Despite Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder missing chunks of the season, despite the ongoing struggles of Cam Payne and Landry Shamet, despite players and coaches being in and out of the lineup due to injuries and COVID-19 alike…the Phoenix Suns currently own the NBA’s best record.
And yet, whether it’s due to a fundamental lack of respect for this team or a simple acknowledgement of its potential roster flaws, it still feels like the Suns should do something at the 2022 NBA Trade Deadline — not because they have to, but because this group is only one or two savvy moves away from bolstering down the playoff rotation and cementing their status as legitimate title favorites.
It’s not often any NBA team is this close to winning a championship after falling two wins shy the year prior, and Chris Paul’s prime won’t last forever. Even if a major blockbuster move isn’t forthcoming, Phoenix should strike while the iron is hot with a move on the fringe of the roster.
With the Feb. 10 trade deadline rapidly approaching, it’s time to take a look at a few trade options for the Suns. But before we dive in, we’ve got a few important notes to bear in mind.
Quick guidelines for Phoenix Suns trade scenarios:
- As a general rule for any trade article of this nature, these are not necessarily opinions on what the Suns should do or will do; this is simply a thought exercise to play around with a few scenarios that might help move the needle for Phoenix, what those deals might look like, and the potential obstacles to these hypothetical trades coming about.
- We’re operating under the central premise that the Suns’ biggest areas of need are finding an additional ball-handler/shot-creator/playmaker and bolstering the wing rotation. Phoenix badly misses having someone to fill last year’s Torrey Craig role, and Abdel Nader wasn’t the solution even when he was healthy.
- Unfortunately, because of his contract size and the fact that he’s unlikely to play much (if at all) this season, Dario Saric is involved in the vast majority of these trades. The same applies to Jalen Smith, who’s boosted his trade value in recent weeks…maybe even too much. We’ll get to him later, but apologies in advance to fans of the Homie and our Stix Kids out there! It’s not personal; they’re simply the most likely trade candidates in terms of actual value, contract size and not disrupting the Suns’ playoff rotation.
- In terms of draft compensation, because the Suns owe the Oklahoma City Thunder their 2022 first-round pick (top-12 protected), the soonest they can offer another team a first-round selection is 2024.
- In terms of restrictions, Abdel Nader and Frank Kaminsky have veto power over any deal due to their one-year Bird provisions; Bismack Biyombo cannot be traded; and Mikal Bridges and Landry Shamet have poison-pill restrictions on their contracts, which make them slightly more difficult to move (not that Bridges is going anywhere).
- No, we’re not swinging for the fences with any blockbuster Deandre Ayton trades just yet. Even without his long-term future set in stone after Phoenix failed to agree to an extension a few months back, it’d take something going majorly wrong over the next few weeks to convince the Suns to move on from one of their most important two-way players, especially when they’re still in the driver’s seat to re-sign him this summer.
All right. In no particular order, let’s talk Phoenix Suns trades!
1. Eric Gordon
Even a year ago, this suggestion would’ve seemed silly. Eric Gordon had played a grand total of 63 games over his last two seasons, had shot 32.2 percent from 3 over that span and still had three years and $58.7 million left on his contract.
But the bounce-back season is very real right now, and with the Houston Rockets languishing away at 12-31, they’d be crazy not to entertain offers for their long-tenured combo guard. Gordon is shooting a blistering 45.2 percent from beyond the arc, which ranks second in the entire NBA among players who have attempted at least 100 3s.
The Suns already have one player in the top-six of that group with Cam Johnson; why not add a second?
In this proposed trade, Dario Saric and Elfrid Payton serve as salary filler. Jalen Smith represents a youngster with upside at age 21, and because Houston’s situation is so fluid with their rebuild, they may not be as off-put by the big caveat for any Stix suitor:
After the Suns declined Smith’s third-year rookie option, the most they can offer him in free agency is the $4.7 million he would’ve been paid on that option — an unfortunate restriction that will also apply to any team that trades for him. So if a suitor has legitimate interest in Stix beyond him being a flier, and if they’re willing to pay him more than that starting salary, they may prefer to just wait until free agency to lure him away.
With that being said, Jalen Smith’s trade value is hard to gauge. It was zilch a month ago, then he made the most of his opportunity to start with Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee sidelined, and now it’s entirely possible he’s played himself beyond that restrictive $4.7 million figure.
In any case, the real attraction for the Rockets is getting a first-round pick for Gordon. It’d need minimal protections or it’d have to be unprotected outright since Phoenix can’t offer one until 2024. That’s slightly risk for a guy who’s already 33 years old and would be under contract through 2024, but his $20.9 million salary in that final year is non-guaranteed.
Gordon is averaging 14.8 points and 3.4 assists per game on 50 percent shooting this year, and because of his ability to play both on and off the ball, he’d be an idyllic fit for the Suns’ second unit, providing them with another guy who can create for himself and for others off the bounce — a growing need given Payne’s recent struggles and Payton being borderline unplayable.
If the Suns aren’t convinced Payne can snap out of it, or that last year’s breakout season was a fluke and we’re seeing regression to the mean, they could get even more ambitious:
This deal failed in the Fanspo Trade Machine, but only because Payne can’t be traded until Jan. 15. After that date, such a deal would check out financially, and while it’d hurt to dump two fan favorites like Saric and Payne, it’d bring in two capable ball-handlers and shooters for Phoenix’s bench.
D.J. Augustin is a seasoned vet, and though he’s only averaging 5.2 points and 2.3 assists in 15.0 minutes per game this season, that also increases the likelihood Houston would be willing to just toss him in a deal, especially with a younger guard with potential like Payne coming in. Augustin is a well-respected, composed floor general, and he’s a career 38 percent 3-point shooter who’s making 39.5 percent of his triples this season.
The biggest problem, aside from the Stix conundrum we already covered? Other suitors may have more valuable first-rounders to offer for Gordon than Phoenix’s distant 2024 pick.
2. Torrey Craig and Justin Holiday
We covered Torrey Craig and Justin Holiday trade scenarios extensively a few weeks ago, so here’s all you need to know: Craig and Holiday are the EXACT kinds of wings the Suns need to bolster their rotation.
Craig is a defensive-minded guy who can plug up multiple positions, crash the boards and play small-ball 5 — something no other wing on this roster can currently offer, and a role that’s sorely missed with Saric sidelined. As for Holiday, he’s an exceptional shooter who’s no slouch defensively either. If the Indiana Pacers have their small-market version of a fire sale, the Suns should do their due diligence.
Bring him home to the Phoenix Suns, James Jones!
The only thing that’s really changed since we last tackled this topic is the Pacers have slid from 10-16 all the way to 15-27; Craig still isn’t logging heavy minutes after Indiana stole him away in free agency, and while Holiday is only hitting 35.4 percent of his 3s this year, The Timeline’s Sam Cooper did a great job breaking down the type of shooter he could be in Phoenix’s 0.5 offense.
With Stix upping his trade value but still being limited by that $4.7 million starting salary for any prospective suitor hoping to re-sign him, the Suns could either offer two second-rounders…or trump any other offer by throwing down the first-rounder nobody else is going to match.
3. Harrison Barnes
The Suns don’t need to shake up their starting lineup, and they don’t even necessarily need an upgrade on the Jae Crowder-Cam Johnson tandem at the 4-spot. But there’s no denying that Harrison Barnes would be a tremendous addition to whichever 4 remained after the trade, and he’d provide an injection of athleticism and individual scoring ability that neither Crowder nor Johnson possesses.
Averaging 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while canning a career-high 42.5 percent of his 3s, Harry B wouldn’t add to the number of playable wings at Phoenix’s disposal come playoff time, but he would raise their ceiling a bit, especially in terms of guys who don’t have to rely on Chris Paul and Devin Booker to create offense.
The question is whether the Suns would have to give up Johnson:
Or could they get away with Crowder and a distant first?
Or, more importantly, is it even worth breaking up this team’s chemistry? Barnes plugs some definite needs, but Johnson has become such a lethal shooter, and Crowder is such an intrinsic part of the defense, that it might be better to just leave this one alone. Plus, despite their shabby 16-27 record, the Sacramento Kings are technically only one game out of a play-in spot….
4. Nicolas Batum and/or Serge Ibaka
According to Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the LA Clippers could become surprise sellers at the NBA Trade Deadline. Due to concerns that Paul George’s elbow injury may sideline him for the season, and because Kawhi Leonard’s return from last year’s torn ACL is still up in the air as well, the Clips could switch gears and try to turn useful rotation pieces into first-round picks. After all, if they’re going to be subpar this year, they need to recoup some of the draft compensation they’ve lost over the last few years.
If that’s the case, both Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka will be coveted around the league, and the Suns should check in on them.
If we’re looking solely at Batum, after looking washed for years in Charlotte, the 33-year-old wing has proven he still has something left in the tank after joining a winning team in LA. He’s only averaging 8.1 points and 4.6 rebounds a night, but he’s shooting 39.3 percent from 3 — just a smidge under the 40.4 percent he shot last year. Throw in his defense, positional versatility and meager $3.2 million salary, and he’s the exact type of experienced wing James Jones should have on his radar.
Offering a young flier like Jalen Smith and a second-round pick (or two, if need be) should be enough to get the job done if the Clippers are actually looking to sell:
Let’s say Batum is dealt elsewhere, or for whatever reason, the Suns aren’t interested. How about bolstering the 4-spot and adding one of the game’s most esteemed small-ball 5s in Ibaka? The Suns have plenty of centers, but not one is reliable as a small-ball, shot-blocking, floor-spacing 5. That’s Jalen Smith’s upside, but he’s not there yet, and he can’t play the 4. Ibaka can.
The 32-year-old vet and former NBA champion is only averaging 16.0 minutes per game and is playing on an expiring $9.7 million contract for a Clippers team that’s barely .500, so it’s not like he’s untouchable. If the Suns offered up Saric, Stix and a lottery-protected first, that’d put them in the conversation at the very least:
And if both are available, why not swing for the fences? Keep the second-rounder, make the first unprotected and see if that’s enough for the pair!
Batum’s has a $3.3 million player option for next year, so he’d probably opt out. But even if Ibaka would likely be out of the Suns’ price range to keep beyond this season, Batum would be a sneaky good candidate to re-sign for cheap, especially if the remainder of his year in Phoenix went well.
5. Thaddeus Young
Thad Young is another guy we covered in full detail months ago…before he was banished to the edge of the San Antonio Spurs’ rotation and his desire to be traded to a more competitive team became public knowledge.
So far this season, Young has managed just 6.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 14.1 minutes per game. He’s shooting an impressive 57 percent from the floor, but he hasn’t played since New Year’s Eve, and his numbers represent a far cry from the 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and career-high 4.3 assists per game he put up as a small-ball 5 with the Chicago Bulls last year.
On paper, a trade like this still works:
But the Spurs are likely to buy Young out if they can’t move him at the deadline, which means the Suns would be foolish to offer anything beyond a second-round pick. He’ll be a decent buyout candidate at that point, so between that and San Antonio’s potential interest in Smith in free agency, it might make sense for both clubs to wait until the buyout market and the summer, respectively, to get their guy.
6. Robert Covington
This has been a popular name on Suns fans’ wish list for years, and the idea was floated once again by ESPN’s Bobby Marks. Robert Covington has seen better days, but with Damian Lillard undergoing abdominal surgery expected to sideline him indefinitely, the Portland Trail Blazers’ outlook needs to (finally) change.
It’s time to tank this season and ship off the players they can get anything for, which includes RoCo, Jusuf Nurkic and even CJ McCollum. McCollum’s salary is a bit too rich for Phoenix’s blood in terms of a potential trade package, but Covington represents the defensive-minded wing who could fill the Torrey Craig role as a glue guy and occasional small-ball 5.
Covington’s 7.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game may not leap off the page, but he’s also averaging 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks a night, which speaks to his defensive playmaking. And while he isn’t a proficient 3-point shooter, he’s still respectable enough at 35.4 percent.
This is the deal Marks laid out, and it feels like pretty fair value for both parties. The 31-year-old may not fetch a first-rounder at this point, especially since Portland has very little leverage these days. Taking a flier on Smith, keeping a guy like Saric around for Dame’s comeback tour next season and snagging two second-round picks isn’t the worst return for RoCo’s $13 million expiring deal.
7. Dennis Schroder
Dennis Schroder is admittedly one of the least appealing options on this list, but there’s no question he can score. And as much as they’ve enjoyed competing against each other since their days together on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chris Paul would probably enjoy this reunion.
This name wasn’t randomly plucked from thin air either; according to HoopsHype’s Michael Scotto, the Boston Celtics are listening to offers for Schroder and have reportedly expressed interest in Jalen Smith. If that’s true, a straight-up swap works, perhaps with a second-round pick thrown in for good measure:
If the Celtics have long-term interest in Stix, they’d be better off just waiting until free agency, but if they’re looking to unload Schroder now and want to get a closer glimpse of what Smith can do ahead of time, this avenue might make sense.
For the Suns, Schroder’s 16.1 points and 4.5 assists per game indicate a backup ball-handler who could create for himself and for others. His 34.2 percent shooting from long range leaves something to be desired, but perhaps on a title contender he’d be able to pick it up a few notches and continue to hound opponents up and down the court in his bench role.
8. Larry Nance Jr.
Robert Covington isn’t the only defensive-minded Blazers forward the Suns should have on their radar. Since Larry Nance Jr. still has another year on his contract beyond this season, Portland would probably prefer to keep him past the NBA trade deadline, but there will be no shortage of suitors lining up if they start fielding offers.
Nance isn’t much of an offensive threat, averaging just 6.9 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting and 30.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc. But he’s a versatile defender at that 4-spot and even as a small-ball 5, and his athleticism, size, quickness and defensive instincts would be welcome additions to Phoenix’s playoff rotation without even having to put a dent in the core.
If the Suns ever needed to trot out a small-ball lineup to get stops, Nance could fill that role. If they needed more size and help on the boards, he could man that 4-spot too. For the price of Saric, Stix and a top-10 protected pick, that additional flexibility for Monty Williams’ rotations is a possibility worth considering.
9. Jerami Grant
You thought he was getting left out, didn’t you? Jerami Grant seems to be one of the more divisive Suns trade targets among the fanbase, and it makes sense. After betting on himself as a No. 1 option with the Detroit Pistons last year, Grant got off to a blazing-hot start. But as the season went on, and without getting much help from his supporting cast, defenses wore him and his shooting percentages down.
It’s been the same story this year, only it’s gotten to the point that Grant finds his name in constant trade rumors. The Pistons aren’t just going to dump him for nothing, though, and therein lies the debate: Is Grant — who’d be reverting to the type of fourth option he was on the Denver Nuggets — worth what it’d cost to get him? And does he even want to go back to a diminished role, even on a title contender like the Suns?
Surely anything’s better than the 9-31 Pistons, and it’s easy to see why Grant would be an attractive upgrade at the 4. He’s a long, lanky forward who can spread the floor, defend multiple positions and even fill the small-ball 5 role in a pinch. He’s worked hard to learn to create more of his own offense the last two seasons, and although he’s posted paltry .425/.344/.847 shooting splits in that time, that’s most likely due to being miscast as a No. 1 option on a bad team. He shot around 39 percent from 3 in each of the two seasons prior to arriving in Detroit, so maybe a change of scenery is in order.
Unfortunately, it’d take quite a bit to get him, and even this might not be enough for the Pistons:
Giving up Cam Johnson hurts, even if it spares the Suns the dilemma of trying to figure out how to pay him and DA in the same offseason. Grant was an efficient 3-point shooter before becoming a Piston, but he’d be nowhere near Johnson’s level of reliable spacing and sharpshooting.
Unfortunately, Stix and Saric wouldn’t be too attractive to Detroit, and a 2024 first-rounder alone isn’t enough, especially if it’s protected. If the Suns are insistent on keeping Johnson, they could always try replacing Johnson and Saric with Crowder, Shamet and Nader, while removing the protection from that first-rounder and getting Cory Joseph back in return:
Even in that case, Crowder doesn’t move the needle much for the Pistons. Nader has veto rights on any trade, and while Shamet is still young and could theoretically space the floor for this young team being under contract for the next few years, his trade value is pretty low in the middle of a down season.
Grant is the exact type of two-way force that could bolster the Suns’ wing rotation, spread the floor and legitimately push Phoenix ahead of its competition as title favorites. Unfortunately, that means he’d also cost more, and since he’s currently recovering from thumb surgery and in the midst of another inefficient season, there’s a good deal of risk involved here.
10. Goran Dragic
Would a Phoenix Suns championship even feel right if Goran Dragic is still in the league and playing for a different team? Okay, maybe “playing” is inaccurate, since he’s not even suiting up for the Toronto Raptors right now, but that just makes a deal even more of a no-brainer!
The Suns need ball-handling, scoring and playmaking, in a more composed way than what Payne is currently giving them. Even at age 35, the Dragon can still provide those things, regardless of what his ugly-but-brief 5-game stint with the Raptors might say.
So if Toronto is willing to play ball with Saric, Stix and a 24-year-old sharpshooter in the midst of an off-season like Shamet, it’s at least worth considering, right?
There’s a possibility Dragic is simply washed. He wasn’t quite the same last season for the Miami Heat coming off that devastating plantar fasciitis injury that sidelined him for most of the 2020 NBA Finals. But even then, he made 37.3 percent of his 3s last year and still averaged double figures.
The Suns wouldn’t need him to do much more than that, especially with his experience in setting the table in Phoenix. Even better, he’d create an interchangeable backcourt alongside Cam Payne, which would allow Monty to stagger his guard rotations with any combination of Paul, Booker, Dragic and Payne, since they’re all capable of playing both on and off the ball.
This one also comes with inherent risk given his age, but bringing Dragic home to Phoenix and winning a title would be quite the storybook ending. Then again, he’s likely to be a buyout candidate, so waiting until then might be the smarter approach.
BONUS: Phoenix Suns’ honorable mentions
Because why the hell not.
- Jarred Vanderbilt — A terrific, multi-positional wing defender who could be traded for Jalen Smith straight up after Jan. 15…if the Minnesota Timberwolves actually view him as expendable, of course.
- Tomas Satoransky — He’s having a down year with virtually no role on the New Orleans Pelicans, but Sato’s got good size and playmaking instincts in the backcourt.
- Kenrich Williams — The Four-Point Play’s David Nash has you fully covered on this one, and Williams would probably be a low-cost pickup to add another playoff-capable wing.
- Terrence Ross — A popular name and one the Orlando Magic will definitely be looking to unload in the midst of a horrendous 7-35 campaign…but have you seen his numbers lately?
- Chris Boucher — Just so we’d never have to worry about him racking up 9 offensive rebounds against the Suns ever again.
- Davis Bertans — His $16 million salary eats up quite a bit of space, and he’d be on the books for a few more years after that, but Bertans was one of the NBA’s deadliest long-range shooters last season. He currently finds himself in a diminished role with the Washington Wizards. Dario Saric and Jalen Smith gets it done financially, but would the Wizards take a second-rounder (or two) instead of a first-round selection?