The Suns’ trade deadline moves make their lottery position a story to watch
Assessing the busy NBA trade deadline, there are trees toppled and a few whose roots are ripped from the ground after what started with a hurricane-force wind on Sunday. DeMarcus Cousins was traded from the Kings to the Pelicans during All-Star Sunday, and the deadline Thursday was highlighted with Nerlens Noel’s leaving the Sixers for the Mavs.
The aftermath of displaced NBA players might have mostly missed Phoenix, but there certainly are implications for the Suns when it comes to what damage was dealt in the Valley and elsewhere.
Trading P.J. Tucker for two unprotected Raptors second-rounders and the expiring contract of Jared Sullinger gave Phoenix the next-best thing after the market failed to give them a coveted first-round pick.
Adding Mike Scott from the Hawks is a salary cap move, nothing more.
At a wider perspective for the Suns, who own the second-worst record in the NBA, the path to winning the NBA lottery possibly increased — Tucker is worth perhaps a win or two more this year. General manager Ryan McDonough stayed the course of rebuilding with a current roster that, for all its losing, does seem to be improving under head coach Earl Watson.
But the odds of sinking to the bottom of the standings or holding second-to-last don’t look as promising relative to the rest of the lottery contenders.
Cousins’ departure from Sacramento comes into play the most when it comes to the lottery.
The fourth-leading scorer in the NBA leaves California’s capital with only rookie Buddy Hield making an immediate impact. Hield, in terms of Real Plus-Minus, is one of the worst players in the league. Should the Kings play him heavy minutes to the liking of owner Vivek Ranadive, then the six-game buffer between Sacramento (24-33) and the Suns (18-39) could seemingly wither.
That’s not all.
The Lakers (19-39), a half-game ahead of Phoenix before the All-Star break, lost leading scorer Lou Williams’ 18.6 points per game in a trade that immediately netted them Corey Brewer, a player unlikely to make a huge impact with Los Angeles’ young players being the priority.
Fourth in the “Flunking for Fultz” race, the Orlando Magic (21-37) lost veteran Serge Ibaka. OK, it’s quite possible Aaron Gordon moving to power forward only helps Orlando but there’s no sure thing for one of the more disappointing teams this year.
And nobody is catching the bottom-dwelling Nets (9-47), who positioned themselves well by receiving draft picks and the small contract of athletic forward K.J. McDaniels. Brooklyn shipped second-leading scorer Bojan Bogdanovic to the Wizards to nab backups Andrew Nicholson and Marcus Thornton, plus a first-round pick.
In short, moving a key player like Tucker makes Phoenix a worse team. But in comparison to moves by other lottery squads, it doesn’t move the needle enough to put ping pong balls clearly in favor of the Suns.
Here are other notable moves for the Suns’ competition for ping pong balls after the bottom four.
Sixers (21-35): Philly dealt Nerlens Noel unique defensive skillset to Dallas for a protected pick and swingman Justin Anderson. They also dealt Ersan Ilyasova and could tumble if resting Joel Embiid becomes a priority.
T-Wolves (22-35): They held off dealing Ricky Rubio to the Knicks for Derrick Rose.
Mavericks (22-34): Dumping Andrew Bogut, who was injured this year, and wing Justin Anderson for Noel could improve Dallas in the short term.
Knicks (23-34): The Knicks stood pat.
Pelicans (23-34): DeMarcus Cousins presumably will help New Orleans improve, possibly a great deal.
Blazers (23-33): The early trade that essentially swapped Mason Plumlee for Jusuf Nurkic could be considered even to a downgrade.