COMMENTARY | The Phoenix Suns appear unwilling to remain relegated to the middle of the pack in a crowded Western Conference race.
The Suns were rumored to have their sights set on acquiring Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers, but a nagging injury to the Lakers' big man has cooled those talks. With the Suns still on the prowl for front-court help, the Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer could be the man making the move to the desert very soon.
What Phoenix Has to Trade
The Suns are a team chock-full of young talent, but those pieces are not likely to be up for sale. Instead, Phoenix will be coming to the trading table with the expiring contract of Emeka Okafor, as well as a bevy of valuable draft picks.
The Suns could have as many as four first-round selections in the upcoming 2014 NBA draft. In addition to its own pick, Phoenix also has the rights to the Indiana Pacers' first-round pick, as well as protected picks from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards.
Why the Bulls Are Interested
Boozer's tenure in Chicago is ostensibly done. Speculation has held steady that the Bulls would choose to use their one-time amnesty clause and erase Boozer's contract from their payroll this offseason, and their power forward's recent run-in with head coach Tom Thibodeau over playing time has only gone to highlight the seemingly irreparable rift that exists between the player and team. If the Suns would be willing to surrender one of their first-round picks, the Bulls would pull a hammy trying to sign on the dotted line as fast as possible.
The Bulls would also save a few bucks if this deal were to take place. Okafor's expiring contract is worth $14.4 million, while Boozer will earn $15.3 million this season. Taj Gibson has already begun to usurp Boozer's role in crunch time anyway, so this deal really is an all-around no-brainer for Chicago.
Why Phoenix Is Interested
Okafor's expiring contract has a lot of value to teams looking to clear cap space for this summer's free-agent signing period, but his contract is only valuable to them this year. If the Suns do not use his deal in a trade, they will essentially have paid $14.4 million to a player who has not played a single minute for them all season long.
After 50 games this year, the Sun are sitting in the No. 6 in the West -- which appears to be the unofficial line of demarcation between the legitimate contenders and the "just glad to be invited to the dance" type of teams. In order for the Suns to truly become a club to be reckoned with this postseason, they feel they need to address a glaring hole in their frontcourt.
The Suns rank No. 5 in the NBA in scoring (105.1), but they only come in at No. 13 in rebounding (43.5) and points in the paint (42.0). Boozer's 14.8 ppg and 8.6 rpg would immediately lead all big men on the Suns' roster.
Phoenix will make a trade before the Feb. 20, deadline; the only question is for whom.
Boozer Not the Only Fish in the Sea for Phoenix
The Bulls may want this deal to happen yesterday, but it takes two to tango in the NBA trading market and right now the Suns' dance card is very full. Aside from Boozer, Phoenix is also looking at the Detroit Pistons' Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, the Milwaukee Bucks' Larry Sanders and the Houston Rockets' Omer Asik, just to name a few.
One impediment to any Boozer trade could be the health of the Bulls' big man. Boozer has been day-to-day with a calf injury that has kept him out of the lineup on an infrequent basis this season. The Suns soured on Gasol partly because of injury concerns and could just as easily feel Boozer's health it too risky a gamble to use on their ace-in-the-hole expiring contract of Emeka Okafor.
If the Suns ultimately go elsewhere to find a trading partner, the Bulls should not sleep on finding a new address for Boozer before the trade deadline. As Boozer is clearly not part of the team's long-term plans, it is best to get something for him while he still has a little value, in place of simply holding on to him only to amnesty him this summer and lose him for nothing.
Dalton Russell is Chicago native and longtime follower of the Bulls. His championship expectations were irrevocably ruined by the Michael Jordan-led teams of the '90s and now impatiently awaits the next great chapter of Bulls basketball.
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- Carlos Boozer
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- Emeka Okafor