2017 Trade Season Suns-Specific Thoughts

2017 Trade Season Suns-Specific Thoughts

It’s trade season, which means Suns’ fans want to get rid of anyone on the roster old enough to rent a car. But what should we think about this team? How do we approach trade season?

If you missed my earlier article on understanding the NBA trade season, click the link to check it out and become a more educated NBA fan.

Here we’ll discuss the landscape of this Suns team and how they should proceed with the trade deadline creeping up on us this Thursday (February 23rd at 3:00 pm ET).

Makeup of the Team

Coach Earl Watson’s 2016-2017 Suns’ squad can easily be separated into three distinct age groups:

  • The young’ens- Dragan Bender (19), Derrick Jones Jr. (20), Marquese Chriss (20), Devin Booker (20), Tyler Ulis (21), TJ Warren (23), Alex Len (23), Alan Williams (24)
  • The in-betweeners- Brandon Knight (25), Eric Bledsoe (27)
  • The grizzled vets- P.J. Tucker (31), Jared Dudley (31), Leandro Barbosa (34) and Tyson Chandler (34)

Note: I’m not counting Ronnie Price, who is basically just a coach.

Hmm, I wonder why they are losing? Especially, when their veterans weren’t even really ever close to a top player on any team they’ve been on. It’s certainly difficult to win in the NBA when, not too long ago, 36 percent of your team couldn’t legally drink and only 3 players have more than 6 years of NBA experience under their belt (Dudley, Barbosa, Chandler).

How to rebuild

That just means that this team is in the midst of a rebuild. Every team (maybe the Spurs excluded) goes through this period. The way to get out of a perpetual rebuild is to draft carefully (and get lucky), as well as mold your youngsters into either a part of your core or valuable assets to trade — if they don’t wind up fitting your style of play or timeline.

It’s my philosophy that young teams need veterans to teach them how to play basketball – the right way – teaching them how to win. Helping them understand how to love and embrace the grind and have the proper outlook on playing a professional sport. While the physical maturity of these young players is pretty straight forward, the mental portion of their development is not. It’s an oversimplification to say, “just throw them out there and they’ll get better” throwing out any semblance of nuance, precision or context.

Yes, playing time is a way to get used to the speed and physicality of the pro game, but especially in their rookie year, a lot of the maturity is getting comfortable playing basketball as a career. It’s the travel, handling THAT much money, being yelled at, becoming responsible, and on the court understanding your role and your responsibilities. Those are taught in practice and not wholly while the bright lights are shining.

What is likely to happen and not happen

Fan favorites Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa will probably not be moved (unless they need to be included in a big trade) because general manager Ryan McDonough JUST brought in these prototypical vet presences this offseason to help coach Watson instill his famed “family” culture in the lockeroom.

In the time between the departure of Steve Nash and the emergence of Devin Booker, multiple Dan Majerle hustle-award-winner P.J. Tucker came from overseas to be the heart and soul of several Suns teams. He always got rebounds he shouldn’t have been able to nab, dove for loose balls, developed his shot and vocally led this team. Unfortunately, with T.J. Warren right there on the depth chart, Tucker eating into his minutes, combined with the fact that Warren has the higher ceiling, and that Tucker’s skill set and contract make him the perfect addition to a contender, the chances are high that Tucker will be dealt by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

The same is sort of true of Tyson Chandler. He was brought in for two reasons.

One, he was signed to hopefully seal the LaMarcus Aldridge free agency decision in the summer of 2015. Secondly, he was here in Phoenix to mentor Alex Len in particular, but the entire Suns as well (as one of the only two current Suns’ players to win a title – along with Barbosa who won his ring in 2015 with Golden State).

Chandler can still rebound with the best of them. His 11.4 boards per game put him in a tie for 8th in rebounds, while playing less minutes per game than anyone ahead of him, and his fourth-highest mark in this department during his 16-year career. He can still play decent interior defense and can be the vocal leader and defensive anchor for a team that actually has playoff or championship aspirations.

Both objectives have sort of been accomplished. The Chandler signing nearly sealed the Aldridge free agency, but sometimes you just can’t really compete with the San Antonio Spurs pedigree. Also, he has mentored Len, who is certainly blooming and has that “tap-out” rebounding skill DOWN PAT. Chandler will be a great addition to a team and the Suns will see what they can get back for him – paving the way for Len to bloom even further. The flash we saw from Alan Williams makes this all even easier. We’ll always have Chandler’s thrilling put-back slams to remember him by.

The other player that has been paraded around the league as available to be dealt is Brandon Knight. However, rumors are that he certainly isn’t coveted, but we’ll see when teams get desperate on Thursday. He is currently one of the worst players in the real plus-minus metric that tracks how well a team does when a player is on the floor versus on the bench. It is certainly an eyebrow-raising stat, but not a nail in the coffin for his career.

Knight is a good player, but oftentimes seems to squander a possession when the Suns can least afford it. He has been on the trading block as it seems Phoenix may finally be past the years-long era of the two (or three) point guard system as Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker return the Suns to a traditional backcourt. Knight is playing a decent sixth-man role, but probably wants to be starting – he just can’t and shouldn’t in Phoenix. He’ll find his niche on some team and flourish there. His value is waning, and while on the one hand his skill set is valuable, the tape and the numbers don’t lie. But if McDonough was able to get a first-round pick out of a sandbagging Markieff Morris, he can probably do okay with a smart, hard-working player with the skill set that Knight possesses.

Bledsoe and Len

It’s frustrating to hear others discuss Bledsoe on the same level as any of those previous players like Tucker, Chandler, Knight. He’s better than them. None of them were/ever will be a top three player on a championship team – but Bledsoe definitely could. It doesn’t matter if he “doesn’t fit their timeline” There isn’t some caveat in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement saying that a team is only eligible to win a championship if their 3 best players are all within 4 years of each other, or something like that. Roles change. For a few years, one player is the best while the other two support him, then another player steps up, while another takes a step back. It’s how the NBA works.

If Bledsoe is dealt as the odd-man out of this Suns’ core, he should bring back more than these other players, which is a testament to the wonderful job (in general) GM Ryan McDonough has done as Bledsoe was traded to Phoenix for practically nothing (and actually if you think about it, Jared Dudley is back with Phoenix, so Bledsoe was basically acquired for a second-rounder).

The rest of the players are in the aforementioned young’ens group and are also all on their rookie contracts, so, unless they are filler for some trade that nets the Suns a superstar, they should all be staying in the Valley of the Sun for the time being.

Alex Len is the closest to his rookie contract being up as he is a restricted free agent this upcoming summer. That means that if anyone offers him a contract, the Suns have the ability to match it. With his increasingly aggressive, fluid, and impressive play and the way the salary cap is booming, I’d say he’ll stay in Phoenix.

So, let’s see what happens as the Suns’ trade season heats up.

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