Suns: Big changes on the horizon?
This season has been a roller coaster for the Suns. After getting off to a 16-7 start, they are now hovering around .500 and are in the play-in picture. While injuries, particularly to Devin Booker, are to blame for their 9-17 skid since, they probably also overachieved a bit early on considering they were missing Chris Paul, Cam Johnson, and Jae Crowder.
Despite cries for the Suns to blow it up, they are well-positioned to be one of the biggest buyers ahead of the trade deadline. They have all of their first-round picks and plenty of large salaries they could put together to match for just about anybody. The Suns may have stabilized things if their recent four-game winning streak means anything, and the return of Booker can help get them back into the playoff picture. With the West wide open, there’s a good case for them to push their chips in and make a big trade.
The sale of the Suns
Lansing State Journal
The Suns are expected to make a trade. The scale of it is yet to be determined, and the timing of the sale of the Suns may factor into that. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the ownership change from Robert Sarver to Matt Ishbia complicates big trades. Any trade involving players earning more than the $10.8 million average salary would require Sarver’s approval.
According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Suns are open to increasing payroll and trading a first-round pick by this year’s deadline. Both reports can be true, but Charania’s reporting may suggest that all decision-makers for the Suns could be in lockstep to operate beyond the limitations mentioned by Windhorst.
That may be the case with today’s recent reporting. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the sale of the Suns is expected to be finalized prior to the trade deadline, allowing Ishbia to oversee the team’s moves. This would be huge because it could keep Phoenix in the mix for some of the best available players.
Potential trade options
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
One of Phoenix’s biggest needs to address ahead of the trade deadline is their backcourt rotation. As mentioned in HoopsHype’s trade guide, Paul is starting to show signs of decline and has missed a ton of time already this season. They could really use another backcourt veteran before the playoffs, and according to Marc Stein, the Suns have begun assessing their point guard future post-Paul.
Stein mentions Fred VanVleet and Terry Rozier as potential targets, both of whom are about to turn 29 years old and have salaries slightly over $21 million for this season. There are several ways the Suns can acquire either player, such as a combination of draft picks and expiring salaries like Crowder, Dario Saric, and Torrey Craig, as detailed in last week’s analysis of Toronto’s trade deadline. These expiring contracts would logically be the first to go in any potential trade for the Suns.
If the Suns are serious about acquiring a new starting-caliber guard, it’ll have to be through trade since they are capped out for the foreseeable future. But if they were to bring in a VanVleet or Rozier type, could they be open to moving Paul now? That possibility seems like a stretch, given his contributions to the franchise over the last two seasons. But if potential minutes and redundancy issues loom with a new guard, perhaps it makes sense to trade him this season, especially if an even bigger trade opportunity comes that requires more matching salary.
For example, what if the Suns could acquire OG Anunoby along with VanVleet? A package featuring Paul, Cam Johnson, and three or even four of their tradeable first-round picks for both players would be a strong offer for the Raptors to consider. Such a deal would solve Phoenix’s point guard future while giving them a definitive answer for the other starting forward spot. As noted in this week’s HoopsHype notebook, a frontcourt featuring Anunoby and Mikal Bridges would give the Suns a massive advantage defensively.
This type of trade is just an example of how much they can significantly upgrade the roster now. When Kevin Durant asked for a trade last offseason, the Suns were considered one of the frontrunners. Should a trade request come to fruition this time around, Phoenix is well-equipped to make such a deal. Acquiring one or more All-Star caliber players would increase future expenses significantly, but it could be a worthwhile proposition if it raises their title odds proportionally.
If the Suns do make such a big move that would drastically increase expenses, they could look to offset it in the future by trading Deandre Ayton. He is set to earn an average of $34 million over the next three seasons of his contract, an offer sheet the Suns had no choice but to match. They could instead repurpose that salary slot by replenishing draft picks and depth and acquiring a cheaper, lower-usage replacement center.
These scenarios could be a lot to take in but the point of them is to illustrate the optionality the Suns have toward changing their roster. If big moves aren’t made this season, at the very least a Crowder trade could give them additional depth pieces. One reported framework that could be revisited features Crowder going to Milwaukee with Eric Gordon and KJ Martin going from Houston to Phoenix. This would give them backcourt help as well as a replacement forward for Crowder.