Jan 12, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) fight for a loose ball in the second half of the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Indiana Pacers beat the Phoenix Suns by the score of 116-97. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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If the Phoenix Suns approach the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline as buyers, here are five blockbuster trades they could make to add a star player.
Heading into Thursday’s 2017 NBA Trade Deadline, the Phoenix Suns are uniquely positioned to be either buyers or sellers on the trade market.
As the team with the worst record in the Western Conference, the Suns should enter the deadline as sellers to capitalize on the trade value of a few veterans and add youth and future draft picks in the process. However, general manager Ryan McDonough has also stockpiled assets to put together a trade for a star if the opportunity ever presented itself.
DeMarcus Cousins was one name many Suns fans had on their list, but there are still other superstars who could become available within the next 24 hours. Though trading for a star without giving up one of Eric Bledsoe or Devin Booker would be extremely challenging, the Boogie trade taught us that anything is possible at this time of year.
In most cases, it’d take some combination of Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and one or two future draft picks to pry away another franchise player. If the Suns are trading for a star, those are their most enticing assets that wouldn’t involve moving Booker or Bledsoe — which would be the whole point of trading for a third star anyway.
Staying patient, building through the draft, letting the young players develop and trading veterans for more youth and future picks seems to be the best way to move forward, but McDonough has always swung for the fences when stars have become available.
Bearing all that in mind, and since we’ve already covered 10 trades the Suns could make as sellers, it’s time to take a look at some potential high profile targets for Phoenix, what it would take to get a deal done and why these hypothetical trade talks might fall through in the end.
Dec 26, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) high fives fans following the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Honorable Mention: Nerlens Noel
Jahlil Okafor‘s name has come up multiple times in NBA trade rumors over the last few weeks, so it seems like the Philadelphia 76ers would prefer to alleviate their center logjam that way rather than deal Nerlens Noel.
But if Noel is still somehow available, the Suns should at least pick up the phone and inquire about a player with more upside and defensive capability than the enigma that is Alex Len.
One deal that would work — and potentially interest the Sixers, even with Robert Covington playing so well on the wing lately — would be Noel for T.J. Warren straight up:
Suns get C – Nerlens Noel
76ers get SF – T.J. Warren
In this deal, the Sixers get a promising 23-year-old scorer at the 3 who has improved on the defensive end and was the Suns’ best player early in the season until a mysterious head injury sidelined him for 13 games.
Warren has struggled to find his consistency since then, but he’s still averaging a career-high 12.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game on 45.6 percent shooting.
Losing Warren and his potential as a go-to source of buckets would hurt, but they’d be bypassing Len’s tricky restricted free agency and investing on the restricted free agency of the younger Noel, whose league-wide value might not be so high at the moment because of his injury history and dwindling production this season (8.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.9 BPG, 19.4 MPG).
Depending on where the Suns wind up in the draft/whether they move one of Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight, they could either select a franchise point guard or a talented wing to replace Warren at the 3.
If the Sixers aren’t interested in Warren, another alternative might be Eric Bledsoe for Noel and a future first round pick:
Suns get C – Nerlens Noel 1st round pick
76ers get PG – Eric Bledsoe
Trading Bledsoe seems cruel in the best season of his career, but Philly is on the rise and could be looking to accelerate their ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder with a two-way player like Bledsoe.
Ben Simmons will assume the point forward role when he’s healthy, but Bledsoe has never been an exceptional playmaker anyway and he’d be an upgrade over T.J. McConnell, as fun as his unexpected success has been.
The Suns would not only net a 22-year-old with Defensive Player of the Year potential, but they’d also enjoy a first round pick. Perhaps a 2019 first-rounder owed to Philadelphia from the Sacramento Kings would do the trick?
The Suns would have to stomach two months of Brandon Knight running the point, but it could be an opportunity to boost his trade value back up from ground zero, Tyler Ulis would get plenty of minutes off the bench and Phoenix could find its franchise point guard with a likely top-three pick in this year’s draft. McDonough could then either let Alex Len walk this summer or locate another trade for him.
However, with McConnell playing so well and Simmons expected to own his point forward role, it might be unlikely for Philadelphia to even be interested in Bledsoe. Okafor’s name dominating all 76ers trade rumors could also mean Noel is there to stay.
As for Phoenix, its legendary training staff could probably do wonders for the injury-prone Noel, but that’s not guaranteed. The Suns may still think Bledsoe is on the same timeline as Devin Booker and the teenage rookies, and they may let Len’s value continue to depreciate so they can re-sign him on a cheaper contract this summer.
Feb 1, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (left) controls the ball against Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin in the fourth quarter at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Clippers defeated the Suns 124-114. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
5. Blake Griffin
The Phoenix Suns are searching for a franchise player and currently start a 19-year-old rookie at power forward. The Los Angeles Clippers are on the outside looking in at title contention and Blake Griffin could leave as a free agent this summer if they fail to put together a long postseason run once again. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the logic in a potential swap here.
Though getting Eric Bledsoe back would provide the Clippers with Chris Paul insurance, the Suns would keep him and Devin Booker off limits so they could form a new Big Three. Unfortunately, as we’ll see in many of these hypothetical deals, that means they’d have to throw the rest of the cupboard on the table if they were to have any chance of swinging a deal.
In the first scenario, a package of Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss and two first round picks — including Phoenix’s potentially valuable 2017 selection — would probably be the best the Suns could do.
Suns get PF – Blake Griffin
Clippers get C – Alex Len SF – T.J. Warren PF – Marquese Chriss 2017 1st round pick Future 1st round pick
That would give the Clippers a backup center behind DeAndre Jordan, a scorer on the wing that they never had during the Lob City era, a tantalizing teenage rookie with a ton of upside and a 2017 selection that currently has the best odds of being the No. 2 overall pick. There are worse ways to jumpstart a rebuild.
The Suns would sacrifice a ton of depth and youth in a trade like this, but a potential starting lineup of Bledsoe, Booker, P.J. Tucker, Griffin and Tyson Chandler would ground a playoff team.
In the event the Clippers preferred Dragan Bender to Marquese Chriss, that could be arranged as well, though the Suns might prefer to keep their 19-year-old Croatian in the hopes he could one day replace Chandler at the 5-spot.
Suns get PF – Blake Griffin
Clippers get C – Alex Len SF – T.J. Warren PF – Dragan Bender 2017 1st round pick Future 1st round pick
However, there are several fairly obvious pitfalls with a deal like this. Teams may be calling about Blake Griffin’s availability, but that doesn’t mean the Clippers are ready to give up on this current core.
There’s also the problem of Phoenix’s trade package not being good enough for Lob City, especially because the Boston Celtics could put together a Godfather offer that trumps whatever McDonough puts on the table (assuming the goal is to keep Bledsoe and Booker for a new Big Three).
Finally, and most glaring of all, Griffin’s status as an impending free agent means the Suns could completely gut their roster for a player who might leave this summer for nothing. The Flyin’ Lion would have plenty of lucrative offers elsewhere, and forming a Big Three with Bledsoe and Booker might not appeal to him as much.
Dec 7, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Paul George (13) controls the ball against Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker (17) at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Pacers defeated the Suns 109-94. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
However, at this time of year, you can never definitively rule anything out. The Pacers are riding a six-game losing streak that has them one game above .500, and it’s pretty clear this roster doesn’t have what it takes to make it out of the first round, let alone seriously contend for the Eastern belt.
A full-scale fire sale seems highly unlikely, but Jeff Teague hits free agency this summer and since adding talent to the 26-year-old Paul George is looking harder and harder to do as his 2018 free agency approaches, maybe Bird should at least listen to an offer or two.
Suns get SF – Paul George
Pacers get C – Tyson Chandler SF – T.J. Warren PF – Dragan Bender 2017 1st round pick Future 1st round pick
In this scenario, the Pacers get a backup center and veteran mentor for Myles Turner in Tyson Chandler. They also add another unicorn-in-the-making with Dragan Bender, a developing scorer in T.J. Warren and two first round picks — including Phoenix’s valuable 2017 selection.
Meanwhile, the Suns look to add to a Bledsoe-Booker-George core, hoping that McDonough can attract enough talent to convince PG-13 to stay in Phoenix beyond his 2018 free agency.
If the Pacers aren’t interested in acquiring a 34-year-old veteran center with another two years left on his contract, a package with Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender being included would work here too.
Suns get SF – Paul George
Pacers get C – Alex Len SF – T.J. Warren PF – Marquese Chriss 2017 1st round pick Future 1st round pick
Suns get SF – Paul George
Pacers get C – Alex Len SF – T.J. Warren PF – Dragan Bender 2017 1st round pick Future 1st round pick
However, any one of these deals puts an immense amount of pressure on the Suns to quickly assemble complementary pieces and a decent bench.
PG-13 has said he wants to compete for a championship; it’s hard to see the Suns doing that when their starting center is either a 34-year-old Tyson Chandler or Alex Len, and their starting 4 is either P.J. Tucker, Jared Dudley or Marquese Chriss. They could very easily have a hard time re-signing him after only one year.
Finally, as was the case with Griffin, George could probably command a better trade package from a team like the Celtics, who would definitely be interested if the Pacers star became available. Without the inclusion of Booker or Bledsoe, the Suns would once again be one-upped.
Dec 31, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors (15) looks to pass the ball as Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss (0) defends during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
3. Derrick Favors
So far, most of the trade candidates on this list have felt pretty unlikely. According to Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune, Derrick Favors is one high profile target the Suns have actually expressed interest in leading up to this year’s deadline.
On the surface, it seems curious that Phoenix would have an interest in Favors. Though he’s only 25, Favors has been awfully injury-prone over the last few seasons, and he hasn’t looked the same this year, averaging just 9.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in his 40 appearances.
However, the Suns have reportedly expressed interest in what could be a buy-low candidate. The Utah Jazz are rightfully focused on the upcoming free agencies of Gordon Hayward and George Hill, and if Favors continues to be such a non-factor in this team’s first trip back to the playoffs since 2012, moving him would make some sense.
Suns get PF – Derrick Favors
Jazz get SF – T.J. Warren C – Alex Len
The question is, would an offer of T.J. Warren and Alex Len be enough? They’re both young players with potential, but Warren would be stuck behind Hayward, Joe Johnson and Joe Ingles on the wing.
Warren could serve as insurance for Hayward if Utah’s All-Star bolts in free agency, but Len’s restricted free agency would present another unwanted problem this summer for a team that already has Rudy Gobert, Boris Diaw and Jeff Withey at the 5.
If that’s not an appealing enough offer, perhaps Warren and Tyson Chandler — a veteran with playoff experience who could back up Gobert off the bench — would be more fitting.
Suns get PF – Derrick Favors
Jazz get SF – T.J. Warren C – Tyson Chandler
The Suns would lose a valuable wing and one of their two centers either way, but they’d be able to avoid Alex Len’s tricky free agency by adding Favors. If anyone can get him back to 100 percent again it’s Phoenix’s warlock training staff, and since he’s only 25, he could still potentially fit in with the team’s youth movement.
However, as much as Favors is a fundamentally sound player who could cover up some of the defensive flaws of Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss for years to come, is this really as good as the Suns can do with their collection of assets? Does he really move the needle thatmuch?
He’d be a free agent in 2018, giving the Suns very limited time to figure out if he still has all that potential or if injuries have permanently lowered his ceiling. And just because he’s a buy-low candidate from Phoenix’s perspective doesn’t mean Utah views him the same way, as Jones also reports the Jazz are hesitant to deal him unless they’re overwhelmed by an offer.
Favors doesn’t stretch the floor and doesn’t really fit with the type of team Phoenix wants to be in the future as the pace-and-space era takes centerstage. This could be a realistic target, but McDonough (rightfully) won’t put together a stunning offer to get the job done for a guy like Favors.
Feb 10, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler (21) shoots the ball against the Phoenix Suns during the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns won 115-97. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
2. Jimmy Butler
Out of all the superstars that could be available at this year’s trade deadline, Jimmy Butler is the one with the most trade value. He’s only 27, his contract runs through the 2018-19 season (with a $19.8 million player option for 2019-20) and he might be the best player on this list right now anyway.
Unfortunately, that means there’d be plenty of competition for the Chicago Bulls superstar, and in a bidding war with the Boston Celtics, it’s unlikely the Suns would come out on top.
Still, as the DeMarcus Cousins trade earlier this week showed us, anything is possible around this time of year. In that case, would an offer of Alex Len, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender and two first round picks get the job done for Chicago?
Suns get SF – Jimmy Butler
Bulls get C – Alex Len SF – T.J. Warren PF – Marquese Chriss 2017 1st round pick Future 1st round pick
Warren would supply scoring from the wing, Bender would lend his versatility at the 4 or the 5 and Len could be a decent backup behind Robin Lopez — or a starter if the Bulls fully commit to clearing out the roster of all their veterans.
Again, in the event the Bulls prefer Phoenix’s other 19-year-old rookie, Marquese Chriss could be substituted in for Bender:
Suns get SF – Jimmy Butler
Bulls get C – Alex Len SF – T.J. Warren PF – Dragan Bender 2017 1st round pick Future 1st round pick
However, without a blue chip prospect in this bunch, it’s hard to see Chicago biting. That front office knows it has a top-10 player and perhaps one of the most valuable contracts in the NBA in Jimmy Butler, and only a Godfather offer would persuade the Bulls to let him go and start over.
Len and Bender/Chriss would join a crowded frontcourt with Portis, Felicio and Lopez, and that’s still a lot of bodies even if the Bulls let Taj Gibson walk this summer and found a trade partner for Nikola Mirotic.
The 2017 first round pick would lose value since Butler would help Bledsoe and Booker win more games to close the season, and though Warren and an extra first-rounder would be nice, it’s hard to see Boston NOT swooping in with a superior offer if one of the Suns’ starting guards isn’t involved.
Nov 9, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) battles for the ball against Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns defeated the Pistons 107-100. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
As one of the bigger disappointments in the East this year, the Pistons are barely clinging to the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot. As such, Stan Van Gundy could consider pulling the preemptive trigger on this core rather than wait to see if Jackson can shake off this injury-induced rust.
If Drummond is available and the Suns consider him an upgrade over Alex Len, there’s potential for an exchange here.
Suns get C – Andre Drummond
Pistons get PG – Eric Bledsoe C – Tyson Chandler
On the one hand, giving up Bledsoe seems counterintuitive when all the other offers on this list have been about putting together a Big Three.
On the surface, yes, the Suns would probably prefer a Big Three of Bledsoe, Booker and Drummond in this scenario, but the 23-year-old Drummond fits with the youth movement, and even better, Phoenix wouldn’t have to surrender any first round picks in this deal.
That means they could put their top-five pick in this year’s drat to good use on a franchise point guard who fits in better with the youngsters’ timelines to replace Bledsoe. Starting Brandon Knight in the meantime would be painful, but it’d give him a chance to build his trade value back up from ground zero and Tyler Ulis would get plenty of run off the bench.
The Suns wouldn’t have as much pressure on them to nail Len’s restricted free agency if they had a franchise center like Drummond, and though they’d lose Bledsoe, their core of Booker, Warren, Drummond, Bender, Chriss, Ulis, maybe Len and a top-five rookie — all under 25 — would be a hell of a place to start rebuilding.
For the Pistons, this deal would make Reggie Jackson fully expendable, it’d net Detroit a temporary replacement at center with Tyson Chandler and they’d be able to ship off Jackson to address their other needs. If Chandler didn’t interest them, perhaps Len might:
Suns get C – Andre Drummond Future 2nd round pick
Pistons get PG – Eric Bledsoe C – Alex Len
Alex Len’s restricted free agency presents a problem for Detroit, but if Van Gundy prefers a young project to a 34-year-old vet on the way down, that’s another sensible avenue to take.
The Suns would bypass the whole Len dilemma and would still have a tantalizing core to work with.
If McDonough really wanted to swing for the fences, he might try to talk Van Gundy into something like this, since Stanley Johnson has underwhelmed in his second season and hardly plays off the bench:
Suns get C – Andre Drummond SF – Stanley Johnson
Pistons get PG – Eric Bledsoe C – Alex Len SF – P.J. Tucker
The Suns would happily throw in P.J. Tucker’s expiring contract to get a crack at the 20-year-old Stanley Johnson, even if he’s only averaging 4.2 points in 16.7 minutes per game on ghastly .390/.302/.650 shooting splits.
However, since Johnson is only 20, it’d be far too early for Detroit to give up on him, especially when the other two pieces of the deal are an upcoming restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent — neither of which are particularly intriguing players outside of the Phoenix area.
Bledsoe would clearly be an upgrade at the point, but that’d require the Pistons to have a separate deal lined up for Reggie Jackson. Drummond’s flaws — poor free throw shooting, inconsistent effort and plodding playing style down low — aren’t exactly the best fit for what the Suns hope to accomplish in the future either, even if he’d really help on the boards and be an upgrade over Len.
While it’s fun to think about adding a 23-year-old behemoth like Drummond and an Arizona homecoming for Johnson, it seems highly unlikely without a sweetener like T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss or Dragan Bender thrown in, especially since the Pistons might get better Drummond offers elsewhere.