Improving on the Margins: Potential Suns Trades V2

By: Christian Coker (@odddadbod)

The last few weeks of Suns basketball have been interesting, to say the least. COVID finally made its way into the Fellas’ locker room, James Jones got to try his hand at the 10-day contract shopping spree, and potentially most importantly(and surprisingly), Phoenix may have finally awakened their 2020 first-round pick, Jalen Smith.

A few weeks back, @ZonaHoops_ posted this article outlining some super intriguing trade proposals for Phoenix to explore. But, you’ll notice that they all included the Suns’ 2020 10th-overall pick.

After these last few weeks, what if you now find yourself in the camp of holding on to Jalen and continuing his #InternalDevelopment in the Valley? This article will explore more options for the Suns to improve on the margins without selling too low on Jalen Smith and his recent improvement.


The Rules of Engagement

Before we go window shopping, there are a few rules, conditions, and personal assumptions I’ll be outlining that we have to keep in mind that will help keep us honest and hone in on the right targets for Phoenix:

  1. In these trades, we’ll be assuming Jalen Smith stays wearing the purple and orange
  2. I’ll be making the assumption that Bismack Biyombo will secure Phoenix’s final open roster spot on a minimum contract (officially announced today he did)
  3. Post-Biyombo signing, the Suns will be at ~$7m under the tax
  4. These trade proposals will mainly be in a 2-for-1 format, in order to reopen a roster spot for the Suns for buyout season
  5. The Suns still have access to $4.5m of their MLE dollars, which allows them to sign a player for to up to 4 years
  6. The first-round pick traded to OKC in the Chris Paul deal will convey in 2022, meaning the earliest first-round pick the Suns can trade is their 2024 selection
  7. The Suns still own all of their second-round picks for the foreseeable future and they can be added/removed from proposals as needed
  8. With an assumed frontcourt rotation of Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, Jalen Smith, and Bismack Biyombo, the majority of these trades will focus on backcourt improvements
  9. As a currently non-taxpaying team, we’ll assume the following trade rules apply to Phoenix

The Trades

Trade #1

With Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky out indefinitely, the 2 Phoenix players we’ll be focusing on in this first package will be Elfrid Payton and Abdel Nader. With Elf being on a minimum deal and having starting experience for a recent playoff team in the New York Knicks, and Nader having a very inexpensive team option next year, we’ll hope to capitalize on this value play in making a rotation upgrade.

Payton and Nader combine for a total salary of ~$4.2m, meaning the maximum salary amount the Suns can take back in return is ~$7.4m. First on the list, we have Cory Joseph from the Detroit Pistons:

Why Cory, you ask? Let’s chat:

For the fans that have paid close attention to the Phoenix’s second unit, I think it’s become pretty clear that they are in need of a better facilitator/creator when CP3 and Book sit. Cam Payne has proven to be a spark plug for the Suns many times over, but delivering in that capacity while also being tasked with running the offense for the second unit can be tough to manage. So, let’s get him some help.

Thus far in his 2021-2022 campaign, Joseph has posted shooting splits of .485/.377/.830 compared to Elf’s .413/.200/.533. Are Joseph’s numbers out of this world? No. Are they a significant improvement? Absolutely.

Having a player shooting a respectable clip from deep while running the second unit will only help to create more opportunities for the players around him. Interestingly enough, Joseph and Payton are posting nearly identical assist/36 figures this season and I’d like to think that Cory’s shooting means more dime potential in a Suns uniform.

It’s also worth noting that Joseph has a player option for next season, which may mean that James Jones would be securing his second unit point guard for the remainder of this season as well as next with this deal. The total cap impact would be a mere $700k, meaning the Suns would still have plenty of room to utilize their full $4.5m remaining MLE dollars on a buyout player as a result of the open roster spot freed up by this 2-for-1 deal.

Trade #2

Next on the list, we’re dialing up H-Town and checking on a name Suns fans may remember rumblings about last offseason – DJ Augustin:

Again, we see a pretty significant improvement in shooting – splits of .429/.405/.882 for DJ and nearly identical assists/36 figures to Elf. 

A couple of interesting points to make with DJ’s contract:

  1. He’s more expensive – you’re looking at $7m this season and $7.3m next.
  2. However, his 2022-2023 salary is only partially guaranteed ($333,333), so if Phoenix decided to part ways after this season, they could cut bait with virtually no dead money.

Trade #3

Next up, we have an interesting name – Ish Smith from Charlotte:

In a lot of ways, Ish is a spark plug for the Hornets much like Cam Payne is for the Suns. And it’s also worth noting that Charlotte is in the thick of the playoff race in the East and may have zero interest in moving Smith. But a few interesting things to consider:

  1. Much like the previous 2 options, Smith is under contract for this season and next, but his 2022-2023 money is non-guaranteed.
  2. Smith is shooting a blistering .444 from deep this season, but an abysmal .563 from the stripe.

Trade #4

Next up, we move away from the facilitators and just go after a baller – Justin Holiday in Indy:

I think this is definitely where draft compensation starts to enter the picture, but Holiday has proven to be worth it. He’s currently posting splits of .507/.361/.789 and plays great team basketball. At 6’6” with a 7’ wingspan, this dude seems to be the prototype for Suns wing players in recent years.

And with a cap figure of $6m and $6.3m over the next couple of seasons, he’s a great value. Not to mention, with Indy down TJ McConnell potentially for the season, they could really use an experienced backup point guard like Elf to help bolster their bench in that area.

Not familiar with Justin Holiday? Check out this video from our boys Sam Cooper and Mike Vigil from The Timeline Podcast from August of 2020.

Trade #5

And, finally, we have a shoutout to @theivpointplay for his proposal to snag Kenrich Williams from OKC (also Zona’s favorite in the volume 1 version of this last month). Albeit, with an adjustment or two:

Of course, for the sake of this article, we’re operating under the assumption that Stix stays in the Valley and the Suns are pulling off a 2-for-1 deal in order to create an open roster spot. But, here’s the real brilliance of David’s proposal – the Suns are getting back the 2022 first-round pick they sent to OKC in the Chris Paul deal.

In doing so, the Suns send back a future first-rounder in exchange. Why is this beneficial to OKC? For starters, the Suns first this year is very likely to be near the bottom of the draft, which minimizes OKC’s return on the deal. Additionally, OKC already owns three firsts in 2022, five in 2023, four in 2024, three in 2025, and three in 2026. They might prefer to space those out and would also get a chance to own a Phoenix selection after the CP3 era, likely bettering their odds of a higher draft selection.

And by Phoenix regaining their 2022 selection, they open themselves back up to making a draft-night trade similar to what they executed for Landry Shamet’s services. All indications point towards Phoenix wanting proven NBA players rather than rookies that require development during CP3’s final years as a pro.

A pretty clever proposal by David. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to subscribe to David’s newsletter here to keep up with the mad scientist’s work.


Trade #6

Package #2 will introduce a new assumption – with a set frontcourt rotation of DA, McGee, Stix, and Biyombo… Dario’s time as a Phoenix Sun may be nearing its end. These proposals will include Dario’s salary, which will allow the Suns to go shopping in a different part of the store, but that may also mean that additional draft capital needs to be included to offset Dario’s lack of participation this season.

First, let’s talk about someone that I feel no draft comp would be required to trade for – Tomas Satoransky:

In fact, the Suns might get draft comp back in this deal. Why? Because he has been downright atrocious for NOLA this season. No, I’m serious – He’s currently shooting .370/.167/.760 and putting up 2.8 points in 15 minutes/game. It’s bad.

However… Sato has proven to be a very capable backup combo-guard in every other season of his career. If you exclude this season for the Pelicans, Sato has career splits of .520/.357/.819 and per 36 figures of 12.3 points, 7.5 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.1 steals. And Sato is a BIG guard. At 6’7”, he would be a great changeup from the current guard rotation.

Trade #7

Next up, we’re making a Mickey Mouse deal for Terrance Ross in Orlando:

Ross can hoop, but his 3-point shooting this season has been a disappointing 30%. Regardless, I still think there’s draft comp involved in getting a deal like this done. The interesting factor to consider here is if/how Ross and Shamet minutes would play out. I also like that this deal would allow the Suns to keep their hands on a large tradeable contract next season even after moving Dario.

Trade #8

Next up, James Jones takes a bigger swing at Houston and instead targets Eric Gordon:

A few things to consider, here:

  1. Draft capital is very likely part of the picture
  2. A 4-for-1 trade would require that Houston waive 3 players to close the deal
  3. Gordon’s salary makes the luxury tax much steeper for Phoenix in the coming years – Still have to pay DA and Cam
  4. His 2023-2024 salary is non-guaranteed
  5. Gordon is hoopin’ – .527/.452/.724 with per 36 figures of 17.9 points and 4.2 assists
  6. This would leave Phoenix with two open roster spots to fill, which may call the Bi-Annual Exception into play
  7. James Jones could be flirting with the tax line after this move and leveraging his remaining exception dollars

I think a trade for Gordon not involving Jalen Smith is more challenging due to the number of players needed to meet the salary requirements, but he would certainly provide the shot creation and pop off of the bench that Phoenix needs.

Trade #9

Lastly on the Dario trade front, we land on my personal favorite proposal: Torrey Craig and Justin Holiday

And while we’re at it, Indy can have our 2024 first and a second-rounder or two. In my opinion, this trade moves the needle in a very real and dynamic way for this Suns team and a couple of late picks for very likely non-rotation players shouldn’t stand in the way of that.

Bolster guard/wing depth? Enter Holiday. Small-ball 5? Welcome back, Torrey Craig. These additions would give Monty so many more combos and levers to pull depending on matchups. And if we learned anything from this most recent Finals run by the Fellas, matchups are everything.

Depth Chart

Guards – CP3, Payne, Book, Shamet

Wings – Mikal, Cam, Jae, Holiday, Craig

Bigs – DA, McGee, Stix, Biyombo, (Frank)

I don’t know about you, but I’m putting that healthy roster and all of those potential matchup combinations up against any team in the playoffs.


The Wrap-Up

Now that we’ve all made it to the end of our Suns trade daydreaming, let’s assume one of these deals gets done. The Suns would then find themselves in the following position:

  1. Jalen Smith has survived the trade deadline
  2. Bismack Biyombo is a Sun for the rest of the season
  3. James Jones has upgraded the rotation in some capacity
  4. All of these trades were designed to create an open roster spot to freely spend the remaining $4.5m MLE dollars on a buyout player at a later point in time

It could be anyone and only time will tell who hits the open market, but coming off of a Finals run, currently sitting near the top of the NBA standings, and having more money/years to offer than basically every other team in the league at this point, I’ve got a feeling that the buyout season will be very good to James Jones and company.


Be sure to follow Christian on Twitter: @Odddadbod



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