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Understated Royce O'Neale trade addresses a few Suns concerns at 2024 NBA Trade Deadline

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
February 8, 2024
It was a quiet, understated 2024 NBA Trade Deadline, but the Phoenix Suns made a good move adding Royce O'Neale

No offense to Royce O’Neale or David Roddy, but there were no fireworks for the Phoenix Suns at the 2024 NBA Trade Deadline. That probably should’ve been the expectation all along.

True enough, the Suns’ reported interest in Miles Bridges was strong, as reported here and by multiple other outlets. But their confidence in being able to get a deal across the finish line wound up being one-sided. The Charlotte Hornets opted to keep Bridges so they could either re-sign him or sign-and-trade him this summer, leaving the Suns with O’Neale as their main alternative.

But outside of adding a problematic persona like Bridges, whose biggest on-court attribute — scoring — didn’t actually address Phoenix’s problem areas, this was about as good as the Suns could realistically have done with such limited trade assets.

Armed with Nassir Little’s $6.3 million contract, a bunch of veteran minimum contracts and five second-round picks, the Suns had limited means to improve their roster with a legitimate difference-maker. Unless they wanted to include the league leader in 3-point percentage, Grayson Allen, their continued ascension up the NBA ladder relied on the legwork they had already put in.

Fortunately, trading for Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal over the last calendar year was a pretty good start! Phoenix has finally gotten healthy over the last few weeks, allowing them to steadily build continuity. Since Dec. 27, the Suns are 16-6, which is the third-best record in the league over that span. They’re second in offensive rating, 10th in defensive rating and seventh in Net Rating over those 22 games as well.

In other words, this team was already pretty good! Thanks to the Big 3 staying healthy and the starting lineup blitzing opponents on a nightly basis, the Suns were heading in the right direction. Their success was always going to rely on their top six guys in Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal, Jusuf Nurkic, Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon. Now they’ve added at least one reliable piece of the playoff puzzle in Royce O’Neale.

In a three-team trade with the Brooklyn Nets and Memphis Grizzlies, the Suns will add a 3-and-D wing in O’Neale, as well as a younger project in David Roddy. In return, they’ll ship out Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan Goodwin and three second-round picks to the Nets, as well as Yuta Watanabe, Chimezie Metu and a pick swap to the Grizz.

A source told PHNX Sports which second-round picks will be going to Brooklyn and the logistics of the 2026 first-round pick swap going to Memphis:

For this year’s trade deadline, the Suns could only take back up to 110 percent of the salary they’re sending out, which totals $8.6 million. O’Neale’s $9.5 million just squeezes under the maximum amount of salary Phoenix accept in return. As for Roddy’s contract, his $2.7 million fits into the $5 million trade exception the Suns had from the Dario Saric trade, which expired today.

Shipping out all but one or two of their remaining second-round picks will limit the Suns’ trade flexibility moving forward, but that was already going to be the case for a team in the second tax apron.

Starting this summer, the Suns will only be able to take back up to 100 percent of the salary they’re sending out, and they’ll be unable to aggregate players as a part of trades. Keeping Nassir Little’s team-friendly salary past the deadline gives him another opportunity to earn minutes, but even if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll remain one of the Suns’ lone trade chips due to his middle/lower-tier salary.

The Suns aren’t losing much either. Coming off a career season in Brooklyn, Watanabe was shooting just 32 percent from 3 despite getting plenty of wide-open looks in Phoenix. Similarly, KBD was shooting 31.3 percent from deep after a career year in San Antonio. Metu looked good in spurts, but he hadn’t been part of the rotation in weeks. And despite the defensive intensity, offensive rebounding, youth and team-friendly contract that Goodwin brought to the table, his shot selection was questionable.

Bates-Diop is the only one of those four players who had a chance at earning playoff minutes, and the other three hadn’t logged double-digit minutes in a single game for the last two weeks. They were out of the regular-season rotation, and rather than fall into the fallacy of sunk costs, Phoenix quickly moved on from vet minimum signings that made sense at the time but never panned out.

The move provides clarity: Frank Vogel no longer has to figure out which wings he can or can’t rely on. They cleared out the uncertainty by shipping off three players who weren’t earning minutes, and in return, they got a guy who will almost certainly be part of the eight- or nine-man playoff rotation. Bates-Diop was starting to feel like a more consistent contributor off the bench on both ends, but he was largely inconsistent throughout the season too.

So what did the Suns get in return? We’ll dive deeper into O’Neale’s game on Friday, but he’s a 30-year-old veteran with playoff experience who can defend positions 2-4. He’s listed on most sites as 6-foot-6, and he can tackle primary defensive assignments against bigger wings. His best defensive days were in Utah, but he’ll still compete on that end, and he’s more reliable than the smorgasbord of wing options Phoenix had behind the Big 3.

O’Neale is a career 38.1 percent 3-point shooter who’s made 36.6 percent of his triples this season. The BBall Index ranks him in the 92nd percentile in terms of “openness” on those 3s, so don’t expect his numbers to skyrocket in Phoenix, but he’s hitting 43 percent of his corner 3s, 38.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s and 41 percent of his wide-open 3s.

If O’Neale can eliminate the pull-up 3s from his shot diet (28.8 percent on 1.4 attempts per game), his efficiency will improve naturally. Playing alongside Booker, Durant, Beal, Allen and Gordon, it’s likely those pull-up 3s will largely disappear.

O’Neale is also an underrated passer, which should improve the Suns’ connectivity on offense. His numbers this season — 7.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 38.8 percent shooting — certainly don’t leap off the page, but his low field goal percentage is a byproduct of taking more than 80 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.

It’s also undeniable that playing with Durant in Brooklyn had a positive impact on O’Neale’s production. The Suns won’t need him to score a ton, but if he sees a similar uptick in efficiency now that he’s returning to play with KD, as well as Booker and Beal, that’s all they’ll need him to do.

Even better, if O’Neale excels as a two-way role player with this group, the Suns will own his Bird rights this summer, giving them the inside track to re-sign him as an unrestricted free agent. The question is how far owner Mat Ishbia will be willing to dive into the luxury tax, given that re-signing Allen and O’Neale will come with a hefty tax bill.

As for Roddy, he feels unlikely to make much of an impact on a team with title aspirations. He’s more of a project, but he plays with physicality and loves to drive, ranking in the NBA’s 70th percentile in drives per 75 possessions. Perhaps that skill-set will stand out more when surrounded by Phoenix’s superior spacing.

Even if it doesn’t, he’s still only 22 years old and under team control for the next two years, plus a $4.8 million team option for the third year. It’s a flier worth taking, especially with four players going out the door. Phoenix now has two open roster spots, and their attention will undoubtedly turn to the buyout market in order to address their remaining needs — a backup point guard and a third big.

It wasn’t a flashy trade deadline for the Suns, nor will it change anyone’s opinions about the Western Conference pecking order. But Phoenix was quietly building steam on its own, and its avenues to drastically improving the roster were limited after making two blockbuster trades in the last year. Adding a capable role player like O’Neale, who actually addresses some team needs and can slot into the playoff rotation, is a small but important win.

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