Anthony Tolliver being traded on Christmas Eve by the Phoenix Suns for a player to be waived might not mean much to some, but to others it had them hop all aboard the speculation train and gosh darn it I'm one of 'em.
While we can all agree that the play of Tolliver was not quite satisfactory, there's always a reason to make a move like GM Ryan McDonough made on Wednesday. No offense to Tolliver, but by far the most meaningful part of the trade for both sides was the Suns making their way up to $6.2M under the cap. So, how exactly can we speculate this move?
The first and most predominant name during this period was Josh Smith. Smith was going to go through a rare December free agency period and the gaps the Suns have on the roster made some (not myself included) believe he could have a home in Phoenix. The front runner out of the gate from just a logic standpoint was the Houston Rockets and that's where he is going to wind up according to a bunch of reports, so let's scrap that.
We here at Bright Side had a roundtable before the season started and one of the questions was if the Suns were going to make a trade during the season. The contract status of Gerald Green and Goran Dragic had some believe that Green was going to be gone, while others like myself thought that there was an even bigger deal looming. Let's look over the facts, starting with the assets.
Thanks to Suns legend Steve Nash this team will have the Lakers first-round draft pick this year if the Lakers do not pick in the top five. Also thanks to the Sixers, Knicks, Pistons, Timberwolves, Jazz, and Swaggy P it looks like that could actually happen despite the Lakers boasting one of the worse defenses we've seen in a long time. This gives the Suns a marquee asset that's not currently on the roster. They still have the Timberwolves protected first-rounder (which will most likely turn into two second-round picks) and still have all of their own current and future picks as well.
The most valuable part of the Suns roster however has to be the contracts of the players on the roster. GM Ryan McDonough has done an excellent job of what Daryl Morey did in Houston in accumulating a bunch of moveable pieces that could hopefully bring him a big-time player. With the NBA's cap due to rise considerably next season there's nobody on the Suns that looks unreasonable from a salary standpoint. While the Isaiah Thomas signing might be something to look back at and draw attention to, he's still on only $7M a year for the next four years and that's affordable, even for the role he might not want to play. With all of the roster presumably moveable then, where does that leave us?
The first thing to look at with this $6.2M in cap space is who the Suns would be willing to trade right now. I think McDonough would trade anyone if it was the right move, but there are four clear candidates as to who could possibly go as main parts of a deal.
A disclaimer first and foremost that if you are going to get offended about me speculatively talking about trading your favorite player then this might not be the article for you. Still with me? Alright, let's really get into it now.
The first player on the list is the one that will get pitchforks thrown at me. Simply put, there's no 100% way of knowing whether or not Dragic is going to resign in Phoenix. There's also the possibility of regression (gasp), but it's too strange of a situation in the backcourt to really point at that. Teams like Houston have already made it clear that they plan to pursue him in the summer and while Phoenix is certainly Goran's home, it's still a thought to have. I really doubt that McDonough would ever deal him under the assumption that he had a good chance of resigning, but there's still a chance it goes south before the season is over. It's already reported once again that the Suns are the least adamant about moving Dragic out of the three point guards so I wouldn't get too nervous.
Thomas is the player the big bright flashing signs are pointing at. We've already had a post here that showed he expected to be playing far more than he has and it may not truly ever be a great relationship. Despite his faults, Thomas is still a very good player that I really feel could be a great one under the right circumstances. To me at least, it looks like he was insurance for the possibility of Eric Bledsoe leaving last summer. He is no doubt the best asset available for the Suns.
With the assumption that the Suns are going to throw a ton of money at Dragic, Green's time in Phoenix is probably coming to an end. That was certainly a possibility heading into this season and the resigning of the Morris twins locked it in. Suns fans know how important Green is with his scoring explosions and that becomes even more of a necessity if Thomas is gone, but the bottom line is that he is a real asset and there's no possibility of him coming back next year unless Dragic is gone. Green has never had a true pay day in free agency and he has rightfully earned his for this summer. Green's most likely destination is a playoff team that needs bench scoring, but someone could talk themselves into Green being a part of their core down the line and not being willing to risk waiting till free agency to find out.
The last asset here is Miles Plumlee who might as well have regression tattooed on his forehead. I was in the Plumlee camp and thought that it was ridiculous to say that Alex Len could start over him before the season started, but my oh my has it turned out to go that way. We all thought his rebounding would probably go up, but it's gone down quite a bit and he looks so much more confused on the floor than he did last year. The Miles Plumlee post-up, also known as "WHYYYYYYYY" might have seen it's end in Phoenix. Len's move into the starting lineup has ended the debate of the two and it's Len's spot for the present and the future (excluding a bigger name moving in). He's on such a cheap contract that teams could talk themselves into the regression being a lie or grab him if they are lacking a big off of the bench.
There you have the possible (major) pieces, so who could the Suns go after? The clear spot they could upgrade is center, as Markieff Morris' insane on/off court numbers this season imply that he is the real deal. I'd take someone of his caliber that could shoot from three however, so keep that in mind. If that All-Star caliber name is out there as well I wouldn't rule out a small forward, as Hornacek has already shown that he is willing to bench either P.J. Tucker or Marcus Morris. First though, let's rule out some rumored names on the market due to fit.
Green is a nice player, but there isn't enough of a gap in the upgrade at small forward to make a move. The key for the Suns with their two slash brothers is spacing and Tucker (43%) and Morris (40%) are doing their part from deep right now. Green is only at 33% and I don't think the Suns would risk putting more of a damper on the spacing.
He is a point guard. His best years are so far behind him we can't even see them anymore. He makes more than Dragic and Thomas combined. No.
I'm probably the biggest Lance guy on this site and even I can admit that this has no chance. The Suns have already dealt with some chemistry issues and I really doubt that they want to bring in the guy who is most known for it.
Monroe is not much of a defender and that's the last place the Suns need to downgrade. I love the player, but it's not the right fit.
Lee is great at a lot of things and the Warriors are about to pay a ton of money from the luxury tax if they hold onto their current roster. However, Lee's a bad defender, doesn't shoot from deep, and there are far better fits at the position both money and overall wise.
The only reason Dieng is here is because I see his name everywhere in the comments. Among defenders who take at least 5 FGA's at the rim a game, Dieng is the fourth worst player in the NBA under opp. FG% at the rim to only Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson, and the low sample size for Tiago Splitter. We will kill three birds with one stone there in case anybody thought about suggesting Anderson or Love as a small ball five.
Kanter is slightly below that group with Dieng in rim protection. The Suns do not need an offensive center unless he is elite and Kanter is certainly not. They'd be sacrificing far too much defensively. Moving on.
While Lopez is a decent rim protector according to those previous numbers, he only averages six rebounds a game. Playing an undersized power forward alongside Lopez would see them get dismantled on the glass. No thank you.
Now that that's out of the way, who is left as a fit for the Suns that could possible be traded? It's not a very large list, but here are the names that jump out to me. There are more names that could be added to this part of the list, but these are the ones that jump out to me.
It's strange to look at the similarities between Anderson and Morris. They are both very good offensively, are undersized at power forward, aren't that great defensively, and don't rebound all that much for their position. The difference however is shooting. Anderson is a career 38% shooter from deep and that slight difference in the two players would see the Suns spacing dramatically improve and set up their two best players in the best way possible. Oh by the way, besides that beat to death point about spacing, it goes the other way too as the slash brothers would also set up one of the best shooters in the league. Tucker/Morris alongside Anderson would give the Suns two deadly shooters and two elite rim attackers. Yes please.
The other side of this acquisition of course is that it would move Keef to the bench again, but a deal like this to the Pelicans would have to be for a couple of pieces, not just one. The Pelicans are playing Luke Babbitt and Dante Cunningham off the bench and the Suns have enough talent to offer them 2 or 3 rotation players. My guess is that Keef would run the Suns second unit with his brother and wouldn't see a humongous drop in FGA's.
This would be a humongous risk. Sanders is definitely the right type of defensive center the Suns could use, but he's nowhere near to the monster he was in the 2012-2013 season (10 PPG, 10 RPG, 3 BPG). Under the per 36 numbers, he's averaging 6.4 fouls a game and is numbers are much more similar to last year then his breakout year. Still, Sanders has still been one of the best in the NBA at protecting the rim according to opp. FG% at the rim, where he's 5th among all starting centers. Sanders makes a lot of money, but if the Suns really want some rim protection and a true defensive center he's the guy.
*ducks*... We good? *ducks again*.... Okay.... Everyone cool now? Alright. So. Anderson Varejao is out for the year and now the Cavaliers don't have a center unless you count Brendan Haywood. Varejao was never a real rim protector, but they are still going to miss a ton from his absence. Now they find themselves in a position where they have to deal for a center if they want to still try to make a run this year, but are they really going to find a guy better than Varejao with the assets they have? I don't think so.
Come join me on the super speculation train for a minute. If you have watched the Cavs lately it's no secret that Love doesn't look all that thrilled. He clearly did not think he was going to be Chris Bosh in this LeBron scenario and thought it would be way more easy. Both of those are false. If the Cavs situation really does go bad and Love is unhappy while heading towards free agency, could they possibly deal him out of fear that he leaves? I'm not saying no to that question yet.
Similar to Anderson's situation, the Cavs are struggling from a depth scenario and unlike the Pelicans they have enough overall talent on the roster around their superstar(s). The Suns could offer a boatload of players and draft picks to give the Cavs 2-4 players ready to contribute now and 2-3 first round talents who would be ready by the time LeBron is getting desperate for a ring (once again, really bad scenario we are looking at). It's an obvious fit for both Love and the Suns, it's just a matter of the Cavs turning into the Dwight/Nash Lakers.
Now let's all just twiddle our thumbs and wait.
After trading Anthony Tolliver, the Phoenix Suns have opened up a bit more cap room to the tune of $6.2 million this season. This allows them more ability to absorb incoming contracts in trade. The Tolliver trade does not make much difference next season, as he was only guaranteed $400,000 in 2015-16, so clearly the trade was to allow the Suns make a move in the near future.
Azcentral.com's Paul Coro caught up with GM Ryan McDonough for the Suns' thought process.
"The thought process is to try to put ourselves in the mix to add a big player via trade," Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said, referring to stature not size. "We want to be aggressive and active. We want to solidify ourselves as a playoff team. The flexibility would allow us more wiggle room to make a trade."
Indeed, the Tolliver trade created another $2 million more in wiggle room. The Suns are expected to waive Tony Mitchell ($849K) after acquiring him for Tolliver, but his salary will remain on the books for the season. Mitchell's 2015-16 was fully non-guaranteed.
What can you get for $6.2 million that you couldn't get for $4 million in space?
On the surface, it seemed that the Tolliver trade was simply a precursor to make the necessary room for an impending acquisition. Two simple trades now available would be to absorb Brandon Wright's $5 million contract from Boston in exchange for, say, the Minny pick which is likely to turn into two second rounders starting in 2016, or to acquire someone like Danilo Gallinari ($10 million) from Denver for Gerald Green and Shavlik Randolph. Wright would provide rim protection and efficient scoring at the rim, while Gallinari would give the Suns that stretch four they've needed all season to replace Frye. Either of those trades can now be executed with the extra space.
But with McDonough's comments above, it appears the Suns are still readying themselves for a swing at the fences. Of course, he said the other day he likes what Anthony Tolliver has brought to the team, too.
The Suns want to make a big splash. They don't want to make a small acquisition at this point that could further disrupt the team. They have recently dropped down to a 9-man rotation and sent their kids to Bakersfield for some seasoning. The three point guards are even finding harmony in the 4-game winning streak, finishing each of the last four games in winning fashion.
Even a simple trade with Houston appears to be off the table as the Suns keep themselves open for bigger and better. Houston is reportedly making Clint Capela available, among other kids on rookie contracts, for a bag of beans to create a roster spot for Josh Smith. Capela could team up with Len, Warren, Goodwin and Ennis as a high-ceiling 21-and-under squad for the future. But alas, it appears the Suns are looking in another direction.
If the Suns make an acquisition, it will be for a clearly better player than the one(s) going out who will move the needle in the right direction for now AND the future.
"We'll stay consistent with our approach and philosophy," McDonough said to Coro. "We have a good core of guys in their early 20s and mid-20s and they have us in the playoff hunt. It'd be something in that range that could help us this year and then grow with us."
Indeed, the Suns now have only two players over age 26 in the regular rotation - Goran Dragic and Gerald Green - and none is signed past 2015 at the moment. Only the New Orleans Pelicans are younger than the Suns among Western Conference playoff-caliber contenders.
By going for the big fish, expect the Suns to troll the waters for the next two months as teams begin to fall out of playoff range.
A holiday update as to the happenings of the Suns D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam.
First, the interesting news. Today, the Suns front office announced that rookies Tyler Ennis and T.J. Warren, as well as 2nd year man Archie Goodwin, are being assigned to the Bakersfield Jam effective immediately.
This isn't the first assignment for these players, as Ennis and Warren were both assigned earlier this season, and Archie played in 5 games for the team last season. If the pattern holds, the players will likely only remain in Bakersfield for a limited time.
Due to the holidays, I haven't had much time to watch the Jam games. As such, I'm going to provide just box scores and links to the games for those interested.
Top Jam Performer: Jamil Wilson - 32 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals
Top Jam Performer: Earl Barron - 34 points, 10 rebounds on 80% shooting.
Top Jam Performer: Earl Barron - 30 points, 11 rebounds