The NBA world this time of year is a lot different than that of the fantasy worlds that can be created in NBA2K with a controller and no pressure.
It is pretty infrequent when a reactionary move benefits anyone long-term or, at times, even in the moment. That is one of the fears of every team, player, coach, and fan alike in February and June when transactions are at their apex, giving every NBA General Manager ammunition to crush a franchise. Or rise above his peers...
Welcome to Trade Season.
General Managers are famously infamous for mortgaging a team's future for the hope that their idea is the right idea.
Right now the Phoenix Suns (29-20) are in a unique position that every contender, or frankly any other team, wishes they were in. They are the envy of other general managers, coaches and players alike. Not because they have the best record in the NBA or stars aplenty ready to carry the team to a title, but because they have the ability to absorb nearly a max contract for next to nothing. Also, they have no pressure to do anything at all. They have assets and leverage, two things that do not come together very often. Like lamb and tuna fish.
General Manager Ryan McDonough has potentially six first round picks (this and next year) and has acquired just over 19 million dollars in expiring contracts with the prize being the medically insured contract of Emeka Okafor.
Moving Okafor does not hurt team chemistry or break up the dynamic that they have created under Head Coach Jeff Hornacek through the first half of the season, which is always a risk with a trade no matter the talent. Chemistry is organic; not created in a lab meaning the addition or subtraction of an element could shift the parodim in chemistry dramatically. Moving other "assets" like Channing Frye or P.J. Tucker, who have high value on a contending team, could potentially crush the dynamic that has this team. Today they are nine games over .500 when they were supposed to be debating between the options of Wiggins, Parker or Randle.
Instead they are deciding between Pau Gasol, Danny Granger and other potential options that could secure their position ahead of the Dallas Mavericks (29-21) and Memphis Grizzlies (26-22), who are both aggressively chasing.
So what trade or move keeps the Suns securely ahead of the Mavericks and Grizzlies while allowing them to keep pace with the Warriors, Rockets, and Clippers?
Is there a trade that works?
How will the new player (or players) react to Coach Hornacek's style? His coaching demeanor.
Sometimes the right answer is nothing at all. Odds are that Eric Bledsoe is going to play again this season. Often, general managers over think these decisions and make bold moves that end up backfiring on them. Backfiring on the team.
Adding Gasol would give the team a go-to scorer in the paint, something that they have not had in years. As currently constructed the Suns do not have one player that demand a double-team in any scenario. Goran Dragic is having a career year, but he is not the type of player that demands a double-team. Neither is Miles Plumlee, Frye nor anyone else on the roster.
Statistically, Gasol was having one his worst season in years, but would still be a positive return for the Suns in the paint which is where they are lacking the most. According to data from 82games.com the four position has been playing even with their competition and the five has been at -0.6 looking at the PER numbers.
During the first 28 games of the year, when the Los Angeles Lakers (13-15) were roughly a .500 team, Gasol was putting up very poor numbers. He has picked that up since then at the expense of team success (3-13) averaging 21.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field. Just about the right time of year to become a 20-10 player as the trade deadline approaches.
Gasol adds a lot to this team, this year. The versatility he brings with the option of playing either the four or the five is intriguing next to Plumlee or any of the stretch-fours on the roster, but also moves either Frye, Alex Len, Markieff Morris or Marcus Morris to a very secluded role on the bench. He is also to be had for next to nothing.
Moves for players like Josh Smith (Detroit) would hurt the team long-term and not benefit them in the short-term, either. Adding Zach Randolph (Memphis) would give the team a post scorer, but is unlikely as the Suns and Grizzlies are competing against each other. The Pacers want a piece for Granger, not financial relief. Granger is financial relief for them this summer, regardless.
The Okafor Card is a once in a who knows how long golden goose, but only if used wisely.
Using that Okafor Card for a rental like Gasol gives the Suns a potential trio of Gasol-Bledsoe-Dragic to make some noise in the playoffs. Once the team got past the point of knowing they were not a lottery contender and more of a playoff contender the vision and focus shifted more to adding a piece that would make them more viable contenders in the Western Conference.
One thing the NBA has learned about McDonough is that he is a maverick, but he gets what he wants. He is patient and aggressive. Sometimes the best move is not to make a move at all unless it is the right move.
Time will tell whether there is a right move out there.