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Empire of the Suns roundtable: Markieff Morris’ trade value and Jon Leuer’s rise

Phoenix Suns' Jon Leuer, right, shoots over Toronto Raptors' Patrick Patterson during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Toronto on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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This week’s edition of the Empire of the Suns roundtable features Jon Bloom, Bryan Gibberman, Kevin Zimmerman and Kellan Olson.

1. Fill in the blank for this hypothetical: If the Suns indeed end up trading Markieff Morris this season, the best-case scenario is if they receive ____ in exchange.

Jon Bloom: Full disclosure, I’m a huge Cal fan (my parents’ fault) and have been saying I’d love to see Ryan Anderson in PHX for awhile now. That said, the best-case scenario may not be the former Golden Bear forward if he were to leave for another team at the end of this season when he’s an unrestricted free agent. Ideally, the Suns will get another significant building block to put alongside their dynamic starting backcourt and developing young core (Len, Warren, Booker).

Bryan Gibberman: A replacement that equals his value. From a salary perspective we already know whatever they do is going to be a loss, but at least they can get his peak production. Guys like Terrence Jones and Ryan Anderson fit the bill. Patrick Patterson from the Raptors would be the opposite. He’s equal salary signed through next season, but lower production. Maybe the Suns are happy going forward with Mirza Teletovic and Jon Leuer and we’re all looking at this wrong. They could find another three-and-D wing to be able to move on from Tucker after this season.

Kellan Olson: A flexible asset with the same value as Morris. The problem with trading Morris is his contract. At $8 million a year for this season and the next three, Morris is an absolute bargain when he’s playing his best basketball. That’s obviously not the case anymore. A trade bringing in Terrence Jones or Ryan Anderson would mean either risking losing them or paying them nearly twice as much as Morris makes when their deals expire next summer. With Leuer and Teletovic having success this year, trading Morris for a young player or a draft pick of his value is not the end of the world if he does have to be traded.

Kevin Zimmerman: All the trade rumors circulating could hamper Phoenix’s salary cap space moving forward. I realize Ryan Anderson and Terrence Jones are great replacements, but I think the Suns could do as well by claiming a few first-round picks (plus the necessary salary that hopefully goes off the books after this year) and then re-signing Jon Leuer and/or Mirza Teletovic for reasonable deals. Yes, the salary cap is rising, but to me the difference between those two forwards and midseason upgrade options aren’t worth the financial commitment.

2. Jon Leuer taking over as starting power forward may be the early season surprise of the year. What’s the most surprising part of his success?

Bloom: Probably how quickly it happened. I’d be lying if I told you I thought he’d shoot over 43 percent from behind the arc, but I thought he could have a lot of success in Hornacek’s system. I wasn’t sure whether the opportunity would present itself until other things transpired (see question #1), but since hearing early reviews from his coaches and teammates in camp he has been impressive in nearly all aspects.

Gibberman: His off-the-dribble ability. I knew he could hit on catch-and-shoots, but he’s better attacking close-outs than I was expecting. He’s had a couple nice dunks driving in the lane. If he continues to take on more minutes, and a bigger role against starters, I’m interested to see how his production holds up over the course of a larger stretch.

Olson: Shooting 43 percent from three. Leuer’s physicality inside is surprising on it’s own, but that’s nothing like the numbers he is putting up from three. Looking at his career numbers, a victory for Leuer this season would have been to shoot around league average from the three-point line. He’s shooting around an elite number right now and while that should go down, Leuer staying around 37-40 percent seems like a real possibility. That’s improved his value immensely to the Suns and combining that with the high IQ plays and the ability to play strong inside makes him worthy of starting.

Zimmerman: Leuer’s pick-and-pop efficiency has been great, as has his ability to take a dribble and dish it if he’s cut off on a drive. But he was labeled as a sub-par defender coming out of Memphis, and he’s actually been pretty good on that end. His athleticism and length allow him to challenge shots at the rim as expected, but he’s done enough on switches to make him very useful in late game situations when he needs to switch onto guards.

3. How much did Tyson Chandler’s absence have to do with the Suns’ struggles on their six-game road trip?

Bloom: No question it had a lot to do with some of the defensive lapses and likely impacted the close late-game situations as well. It was immediately clear that he assumed the leadership role and those effects were apparent early in the season, but no matter who the leader is, that role isn’t nearly as effective when they aren’t able to be on the floor. It’s not overstated that the communication on defense takes a big step back when Tyson isn’t manning the middle, but maybe there is a silver lining in the end. Alex Len has filled in admirably and could benefit tremendously in the confidence category based on the extended time and starting role he’s been given in Chandler’s absence.

Gibberman: I don’t think much. The Suns got solid production from their big men even though the defense did take a major dip in fourth quarters. Maybe Tyson’s absence did have something to do with that, but they’ve given away games this season when Chandler was in the rotation, too. Phoenix “fixed” a team-wide problem when they were able to pull out a late-game win against the Bulls and it’s something they need to build on no matter how much longer Chandler is out.

Olson: Losing a player like Chandler is always going to have an impact, but I’m not sure if he changes much when it comes to the fourth quarter meltdowns that occurred. Those breakdowns seemed like a much bigger problem, even if Chandler would have provided more stability on both ends and given Bledsoe and Knight more space on ball screens. I will say that I don’t think the Memphis lob happens with Chandler on the court.

Zimmerman: I’m surprised that I don’t find it to be a big deal. Alex Len proved the same rim-protector who, for different reasons, struggled to contain dribble drives off pick-and-rolls. Otherwise, Len has been solid on defense and limited on offense in similar ways to Chandler. The Leuer-Teletovic small ball has been good for Phoenix despite Hornacek admitting that he’d rather play with true centers. It’ll be interesting to see how Hornacek goes back to it once Chandler is healthy.

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