Suns could have been more aggressive at NBA trade deadline

Feb 10, 2022, 7:48 PM | Updated: 8:03 pm

Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets in action against the San Antonio Spurs during the first hal...

Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets in action against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half at Toyota Center on January 25, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

James Jones could’ve thrown a haymaker. He chose a stiff left jab.

The Suns general manager could’ve swung for the fences. He settled for an RBI single.

Cross your fingers and hope it’s enough.

Jones acquired two players at the NBA trading deadline. One of them, Torrey Craig, fits like a glove and will command playoff minutes. The other, Aaron Holiday, is a third-string point guard that will help the Suns reduce Chris Paul’s playing time over the final months of the regular season and nothing more. In return, Jones gave up very little, peeling off one of his rare blunders (former lottery pick Jalen Smith) and a second-round draft pick.

It wasn’t the bold stroke many fans coveted, namely the addition of Eric Gordon, a pricey point guard who would’ve offered real insurance for the Suns’ aging point guard. But it’s certainly better than nothing. The Suns got marginally better, just like the Bucks, their Finals opponent from 2021 who rolled into the Valley for Thursday’s showdown. Meanwhile, the Nets and 76ers added significant reinforcements.

To be clear: If there are any fears, it’s not about the talent level on the Phoenix roster. The Suns have an extremely deep team. Jones has already atoned for his trade deadline passivity a year ago, acquiring the player (JaVale McGee) he should’ve pursued before the 2021 trade deadline.

The only fear is that money is the recurring hurdle in Phoenix. The fear is that majority owner Robert Sarver balked at a chunky luxury tax bill that would’ve come stapled to the acquisition of Gordon, especially with the Deandre Ayton payday looming. Suns fans acutely know frugality can be our greatest foe.

The Suns are also the best team in the NBA. They have elite chemistry. Their superb performance in clutch time minutes speaks to their pedigree and focus, a team that often feels like a pack of rabid dogs. If they stay healthy, they have more than enough to win the NBA championship that has eluded this franchise for 54 years.

But playoff attrition is very real, a time when the NBA becomes a contact sport, where the physical stuff is a successful tactic because hard fouls draw fewer whistles. It’s also a time when every player on the court exerts maximum effort on defense, which represents a hue change from the regular season. The magnitude of the moment commands nothing less, and all that frenzied athleticism can lead to snaps, cracks and pops.

Jones risks scrutiny if Paul is again marginalized by injuries in the postseason. Which is why the organization needs to pull back on his minutes following the acquisition of Holiday and the impending return of Cam Payne, playing the odd and saving a warrior point guard from his hyper-competitive nature. And at times like this, it’s lamentable that Jones drafted Jalen Smith instead of Tyrese Haliburton, eschewing a player many believed to be the clear and obvious choice. Haliburton would’ve solved all the issues at backup point guard while giving the team a built-in succession plan once Paul retires.

Then again, Jones’ unconventional conviction and roguish nature also landed the team Cam Johnson, a budding star and proven playoff performer. So a little blind faith is warranted. But the stakes are clearly rising.

The 2021-22 Suns are tracking for the most wins in franchise history. They are destined to become the best team in franchise history. When the playoffs begin, they will likely hold the best record in the NBA. They will be the team to beat.

When Charles Barkley’s Suns lit up the Valley in 1992-93, they were still chasing Michael Jordan and the two-time defending champion Bulls. Steve Nash’s Suns were revolutionary, but they weren’t even the best team in the Western Conference, in futile pursuit of those dynastic Spurs. This year, they will face another level of pressure, the searing failure if they don’t produce a trophy and parade.

Remember this: The trade deadline mostly exists for flawed rotations and franchises desperately chasing the best team in each conference. Which means the Suns didn’t need to do anything. They needn’t apologize for their trade deadline maneuvers.

They just better be right.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Dan Bickley


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