ESPN’s Pelton, Elhassan assess Suns trading Knight, Chriss to Rockets

Aug 31, 2018, 6:05 PM | Updated: 10:48 pm
(AP Images)...
(AP Images)
(AP Images)

In forward Ryan Anderson agreeing to reduce the guarantee on his salary from $20.4 million to $15.6 million, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton writes that there isn’t much downside for the Phoenix Suns’ trade with the Houston Rockets.

Anderson’s veteran leadership and promising second-round draft pick De’Anthony Melton give the Suns a change in culture.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Pelton thinks it’s a good deal, though. He gave Phoenix a grade of “C+” for trading guard Brandon Knight and forward Marquese Chriss to the Rockets.

Pelton wrote that the “deal got easier to understand from the Suns’ perspective” by Anderson’s agreement to adjust his guaranteed portion to the same amount of money Knight was scheduled to make.

He expanded upon this on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo.

“To me, a C is a deal that I’m indifferent between doing or not,” Pelton said. “I think this is a deal they should’ve made because I like Melton so much and again, they don’t take on any 2019-20 salary if they end up cutting Ryan Anderson.”

Houston had been trying to trade Anderson and his contract for some time. His contract, signed during the summer of 2016, was an albatross on the Rockets’ cap as he was relegated to a limited role and the team tried to compete with Golden State.

Pelton estimates the deal saved Houston more than $11 million in salary and luxury tax.

Just as Anderson was relegated to a bench role last season, Pelton thinks the Suns should do the same with him in Phoenix, though ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Suns plan to start Anderson.

Prior to the trade, Pelton assumed the Suns would start Trevor Ariza and Josh Jackson at the forward positions, with T.J. Warren and Mikal Bridges coming off the bench.

“If only one of those four guys is starting, presumably Ariza, given the money you paid him and his experience, how do you find minutes for all four of those guys?” Pelton asked.

While Anderson’s role was reduced last year on the Rockets, ESPN’s Amin Elhassan thinks he could be an impactful piece for the Suns.

While Houston is trying to contend, the Suns are just trying to improve.

“For the Suns, that are just trying to get better, to get a bonafide stretch-four that you can pair alongside Deandre Ayton and space the floor for Devin Booker? He could help,” Elhassan said on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf.

With Anderson waiving the extra $5 million from his guarantee, there’s no real financial difference in the Suns cap space before or after the deal if they decide to waive him, Elhassan and Pelton agreed.

“Had Phoenix been planning to decline Marquese Chriss’ team option and just move on after this year, if they cut Anderson, then they’re in the same place cap-wise as they were before,” Pelton said.

“You only add a little bit of salary this year, when it really doesn’t matter too much.”

They’re also adding the salary of Melton, the No. 46 pick in the draft.

Pelton was particularly high on Melton before the draft, rating him No. 12 overall in his ranking of prospects.

He sees Melton as a better fit next to guard Booker than Knight would have been.

On Knight: “While it’s certainly possible that Knight could have started at point guard this season, his shoot-first style is a poor fit alongside Suns star Devin Booker and his lack of effort on defense a poor example for his teammates.”

On Melton: “If Melton can hone his 3-point shooting — his 32 percent accuracy on 7.6 attempts per game during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas was moderately encouraging — he could become an ideal partner for Booker. Melton’s defense-first skill set makes him similar to Shaquille Harrison, the G League product now potentially in line to start at point guard for the Suns.”

He also ranked Elie Okobo, drafted by the Suns at No. 31 in the draft, as his No. 16 prospect.

But does that mean the Suns are ready to hand the point guard reigns to a pair of rookies?

Logically, Pelton said, no. 98.7 FM’s John Gambadoro reported the Suns have been exploring trade options for point guards around the league, but to no avail.

Elhassan thinks two-time All-Star Kemba Walker could be within reach.

The Hornets guard’s play style, contract and leadership traits would make an attractive option for the Suns.

“When you look up in the dictionary what you want leadership in the locker room, that’s that guy right there,” Elhassan said. “(He’s) demanding, but not like in an abusive way. In an earnest, good energy, positive energy (way).”

Pelton thinks Clippers guard Milos Teodosic is also a possibility.

That might be a more realistic option for the Suns, as Teodosic isn’t established like Walker and currently sits behind Patrick Beverly in the Los Angeles depth chart.

If Phoenix wants a proven player handling the point, they could ask Booker to be the primary ball handler, something he did at times last year.

Elhassan said Booker wasn’t “necessarily pleased” with how much he played that role last year, though.

“Here’s the good news: It’s easier to have that conversation with someone after you’ve given them $150 million,” Elhassan said.

The Suns will continue to explore moves as they decide what to do about the pile of forwards at their disposal.

Elhassan said the trade for the Suns came down to three things:

1. “In the words of Cotton Fitzsimmons, you can never have too many shooters.”

2. “I think they like Melton. I think they really look at him as this guy could be a pretty good prospect as far as a point guard and a nice pairing with Devin Booker.”

3. “There was a lot of negativity surrounding those two guys, Chriss and Brandon Knight, for completely different reasons. Sometimes, you just gotta get the negative ju-ju out the locker room.”

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