Vol.2, Iss.10: The Case To Upgrade
Should the Phoenix Suns make a move before the trade deadline? A trade primer and why it might make some sense.
And We’re Back…..
I don’t know about you, but I enjoyed a mini break from the NBA season. But now we are back & so are the Phoenix Suns. As I tweeted a few days ago, the impressive recent run by the Suns is going to mean more eyes on Phoenix. And I hope, more eyes on this Newsletter. Please continue to help me spread the word & if you are reading this for the first time because someone sent you here, then smash that button below!
Bring On Trade Season…..
Thursday, March 25 at 3 p.m. ET.
A date many Suns fans would normally have circled on the calendar in years gone by - the NBA Trade Deadline. Often a time for hope, where the Phoenix Front Office could look to overhaul an under-performing roster and provide reason for the Suns faithful to believe again.
But this season is different. We already believe. Phoenix currently sit proudly at 2nd in the Western Conference standings, with a record of 25-12.
What trades could possibly be out there to tempt the Suns brain trust, James Jones & Jeff Bower, to even consider the risk of shaking things up?
Morale is surely at a high not seen in #TheValley for quite some time. Chemistry is looking like a real asset, as the stars begin to click on the court. Roster balance and depth is possibly the team’s biggest strength, with every position stocked from top to bottom. There are a lot of reasons to be content with where things sit.
Why mess any of that up?
Let me take you back to Monty Williams’ locker room speech after his Suns went 8-0 in the Bubble. As Coach put it, that undefeated stretch got back the respect Phoenix spent 10 years unraveling. Ultimately though, the Sunderella Suns 2.0 had their run stopped there as they left the chance in the hands of others. Luck ran out.
It’s really simple, folks. Monty said it at the end of that viral video - “You want to be the type of team that controls your own destiny”.
Okay, So What’s The Case To Upgrade?
You mean I have to convince you further? I thought that would have been more than enough to have you all aboard the Trade Train. Alright, fine.
It’s about that D word. Not defense, but destiny. The Suns are a good team who could make a nice run at the Western Conference Finals, should things break right for them after a bit of luck on their side. I don’t know about you, but I’m greedy. Don’t get me wrong, breaking a decade long Playoff drought is going to be fun. But I want to make some real noise.
I want to look at how we can look even more lethal and let me tell you the real reason why.
It begins with one guy - Chris Paul.
The moment the Suns made the trade for CP3, I was of the belief that #TheTimeline (shout out Mike and Sam) shifted. That was before the future Hall of Fame PG had even slipped into a purple & orange jersey and bounced a ball in anger. Fast forward 37 games and Phoenix has two All Stars for the first time since the 09/10 NBA season.
Funnily enough, that was the last time our Suns made it to the post-season. The Steve Nash/Amare Stoudemire led Suns lost 2-4 to the Lakers, in the WCF. Given what has taken place since then, should we be happy with going that far before getting eliminated? Probably. But as I said, I am greedy.
And you know who else might share that same sentiment? 35 year old Mr. Paul.
Let’s talk about those Lakers and a possible WCF rematch. Or the Clippers. Or heaven forbid for my heart, whoever comes out of the East. As good as the Suns look right now, do we honestly have the firepower to go up against those juggernauts? LeBron James & Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard & Paul George or Kevin Durant & James Harden & Kyrie Irving.
I love our All-Star duo and the roster they have behind them. But in my heart of hearts, the one that is going to be beating out of my chest during a Playoff series I am no longer accustom to, I feel like A LOT would have to go our way.
Generally speaking, teams rely on an 8 to 9 man rotation and minutes start to tighten up going into the Playoffs. As of writing this sentence, my guess is that would look like Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Dario Saric, Deandre Ayton, Cam Johnson & Cam Payne for the Suns. That order is on purpose too, with how much I currently trust each guy going into that unfamiliar setting.
That gives you 5 solid starters plus a small, medium and big as your reserves to cover all bases off the bench. You are hoping like hell that all 8 can stand up on the big stage and that at least one of E’Twaun Moore, Abdel Nader, Frank Kaminsky or Langston Galloway can have a small moment when called upon too.
As much as fans of the team will ultimately sit back and cherish whatever post-season run those Suns can give us, I don’t believe for a second our ageing floor general will be content with a First, Second or even Third Round loss. The guy who has only ever reached a Conference Finals once in his career. Sure, there is always next year. But is there?
Nothing is guaranteed in the NBA and I don’t want to take for granted having two guys on the team producing at an All Star level right NOW! I want Monty’s attitude - control what you can control. I want Chris’ attitude - leave it all out there on the floor.
What if you can add a third All Star or feel better about guys 3 through 8 in the rotation? And all without totally sacrificing your future?
Well, if it starts with CP3 then it ends with his back-court partner - Devin Armani Booker. He IS the future.
Five Thirty Eight currently predicts the Suns to have a 4% chance to win the Finals. The Phoenix brass have a unique opportunity to show the face of their franchise, that they mean business. That they aren’t content with just getting Booker to the first Playoffs of his career. That they want more.
This is really weird for me to think, let-alone put down in words. I have ALWAYS been risk averse and wanted to build for sustained success. But following the NBA recently has taught me one thing - things can change VERY quickly. If it’s me, I’m taking the opportunity to show Book that any season this team has even 1% at the ultimate glory - I am leaving no stone unturned in delivering the best possible team for Book to work with.
Alright Then, Who Is Getting Traded?
I set about trying to rank the full 15 man roster, in terms of their likelihood of getting traded before this deadline.
First I assigned a number, 1 through 15, to each player on the roster based on the usefulness of their contract for salary matching purposes. Not just how great the number was for matching salary in trades but also how likely the Suns would be to receive adequate value back for that same dollar figure. The higher the number, the better suited that players salary for matching.
Next, I wanted to look at each players value to the Suns and then how likely other teams would be interested in trading for them too. A low number for that second category meant you held significant value to the current team and a high number for the third category represents someone who other teams could be looking to trade for.
The final rankings were an accumulation of those three individual categories, to hopefully spit out a logical list of trade candidates. To some degree, the results shocked me. But the longer I thought about it, the more I felt it made perfect sense. Let me explain, after you pore over the rankings.
Okay, let’s start with Cam Johnson. I love Cam. I want to keep Cam. However, his mix of having a great contract, being lower on the totem pole of likely Playoff contributors and his attractiveness to other teams - simply makes him one of the best assets Phoenix has to make a significant win-now move.
That same thinking is exactly why you find Bridges, Booker and Paul down the very bottom. You are unlikely to get appropriate value if you trade Bridges right now and for as good as Book & Paul are, it’s unlikely many teams are trying it on for them.
I could go on all day about these rankings and certain justifications but ultimately, I’d prefer you bring any Q’s to me if you have them. I will address one final item though and for it, you will need to look at the image above and also the image below.
There are essentially 4 easy to split salary groupings and that dictated a lot of how the first category was ranked. It’s why you will find Jalen Smith, Jevon Carter and Johnson right up the top, due to their $3-4 million salaries being great filler for decent moves. And why you’ll again see Booker and Paul at the bottom of the pile. It’s also why you’ll see those double digit contracts of Crowder, Saric and Ayton floating attractively around in the middle. Necessary for any significant moves.
As for the low to minimum salaries, I chose rotation minutes as the key separator. These contracts will all have value in deals, to help the numbers add up. Other teams may have preference on which minimum salary guy they take back, and whilst the Suns certainly won’t kill a deal based on that preference, they would likely have their own preference on who they’d like to keep in order to have the strongest roster possible. For instance, I don’t love Nader as the 9th man going into the Playoffs but if he becomes Monty’s 11th option…..that’s just a bonus.
Well, What Can We Get?
The sky is the limit. Or maybe I should say, the ceiling is the roof.
The better question is probably; what do we have to give? Due to the acquisition of Chris Paul, where the Suns traded a protected 2022 First Round Pick to OKC, Phoenix can’t easily trade another First Rounder until 2027. Damn Stepien Rule! They also already owe their 2021 Second Rounder to either MEM or BKN, depending on where it falls.
So we’ve got one potentially attractive yet distant future draft pick, a bunch of future seconds, and all the players on the current roster, to trade with. We better learn the trade rules then.
As the current Suns are operating as an ‘Over The Cap’ team, there’s just two items worth considering - salary matching & the tax threshold.
When it comes to handling salaries in trades, there are 3 levels you need to consider when you open up The Trade Machine. Based on which bracket of income the salaries of the Suns players being traded fits into, dictates how much salary they can accept back. Those brackets are below but the real moral to the story is - we can accept more salary back than we send out. Woo!
$0 - $6,533,333 = 175% of the outgoing salary + $100,000
$6,533,334 - $19,600,000 = Outgoing salary + $5,000,000
$19,600,000 + = 125% of the outgoing salary + $100,000
The second rule of thumb to consider is how much more salary the Suns can take on before they cross the Tax Threshold. By my numbers, that figure is exactly $7,132,368. Now, the Suns could certainly cross that line if they wish, but it is very unlikely for reasons we don’t have to go into right now. Just trust me. There will be future seasons where we can get down & dirty with tax talk. Grrrr!
Got It, Now Give Us More Fake Trades!
One time Phoenix Sun himself - Jalen Rose - said it best; Got to Give The People What They Want #GTGTPWTW.
You’ve done the hard yards reading the why’s and the what’s (or maybe you just scrolled straight to this final section - cheater!), but now it’s time for the who’s. Take a look at which one tickles your fancy and then read what types of trades I think could be appealing. Because we both know, it’s HIGHLY unlikely any of these turn out exactly as I’ve outlined. They are really just vessels to help carry my theory.
Speaking of that theory - if I can end on one final overall point after ranting this long already, it would be that I don’t believe any one scenario is the right way to go. I’m not beating down James Jones’ door to push all his chips in. I’d just like to see this team look at what options may be out there to improve the base line talent of the core group. Of course, factoring in some of how that impacts their future going forward.
Scenario 1 - Flower Power Up The Guard Rotation:
Third Guard. We all talk about it and George Hill is the obvious name that often comes up. So let me throw Smith & Carter for Hill out their briefly, before moving onto another possible idea to give Paul & Book a back-court running mate.
Patty Mills makes $13.5 million this season, which means you need to send back at least $8.5 million the other way. Smith, Carter & Galloway take care of that for you, with Smith acting as the pseudo First Round Pick compensation it would likely take to snare Mills.
When Monty finally goes The Full Stagger with Paul & Booker, I’m not sure there’s a better guy to play off Playoff Book (see what I did there?) while letting Paul operate in the two-man game with Saric and surrounded by Wings.
Scenario 2 - Give The Starting PF A New Life:
Crowder - 19 starts. Kaminsky - 13 starts. Johnson - 9 starts. If there’s one position in the starting lineup that Monty has shown he isn’t quite sure of yet, it’s the PF slot.
Harrison Barnes’ $22.2 million salary places him in that top range, where you can only get back 125% of what you give. That means you have to include a guy like Crowder but if your coach isn’t convinced he is the solution at the 4 spot, is it really that hard to do?
Comparing the two this season, it’s hard to argue Barnes wouldn’t be an upgrade. And quite a big one at that. Both players are currently shooting identical percentages from deep and that’s about where the identical figures start & stop.
While Crowder might be the better defender - Barnes shoots 49% from the field to Jae’s 40%. Per 36 minutes, Harrison averages 3.7 more points, 3.3 more free throw attempts and 0.7 more assists. All while evening out the rest of Crowder’s production. If the Suns are worried about needing another offensive threat come the pointy end of the season, this could be an intriguing option.
Scenario 3 - The Rotation Gets An Extra Mushroom:
You may have picked up on the PJ Tucker reference in the GIF before but if not, surprise! Much like Scenario 1, this one is about adding a solid rotation piece to the bench. And like Hill, Tucker’s name has been mentioned quite a bit by Suns fans.
So let’s again move on quickly from that idea after we admire the brilliant editing work of @ridiculouscage on the GIF and header art. Instead, let’s focus on a less talked about Swiss Army Knife option - Thaddeus Young. It would likely take a package like Smith, Nader & Carter to match Young’s $13.5 million salary.
The key here is that the Suns wouldn’t lose any player from their core Playoff rotation in the trade, and would most certainly gain one. I love Thad’s versatility.
Not only is he a guy who can switch across both big positions, but his crafty left hand game could bring a nice balance on the floor. He’s averaging 4.3 assists a game this season, which would even make him a prime candidate to possibly take that floating PF starting spot in Monty’s system. And while his outside shot has been down this season, he’s flashed just enough range throughout his 13 year career to possibly stick.
Scenario 4 - Add An All-Star:
Go big or go home! I asked this Q at the end of last Issues podcast special and specifically with this guy in mind. If the Suns wanted to try add a third All-Star to this current group, not many candidates are actually attainable AND a valued fit.
Nikola Vucevic could be the rare exception. YES, this means you are jumping off the Ayton Rollercoaster and NO, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up on him entirely. I’d simply refer to everything that has come before this section, that you have read in this Newsletter. This would be a move for the now.
If the Suns are currently this good with Ayton at C, then how good could they be RIGHT NOW with a player who is simply superior to the Suns current starting 5 in almost every aspect of the game. And yes, I understand ‘almost’ is doing a lot of lifting there but I think we may have reached the point where Deandre’s defense is now a touch overrated. At least for now. Especially if you look at the stark upgrade on offer on the offensive end - 25 & 11, with 3.7 assists and 41% on 6.5 three attempts a game!
That kind of production costs you though. Both in salary and trade compensation. Vuc’s $26 million contract does make matching tough. It means Johnson and Smith must almost certainly be included, as well as Carter. But maybe those attractive pieces make up for the lack of draft picks the Suns would be able to include.
Final Note - Currently, the Suns have 1 open roster spot and 1 open two-way spot. If the Suns make a trade with the same amount of outgoing players to incoming, with more outgoing players to incoming OR don’t trade at all - they will have roster spots to fill. Two-way players have recently been ruled eligible for the Playoffs and players can be signed right up until the last day of the regular season - May 16th. The next key date after March 25th, is April 9th. This is the last day players must be waived from other NBA rosters, to be eligible to sign for a Playoff team.
I recently asked Suns fans on Twitter to submit their own favorite fake trades, so here’s the summary:
Jalen Smith & Jevon Carter are by far the favourite package for Suns fans to send out, with @MateoCam_ wanting Norman Powell, @azsportz1 after George Hill, @jaytrays hoping for Hill & Isaiah Roby, @Kountry_K willing to add Langston Galloway for Terrence Ross, @maxhodder going for Devonte Graham & Bismack Biyombo, @SilentWizard65 adding Picks for Larry Nance Jnr, and @KyleBarnesLuna looking at Justin Holiday & Goga Bitadze.
@odddadbod likes the Jalen Smith & E’Twaun Moore combo instead for Alec Burks & Nerlens Noel.
@co_dhunt wants to go large, sending Deandre Ayton, E’Twaun Moore, Jevon Carter & Jalen Smith out in a three-team trade with CLE & OKC. The Suns would get Larry Nance Jnr, Jarrett Allen & George Hill in return.
@ChadPad would try for Luke Kennard again, using E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway & a future 1st.
@kimiwu0106 also wants Larry Nance Jnr but would offer Cam Johnson & Picks.
Delon Wright is the target for @mikenothum, willing to trade E’Twaun Moore, Jevon Carter & a 2nd.
Finally, four more fans are ready to move Deandre Ayton on: @NotRyanMcD would add Jae Crowder, Jevon Carter & E’Twaun Moore to swap for Jeremy Lamb, Justin Holiday & Myles Turner. It’s John Collins & De’Andre Hunter for @kevin_humpherys with his Deandre for De’Andre swap. While @patrickcota5 & @fattmorte are hoping for a Karl-Anthony Towns godfather offer.
If you have another trade you’d like to get on the record with, feel free to drop it in the comments below. Then you’ll have date stamped evidence to say "I Told You So!”