Preview: Suns vs. Nuggets, 6:30 p.m., FOX Sports Arizona Plus
PHOENIX — Both Denver and Phoenix added point guards at the trade deadline Thursday, but where the moves differ is in expectations.
The Nuggets made a relatively minor guard tweak, adding veteran Devin Harris in a move designed to solidify their second unit and facilitate their return to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
The Suns, meanwhile, acquired starter Elfrid Payton from Orlando for one of their four second-round 2018 draft picks, adding a piece that has been missing since Eric Bledsoe tweeted himself off the roster three games into what has become another rebuilding season.
The teams and their new guards will meet in Phoenix on Saturday, the second of back-to-back games for Denver (29-26), which gave up a season-high point total in a 130-104 in Houston on Friday but has won six of its last nine. Harris had not joined the team.
“I felt like we just defensively did nothing tonight. They (Rockets) got whatever they wanted,” Denver coach Michael Malone told reporters after sitting his regulars in the fourth quarter.
The Nuggets remain in eighth place in the Western Conference, although only 3 1/2 games separate the five teams currently ranked fifth through 10th. Harris did not play Friday.
The Suns (18-38) are again looking to the future, and the Payton acquisition means the short-term end of the Devin Booker point guard experiment, and perhaps longer.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 10, 2018
Although Payton will become a restricted free agent after the season, the Suns can match any offer sheet he receives, and the trade seems to signal their willingness to at least consider him as a long-term solution.
If nothing more, the Suns will have a two-month trial period to see if they believe Payton is the point guard to team with Booker, forwards TJ Warren, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss and another high draft choice next season.
Payton is expected to play Saturday; leading scorer Booker is not, which would be third straight game out because of a hip injury.
“Length at the point guard spot, a guy who’s played the position a couple of years in the NBA now,” Suns interim coach Jay Triano told reporters when asked about Payton, 23.
“A guy who can get in the lane, a guy who can create shots for himself and others. It’s going to be him at point guard being able to create shots for Devin so he (Booker) doesn’t have to work maybe quite so hard to get catches and looks in the right spots.”
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 9, 2018
Payton averaged 13.0 points, 6.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds a game for Orlando. A four-year veteran, he has increased his scoring average and his field goal percentage every season.
He will be the sixth point guard the Suns have tried this season after Bledsoe (traded), Tyler Ulis, Mike James (waived), Booker and Isaiah Canaan (waived to create a roster spot for Payton after a season-ending ankle injury).
The Suns are in free-fall as the All-Star break nears. They have lost four in a row, nine of 10 and 12 of 14, with victories in that stretch against Denver and Dallas.
They are coming off a 129-81 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday. The 48-point defeat was tied for the most lopsided loss in the 50-year franchise history and the second time it has happened this season.
“It was just a bit of a wake-up call,” Triano said.
Veteran Jared Dudley told reporters the Suns were embarrassed by the loss.
“I think the fans definitely earned an apology for the display,” Dudley said.
“For us to come in from top-to-bottom not prepared, not prepared to play at a high-level that you need to in the NBA, is inexcusable. You can use many excuses, back-to-back, Booker is out. But it’s definitely inexcusable.”
Dudley also seemed to call into question the Suns’ commitment.
“You don’t want to use these (final 26) games like last year … just to throw up stats, just to be out there,” Dudley said.
“Then we are back to square one. We have to start making some improvements. Sometimes it’s not just in the win-loss column, it’s how you play. Style of play, good shot selection, good defense, know the rotation. That’s something that we are far behind.”