EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Bol Bol, picks, Cam Payne, oh my! What latest Suns moves mean

Jul 16, 2023, 12:26 PM | Updated: Jul 17, 2023, 12:17 pm

Bol Bol #10 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot while being guarded by Myles Turner #33 of the Ind...

Bol Bol #10 of the Orlando Magic attempts a shot while being guarded by Myles Turner #33 of the Indiana Pacers in the first quarter at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on November 19, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Ah, yes, of course. The moves we all expected on July 16.

In two separate moves Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported were coming sooner rather than later on Friday, the Suns on Sunday traded point guard Cam Payne to the San Antonio Spurs and signed forward/center Bol Bol, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania. In addition, Phoenix dealt a 2026 first-round pick swap to the Orlando Magic in exchange for three second-rounders.

Phoenix attached cash and a second-rounder to Payne and got back a protected second-rounder of its own. The pick swap is similar to the 2030 one the Suns sent to Memphis in the Isaiah Todd trade that also yielded a trio of seconds, having previously packaged both in the Bradley Beal trade.

It’s a creative, borderline inventive way for the Suns to somehow wrangle together six second-round picks after it had none left post-Beal deal. The swaps have a low chance of coming back to bite the Suns and the recipients get a long shot at a better first-round pick for pennies.

Payne’s departure also includes a $6.5 million trade exception (TPE), setting it alongside the $5 million TPE from the Dario Saric trade in February. Phoenix can use that as the salary of a player and throw in money/picks to still make something happen on the trade market (but you cannot combine the TPEs together into a larger salary).

Useful players like K.J. Martin and Obi Toppin recently went for the slim price of a pair of second-rounders, as an example. The TPEs are notable in the present because Payne represented just about the last logical, tradeable player for Phoenix this offseason outside of, well, you know, Deandre Ayton.

Payne leaves the Valley after actually achieving what so many players on the fringe of the league try and fail to do: reviving his NBA career after it appeared over. He joined the Suns in the bubble after a stint in China and impressed enough to stick around for the following season when he was a premier backup point guard. His two starts in place of an ill Chris Paul at the beginning of the 2021 Western Conference Finals should not be forgotten in franchise history, specifically his masterclass in Game 2.

Inconsistencies troubled Payne the last two years, unable to locate the correct tempo he thrived with in the past, to the point where the Suns had a need at reserve guard they could never quite fill to give Paul and Devin Booker more help, a spot Phoenix projected to have Landry Shamet help out in. It would have been unwise to rely upon Payne in a rotation role again, hence Jordan Goodwin’s arrival in the Beal trade and the signing of Eric Gordon. (By the way, if you’re keeping tabs at home on the scoreboard of the Suns pumping up their own players ahead of the offseason, Payne was mentioned a few times by Frank Vogel in his introductory press conference for possibly having an important role, like starting. Worth noting!)

But the Suns will miss Payne. His connection with the fanbase exploded over the years and his energy in all facets was a positive. He’s also proven to be a capable point guard at times, especially when he started, and now the Suns do not have one “floor general” on the roster.

That’s fine when it comes to what the playoff rotation projects to be, as previously covered in this space when Beal made landfall, and ditto for Gordon. Booker is one of the best point guards on the planet. Right now. Beal’s not too shabby, either.

There will be, however, segments in the season when a failsafe option of someone commanding the offense in a supplementary fashion would be a great relief. The reported interest in T.J. McConnell adds up in that regard. Can the Suns find one before October? Only two of the second-round picks are coming in the next two years, suggesting Phoenix has even more coming on the horizon. We’ll wait on that before taking on indications the Payne trade was at all related to tax relief (ESPN’s Bobby Marks notes it cuts $26.4 million off the bill).

How about the Suns’ new player in Bol?

Well, much like J.R. Smith on a 3-for-12 evening after he sees two straight go down, the Suns hurled up a heat-check from 28 feet with 19 seconds left on the shot clock during their quest for bringing in more length, upside and youth.

The 23-year-old *insert position here because I have no idea*  is a create a player on a video game if you used up all your skill points on size and the existence of attributes, before realizing you spent all your resources on that instead of actually just developing a few.

The thin 7-foot-2 kaiju with a 7-foot-8 wingspan has the footwork and handle down to create separation for jumpers. He can drill pull-up 3s, one of the most valuable skills in modern basketball. Given how tall he is, there is no way to contest his release and Bol’s going to convert on nearly everything at the rim (he shot 83% at the rim last year, per Cleaning the Glass).

That obviously requires some level of agility and nimbleness, which Bol possesses to maneuver around the floor. So the defensive potential is sky high, to a point even Bol’s pterodactyl arms couldn’t reach.

Unfortunately, this has all been theoretical four years into Bol’s career. The 2018-19 hype train not only left the station heading into his lone year at Oregon but was a runaway Tom Cruise had to break off in a dead sprint through to reach the conductor’s cabin so it safely came to a halt.

Bol was a potential lottery pick before injury concerns and other red flags saw him slide all the way to 44th overall and the Denver Nuggets, who sparsely used him in 328 total minutes across three seasons. Bol went to Orlando, where the Magic decided to really see what the guy was about, giving him 21.5 minutes a night across 70 games.

And what the 34-48 Magic saw was enough to cut him. He never proved he could be a winning contributor and never gained enough trust from the coaching staff to develop further into that. And to be clear, there’s an opening for someone like Bol in Orlando. The big man rotation beyond Wendell Carter Jr. is Mo Wagner and larger wings like Paolo Banchero and Jonathan Isaac aren’t backed up by much size, either. So that should tell the story for where Bol stands at the moment.

But that won’t stop the allure of his tantalizing possibilities. If you’ll allow me to impersonate a cranky old man for a second, some of this new generation of basketball fans just scan box scores and highlights on Instagram instead of, you know, watching the games. Given what Bol is capable of, his highlights are freaking incredible. So he’s amassed his fair share of believers and is popular online. His lack of NBA success hasn’t stopped engagement and impression vultures tweeting Bol’s acquisition in a fashion that suggests this is a significant addition by Phoenix. But the tape tells the story (so far).

That’s not fair to Bol himself or the Suns’ signing of him. It’s a logical low-risk stab at someone who primarily will bring value to a ball club defensively if it ever comes to fruition for him. As the dark days of Suns basketball in the back half of the 2010s showed us, though, if a player is two or more years into the league and we still aren’t sure exactly what they are as a contributor, that’s a bad sign. What is Bol exactly? He’s probably (?) a center, providing rim protection while stretching the floor on the other end. We’ll see if Vogel can piece the defensive parts together.

In general, it’s great to see the Suns still prioritizing this, attempting to develop inexperienced players. Josh Okogie and Ish Wainright are recent success stories. Saben Lee, returning on a two-way deal this year, is on his way to being another. Goodwin and second-round pick Toumani Camara loom, as do free-agent additions like Keita Bates-Diop, Chimezie Metu and Yuta Watanabe.

That will pay off handsomely over the next couple of years when the restrictions of an extremely expensive roster begin to clamp down even further.

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Bol Bol, picks, Cam Payne, oh my! What latest Suns moves mean