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5 takeaways from Suns' Cam Payne trade and Bol Bol signing

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
July 16, 2023

If there’s one thing fans should know about owner Mat Ishbia and general manager James Jones, it’s that the Phoenix Suns are never truly done making moves. Sunday morning’s news only reinforced that notion, as the Suns finally landed a Cam Payne trade that had been rumored all week.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Suns will send Payne and a future second-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for a future second-rounder. According to the Spurs’ press release, the Suns are sending a 2025 second-rounder via the New Orleans Pelicans, while San Antonio will send a protected 2024 second-rounder.

Phoenix will also sign Bol Bol and send its 2026 first-round pick swap to the Orlando Magic for three second-round picks.

On the surface, dumping a guy who scored in double figures last season — and one of the last remaining “traditional” point guards on the roster — for second-round compensation seems like a curious move. The Suns were already lacking depth at that position, and now they’ve given up a guy who’s capable of playing on or off the ball without getting a rotation player in return.

However, the move makes more sense after diving into it a little deeper. In that spirit, let’s take a look at five important takeaways from the Cam Payne trade.

1. Suns lost faith in the Cam Payne revival

Just days before Sunday’s trade, Payne told PHNX Sports how excited he was to be a part of this Suns team and its revamped roster.

“I know the Suns fans are waiting on a championship, and I feel like we on that right path right now,” he said. “I just hope we can bring one to the Valley.”

Now, Payne will be heading to a rebuilding San Antonio team in a reminder of just how cruel this business can be.

Over the last two seasons, Payne cemented himself as a double-digit scorer off the Suns’ bench. Unfortunately, that came with subpar efficiency and questionable decision-making at times.

Last year, Payne averaged 10.3 points and 4.5 assists in just 20.2 minutes per game, but he shot only 41.5 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from 3-point range. It was a step up from the season prior, when he averaged 10.8 points and 4.9 assists per game on 40.9 percent shooting overall and 33.6 percent shooting from 3, but it wasn’t enough to prove to new ownership that he deserved to keep his spot.

However, despite his inconsistencies and disappearing act in the 2022 postseason, Payne’s growth over the last few years under Monty Williams is a rare NBA success story. He went from being out of the league entirely to being an NBA Bubble call-up to becoming one of the best backups in the association on a team that went to the Finals.

Everyone remembers the “Valley-Oop” in Game 2 of the 2021 Western Conference Finals, but without Payne’s playoff career-high 29 points and 9 assists on 12-of-24 shooting — all while filling in as the starting point guard for Chris Paul — the Suns would never have won that game.

Unfortunately for Payne and everyone who enjoyed his infectious energy, this is a “what have you done for me lately?” league. The new regime clearly felt they had seen the best of this 28-year-old and were ready to turn the reins over to someone else. Now that Chris Paul is gone and the Suns expect to play faster, they may not need Payne’s change of pace off the bench as much as last year.

Even so, Payne was a fun Suns story who helped re-energize the fanbase during its best season ever. His pregame shenanigans, celebratory head bobs, finger guns from the sidelines and unrelenting speed made him a fan favorite, and despite his struggles over the last two years, his genuine love for the Valley will certainly be missed.

2. Suns aren’t thinking about basketball traditionally

Over the last few weeks, the Suns have traded away their starting point guard and backup point guard from last year. In their place is either Devin Booker (traditionally a shooting guard), Bradley Beal (traditionally a shooting guard) or Jordan Goodwin (an unproven, third-year combo guard).

For those wondering who’s going to man the 1-spot without a traditional point guard on the roster, the problem is you’re thinking about the game of basketball in a far too traditional sense. The Suns certainly are not, and they’ve been stressing that for weeks now, going all the way back to Frank Vogel’s one-on-one interview with PHNX Sports.

“I love what I’ve seen,” Vogel said of Booker and Beal’s playmaking. “He and Bradley have spent time throughout the last few years of their career as the primary ball-handler. And they’ve shown that they can be lethal at that. It’s a look that I really like.”

It’s a look that makes sense too. In 17 games without Chris Paul last season, Booker averaged 29.0 points and 8.2 assists per game on 65 percent true shooting. In the four playoff games CP3 missed, Book put up 30.8 points and 8.3 assists on 73 percent true shooting against the eventual NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

Those are small sample sizes, but Booker’s experience running point guard on losing teams has paid off in recent seasons, like his 40-point triple-double in Game 1 of the 2021 Western Conference Finals — another gem that came without CP3. Booker’s grown as a ball-handler, pick-and-roll playmaker and even as a manipulator of double-teams.

Adding Beal — another scorer whose playmaking has expanded in recent years on subpar Washington Wizards teams — gives the Suns enough offensive initiation in that starting lineup, especially with Kevin Durant on the wing and Deandre Ayton rolling to the rim. KD has no problem creating looks for himself and for others, Eric Gordon can do the same off the bench, and Jordan Goodwin is an underrated playmaker despite his youth.

The Athletic’s Shams Charania mentioned the belief that Beal will function as the team’s starting point guard next season, but anyone fixating on that kind of straightforward question is missing the point: The Suns don’t have a traditional point guard, and they might not need one.

At Beal’s introductory press conference, it was more of the same mindset.

“I see it as being free-flowing,” Beal said. “I don’t think either of us really have any position. He can create, he can facilitate, he can shoot the ball, he can score the ball, and I can do the same. So it’s not gonna be a ‘Who plays point? Who plays shooting guard?’ I think it’s an interchangeable thing, and whoever gets it goes.”

Vogel reiterated his viewpoint at Beal’s presser as well.

“We want to play with pace, so we’re gonna have a multiple ball-handlers attack on most possessions, but I love the fact that both Bradley and Devin have played point at phases of their career and can initiate offense, as can KD,” Vogel said.

True enough, Vogel went on to mention Payne specifically in each of those circumstances, and now the Suns no longer have that option of trotting out a traditional point guard to let Beal, Booker and Durant cook in their usual spots off the ball. The onus is certainly on Vogel and associate coach (read: offensive coordinator) Kevin Young to devise creative schemes that allow guys like Booker, Beal, KD and Gordon to be interchangeable on offense.

But all four of those guys can play on or off the ball. They all can create for themselves and others, and if they’re flanked with shooters and effective rim-runners like Ayton and Drew Eubanks, there’s a good chance the lack of a “traditional” point guard won’t matter.

This is a James Harden kind of moment for both Booker and Beal, but they have enough playmaking and shooting around them to compensate if a true “point guard James Harden” transformation isn’t coming.

3. Cam Payne trade shows Suns are high on Jordan Goodwin

All the reports coming out of this Cam Payne trade suggest he wouldn’t have gotten much playing time in Phoenix with the additions of Eric Gordon and Jordan Goodwin.

The Gordon bit makes sense, given that he’s a highly effective sixth man, elite floor-spacers and solid secondary creator with 15 years of experience. The Goodwin part? It’s somewhat surprising, given that this 24-year-old only has two seasons and 64 games’ worth of NBA experience to his name, but it makes it clear just how high Phoenix is on Goodwin already.

To be clear, the Suns have every right to be. Turning over the second unit’s offense to a relatively unproven third-year player seemed risky before Gordon arrived, but now, with a more experienced vet providing some insurance there, the Suns can unleash Goodwin as a playmaking, Josh Okogie Jr. in the second unit.

We went into full detail about Jordan Goodwin’s game last week, for those who are curious, but to keep it brief, he’s a 6-foot-3 defensive menace with developing playmaking chops. Goodwin puts his 6-foot-10 wingspan to good use, ranking in the 92nd percentile in on-ball perimeter defense, 91st percentile in ball-screen navigation, 96th percentile in steals per 75 possessions and 92nd percentile in deflections per 75 possessions, according to The BBall Index.

On the offensive end, Goodwin needs to improve his 3-point shot to be a viable part of the playoff rotation, given that he shot 32.2 percent from deep last year. He says that’s an area of his game where he’s worked to improve the most, but his playmaking is where he can make an impact right away. He’s a frequent driver and finishes well around the basket, but he also ranked in the 83rd percentile in assists per 75 possessions, flashing some nifty vision and passing ability:

Goodwin looked good in his limited action at NBA Summer League, where one might argue he was overqualified to even be playing. But with the Cam Payne trade, it’s clear how high the Suns are on Goodwin and how much faith they have in their current ball-handlers providing enough playmaking.

4. Suns probably still aren’t done making moves

Oh, you thought the Suns were done after trading for Bradley Beal and Jordan Goodwin; signing Eric Gordon, Keita Bates-Diop, Drew Eubanks, Yuta Watanabe, Chimezie Metu and Bol Bol; re-signing Josh Okogie, Damion Lee and Saben Lee; dumping Isaiah Todd for three second-round picks; and now the Cam Payne trade?

That’s cute of you. But the reality is, this deal was made to give Phoenix a little more trade flexibility down the line.

Whether Payne was jettisoned to make an immediate move or simply to give the Suns more ammunition for moves later on remains to be seen. But by dumping Payne into the Spurs’ open salary cap space, Phoenix just created a $6.5 million trade exception that can be used to absorb the contract of a player within that salary range.

The Suns have also netted six second-round picks over the last two weeks. According to Wojnarowski, the second-rounders Phoenix will receive from the Orlando Magic are as follows:

  • A 2024 selection from the Denver Nuggets
  • A 2026 selection that is the least favorable between the Magic, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks
  • A 2028 selection from the Boston Celtics if it falls in the 46-60 range

The deal makes Phoenix’s 2026 pick a little riskier, since the Suns already owed the Wizards this pick swap from the Beal trade. They’ll have a draft pick no matter what, but they’ll receive the worst selection between themselves, Orlando and Washington that year.

However, Ishbia and company are betting on themselves, believing they’ll still be better than Orlando and Washington three years from now. Given how young Booker is, and how aggressive this new regime has been, it seems like a safe bet.

It’s pretty obvious from the list that Phoenix is running low on trade chips, but they now have two trade exceptions (one for $6.5 million from the Cam Payne trade and another $5 million exception from the Dario Saric trade) to absorb extra salary. Trade exceptions cannot be combined to acquire additional salary, but the Suns also have six second-rounders to sweeten the pot in any trade talks.

That’s nowhere near as enticing as having first-rounders to offer, but the Suns have gotten creative to maximize their roster while also leaving room for meaningful additions in the near future.

5. It’s Bol Bol time

Speaking of meaningful additions…the jury is still out on whether Bol Bol can be that in Phoenix. He hasn’t panned out in Denver or Orlando, and entering his fifth NBA season, expectations should be tempered.

Payne is a better, more proven player than Bol Bol, so in a vacuum, dumping one to make room for the other is a bit of a head-scratcher — especially since Bol’s contract is reportedly fully guaranteed.

However, if the Suns were convinced Goodwin is their backup point guard, and if they wanted to create additional flexibility for future moves, and if they wanted to take a flier on a 23-year-old 7-footer with upside, and if they wanted to do all of that without having to get rid of Ish Wainright or Toumani Camara…well, this move checks all of those boxes.

More than likely, Bol Bol will struggle to carve out rotation minutes on a contender. He averaged 9.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in just 21.5 minutes per game last season, but his production fell off as the year went on. It was his first season playing in more than 32 games, and it was also his first where he looked like an actual rotation player.

The opportunities to grow by making mistakes won’t be there on a title contender, even if Vogel is something of a big man whisperer. With that being said, the potential of a 7-footer who can make plays and handle the ball is tantalizing, so the flier is worth it if the Suns think they have a better backup than Payne — Goodwin — already waiting in the wings.

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