Suns trade Dario Saric to Thunder, nab forward Darius Bazley
The Phoenix Suns have traded big man Dario Saric and a second-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for 22-year-old forward Darius Bazley, the team announced Thursday.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania was the first to report the move.
The move shifts Saric’s $9.2 million expiring salary off the books for this year, substituting Bazley’s $4.3 million deal. He is on the last year of a rookie deal that will leave him a restricted free agent in 2022-23.
Bazley has appeared in 36 games with a single start this year and has averaged 15.4 minutes per game after starting 53 games in 2021-22. He is averaging 5.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per outing and has lost minutes in the past few months to a rookie forward duo of Jaylin Williams and Jalen Williams, among others.
Bazley was the 23rd overall pick in 2019 after forgoing college or professional play to train on his own. He held an internship with New Balance during his year off before entering the draft.
Saric has appeared in 37 games with 12 starts, averaging 5.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
The 28-year-old has played a few different roles in his three Suns seasons since he was a part of Phoenix’s trade down in the 2019 NBA Draft from sixth to No. 11.
In his first season, Saric was the team’s starting power forward, a hole on the roster that president of basketball operations and general manager James Jones was able to fill during the draft he would select Cam Johnson 11th in.
Saric was often a positive contributor but his impact waned occasionally. Phoenix, however, found success in the bubble when it featured Saric more as a small-ball 5. Saric’s high-IQ playmaking as one of the connectors inside Monty Williams’ offense offered it a fresh dynamic and helped Saric give more value to make up for his athletic limitations.
The Croatian continued that role in 2020-21, thriving as a reserve in a strong one-two punch with backup point guard Cam Payne. Phoenix outscored teams by 11.5 points per 100 possessions when Saric was on the floor in that regular season, the best mark on the team.
Saric and backup big man Frank Kaminsky would trade off the role later in the season and in the playoffs. It was still Saric as the No. 2 center to Deandre Ayton later in the postseason, but in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals, Saric tore his ACL.
That would begin a lengthy rehab process that took over a year and included what appeared to be a setback with an arthroscopic procedure done to the meniscus of that same right knee in the tail-end of his road back.
Saric returned to competitive play last summer, first competing internationally for Croatia in FIBA EuroBasket 2022. He looked the part of someone making their way back from a serious knee injury and Saric was not the most agile or quick player to begin with.
Phoenix did not retain enter JaVale McGee in the offseason, the player that replaced Saric for the 2021-22 campaign Saric missed. That presumably meant Saric would figure into the rotation again but both Bismack Biyombo and Jock Landale have played ahead of him in the big-man rotation for much of the season.
Saric with the Suns was both a fan favorite and beloved teammate. Fans admired Saric’s rugged and smart playstyle, one his teammates enjoyed playing alongside. Head coach Monty Williams said in the past Saric is one of his favorite players he’s ever coached, and point guard Chris Paul said similar things when it came to how easy Saric was to play with.