EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns trade deadline preview: Limited assets, possible targets

Feb 2, 2024, 10:29 AM

Kevin Durant, Mat Ishbia and James Jones (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)...

Kevin Durant, Mat Ishbia and James Jones (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

The aftermath of the Phoenix Suns acquiring Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant leaves them with little to no versatility for avenues to upgrade the roster at the NBA trade deadline next Thursday.

This further stresses the importance of Phoenix threading the needle when it has a chance to do so. The Suns nailing one of their upcoming first-round picks would be a game-changer, and so would swiping a low-priced, in-season addition on the trade or buyout market.

They have to be smart about how they maneuver with what few assets they have left. To use Grayson Allen as an example, if he continues to play anywhere near the level he has for the first half of the season, he has suddenly become a cornerstone player Phoenix should lock in across the foreseeable future. Four months ago when the trade went through, he wasn’t standing out when compared to the other two players the Suns acquired in exchange for Deandre Ayton.

Phoenix’s process with this trade deadline will not only boil down to adding a rotation piece for this run. It will also focus first on players who either are under contract beyond this season or the Suns have a realistic chance at retaining in free agency.

What are the odds that happens? Low. Here’s why, while also exploring why it would be shocking if Phoenix did nothing at all.

Phoenix Suns’ trade deadline assets

We could entertain the possibility of the Suns trading Allen and what he could fetch, but even if the perfect 3-and-D wing was out there, Allen has been so good that it still probably wouldn’t make sense to do. There is a semblance of a foundation beginning to form in regard to an identity for this new Suns team, and Allen is firmly implanted in it.

Ditto for Jusuf Nurkic, one of three contracts sandwiched between the Big 3’s max money and a handful of minimum deals around the size range that helps facilitate deals this time of year.

Nurkic is an integral piece of the offense as a playmaking hub and screener. Defensively, he’s provided more than expected.

Is Nurkic a flawed player who won’t be a fit for certain playoff matchups? Yes. Does that mean the Suns should explore trading him at this point? Given how well he has played, absolutely not. Resist your incessant need to shake the snowglobe. Let these guys grow something.

The main player to discuss is Nassir Little. His value won’t be in a good spot, as Little has dealt with some nagging injuries yet again and isn’t currently in the rotation on a team begging for someone to earn minutes in his ideal role.

With that said, he’s in the first season of a four-year, $28 million deal, a very affordable (and tradable) one that will only see those attributes increase over time as contracts get bigger. He’s 23 years old and has his fair share of fans around the league. It was not an unpopular opinion to suggest he was the best piece of the Ayton return.

That, however, has not come to fruition. And the unanswerable question of if he can yield something back with picks attached is what will dictate the Suns’ deadline activity.

Speaking of picks, it’s bleak. Phoenix can only trade second-round picks and it’s five, four of which are, like, real. There’s an upcoming 2024 second-round pick via the San Antonio Spurs from the Cam Payne salary dump that is protected 31-54, and the Spurs at a 10-38 record will surely be retaining it.

Outside of that, the Suns own a 2026 second-round pick that is the least favorable between the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic. Then a pair in 2028, the Boston Celtics’ protected 31-45 and a no-strings-attached unprotected variety via the Memphis Grizzlies. The same goes for Memphis’ in 2029, the start of Taylor Swift’s first term as president of the United States.

Now, a highly unlikely (and mostly unused in league history) way for the Suns to finesse a trade is by way of exceptions. They have four. The two worth bringing up are a $6.5 million edition (Payne trade) and $5 million (Dario Saric trade). How Phoenix can still use these is simply having it serve as a salary match for a player, while picks as the actual return for the trade partner. The exception cannot be combined with a player or another exception.

Speaking of complicated rules that get even more complicated because of the new luxury tax implications that were poorly timed for a Suns team now owned by someone willing to spend!

This is the last season the Suns can trade more than one player in the same deal, otherwise known as aggregating salaries. It’s only one-for-one trades for a while after this trade deadline, unless it’s one player going out for multiple players while also checking off the boxes on more salary mumbo jumbo you don’t care about probably. No more trade exceptions for a hot minute after this deadline, too.

Who could they get? What do they need? Here is one slightly informed but don’t-take-him-too-seriously opinion on that.

Trade targets and needs

What the Suns need more than anything is seven, eight and nine. That would be the last three spots of head coach Frank Vogel’s rotation. When Phoenix deploys a lineup with five of Bradley Beal, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Eric Gordon, Allen and Nurkic out there, it is an extremely good basketball team. When any other guys get out there, it’s trouble.

You know your friend who will eat anything? Don’t even have to track down a menu to send them? You know they are game for brunch here or dinner there? That should be the Suns at the deadline.

Forgive the simplicity of this analysis but while, yes, they should absolutely seek out the best fits possible, getting a good basketball player should be above all else. Don’t get picky.

And the good news there is Phoenix has needs up and down the depth chart.

A backup point guard to play spot minutes, alleviating slight pockets of ball-handling for the Big 3 and orchestrating while Booker rests, would be quite the luxury. The Indiana Pacers surely hang up at the type of offer the Suns could toss over for T.J. McConnell. Still worth a phone call. Monte Morris is on the Detroit Pistons. Just making sure you knew that. Stop yelling “Tyus Jones” at your screen. I know.

Above all else, Phoenix could use solid minutes from a wing. It is not necessary to add 3-and-D prerequisites. Speaking of phone calls, how about dialing up the Brooklyn Nets to get immediately rejected for Dorian Finney-Smith, only planning the whole time to try and get Royce O’Neale? Is that something they do in the mortgage business with … mortgage business?

Wait. Do you hear that? Listen closely.

IS THAT TORREY CRAIG’S MUSIC?! AGAIN?!

Maybe Suns fake trade legend Kenrich Williams will actually find his way to the Valley this time.

Backup center is the easiest way to definitively upgrade the roster. Andre Drummond in Chicago and Orlando’s Goga Bitadze are worth an inquiry. Houston should trade Phoenix Jeff Green just because of this all-time classic video. Reward the content.

Go girl, it’s your birthday.

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