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Suns excited to add Elfrid Payton, wait on Devin Booker’s return

Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton during an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

PHOENIX — Short-term, the trade for point guard Elfrid Payton fills a need. A big need. The Phoenix Suns don’t currently have a healthy NBA-caliber starting point guard on the roster.

Long-term, Payton may fill a need as well, though that won’t be determined for a while.

The Suns plan to address the point guard spot (once upon a time they had too many, now they don’t have enough) in the offseason, whether in the draft or free agency.

For now, however, Payton’s addition solves two problems: 1) the Suns have a player who can initiate the offense by putting the ball in his hands, and 2) they’ve lessened the workload on guard Devin Booker, taking the ball out of his hands, for the most part.

“That’s fine with me, as long as it comes back,” Booker joked.

Booker added he and Payton exchanged text messages after the trade was announced.

“He brings that defensive mindset, a playmaker and can score too,” Booker said. “I’m excited about having him.”

Payton was not at practice Friday. He was due to arrive in Phoenix later in the evening.

The Suns plan to have Payton participate in shootaround on Saturday morning and then play him immediately — and possibly start –that night against the Denver Nuggets.

Payton would be the sixth different starting point guard the Suns have used this season.

“Length at the point guard spot and a guy who’s played the position for a couple of years in the NBA now; a guy who can get in the lane, a guy who can create shots for himself and others,” interim head coach Jay Triano said.

The acquisition of Payton, made just minutes before the trade deadline from the Orlando Magic for a 2018 second-round pick, reunites him good friend and fellow 2014 NBA Draft class member, Suns forward T.J. Warren.

The two are represented by the same agency, and they spent quite a bit of time together working out in the months leading up to the draft.

“He brings physicality, length; a defensive-minded guard. He can create his own shot. I know him real well, since college,” Warren said. “It’s a great addition for us and I’m excited for him.”

In his fourth NBA season, Payton is averaging a career-high 13.0 points, shooting career bests of 52.0 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from 3-point range.

As impressive as those numbers are, it’s Payton’s 6.3 assist average, which ranks 14th in the league, that will benefit the Suns the most.

“He knows how to set guys up,” Warren said. “I feel like he comes in and makes plays for a lot of guys on our team. Makes life easy for a lot of guys, as well as him being aggressive and him being a starter in this league his whole career. He’s familiar with everything. I’m excited for him to come.”

Booker still hurting

Still feeling the effects of a left hip pointer, Booker did not practice on Friday, leaving his availability for the Nuggets game very much up in the air.

Guard Tyler Ulis also did not practice as he continues to deal with back spasms that forced him to exit Wednesday’s game against San Antonio midway through the second quarter. Both players are listed as questionable.

Booker said he was feeling OK. Running and shooting aren’t a problem. Turning, however, is when Booker experiences some soreness in the area.

“If I feel ready to play, I’m going to play,” he said. “People have been saying shut it down until after All-Star, that’s not my plan but if I’m not right by then, then I might have to wait until then.

Booker got hurt last Sunday and has since missed each of the last two games.

“I never had the injury before. I’ve been healthy most of my career,” he said. “Hip pointer, they say it hurts really bad which I can feel, but from my understanding, it’s just a bruise so hopefully it’ll be fine.”

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