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Suns trade deadline preview: Tyler Johnson’s expiring could be in play

Tyler Johnson #16 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 04, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the 76ers 114-109. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the NBA trade deadline less than a month away, Empire of the Suns examines who could potentially be in play for the Phoenix Suns.

We start with the team’s largest expiring contract and a player that has fallen out of the rotation.

Tyler Johnson, G

Stats: 25 GP, 17.5 MPG, 5.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.9 APG

Salary: Expiring at $19.2 million

Current role

Johnson entered the season as the first guard off the bench for either Ricky Rubio or Devin Booker, with head coach Monty Williams looking to take advantage of his combo guard ability. Williams spoke before the season of how important Johnson was for the team, complimenting Johnson’s steadiness and skill as another ball-handler.

Johnson, more suited to enter the game as a two-guard and then play some supplementary minutes at the 1 when he needs to, had his role consistently moved around due to injuries.

Along the way, Johnson lost his role and minutes to Elie Okobo and Jevon Carter, who both provide pluses on either offense or defense that Johnson cannot. Johnson seemingly wasn’t the type of bench presence Williams wanted at guard, as the lefty’s play in itself wasn’t terrible or that inferior to the other guards off the bench. Williams also desires one of Rubio or Booker on the floor at all times, shrinking the number of minutes someone like Johnson could take.

Johnson has been getting some spare guard minutes here and there over the past few games, but nothing substantial in terms of a definitive role. It’s been a surprising turn considering the mold he fits as another reliable, experienced player, which is what general manager James Jones targeted acquiring last offseason.

Potential interest

The interest for Johnson would stem strictly from his expiring contract.

There simply aren’t that many contracts like Johnson’s around the league. You shouldn’t mistake that for Johnson’s salary being an asset, but he could certainly be used to facilitate a larger deal.

Now, whether that’s the Suns coming in for a big salary like Kevin Love ($28.9 million this year, three additional years left) or helping that deal function with another team, Johnson’s salary could be in play.

Those deals, though, are often more of something to discuss theoretically than something real that will actually happen. Suns fans will remember the “great asset” that was Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract that never turned into anything.

Why the Suns should or shouldn’t move him

If the Suns are desperate for a move to swing big and try and snatch up the still attainable eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, Johnson’s salary is the fulcrum to a bigger deal. It could be Love or someone else who surprisingly becomes available.

If the right player that fits long term for Phoenix is on the market, they should obviously strike. But that’s not Love and those types of guys under team control for a few years that are in their prime or entering it and young rarely become available. Jones didn’t have much flexibility to work with for this team and he will finally have some this offseason when Johnson’s contract comes off the books. The assumption is Phoenix values that freedom more than losing all of it for a player like Love.

Beyond that, Johnson has little to no actual value on his own. Unfortunately, the Miami Heat let Johnson go for a reason, and ditto for him losing his playing time in Phoenix. There’s an outside chance there’s a team that still values what he brings, but because his salary of $19.2 million is so large, he’s difficult to squeeze into any trade beyond the blockbusters.

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