EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

NBA trade deadline preview: Do Suns have a move in them?

Mar 24, 2021, 4:43 PM | Updated: 9:00 pm
Phoenix Suns general manager James Jones speaks to the media regarding the firing of Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov, Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

At 29-13 prior to Wednesday’s action, the Phoenix Suns are a legitimate threat in the Western Conference.

So, surely they will be buyers if anything at the trade deadline, which hits at noon on Thursday.

Here’s what general manager James Jones had to say about it.

“If something happens that drastically improves our team, we’ll look at it,” Jones said on Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo Wednesday. “Otherwise, I built this team in the offseason to have depth so we wouldn’t have to rely on trades and the deadline to give us a jolt or a boost.”

The bossman is right.

The roster is set up fairly well across the board. Even when it comes to deep depth, there’s E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway at the guard spots, Abdel Nader and Torrey Craig on the wing and Frank Kaminsky down low.

It’s not really constructed to be flexible at the deadline, either.

When it comes to major contracts on the team, five players make at least $5 million and then everyone else earns under that.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker are untouchable, and to keep it brief, let’s just say that Deandre Ayton is about there too given his potential and how difficult it would be to find the right deal for him. It’s worth reinforcing that Ayton’s stylistic fit on this team is there and big men who rebound, defend and move like he does are not readily available at the snap of a finger.

Beyond that, there’s Jae Crowder and Dario Saric, two integral players to the team’s success this year.

Crowder might not come off as a huge impact guy, but like Paul, there’s a reason most of the teams he’s been on in his NBA career have been winners. He’s been a big part of the team’s strong defensive play and is one of the leaders of the team.

Taking into consideration Saric’s poor play the last few games, he still holds a sizable lead for the team’s No. 1 net rating, as the Suns outscore teams by an average of 17.4 points per 100 possessions he’s on the floor. He’s the top piece on a bench unit that has, for the most part, thrived this season.

It would have to be quite the big-time move that would shift Phoenix into one of the favorites for the title to include one of those guys. And none of the names being reported the most fit the bill. Kyle Lowry? Aaron Gordon? Victor Oladipo? Nah.

What about a slightly smaller move? Well, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson go in the Crowder and Saric grouping of being system and program guys the Suns are, rightfully so, very attached to. Bridges is arguably untouchable given how much he means in a role that few can play in the league as a defender, shooter and supplementary scorer. Johnson is on a promising road in getting there too.

The only names that really stand out are Jalen Smith ($4.2 million) and Jevon Carter ($3.5 million).

Smith, the No. 10 overall pick in last year’s draft, has not cracked the rotation this year. He spent some time in the G League bubble, where, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, it did not go well:

This was a surprising pick on draft night (especially with Tyrese Haliburton on the board) and Smith’s play in the NBA preseason, the regular season and now on assignment in the G League isn’t encouraging thus far. He’s posting a 48% true shooting percentage through six games and struggling badly defensively, having a very difficult time standing out from regular G Leaguers, despite being one of the best big men in college basketball at Maryland last season. Finding a position to defend, as well as some consistency with his jumper (he’s 8-of-37 for 3 on the season thus far) will be important first steps.

The 21-year-old needs some time to develop before he finds himself in a role on the team. With Saric signed for two more years after this season and Ayton a restricted free agent next summer, the Suns won’t have an immediate need for Smith.

As for Carter, he fell out of the rotation after some strong play from Galloway, Moore and Cameron Payne at different points that moved him down the depth chart. Carter is someone head coach Monty Williams has raved about as a “culture driver” and he showed last season that he can still be a key contributor if called upon.

The Suns love Carter and it would be tough to let him go, and to wind back on Smith, there’s a question of what his trade value is at the moment. The Suns obviously think highly of the rookie given where they picked him and that type of thing in valuing young players with upside can complicate trade talks.

In theory, though, those two combined could add up to a useful rotation player. ESPN’s Zach Lowe on Wednesday suggested Smith, Carter and a protected future first-rounder for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Larry Nance Jr.

Nance, down for an average of around $10 million the next three seasons, is an athletic combo big who provides energy, defensive versatility and passing from the 4/5 spot. Those skills fit in with what the Suns like, and using Nance in both of those positions to provide a boost in athleticism would be a welcome addition.

While Payne is like Saric in that he’s been mostly great this year and an important piece, that third guard spot is one the Suns could really shoot for with a similar package. Perhaps Oklahoma City’s George Hill?

They are theoretical moves that improve the team, sure, but either way, Jones has done everything he said. It shouldn’t be viewed as a missed opportunity if the Suns don’t make a move, especially given the unknown of what is truly even being made available. They’ve got a deep team already and a darn good one at that.

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