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At the risk of sounding like the world’s biggest hypocrite, it’s probably too early to be talking about Phoenix Suns trades.
There’s plenty of reasons for that. For starters, the Suns have only gotten 24 minutes of the Big 3 on the court together so far. As bad as it looks right now, Frank Vogel still hasn’t been able to evaluate role players in their proper context yet. Hopefully they’ll get a solid 4-5 weeks to do so leading up to February’s deadline, once Bradley Beal returns from his ankle sprain.
Another reason is the trade market typically doesn’t heat up until January and February. So even after a batch of recently-signed free agents became trade-eligible on Dec. 15, why write an article in mid-December about it?
Well, because as early as it is, and as much as the Suns could get it together once they’re healthy, every avenue must be explored. Mat Ishbia isn’t going to sit on his heels if he feels there are ways to improve this team. No one outside of Devin Booker and Kevin Durant is safe, so just consider this a hypothetical exercise to figure out what players could be realistically available and what potential deals might look like.
Bearing that in mind, and in the spirit of Christmas, it’s time to examine 12 Suns trades that might make sense. But before we do, we need to take a quick look at what Phoenix can offer in trade negotiations and what flexibility they have to work with.
Some guidelines to Suns trades
Expectations should be tempered, because the Suns’ means for improving this roster are pretty limited. They will have a first-round pick of some sort in 2024, 2026, 2028 and 2030, but because the Ted Stepien Rule prohibits teams from trading away first-rounders in consecutive drafts, they’re currently not allowed to offer any first-rounders in trade talks. They don’t have their own second-round picks from 2024-30 either.
That means all the Suns can offer in terms of draft compensation is the extra picks they’ve acquired:
- A 2024 second-rounder from the San Antonio Spurs (protected 31-54)
- A 2026 second-rounder (least favorable pick between the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic)
- A 2028 second-rounder from the Boston Celtics (protected 31-45)
- A 2028 second-rounder from the Memphis Grizzlies
- A 2029 second-rounder from the Grizzlies
In terms of players with trade value, the Suns don’t have much to work with either. Booker and Durant aren’t going anywhere, and even if they wanted to trade Bradley Beal before seeing what he can do, his no-trade clause allows him to nix any deal. And even if Beal somehow decided he hated Phoenix and no longer wanted to play with KD and Book, his injury-riddled season and undesirable contract would limit his trade market anyway.
In other words, the Big 3 isn’t going anywhere.
Jusuf Nurkic on a $17 million salary isn’t bad value, but even if Phoenix decided to cut bait just a few months after trading for him, the two additional years on his salary — along with his age and injury history — might limit his appeal. The Suns still like the connectivity he provides on offense, and finding an available, starting-caliber center who’d be a definitive upgrade would prove difficult.
Grayson Allen on a $9 million deal is terrific value for one of the NBA’s top-10 3-point shooters, but he’s become an intrinsic part of what the Suns are doing and should only be included in a deal that makes them significantly better. Outside of that, it’s a younger role player in Nassir Little ($6.3 million), and then everyone else is on veteran minimum contracts.
Navigating the trade math is its own challenge. As a team above the second luxury tax apron, the Suns can only take on up to 110 percent of the salary they’re sending out.
One potential workaround for smaller contracts: The Suns have four trade exceptions they can use to absorb a player’s salary. While trade exceptions cannot be combined together, there’s a chance Phoenix could offer one or two second-round picks to a potential trade partner in order to add a player into one of those exceptions without actually having to send a player out in return. The incoming player just has to fit within one of the following trade exceptions:
- $6.5 million trade exception (Cam Payne trade)
- $5 million trade exception (Dario Saric trade)
- $1.8 million trade exception (Isaiah Todd trade)
- $1.1 million trade exception (Toumani Camara trade)
Because the Suns currently have 15 fully-rostered players, they’d have to cut someone (Bol Bol) in order to add a player in this scenario. In any case, packaging a few second-rounders to add a player with a salary under $6.5 million may be their most realistic way of adding a capable rotation player.
Let’s dive into some Suns trades, starting with four honorable mentions and 12 legitimate hypotheticals — one for each of the 12 Days of Christmas!
Honorable Mentions: Suns trades that probably won’t happen
Alex Caruso – Chicago Bulls
Caruso isn’t the floor general Phoenix needs, but he’s another tenacious on-ball defender who stands a better chance of contributing on offense than Josh Okogie and Jordan Goodwin currently do, thanks to his 9.6 points per game on 46.8 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Caruso’s team-friendly $9.4 million contract doesn’t fit within any of the Suns’ trade exceptions, so it’d probably take Nassir Little and one of the veteran minimum guys to make the deal work financially. Bol Bol’s $2 million contract isn’t enough, but Damion Lee’s $2.5 million salary works.
Unfortunately, unless the Chicago Bulls really coveted Little as part of their rebuild, they’re not selling this low. Remember not that long ago when they set the price for Caruso at two first-round picks? Yeah, the Suns aren’t matching that. They can’t even match one first-round pick, which is why another team would more than likely be out-bid Phoenix once the Bulls’ trade deadline fire sale begins.
Ricky Rubio – Cleveland Cavaliers
Ricky Rubio’s $6.1 million salary fits under the Suns’ biggest trade exception, he’s familiar with Devin Booker, and Phoenix could really use another ball-handler and table-setter.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like this happy reunion is realistic. The Athletic’s Shams Charania and Joe Vardon reported Rubio and the Cleveland Cavaliers are talking about parting ways, but it’ll most likely occur via buyout since he’s been away from the team all season to manage his mental health.
The 33-year-old Rubio may not play ever again, so even though it’d probably only take a second-round pick to pry his rights from Cleveland, he’s coming off an injury-riddled couple of seasons there and might not be interested in the first place.
Malcolm Brogdon – Portland Trail Blazers
A nice thought, since Malcolm Brogdon has been a Suns target for years now and this team in particular could use another ball-handler. But matching Brogdon’s $22.5 million salary is nearly impossible. The Big 3 are off limits, and even if the Blazers wanted Jusuf Nurkic and Nassir Little back so soon, they’re not allowed to re-acquire them until the end of the season after trading them away.
That means the absolute best Phoenix could do is Grayson Allen, second-round picks, and about 6-7 vet minimum guys stacked on top of each other in order to match salary. Portland will get better offers for Brogdon, and the Suns would be out of their minds to decimate the entire depth chart in the middle of the season just for one guy. In fact, it was so stupid, we didn’t even bother making the trade graphic.
Marcus Smart and Bismack Biyombo – Memphis Grizzlies
Provocative, but highly unlikely. The Grizzlies are 6-19, so they have ground to make up in the Western Conference, but if Ja Morant’s first game back was any indication, this team isn’t dead yet. That means they’re not going to start shipping off spare parts anytime soon.
Bismack Biyombo — who cannot be traded until Feb. 1 — has been reliable since the Grizz added him to replace an injured Steven Adams, averaging 6.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Trading such a nice stopgap and complement to Jaren Jackson Jr. for a more expensive center with two additional years on his contract doesn’t seem prudent for Memphis — especially at the cost of Smart, a former Defensive Player of the Year.
Smart’s tenacious perimeter defense, ball-handling and playmaking would be idyllic fits in Phoenix, and everyone in the Valley knows what Bizzy offers as a mobile, shot-blocking big. But both come with their own set of limitations, without fully fixing the Suns’ problems. Phoenix’s wing depth would be in shambles at that point, and as much as they need a third center with Biyombo’s athleticism and rim protection, he’s not a starting-caliber center for a team with title aspirations.
In other words, the Suns would be trading Nurk’s offense and wing depth for an upgrade in playmaking, point-of-attack defense and rim protection. It’s an intriguing trade-off that addresses some problems but creates a few others. Either way, Memphis isn’t doing this deal unless their season goes belly up, and even then, they’d probably seek a first-rounder rather than a pair of their own second-rounders in return.
Putting the Suns trade exceptions to work
1. Danuel House Jr. – Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers probably didn’t want House to pick up his $4.3 million player option for this year, since they’re currently — checks math — $4.3 million above the luxury tax threshold.
Dumping that contract would get them just under the tax again, and the Suns would be an ideal trade partner for two reasons: 1) They could absorb House into a trade exception without sending any salary in return and 2) They could offer a pair of second-rounders, which Philly is unlikely to get anywhere else for House.
To be fair, he would really only bolster Phoenix’s regular-season depth without adding much to their playoff rotation. House is only playing 11.7 minutes a night in his 16 appearances for Philly this year.
But he’s also made 40.7 percent of his 3s, and he’s shooting 36.4 percent from deep for his career. That’d be higher than anybody on the Suns right now outside of the Big 3, Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon. Looking ahead to “break glass in case of emergency” scenarios, another 3-and-D wing would probably be more reassuring than Bol Bol.
2. KJ Martin – Philadelphia 76ers
Free KJ Martin! The Sixers have played him a grand total of 81 minutes across 14 appearances, so they probably won’t miss him too much.
Martin is another guy that might not crack the playoff rotation, but he could lend some size, athleticism and toughness to the 4-spot. He’s someone the Suns have had on their radar for over a year now, and just last season, he averaged 12.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game on 56.9 percent shooting with the Houston Rockets.
Because he was recently traded, Martin cannot be traded in aggregate with other Sixers until Dec. 31. Either way, his $1.9 million could easily be absorbed into one of the Suns’ trade exceptions at the cost of 1-2 second-round picks, and having this athletic 22-year-old is probably a safer roster move than keeping Bol glued to the bench.
3. Goga Bitadze – Orlando Magic
Bitadze is a sneaky-good trade target that more teams should have on their radar. In fact, he played so well filling in for an injured Wendell Carter Jr. that he probably raised his trade value…and may have even given the Orlando Magic pause when it comes to moving him at all.
With that being said, Carter returned Wednesday night, and in his first game back, both he and Moritz Wagner played more minutes than Bitadze. As an unrestricted free agent, Bitadze’s future in Orlando is far from certain, which means the right offer could coax the Magic to let him go, even after he averaged a well-rounded 8.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.9 blocks per game on 58.8 percent shooting in 20 starts.
To be clear, Bitadze’s $2 million salary could easily fit into one of the Suns’ trade exceptions, with Phoenix sending 2-3 second-rounders to Orlando in return. But if that’s not good enough for the Magic, perhaps the Suns could send a 3-point shooter their way, clearing their own glut of ho-hum wings in the process.
Orlando is 27th in the NBA in 3-point efficiency, and despite Watanabe’s slow start to the season, there’s a good chance he might intrigue the Magic because of the area for improvement he’d immediately address. As for the Suns, losing his upside as a corner sniper hurts, but that potential hasn’t been realized yet, and it’d clear the way for Little and Keita Bates-Diop to get more comfortable in extended minutes.
Meanwhile, the Suns would land a 24-year-old center who was averaging nearly two blocks per game as a starter for the NBA’s fifth-best defense. Opponents have shot 11.7 percent worse at the rim with Bitadze defending, so there’s a decent chance he’d hold up better defensively in tight games than Nurkic or Drew Eubanks.
4. Saddiq Bey – Atlanta Hawks
On one hand, Saddiq Bey has become one of the Atlanta Hawks’ most important rotation players, especially with Bogdan Bogdanovic injured. He’s had a pretty good season, averaging 12.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 31.7 minutes per game, all while shooting 46.2 percent overall and 35 percent from 3 on 5.0 attempts per night.
HOWEVER. The 24-year-old Bey will be a restricted free agent this summer, and his qualifying offer alone is worth $13.7 million. Even if he returned next season on that minimal amount, the Hawks would still be projected to cross into the luxury tax. Is that worth it for a team that’s currently 12-15 and once again fighting for a play-in spot?
If Atlanta’s situation remains the same ahead of the trade deadline, Bey’s $4.5 million salary fits neatly within one of Phoenix’s trade exceptions. And while other team’s offers for Bey might be superior, there’s no guarantee he’ll garner first-round compensation either. The Hawks gave up five second-rounders to get him, and if they want to recoup 3-4 of those without taking on additional salary, Phoenix represents an ideal trade partner.
Bey would bring some firepower to the wing spot, which is something the Suns have sorely needed thanks to the underwhelming returns of Watanabe, KBD and Little from beyond the arc. Phoenix would also be able to match any offer for him in restricted free agency, and we all know Ishbia won’t hesitate to spend extra millions in the luxury tax if he feels his team can contend.
5. Andre Drummond – Chicago Bulls
An underwhelming option, to be sure, but Drummond is quietly having a nice season in Chicago. Simply having a pulse as a more physical paint presence would be better than continuing to waste a roster spot on someone who never sees the floor anyway.
In his age-30 season, Drummond is putting up 6.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals in just 13.3 minutes per game. Despite their recent 7-3 stretch, the Bulls are still probably heading for a restructuring of some sort at the deadline, at which point many of their role players will become available.
Drummond represents an easy — albeit unsexy — way to bolster Phoenix’s center depth behind Nurkic and Eubanks, providing another imposing rebounder. Unfortunately, this should be a last resort, considering he doesn’t solve any of this team’s issues with rim protection.
6. Nick Richards – Charlotte Hornets
Nick Richards is the exact type of player the Charlotte Hornets should hold onto. He’s still only 26 years old, he’s playing well with Mark Williams out injured, and he’s only owed $5 million this year, $5 million next year and $5 million the following year, with zero guaranteed money for the final season.
But he’s such an under-the-radar name on a bad team that maybe throwing some extra second-round picks at the equation will skew the logic? He’s not untouchable by any means, and Mark Williams is higher in Charlotte’s pecking order.
Prying the 7-foot Richards from the Hornets and bringing him to Phoenix would provide the Suns with the type of rim-running, shot-blocking big they’ve missed this season. Richards is holding opponents to 13.3 percent worse shooting at the rim, and while he’s extremely limited offensively, taking 70 of his 89 shot attempts in the restricted area, he’s shooting 80 percent on those looks.
Richards is an alley-oop threat on one end and a rim deterrent on the other. He fits the mold Phoenix currently needs at center just to have a change-of-pace option at the 5. If Charlotte eventually plans on making a leap of some sort, at some point, they’ll need to start adding more established players. Maybe Nick Richards is the sort of guy who’d get lost in that shuffle, even if it cost Phoenix multiple second-rounders to get the job done.
7. Kenrich Williams – Oklahoma City Thunder
A nice thought, since Williams is a neat glue guy who can have a defensive impact in minimal minutes, but he’s on a team-friendly contract for the next few seasons and the Oklahoma City Thunder are second in the West.
Why disrupt what they’ve got brewing just to add more second-round picks to their treasure trove of extra picks? Why trade one versatile wing on a $6.1 million salary for another like Nassir Little, especially when Williams already knows his role in their system?
OKC needs the most help in the rebounding department, which is one area the Suns can’t really help. If it were any other team, offering 2-3 second-rounders for Kenny Hustle would make sense. For the Thunder, it’s basically a nonstarter…unless they pursue a bigger trade down the line and need a third party to help facilitate.
8. Torrey Craig – Chicago Bulls
Okay but for real, how funny would this be? Keep the streak alive and make it three years in a row, James Jones!
A few more ambitious Suns trades
9. T.J. McConnell – Indiana Pacers
Because of his $8.7 million salary, T.J. McConnell doesn’t fit within any of the Suns’ trade exceptions. Nassir Little by himself doesn’t work, and while Grayson Allen does from a financial standpoint, he’s too valuable to give up for a backup/third string guard. Lumping in Nurkic as part of a larger deal to include Myles Turner would be a nonstarter for the Indiana Pacers.
This may be as good as it gets, and the Pacers still might ask for a second-rounder as a sweetener. The Suns should resist, given that Andrew Nembhard’s emergence has relegated McConnell to just 15.9 minutes per game and made him expendable, but it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker either.
The Suns are unlikely to find a starting-caliber point guard to ease the load on Point Book. But at the very least, McConnell is a trustworthy, low-turnover floor general who can run the show off the bench, facilitate with the second unit and defend with some verve on the other end. So far this season, he’s averaging 8.0 points and 5.1 assists a night on 52.2 percent shooting.
McConnell’s 44.1 percent shooting from deep last year has plummeted to 10 percent this year, but he’s only taken 10 attempts through 20 games. Even if floor-spacing is off the table, he’d provide more in the playmaking department than anyone aside from Booker and Beal. The Suns could use some help there as much as anywhere, and while Little is the younger, more athletic player on a team-friendly contract, he’s not untouchable by any means.
The question is whether this type of lateral move would move the needle for Phoenix.
10. Monte Morris – Detroit Pistons
Morris hasn’t played yet this season due to a quad strain, and he’s not due for re-evaluation for another couple of weeks. But that could help lower his trade value, and no one should forget it wasn’t long ago that he was one of the best backup point guards in the NBA.
There’s a chance the Detroit Pistons wouldn’t be interested. They’re in the midst of a potentially historic losing streak, and knowing Monty Williams, he’ll want to keep every established veteran he can get his hands on. But the Pistons clearly aren’t going to contend for one of those play-in spots in the East, so maybe that’d make an expiring contract like Morris expendable closer to the deadline.
Largely operating in a bench role, Morris has been a double-digit scorer in four of the last five seasons, all while shooting 39.2 percent from 3 for his career. He put up 10.3 points and a career-high 5.3 assists per game last year, and assuming he returns healthy, he’s an optimal low-key target.
The tricky part is amassing enough salary to get the job done. Nassir Little and Damion Lee isn’t enough, so Bol Bol’s $2 million salary has to be included. Maybe Detroit asks for another second-rounder on top of all that, but assuming Morris comes back healthy, trading one decent bench player, two guys currently out of the rotation and a second-rounder for a much-needed point guard is a fair exchange.
11. Clint Capela – Atlanta Hawks
Again, this is all dependent on the Hawks’ season crashing and burning. If they suddenly right the ship and look like a playoff team, Clint Capela and Saddiq Bey probably aren’t going anywhere.
But if Atlanta flounders and management decides next year’s tax bill isn’t worth keeping this group together, both Capela and Bey could become expendable. We already covered why that might be for Bey, but for Capela, it’d be to clear the way for Onyeka Okongwu to take over the 5-spot. That type of move probably only happens if this season becomes a dud.
Capela represents a best-case scenario in terms of realistic, midseason replacements for Nurkic. For the record, Nurk hasn’t been that bad defensively, and what he brings as a connector on the offensive end would be sorely missed in this type of trade. If you thought Deandre Ayton was severely limited on offense, particularly in the short roll, just wait until you watch Capela!
However, Capela fits the rim-running prototype on offense, and he’s a superior rim deterrent to both Nurkic and Ayton. Although he’s only holding opponents to 4.2 percent worse shooting at the rim, Capela is a more imposing shot-blocker, averaging 1.7 swats in his 25.8 minutes per game. He’s a nightly double-double at 11.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game, and he’s a more efficient finisher than Nurk, shooting 58.3 percent overall.
To match salaries for Bey and Capela’s $20.8 million, the Suns would have to send out Nurk and either Nassir Little or Grayson Allen. Allen is a steeper price to pay, so the Suns would be hoping that Little, plus blowing four of their remaining five second-round picks, would be worth the gamble and grease the wheels for Atlanta.
There’s a good chance the Hawks don’t bite without a first-round pick, because as much as Little is a decent youngster and Nurkic is a solid one-way center, you could say the same thing about Bey and Capela, respectively. Nurk’s annual salary is a couple million shy of Capela’s, but the difference is Nurkic has an extra year on his contract. If Atlanta does decide to blow it up midseason, there’s a fair chance they can do better than this.
12. Jakob Poeltl – Toronto Raptors
Oh, you thought we were done trying to trade for Jakob Poeltl, did you? What a silly thing to assume!
In all seriousness, our hearts just aren’t in it this year. Poeltl can’t be traded until Jan. 15, and his $19.5 million salary would require Nurkic and one of the veteran minimum guys — Bol Bol, in this case — to get the job done.
But what, exactly, does any of this do for the Toronto Raptors? Even if they blow it up at the deadline (like they probably should have 2-3 years ago), Poeltl’s the better defender and a far more efficient finisher. Throwing 2-3 second-round picks on the flames might not grease this fire.
Poeltl is putting up 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game on 73.4 percent shooting, and he still projects as the type of low-maintenance center who could quietly help a title contender. But the Raptors are impossible to predict at this juncture, and the Suns may not have the assets to appease Toronto while also justifying this kind of lateral move.
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