The NBA’s Feb. 23 trade deadline is looming, and for the Phoenix Suns, it could prove to be a pretty busy day.
But GM Ryan McDonough is not stressing over it, especially compared to this time last year.
“I feel like we put a lot of pressure on ourselves internally,” he told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Friday as part of Newsmakers Week. “Last year I felt like we had to make a move. The Markieff Morris situation had obviously become untenable, and for the good of the organization that was something we had to do.
“I don’t feel that way this year.”
Indeed, last season the Suns were almost forced to pull off at least one trade, shipping the disgruntled forward to Washington in exchange for a 2016 first-round pick. On draft night, the Suns traded the pick — No. 13 overall — to Sacramento in the deal that landed them Marquese Chriss.
McDonough saying he does not feel like the Suns need to make a trade is not the same as him saying they would not like to make a deal, however.
At 18-39 the Suns enter the All-Star break with the second-worst record in the NBA and 7.5 games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot. They lost 10 of their last 13 games entering the break, but did end the first half on a high note with a 137-101 demolition of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“Our record’s not what we hoped it would be,” McDonough conceded, before adding that he feels good about how the team’s young players are performing, especially of late.
There are areas he would like to see the team improve, but in terms of the trade deadline, McDonough pointed out that there are plenty of options in front of them.
“I think we’re about $13 or 14 million under the salary cap, so we’re able to take on more salary in a trade than we send out,” he said. “Obviously we have a lot of young players and draft picks that have a significant amount of interest around the league. And we have some veteran guys that I think would help teams that either are trying to solidify themselves as playoff teams or trying to load up if they think they are a championship contender.”
Any stress McDonough said he may have would be related to the various directions he and the team could go.
The path he wants the team to be on is one that leads to a star, though he said every GM in the league is seeking the same thing.
To that end, the fourth-year GM said one thing that has changed over the last year and a half or so is that more teams are calling them asking about younger players and draft picks, showing that the Suns have some coveted assets.
“With us, I think we’re at or near the top of the list in terms of teams that could put together a package for a star,” he said.
But is that star or are those stars available? That’s something McDonough said they have to determine, along with deciding if the organization is ready to take that big of a leap.
“Are we ready to push some of our chips to the center of the table and say ‘this guy would really help accelerate our learning curve, our timeframe,'” he said. “Or, are we willing to be patient, continue to develop the young guys, who have obviously shown a lot of promise, and try to add another piece or pieces to them in the draft?”
McDonough did say he does not feel like the Suns are one star away from being a contender, which will impact how he approaches this upcoming deadline.
“Now, if we could figure out a way to get two elite players and keep some of our core or most of our core guys, then we have to think about that,” he said. “Because I think the way Eric Bledsoe’s playing, the way Devin Booker’s playing and how he’s going to look in the future, how we think he’ll look in the future, those two guys are good enough to win, or will be good enough to win at a high level.
“If we can get another couple guys to go with them who are as good or better than them, then we have to think about that and that’s something we’re actively weighing.”
When trying to gauge the Suns’ future, it starts with 20-year-old Booker and continues with Chriss and Dragan Bender, who are each 19 years of age. Twenty-three year old T.J. Warren has also impressed this season, though his improvement has been derailed a bit due to injuries.
After that group, however, things get a bit murkier. Bledsoe has arguably been the team’s best player this year and likely should have been an All-Star while averaging a team-best 21.6 points to go along with 6.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game, while veterans P.J. Tucker, Jared Dudley and Tyson Chandler have also played well.
Other players, like Brandon Knight, Leandro Barbosa and Alex Len have all been effective at times, though have hardly been consistent.
Put it all together and you have a team that is short on wins but not necessarily on attractive pieces. Bledsoe in particular has been the subject of recent speculation, not because he is a bad player but instead because while he’s excellent, his age, 27, and career timeline does not necessarily mesh with those of the team’s other young talent.
McDonough said that kind of thinking is false.
“I’m not saying that we’d put anybody off limits — we’re not in position to do that — but Eric’s played at an extremely high level, especially in 2017; over the last month and a half he’s been phenomenal,” he said. “Forty-point games, a triple-double the other night; his development and growth as a player has been one of the more rewarding things for me, personally, and for us, organizationally, since I’ve been in the league, which is 14-plus years now.”
McDonough credited Bledsoe’s growth on and off the court as well as his maturation as a leader, which is important at the point guard position. As for his age, the GM pointed to Steve Nash, who played some of his best basketball in his 30s, as reason to not look to trade Bledsoe just because he is a little older.
“I’m not obviously comparing Eric to Steve — that would be unfair to him when you’re talking about a two-time MVP and Hall of Famer — but he has improved a lot and if you look at guys who are in their 30s, around 30, like Chris Paul, like Mike Conley, those guys kind of keep getting better every year, and Eric looks like he’s on that path.
“We never say never, we never put anybody totally off limits, but I think it’s very unlikely we trade Eric and more likely we try to add guys in that age range, from 19 to 27, to play with Eric and Devin Booker.”
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