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Grading the Suns’ last offseason: The Jackson trade is really about Melton

Houston Rockets' Russell Westbrook, center, goes up for a shot as Memphis Grizzlies' De'Anthony Melton, right, defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

With the NBA suspended due to the coronavirus, the future of this season is in doubt for the Phoenix Suns. Even if the season were to continue, the Suns are 65 games in and certain declarations can be made about the moves they made before the 2019-20 season.

Empire of the Suns will take a look at the most significant moves from last offseason, the first in which general manager James Jones and senior VP of basketball operations Jeff Bower were in charge on a permanent basis. Both Kevin Zimmerman and Kellan Olson will be giving their own grades, and we’ll also post the results from a Twitter poll.

Let’s move on to the Josh Jackson deal between the Suns and Memphis Grizzlies.

July 3, 2019: Suns trade Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, 2020 second-round pick and 2021 conditional second-round pick to Grizzlies for Jevon Carter and Kyle Korver (waived)

Kevin Zimmerman’s grade: D

Kellan Olson’s grade: F-

Twitter’s grades: D/F – 40.2%, C – 37.7%, B – 15.6%, A – 6.5%

Let’s run through all the bad things about this deal before getting to the worst thing.

Like the salary dump trade of T.J. Warren that included a second-round pick, the Suns shed Josh Jackson’s relatively hefty rookie deal to set up the cap space necessary to sign starting point guard Ricky Rubio. Like the Warren trade, it was about roster balance, shedding an ill-fitting wing to add at another position.

It was also terribly, terribly done.

Phoenix being forced to expend two draft picks for a much, much worse player than Warren showed just how little leverage the Suns had last offseason.

Certainly, they had no choice but to dump Jackson’s contract after all his transgressions that went beyond the concerning developments — or lack thereof — on the court. Memphis forced Jackson to prove himself in the G League for most of the season, and that said it all about their wariness regarding the 2017 fourth overall pick.

The Suns got the Kyle Korver contract in exchange and waived him. Also receiving Jevon Carter looks a tad better after he ended up being a backend roster player who can pester opponents in spurts. He ended up showing he can be a reliable three-point shooter, too, but his decision-making and lack of point guard abilities led to head coach Monty Williams preferring to play Carter off the ball.

That was a bit long-winded, but we’re finally at the worst part of this deal.

The trade then clearly wasn’t about Jackson in the eyes of the Grizzlies, just like Phoenix’s dump of Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss on the Houston Rockets a year prior wasn’t just about them.

Both were about one team valuing De’Anthony Melton (Full disclosure: This writer here called him Ben Wallace in a combo guard’s body during the draft evaluation process).

General manager James Jones clearly didn’t see Melton the same as his predecessor, Ryan McDonough.

The Grizzlies sure did, and it looks smart on them so far. Melton leads nearly every single on-off metric for the Grizzlies this season.

The 21-year-old point guard (21!!!) averaged 8.1 points, 3.0 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game in 2019-20. A year after showing enough promise to act as a lead guard for the Suns, his shooting percentages ticked up to 42% overall and 32% from three-point range.

The most salivating thing about Melton’s potential comes on the defensive end. He can bully point guards and has the size and length to bother shooting guards and wings.

And when all those things are juxtaposed next to the Suns wanting to replace Melton with Carter, 24, and Ty Jerome, 22, both of whom have obvious athletic and skill red flags, it looks like so:

Did we mention that the Suns also sent a fourth overall pick and two second-rounders in this deal to obtain Carter?

The trade makes you wonder if there are red flags on Melton that Phoenix knows and we don’t. It’s the only explanation that makes sense: Jones’ culture shift didn’t have Melton in the plans for whatever reason.

Even if the Suns can sit here and say Jerome and Carter are core pieces, Rubio couldn’t be had any other way and Jackson will slip up, it’s not a good look a little less than a year later.

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