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Seven Days of Suns Trade-mas: Reshaping the guard rotation

Orlando Magic's Mario Hezonja (8) moves to get around New Orleans Pelicans' Lance Stephenson (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Welcome to the seven days of Suns’ Trade-mas. With the Suns near the bottom of the Western Conference and a roster brewing with trade potential and questionable fits, Empire of the Suns brings you a trade scenario every day for a new year of Suns basketball.

First, our prior ideas:

‌• The deal to blow it all up
‌• Reuniting P.J. Tucker and Jeff Hornacek
Trading Chandler, paving the way for Len
The deal to get Brandon Knight to a rumored destination

Suns receive

G/F Mario Hezonja, F Jeff Green (expiring)

Magic receive

G Brandon Knight, 2019 top-8 protected first-round pick

***

How soon is too soon to give up on a top-5 pick?

That’s the question the Orlando Magic — and the rest of the NBA for that matter — are asking about Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2015 draft.

How much value does a slumping former borderline All-Star have?

The Suns hope the answer would be more for Brandon Knight and a protected draft pick. In this case, that answer is an expiring contract of a starting-level small forward and a former top-5 pick. That’s a decent return if Phoenix has more hope in Hezonja than Orlando.

Hezonja has barely played for the Magic, and while there are several layers to a young player not getting time, a deep rotation in Orlando and a front office with playoff aspirations are reasons the team hasn’t found him more opportunity. The Magic’s surprising trade of guard Victor Oladipo this summer had many believing that meant more time for Hezonja in the rotation, but instead he’s lost minutes behind the likes of D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks and Green in 2016-17.

The 21-year-old Hezonja developed a rabid following online in the draft process for his lavish style of play, with nicknames ranging from “European J.R. Smith” to “Croatian Kobe.” The tape on Hezonja backed up that hype, at the very least in his swagger. Hezonja is known for chucking 30-footers with confidence and throwing down highlight-reel dunks in transition. All you need to know about him is, after the 2015 Dunk Contest, Hezonja went to the gym the next day and threw down the same dunks.

The Croatian is at his best coming off screens as a shooter while mixing in his athleticism playing above the rim, but what’s happened in Orlando is a lack of any opportunity. We got a brief look a year ago at what that could become when he scored 17 points against the Celtics, but this year, there’s been no glimpses at all.

The Magic want to win now, and a team with the assets and space for Hezonja could have him. Could that be the Suns?

For one, they’d need to create space for him. The current three-guard backcourt would have to go, and that means Knight is shipped away.

Orlando is one of few teams in need of a lead guard. Knight would find an immediate starting role over Augustin and Elfrid Payton, the 22-year-old who the team has apparently soured on of late. Payton has started just 19 of 39 games for Orlando this year.

As for that first-round pick, well, the Suns would need to sweeten the deal. Green, as much as a journeyman as he is, is still a double-digit scorer in the league. And not getting something decent back for Hezonja would be careless by Orlando. A slightly-protected first-round pick would at least give them something to feel better about if Hezonja ends up turning into the player they’d hoped him to become.

Phoenix could also throw P.J. Tucker into this trade to give Orlando another piece to win now and to cover its depleted small forward depth. That would also open playing time for the Suns’ youngsters in T.J. Warren and Dragan Bender.

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