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No, Eric Gordon will not be playing for the Phoenix Suns. And yes, it was still a good 2022 NBA Trade Deadline for James Jones and co.
As we’d already covered here a few months back with our 10 potential Suns trades, this team was unlikely to make a splashy move at the deadline. Even for a potential target like Gordon, Phoenix was never going to break apart its core rotation while sitting atop the league standings. The Suns boast the NBA’s best record, best point differential and are the only team in the top five for both offensive and defensive rating. There’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken.
However, shoring up the edge of the rotation was still a glaring need for this title contender. Between Deandre Ayton, JaVale McGee, Bismack Biyombo and Jalen Smith, plus the injured Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky, the Suns had a whopping six players on the roster whose best position was at center. Last year’s NBA Finals loss showed how important having length and size behind Ayton is, but that was a stretch too far.
Trading Stix and a 2022 second-round pick to the Indiana Pacers to bring back Torrey Craig represents a course correction, and a vitally important one for Phoenix’s playoff rotation.
“It gives us some wing depth,” head coach Monty Williams said. “With Torrey, he’s a guy that we valued last year, really liked him from the jump. And it’s a tough day, to trade Jalen. Those are tough calls to make. You get emotionally tied to all these guys, and so as much as we’re excited to get Torrey, that was a tough decision for us to make. It’s just part of what we do.”
Torrey Craig is back to fill the Torrey Craig role
We had mentioned a potential Craig-for-Smith swap back in December, when it became apparent the Pacers might be looking to blow it up. Our proposed deal included two second-rounders, so Jones only having to give one up is another small win. Regardless of the number of second-rounders, the reason this deal is so appealing is it provides Phoenix with another defensive-minded wing who can also log minutes as a small-ball 5. That will be vital in the playoffs if the Suns need to counter rangy, wing-laden opponents with smaller lineups.
Ish Wainright displayed the ability to log minutes at that small-ball 5 spot in a recent win over the San Antonio Spurs, where he single-handedly altered the complexion of the fourth quarter. But with Wainwright still being largely unproven, playing on a two-way contract and currently ineligible to suit up for the postseason, bringing in Torrey Craig to fill last year’s, well, Torrey Craig role, is certainly a win.
Craig’s numbers this season in Indy are admittedly uninspiring: 6.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game, with a -3.9 point differential, while shooting 33.3 percent from 3-point range. That number is right in line with his career average of 33.1 percent from long range.
However, the Suns need him for his rebounding, positional versatility, playoff experience, familiarity with Phoenix’s system, kinship with his former teammates and all-around knack for making defensive plays. Craig did make a respectable 36.9 percent of his 3s in his last stint with the Suns, but even if that was just a one-year aberration, his value lies on the other end.
“We think a lot about chemistry before we make any decision,” Williams said. “James and I talk a lot. He’ll ask me my opinion on certain players, I try to help him as best I can, but chemistry is certainly a part of what we do. Jalen was a big part of our chemistry, guys loved him. So to bring someone in like Torrey certainly helps. If you’re going to lose someone like Jalen, you’d like to bring someone in like Torrey, so that part helps.”
As for Stix, while it’s unfortunate to see a top-10 pick dismissed after just two seasons, the writing was on the wall when the Suns declined his third-year option. It’s probably for the best for both him and for Phoenix. He wasn’t ready to contribute on a championship-caliber roster and was often pigeonholed into playing out of position as a 4. Hopefully in Indiana — or wherever he ends up next — he’ll get the opportunity to continue delivering on his potential at the 5.
Aaron Holiday surprises
This was admittedly the surprise move of the day. Nowhere in our prior trade articles did we even think to float a name like Aaron Holiday, nor does he fill a specific need on paper, aside from the obvious: The Elfrid Payton minutes have been bad, and upgrading at the backup guard spot became imperative with Cam Payne currently sidelined by a right wrist sprain.
Payne has been out since Jan. 22, and in the nine games since, Chris Paul has averaged an unsustainable 37.8 minutes per game, including a gaudy 42 minutes in Phoenix’s big win over the Philadelphia 76ers on the second night of a back-to-back. Paul takes exceptionally good care of his body, but those heavy minutes couldn’t continue for a 36-year-old gearing up for another deep playoff run.
With Payton being so unreliable, Jones targeted a 25-year-old backup point guard who is unlikely to see the floor in the playoffs if Payne and Paul are both healthy.
Nothing really stands out from Holiday’s raw stat line with the Washington Wizards this year. He’s averaged 6.1 points and 1.9 assists in his 16.2 minutes per game, shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 34.3 percent from beyond the arc.
That’s nothing to write home about, but he’s a career 36.9 percent shooter from distance, he’s on an expiring contract, and at the very least, he provides a different look behind CP3 in the interim. The Payton minutes have been that bad.
“He’s just a young, tough guard,” Williams said. “From what I’ve seen of him, he’s more combo than point, but I don’t know for sure ’cause I haven’t been around him enough. I’ve just been around his family. Jrue and Justin were in New Orleans a lot, and I’ve been around the Holiday family for a little bit. I remember Aaron when he was at UCLA, first time I was around him, he’s a confident young man, and we’ll see how it works out. We have a number of guards, but you certainly need depth at that position.”
Perhaps even more importantly, Holiday — who comes from a good basketball family between his brothers Jrue and Justin — will get the opportunity to learn from the Point God while also alleviating some of his minutes, and the Suns gave up virtually nothing for him:
The news that Dario Saric would likely be sidelined for the season only entered the public sphere last week, but Jones somehow managed to silently apply for a Disabled Player Exception for The Homie before the Jan. 15 deadline. Thanks to Saric’s $8.5 million salary, this exception created the cap space (half Saric’s salary) for Phoenix to absorb Holiday’s $4 million contract without having to give anything up aside from cash considerations.
Someone on the roster needed to be waived to make room for Holiday, and Abdel Nader was cut as a result:
In any case, the painful Payton minutes may be over, and more importantly, this is how you win on the margins. Getting Craig and a moldable Payton replacement for the cost of a superfluous big like Stix (who wasn’t going to be part of the playoff rotation), a second-rounder and cash is an impressive, understated haul.
Did the Phoenix Suns make a mistake not trading for Eric Gordon?
With all the other big names coming off the board and plenty of time to spare before Thursday’s trade deadline, it felt like the stars were aligning for an Eric Gordon swap that would’ve knocked this trade deadline out of the park.
Even after Holiday was acquired through Saric’s DPE, The Homie was still eligible to be traded.
A deal revolving around Saric, Landry Shamet, salary filler and a first-round pick ostensibly could have gotten the job done. The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen had reported the Houston Rockets were interested in picks in 2023 and beyond, and the Suns’ first available pick to offer — in 2024 — certainly fit the criteria.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Gordon will remain with the Houston Rockets for the time being, and the Suns finished the day with a good, but not great, deadline.
A buyout is still technically possible, albeit unlikely. If this report from earlier in the week is true, though, it’ll be hard not to think about what could’ve been should Phoenix come up short in the playoffs again:
The Suns’ championship window is now. Chris Paul’s prime won’t last forever, and even with Phoenix sitting atop the standings, looming playoff matchups with the Golden State Warriors and whoever comes out of the East between the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat will put this group to the test.
With Cam Payne being so up-and-down, Shamet being an outright disaster and Mikal Bridges’ status as “legitimate third option” still being up in the air, the Suns could’ve used someone like Gordon, who can create his own shot. Even at age 33, Gordon is capable of spreading the floor, shooting a blistering 42.7 percent from deep this season on 5.2 attempts per game.
But in addition to being able to play off the ball, alongside a point guard he has familiarity with in Chris Paul, Gordon is also a capable secondary ball-handler and scorer with the rock in his hands. Having someone to take that pressure off Paul and Devin Booker in a playoff environment would’ve made the Suns truly unfair.
If the Suns held out on Gordon simply because of the asking price of a first-rounder, that would be a shame. There’s something to be said of continuity and locker room culture, which the Suns have in spades, due in no small part to guys like Saric, who would’ve had to be included in such a deal. But at this point, Suns fans will have to hope this franchise delivers its first championship this year, because if they fall short, holding back on Gordon simply to preserve good vibes and a 2024 first-round pick will be nothing short of haunting.
It also could’ve been a great deadline with Gordon, and that name will be the one people come back to if the Suns aren’t able to achieve their ultimate objective. Even without Eric Gordon, though, it was a very good trade deadline for a team that didn’t have to make any moves but did the right thing by operating on the fringe of the roster.
The Suns continued to prove they can win on the margins, and this group should still be the favorites to win the West since no one else in the conference (cough, Warriors, cough) made notable upgrades.
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