Phoenix Suns should consider young reserve rentals at trade deadline
It’s hard to funnel NBA teams into buyer and seller categories this trade deadline.
As of Friday, just fewer than three weeks before the Feb. 6 deadline, the rumor mill remains quiet relative to the past several seasons. Last offseason involved quite a few major roster overhauls, and most teams aren’t going to feel like blowing things up even a half-season later.
Only a bold second-tier playoff squad would dare do enough before the deadline to feel great about facing the Lakers or Clippers in the Western Conference or Milwaukee Bucks in the East. In the West especially, there are too many teams fighting for the last playoff spot. Will any of them become sellers despite being in the mix and admit they don’t like their odds?
All this might lead to a lot of nothing before the deadline.
For the Phoenix Suns, there still should be an urgency for general manager James Jones considering, you know, the playoff drought. As has been spotlighted over the last few weeks through good times and bad, the Suns are lacking in the depth department. They need every one of Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr. to play consistently well if they want to be consistently up for a win.
No doubt they need more NBA-caliber players off the bench.
The good news is they could add to that depth — or at least get a look at some young guys who still have upside — in the last few months of the regular season.
Jones values consistency, and it’s doubtful he would trade any of the Suns’ expiring players. So why not take a flyer on some role players that can help the team finish 2019-20 strong?
Here are some names of younger NBA veterans they could consider, guys who have winning in their background and just need a fresh opportunity to continue improving.
This is my list I would compile if I were in Jones’ chair, and it assumes the players fit into the culture Phoenix is trying to build (sorry, I haven’t interviewed the janitor at each of their stops along the way to file personality reports on them). As basketball players, they would appear to fit in well on paper.
Also, all of the below players are nearing free agency and either not consistently in their teams’ rotations or on a team bad enough that they might be open to a fire-sale. So, sorry again: This isn’t a list of starting-caliber additions, because right now it’s just not easy to see any of those names regarding Phoenix or otherwise. It’s just hard to imagine the Suns shaking things up to any great degree anyway.
Davis Bertans, F, Wizards (27)
Stats: 15.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists (29.4 MPG) on 44.1 FG% and 43.4 3FG%
Salary: $7 million (unrestricted)
Here’s a guy who could command more than a second-round pick. The bumbling Wizards might get something good in exchange for him from a playoff team, and Phoenix would only think about giving up anything significant if it wanted to sign him long-term. That’s a possibility with Dario Saric entering restricted free agency and Frank Kaminsky entering a team-option year at $5 million. It’s just a matter of what type of player the Suns want.
Is Bertans a capable starting power forward? On a good team, he’s best suited as a No. 7 man who can blow up for 15 quick points if you don’t guard him outside. Bertans got some good NBA education with the San Antonio Spurs from 2016-19. And the Suns sure need more shooting.
Jordan McRae, G, Wizards (28)
Stats: 13.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists (23 MPG) on 43.4 FG% and 42.5 3FG%
Salary: $1.6 million (unrestricted)
McRae had a seven-game run with the Suns in 2015-16, but he’s broken out this year as a legit offensive threat for a very bad Wizards team. While he’s an undersized shooting guard, he does bring play-making equity and could act as a backup point while taking the off-the-dribble load from Booker and Rubio.
Semi Ojeleye, PF, Celtics (25)
Stats: 2.5 points, 1.7 rebounds per game (14.2 MPG) on 38.6 FG% and 37.5 3FG%
Salary: $1.6 million ($1.8 million, non-guaranteed team option for 2020-21)
Boston’s bench is bad already, so it’s probably unlikely they would give up even their ninth or 10th man. Still, it’s worth the Suns calling about.
They desperately need shooting and certainly could use an athleticism upgrade at power forward, and Ojeleye can provide both of those things especially as long as Frank Kaminsky is out with a stress fracture in his knee. Offensively, Ojeleye doesn’t have much else than a decent three-point shot, but he’s a versatile defender at 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds.
Ojeleye has been in and out of being used for double-digit minutes this year as the Celtics have gotten strong play from fellow power forward and rookie Grant Williams. Still, they might want to hang onto Ojeleye, who might be a matchup piece come the playoffs when defending players like Giannis Antetokounmpo will be the priority.
Also a problem for a team that might be interested: Ojeleye’s small contract is hardly a worry for the Celtics.
Malik Beasley, SG, Nuggets (23)
Stats: 6.7 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game (16.0 MPG) on 39.5 FG% and 38.6 3FG%
Salary: $2.7 million (restricted)
Beasley was a huge bench piece for the Nuggets last year, but he’s been phased out of the rotations completely at points this year.
Still just 23 years old, his accuracy has dropped off significantly after he shot 47% overall a year ago when he had a solidified role. Still, he is a decent athlete who theoretically can guard most wings on defense — he’s still probably a work-in-progress there — and is relatively efficient as a volume three-point shooter who takes more than half his attempts from deep.
Sterling Brown, G/F, Bucks (24)
Stats: 5.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game (15.7 MPG) on 38.4 FG% and 34.2 3FG%
Salary: $1.6 million (restricted)
Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo have taken up the available backup guard minutes, and Brown is mostly getting late burn as the Bucks blow their opponents out most nights. A rangy athlete who carries weight well for a wing, he is a solid defender who can maybe even check small-ball power forwards.
Like Beasley’s situation, the loss of regular playing time has hurt his shooting percentages from last season. He’s yet to shoot from three-point range at an above-average rate in the NBA, but kind of like Kaminsky, that was the idea when he was coming out of college.
At forward, he could get more catch-and-shoot looks with more space. And his rebounding numbers for a guard might give him a shot at impacting the game at forward.
E’Twaun Moore, G, Pelicans (30)
Stats: 10.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists (21.6 minutes per game) on 42.3 FG%, 39.8 3FG%
Salary: $8.7 million (unrestricted)
He’s on the older side of this list but has evolved into a gritty combo guard defender and consistently good shooter who has been above 42% in each of the last two seasons from three-point range. Yes, like Brown and Beasley, the shooting numbers are down. So is his role and playing time to go with it.
Just watch Moore defend Booker anytime he plays the Suns, and he’ll earn himself some appreciation.