EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns mock offseason: Trading Chris Paul, finding veteran fits

Jun 13, 2023, 7:07 AM

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Welcome back to our mock offseason project.

If you missed Part 1, head over there for an introduction to our goals and outline befo— Hey, get back here! Don’t scroll to the bottom yet to see the fake trades! Crap, most of them already did, huh?

Might as well get right to it then. Let’s start spicy in our finale by trading both Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul.

TRADE CP3, TRADE AYTON

(Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

As previously covered in this space, dealing Paul seems even more unlikely after the series of events reported. On top of teams not wanting to give up assets for a guy it could wind up being able to sign, Paul’s preference to be close to his family in L.A. rules out 90% of the league. There’s no point in the Suns just waiving Paul unless he comes back, thanks to the extra free agent tools gained by stretching and waiving him, so the latter still feels like the only route to be the end of Paul’s time in Phoenix.

For the sake of the exercise, though, let’s operate in a reality where Paul would be OK with going across the country to a contender in a trade. Furthermore, finding a team that matches on needing a point guard, having a desire to shake things up and possessesing contracts to make a deal function around Paul’s large $30.8 million.

I considered the Boston Celtics with Malcolm Brogdon ($22.8 million) and Danilo Gallinari ($6.8 million player option) but the Sixth Man of the Year seems a bit too expensive. Ditto on 2021-22 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart ($18.5 million).

After what we learned in Part 1 about how difficult it will be to acquire a decent wing to be sandwiched by Devin Booker and Kevin Durant, how about the Philadelphia 76ers and Tobias Harris?

There’s a whole lot of noise about James Harden potentially declining his player option and exploring other places like Houston. And, uh, Philly shouldn’t want him back anyway, right? Harden’s highs this postseason were way up there but it’s a freefall to the lows that resurfaced once again. He was a combined 7-for-27 in the back-to-back losses across Games 6 and 7.

Harris is incredibly overpaid on an expiring $39 million deal next season, but from Phoenix’s perspective, can it do better? Harris is one of the more polarizing players in the last 10 years, lacking consistency to be the All-Star everyone sees he could have been, but he’s at the very least solid as a third scorer and good glue guy in other areas of the floor.

Paul and Landry Shamet’s expiring (the next two years on his contract are non-guaranteed) for Harris is a match.

For Paul, it’s a tiny backcourt with Tyrese Maxey but continuing to start De’Anthony Melton over Maxey would help there and give Philadelphia a very good on-ball guard in Maxey to keep Paul’s workload in a manageable position. Paul’s known P.J. Tucker forever and played with him in the past. Oh yeah, the league MVP Joel Embiid. There’s that too, Paul going alongside easily the best big man partner of his career.

Moving on. When it comes to dealing Ayton after that, there’s the choice of either addressing center or point guard in the starting lineup, now that the three other slots are sorted. I’m going to choose the 5, sending Ayton to the Atlanta Hawks for Clint Capela, Saddiq Bey and Vit Krejci. Notably, the salary math here would only work once the new league year turns in July.

There’s been buzz about Capela’s future for a while now. He’s been a dominant rim protector and rebounder at times with Atlanta but has faded at times too, most notably in the playoffs. It would be an excellent reclamation project for new Suns head coach Frank Vogel, who said during his introductory press conference that the anchor has been integral to all of his defensive success. Capela’s been one of the best to do it in that role the last decade.

Bey developed a bit of a reputation in Detroit as a gunner, a hard left in his pre-draft evaluation as a strong power wing out of Villanova that would do smart Villanova things with a little bit of everything. He’s on an expiring after the Pistons dealt him so they weren’t the ones to pay him. Bey would go into restricted free agency next summer, giving Phoenix a one-year audition to gander at ala Kelly Oubre Jr. a few years ago. With a potential big pay-day coming, I’m guessing Bey on a contender with Booker and Durant would get him back on track.

Atlanta acquires Ayton, who is more on the career timeline of Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. Ayton’s athleticism would allow for more versatile frontcourt possibilities to spend some minutes on the floor at the same time as Onyeka Okongwu.

There’s been a version of this deal tossed around the interwebs with Bey out and Bogdan Bogdanovic in, plus Shamet to make the salaries match better. That would be a heist for the Suns. Bogdanovic could slide in as matching combo guards with Booker, a fever dream Suns followers like myself envisioned in 2016 after Booker’s rookie year before Bogdanovic’s draft rights were traded by Phoenix to Sacramento.

Krejci is salary filler ($1.8 million) that Atlanta would have to keep down as guaranteed going into free agency.

In the likely iteration of Earth that Bogdanovic inclusion doesn’t happen on, let’s promise Dennis Schroder a starting spot on the veteran’s minimum. Schroder played under Vogel in 2021, knows his defensive schemes and still showed he’s got a fair bit left in the tank for the Los Angeles Lakers last season.

Let’s also reunite Vogel with another Laker, this one being Danny Green, who was a part of the bubble championship team. Green’s coming off a torn ACL suffered in the 2022 postseason and wasn’t much of a factor for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, so the expected contribution from the 35-year-old would be a bit of a unknown. An optimistic outcome is Green still serving as a rotation player but he’d be a great add for the locker room as a well-liked vet no matter what.

There’s still a backup point guard spot, and there’s a half-dozen veteran’s minimum targets beyond Schroder that could be in there. None are all that appealing for a rotation spot on a team with title aspirations. I’m going with Ish Smith and really hammering the veteran drum of adding good dudes.

The final tally for this go:

G: Schroder, Smith, S. Lee

G: Booker, Green, D. Lee

F: Harris, Okogie

F: Durant, Bey, Wainright

C: Capela, Biyombo, Landale

Conclusion: Harris and Bey are enormous X-factors. If both can offer substantial on-ball pop, that’s enough to support Booker and Durant, even without a reliable point guard. The starting lineup is very, very good and the defensive potential with the top-nine of the rotation (hoping Green can still scoot) is tremendous. We’d see more Point Book than ever. He’d be ready for it.

How about trading Paul for a point guard in return? Is that possible?

TRADE CP3, KEEP AYTON

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

We arrive at our first plot twist. I don’t think the Suns can do those two things above together.

With a Paul trade in this scenario, we’d have to double down on a similar look of attacking the veteran’s minimum for point guard help. In addition, unless Paul is dumped to a team with cap space (in an outcome he wouldn’t want and the Suns wouldn’t do him dirty on), Phoenix wouldn’t unlock any of the tools in free agency to upgrade other positions.

On top of how it went for Ayton on the court this past season, it’s very challenging to go through outcomes that don’t involve trading him and feeling somewhat OK about the depth on the roster. In our first mock offseason, we tried and still ended up a bit shorthanded. Moving him for two-to-three players feels like even more of a must for me after putting in all the legwork of these possibilities.

But for the sake of crossing this off, let’s ignore that and scroll through some possibilities of trading Paul and getting Booker’s backcourt mate in return.

Kyle Lowry in Miami is more of the same in terms of the level of contributions Paul brings. Paul would surely be opposed to rebuilding organizations like Utah (Collin Sexton) and Orlando (Markelle Fultz). I’m not sure those teams would say yes, either.

I like the thought of the Pacers and going with T.J. McConnell and Buddy Hield’s expiring until realizing that takes the ball out of Tyrese Halibruton’s hands. No one should take the ball out of Tyrese Haliburton’s hands.

How about more of that Point Book mindset again?

How much do you believe in Jordan Poole and his $128 million on the books over the next four years for the Golden State Warriors? I do not nearly enough, even though I still like him as a player overall and it could start to make sense at half that price.

Would San Antonio be willing to move off Keldon Johnson’s $20 million and would Paul hear out the pitch of ending his career under Gregg Popovich to help develop one of the best pre-draft talents the game has ever seen in Victor Wembanyama?

The best I can do is Norman Powell from the Los Angeles Clippers, getting another add-on like Robert Covington or Nic Batum as well. But even if L.A. doesn’t want to bring back Russell Westbrook, it knows Paul could become available as a free agent and that he wants to be home as much as possible. Powell’s a high ask.

Along with Paul just coming back to the Suns on the full $30.8 million, this doesn’t add up. So no roster projection for this one. Sorry.

One Paul return does make some sense, though.

WAIVE AND VET MIN CP3, TRADE AYTON

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

This maneuvering would give the Suns the taxpayer midlevel exception, set at around $5 million.

With Paul back, let’s deal Ayton for the final time. His destination this time will be the nation’s capital, going to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Daniel Gafford, Monte Morris and Corey Kispert. Ditto on this one having to wait for July so salaries align.

New Wizards general manager Michael Winger said he doesn’t foresee his ball club immediately turning things around, noting that if players like Bradley Beal, Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis want to win right away, they can go elsewhere. That is quite bold considering Kuzma and Porzingis both have player options they will likely decline to go into free agency.

Beal is entering the second season of a five-year, $250 million extension (not a typo), so he’s not going anywhere. (By the way, get ready for more NBA teams to be jammed between a rock and a hard place with how ludicrous these extensions are getting, asinine numbers that are in place so smaller-market teams have a better chance at retaining its franchise players.)

Ayton could start this new era of Wizards basketball as the secondary building block next to Beal. It gets wonky from a money perspective if both Kuzma and Porzingis return, but let’s assume Winger’s vision sends at least one of them elsewhere. From a value perspective, Winger won’t do much better in the short term, acquiring high-end talent to play with Beal.

This, in my opinion, is the best type of outcome for a Suns Ayton deal and the top one overall I could realistically find.

Gafford has established himself in the last two years as an up-and-coming rim protector. He’s a starting-caliber center at this point, and Vogel would elevate Gafford’s game even further.

Morris is a perfect insurance policy to Paul as one of the best backup point guards in the league that takes care of the ball while knowing how to run the show. Morris went to Paul’s youth camps growing up and has considered him as a mentor of sorts.

Kispert, the 15th overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, has still got to figure out the rest his game outside of shooting but boy can he shoot that thing. He was at 42.4% on 5.2 attempts per game last season.

Morris is on an expiring deal but Kispert has two more years left before potential restricted free agency in 2026 and the first season of a three-year extension for Gafford starts to kick in next year. That’s some good long-term value too.

Kispert as a starter is a bit of a leap and we’ve still got the TPMLE to use. We talked about in Part 1 how tough the wing market is. But under this alignment, I’m going to bank on the foundation in place of what looks like the favorite in the West with the right fifth starter to lure the right guy, and I’m adding the absolute wild-card Dillon Brooks.

Brooks made zero sense for the Suns a month ago. His shot selection and immensely erratic style of play was a terrible match for Monty Williams’ philosophies. But the current lineup iteration is missing a lockdown defender to take the opposition’s No. 1 perimeter threat each night, and for Vogel, he’s seeking out a hound. Vogel’s teams always have an edge, something the Suns were missing once Jae Crowder stayed home.

That’s what Brooks’ future role in the league should and will be, without the voice in his head that convinces him he’s someone who should be shooting the ball more than 10 times a night.

I’ve straight up got no clue on what Brooks’ value is or if anyone should pay him. Maybe someone will toss him the full MLE. On this group, the Big 3 of Booker, Durant and Paul would be the ultimate test to see if an organization could get the most out of Brooks, unlike Memphis. And before you tell me how much Booker hates Brooks or whatever because of how much they get after it for each matchup, Booker above all else loves high-end competitors that want to win. Brooks, even with his flaws, checks the box. So did Crowder after the spat Booker had with him in the past.

And in an extra bonus, this would immediately become the most despised team in the league by fans. Can you imagine what Brooks and Paul would get up to together? They’d inspire some form of shenanigans on a nightly basis. The entertainment value would be off the charts for me personally.

Let’s add another beloved vet just to really reinforce the locker room. Hello, Will Barton. The 32-year-old moved on from Denver as a part of the Kentavious Caldwell-Pope deal last summer and had a down year with Washington and Toronto. It would be a pinch more of offensive creation if he was able to find some form again.

Here’s the last go:

G: Paul, Morris, S. Lee

G: Booker, Barton, Shamet, D. Lee

F:  Brooks, Kispert, Okogie

F: Durant, Wainright

C: Gafford, Biyombo, Landale

Conclusion: I think this was our best work. Remember, this is a team with two of the best 10 players in the world. We’re probably one wing short but we haven’t even talked about the chance Wainright takes a step forward for the third straight season, or the same for Okogie in his second Suns year. I like having Kispert as a shooter in case Brooks’ jumper falls apart. Gafford would be in the running for an All-Defense spot under Vogel. Ditto for, well, all the other starters too honestly. Well done by us.

Empire of the Suns

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