if you’re feeling lucky.
The projected starting five of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and Deandre Ayton has played a total 67 minutes together. That lineup is a +43, the best the Suns have put on the court this season.
That is why my feeling is we will once again be treated to quiet trade deadline. The team needs to get healthy. Do I wish a splash was in store? Do I think Kyle Kuzma could immensely help this team? Sure. History has told us otherwise, however. James Jones will let it pass, trade of Jae for some assistance and/or assets, and we’ll prepare for the postseason, hoping this team gets healthy and peaks at the right time.
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