Discover more from The Four Point Play
Vol.3, Iss.10: Trade Deadline Special
Getting you prepared for the looming trade deadline + a plan to add two new key pieces to the Phoenix Suns.
It’s Trade SZN…..
The day every NBA fan is waiting for is almost here - The Trade Deadline. As a Suns fan, the below should have you covered with all the ins & outs of what Phoenix can do. If you are a regular reader of the Newsletter, you’ll recognise the format. But if you are new, then apologies in advance for the lengthy text in this Issue. On top of the below style of analysis, I usually focus mainly on film breakdowns that bring a few more pictures to the mountain of words I tend to write. Hopefully you all still get something out of this one & are convinced to hit that little button below. Enjoy!
Let’s Get Ready To Rumble…..
Hello fellow Suns fans!
Please allow me to be honest with you for a second. I’m not a huge fan of writing about trades. It’s an often fruitless task that is far more likely to see you get yelled at, than it is to see you wind up correct.
BUT…..I am a fan of CBA minutiae & the particulars of getting deals done! This Issue is aimed at getting you prepared for what Phoenix can actually do, rather than me looking to pedal an opinion piece on what the Suns should do.
Having said that, I will include my adventurous ‘Plan A’ below as we run through the possibilities. It should help illustrate how some of the more complicated matters actually play out & at the end of the day, it’s fun!
I will also try to keep my personal thoughts on what the Suns approach should be before the trade deadline to just a few links below & some extended words at the very end. If you are interested in what I have to say on that, then please click & scroll.
So without further ado, let’s cut to the chase & talk dates.
March 15th, 2021 - The Phoenix Suns sat 2nd in the Western Conference with a record of 25-12. I wrote about ‘The Case To Upgrade’. A lot of which, still remains true.
March 18th, 2021 - James Jones made a shrewd move by trading Cash Considerations for Torrey Craig. Craig would go on to be a key member of the Suns Playoff rotation.
June 20th, 2021 - The Milwaukee Bucks defeated our Phoenix Suns 4-2 in the NBA Finals. After a dream run, the team in purple & orange fell agonisingly short.
February 10th, 2022 - The upcoming 21/22 NBA Trade Deadline. What represents the last realistic chance to upgrade the below roster in an attempt to return to The Finals.
About that roster…..
Phoenix currently have 15 players under guaranteed contracts & sit roughly $7,000,000 below the luxury tax. With the maximum amount of roster spots in use, the impending deadline is a ticking time bomb for the Suns & their post-season ambitions.
When it comes to the next two weeks, everything should be about the Playoffs.
The Key Question - Where Can Improvements Be Made?
I know, I know…..I said no personal opinions until later on. I promise this is one most Suns fans should agree on - there’s an imbalance to the roster. There’s essentially 6 players under contract who can only occupy the Center position on an NBA court & 2 of them are currently injured long term - Dario Saric & Frank Kaminsky.
That glut at the 5 naturally creates scarcity at both Guard & Wing. That has been particularly felt recently with further injury scares to Jae Crowder & Cam Payne. Especially when further reserves are either injured or not Playoffs eligible themselves.
Time to run through what can & can’t be done to address that.
Trade Deadline Tidbit - In addition to the 15 man roster, the Suns are also using 1 of their 2 available 2-Way slots. But, 2-Way players are not eligible for the Playoffs.
Let’s begin with the 2 most important rules when it comes to trading future draft picks:
Both 1st & 2nd Round picks can be traded up to 7 years into the future.
Teams cannot trade future 1st Round picks in 2 consecutive drafts.
When it comes to future 1st Round picks, the Suns do owe the Thunder from the Chris Paul trade. And while it is protected in the upcoming draft (protected 1-12 in '22, 1-10 in '23, 1-8 in '24 & unprotected in '25), it’s safe to say it will be convey in '22.
The Key Question - Can Phoenix Trade A First Round Pick ?
In short, yes.
In not so short, there are 3 likely avenues the Suns can create in order to trade another future 1st before this trade deadline.
The ‘Remove The Protection’ Method - Although the pick owed to OKC is all but guaranteed to convey this year in theory, the current protection language restricts PHX until it happens in practice. PHX & OKC are allowed to come to an agreement to remove the protection, thus freeing up the Suns to trade a 1st as early as '24. But that requires permission that will come with a cost.
The ‘Next Available Pick’ Method - With '22 being the likely outcome of the pick being sent to the Thunder, the Suns can trade a future 1st to another team that simply outlines it will be 2 years after satisfying their obligation to OKC. The issue here is that this method would likely still only open up 1 extra 1st for PHX to trade & a little more flexibility would be preferred. At least by this fan.
The ‘Let’s Get Tricky’ Method - Regular readers will already know what I am talking about here but for the rest of you, let’s save my favourite method for the next section.
Trade Deadline Tidbit - Phoenix do not currently have any 2nd Round picks owing due to previous trades & therefore can trade up to 7 between 2022 - 2028.
When Phoenix made the fairly rare decision to decline Jalen Smith’s 3rd year Team Option, it signalled that Stix’s future with the team that drafted him was on very shaky ground.
The Suns were essentially telling the world they didn't believe Stix was worth the $4,670,160 price tag he automatically came with for the 22/23 season. But in doing so, Phoenix have made him an Unrestricted Free Agent in the upcoming off-season.
The Key Question - What Can Phoenix Or A Trading Team Pay Stix Next Season?
Due to the Suns decision to decline, whichever team ends up with Smith at the end of the season will be restricted to that same $4,670,160 salary in the first season of any new deal. While the other 29 teams can theoretically offer anything they want.
All of that is to say, Jalen could very well be traded before the deadline but not because he is viewed as any sort of a prize to a new team. Smith is far more likely to be attractive to teams as an expiring salary, than committed to as a reclamation project.
But maybe just maybe, there’s a team that could view Stix as a little bit of both.
TRADE #1:PHX: Kenrich Williams + '22 PHX 1st
OKC: Jalen Smith + '26 PHX 1st (Protected 1-12 in '26, 1-10 in '27 & Unprotected in '28)
This trade outline was already covered extensively - here - so we aren’t going to go over it in depth again. Here’s the abridged version:
This is the 3rd ‘Let’s Get Tricky’ Method, which allows PHX to be able to trade another 1st Round pick. More on that in a bit.
The original idea has been altered slightly to allow the Suns to get even trickier.
OKC should prefer a pick down the road instead of #30 in the '22 draft, need to add money to hit the Salary Floor & can afford to take a look at Smith.
Kenny Hustle is awesome!
Trade Deadline Tidbit - Jalen Smith earns $4,458,000 this season. That means PHX can take a back player earning up to $7,901,500 in a 1 for 1 trade.
Bismack Biyombo. That’s it.
The NBA doesn’t allow any Free Agent to be traded for 3 months, following the ink drying on their new deal with their current team. With Biyombo’s rest of season contract being officially signed on Jan 11th, that takes us well past the current Trade Deadline & therefore he can’t be traded this season under any circumstances.
But let’s be honest, with Bismack averaging 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds & 1.4 blocks per game in just 22.2 minutes - why would you trade him?
The Key Question - Which Players Can Veto A Trade?
While Biyombo is the only current Phoenix player who cannot be traded, there are two other Suns who have final power over being dealt elsewhere this season - Kaminsky & Abdel Nader.
Players who are on 1 year deals (excluding any option years) that stand to gain Bird Rights or Early Bird Rights going into next season, will lose those rights if they are traded. Frank & Doolie both qualify here despite their different contracts, because they re-signed with the Suns after seeing out their previous contracts in Phoenix.
Because of this rule, those players have the ability to block a trade if they wish.
Trade Deadline Tidbit - With plenty of room below the Tax, PHX do have the option of just waiving several players to create roster spots if they can’t trade them.
After signing Rookie Extensions prior to 21/22 starting, Mikal Bridges & Landry Shamet not only secured life changing money but also made themselves much harder to trade before their new contracts kick in next season.
Why? A tricky little CBA quirk known as ‘The Poison Pill Provision’.
The Key Question - Can Landry Shamet Be Traded This Season?
You want the short answer again, don’t you? Well, it’s a yes.
The longer answer requires some numbers & math, if you are interested. To the Suns, Shamet’s 21/22 salary counts in trades - $3,768,342. But to other teams, it’s the average salary of his entire extension - $9,253,668.
From here, things are much easier explained with an example trade to work through.
TRADE #2:PHX: Eric Gordon
HOU: Dario Saric + Landry Shamet + Elfrid Payton + '22 PHX 1st + '24 PHX 1st (Protected 1-14 in '24 & becomes '24 PHX 2nd & '25 PHX 2nd if not conveyed)
Gordon makes $18,218,818 this season, meaning Phoenix must send out at least $13,218,818 in salary the other way.
To Houston, Saric ($8,510,000) + Shamet ($9,253,668) would be perfect at $17,763,668. But to Phoenix, Shamet can only count at the lesser figure of his 21/22 salary. Saric ($8,510,000) + Shamet ($3,768,342) falls short at $12,278,342. Fail.
Add Payton & we are back in business. Why? Well to the Rockets, the total incoming salary moves to $19,432,846 & fits within salary matching rules. To the Suns, Saric ($8,510,000) + Shamet ($3,768,342) + Payton ($1,669,178) = $13,947,520. Success.
Finally, if available roster spots are an issue in Houston then there are 2 alternate options - make it Saric + Payne + Picks instead OR combine Trades 1 & 2 together for one mega 3 team trade, re-routing Payton to Oklahoma City.
Trade Deadline Tidbit - Veteran Minimum players are useful for matching salary in a trade but don’t have to be salary matched when they are traded on their own.
However, Phoenix have a salary crunch on the horizon. Looking at the current salary cap sheet, the Suns are roughly $20,000,000 below the luxury tax with just 9 players signed & no deal for the Suns starting C. Ayton’s 1st Year Max? $29,750,000.
Fast forward to 23/24 in a world where Ayton re-signs & the salary bill could be in the vicinity of $120,000,000 for just Devin Booker, Paul, Bridges & Ayton. If Johnson’s extension is also kicking in, you’d without a doubt be looking at less than $20,000,000 before hitting the luxury tax again. Except this time, you only have 5 players.
The Key Question - Could We See A Prized Young Player Go Before The Deadline?
After the Suns chose not to extend Ayton last off-season & with Johnson heading into an identical situation next Summer, one has to wonder if James Jones has a long term image for his team that doesn’t involve some of the current young core.
If that is the case, the freshly extended General Manager might take his recent well earned job security & swing for the fences. After all, the right move could be viewed as a win-win. Jones might choose to upgrade the roster at a certain position for the current title run, while also avoiding salary cap issues when new contracts need to be paid.
Personally, my senses might be tingling a little stronger if there were more star level players on the current trade market. Instead, I’d just worry about the cap crunch later.
Trade Deadline Tidbit - PHX may not be worried about losing Ayton because current projections only have 3 teams with upcoming cap space - DET, ORL & SAS.
The wash up for the Suns after all this action…..
PLAN A:IN: Eric Gordon + Kenrich Williams
OUT: Dario Saric + Landry Shamet + Elfrid Payton + Jalen Smith + '24 & '26 1sts
Given the draft capital being sent out, it’s important to note a few extra benefits outside of the simple transaction balance sheet:
Open Roster Spots - Phoenix create 2 extra roster spots, while keeping enough room below the tax to fill them with new signings. The Suns could pounce on a FA buyout candidate, plus convert Ish Wainright from his 2-Way deal.
Improved Roster Balance - Pending what PHX do with their open roster spots, they could stand to have 6 Wings, 5 Guards & 4 Bigs. A much better balance given what is needed in the Playoffs & where their stars sit on the depth chart.
Playoff Rotation Potency - The Starting 5 + Gordon, Williams & Johnson would be an 8 man rotation that rivals any other in the NBA. Need to go small? You still have Payne. Need to go big? JaVale McGee & Biyombo.
Similar Future Finances - Kenny Hustle comes with a cheap price for next season & Gordon only costs slightly more than Saric & Shamet. So all in all, the Suns can go for it without placing their future cap situation in any further danger.
The Key Question - Why Should This Be ‘Plan A’ For Phoenix?
I’ll keep it short to finish - the time is NOW!
At a similar time last season, Phoenix were faced with a decision on whether to further upgrade the roster for the Playoffs. Jones & Co made a nice addition in Craig that ultimately cost them nothing. But did it?
The Suns may have only had to send cash to the Bucks but with that being their lone move, did Phoenix let a debut title slip away into the hands of Milwaukee? And while it’s hard to blame the Phoenix Front Office for not wanting to spend future assets too soon, the landscape appears a little different now to just one season ago.
Phoenix are no longer the plucky young team providing the NBA’s good news story of the 20/21 season, as they went on a dream run to The Finals. These Suns are dominant.
A franchise record setting 38-9, #1 team in the NBA & 3.5 games clear of their next rival, kind of dominant.
And while the ultimate test of The NBA Finals magnified some roster flaws that were addressed in the off-season & have even been further bolstered since, there’s always work to be done!
Being the hunted of the West this time is going to require reinforcements, before hunting down whoever comes out of the East. ‘Plan A’ would be a signal from the franchise that they understand this may be the best chance Phoenix ever get to win that elusive Larry O. Even if they have to get square with last year’s foe.
If there’s anyone who understands what it takes to win it all, it should be James Jones. The man nicknamed Champ should know ‘ships cost chips. It’s time to push them all in.
If you are searching for further convincing to support this plan, then look no further than the below video from The Timeline guys including Gordon & Williams…..
I asked Suns fans on Twitter to send me their own favourite fake trades they’d like to see before the deadline. If you didn’t get a chance, feel free to leave yours in the comments below. Here is a small selection of what readers sent through:
These fans want to keep thinks simple with a minor move. @odddadbod thinks Payton + Pick for Ben McLemore, @aviatorinflight Smith + Payton for PJ Washington, @Jared_Huggins Smith + Payton + Picks for Alec Burks & @Kountry_K would trade Kaminsky for Paul Millsap if they could.
There were 3 trades including Shamet, which I didn’t check the Poison Pill math on so feel free to do some homework if you’d like to test yourself. Duncan Robinson for Saric + Shamet + Pick Swap was @AussieSunsFans suggestion. While @DarthVoita wants Josh Hart for Saric + Shamet & @fattmorte thinks LeVert + Craig is good value for Saric + Kaminsky + Shamet + Smith + Picks.
A few fans want to go big! @ozrashid wants Jaylen Brown for Ayton + Saric + Smith, while @jstanlis would like John Collins for Crowder + Saric. And finally, @co_dhunt decided to be mad man & trade Crowder + Saric + Ayton + Johnson + Smith for James Harden + Paul Millsap.