The Phoenix Suns need to get through the offseason to really nail down the setup around Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.
Step one was adding one of the 30 best basketball players on the planet in Bradley Beal for minimal assets. Really good start!
But whether it’s getting more back in another trade than expected or signing a key contributor at the veteran minimum in free agency, they’re going to have to settle somewhere, the type of move that will inspire a desk slam or two from the opposing front. offices when it gets the Twitter notification. Maybe there were a few already from the Beal trade.
As they zoom in on the fine margins, one minor but still significant way the Suns can do so is by showing some aggression in Thursday’s 2023 NBA Draft.
The Suns pick No. 52, and maybe they’ll get lucky with that pick alone. But traditionally, drafts tend to really fall off once the early to mid-40s arrive. More on the back half of the second round in a bit.
The draft, along with trade deadline day, serves as one of the unofficial trade holidays on the NBA calendar. The activity is really picking up. Teams with picks that want to get better, faster, have their last chance to trade those picks.
In addition, front offices want to be in control of everything before free agency. Making trades in the second and third weeks of July denies franchises a chance to fully attack free agency with a complete idea of what its roster will be. We’ll still see offers during that time, but preference is key.
Will Phoenix trade Deandre Ayton on draft day? It is an option! And in any potential trade, the Suns could pick up a draft pick from someone with a surplus. Rebuilding organizations tend to stack committees and assume long-term value. And then suddenly the draft rolls around and it has six picks to make. That’s too many salaries and too many young talents on the same timeline.
Teams like the Charlotte Hornets (Nos. 2, 27, 34, 39, 41) and Indiana Pacers (Nos. 7, 26, 29, 32) most likely won’t keep all of those picks.
The champion Denver Nuggets recently took advantage of this. They acquired the No. 37 pick, plus a 2024 first- and second-round pick from Oklahoma City, in exchange for a protected 2029 first-round pick.
The Nuggets’ outgoing first-rounder has more value than the other three picks combined and could end up being a fairly high selection. But those are three short-term picks that directly benefit Denver’s title-contending core now, and if it lands just one with a rotation player, that’s a giant win. OKC doesn’t care because it has a million other picks and is acquiring another asset for later when it wants to be more aggressive in the trade market when its thinking turns.
Athletics’ Sam Vecenie reported that the Suns are among three teams that have “explored options” in the late 20s and 30s. As far as getting into the first round, resources are skewed. Phoenix would have to use Cam Payne plus whatever assets it has left after the Beal trade to get into that range, independent of an Ayton deal.
One change to benefit this thought process, especially with the second round, is in ownership.
Mat Ishbia has been a man of his word with his remarks about spending money where he can to improve the Suns. The big areas that came to mind that could be catered for were things like paying luxury tax. And boy oh boy is he going to do it now.
But there are rules in place that limit how much an owner can affect a team’s chances by paying up, especially with the harsh changes to the new collective bargaining agreement coming that penalize franchisees well beyond the tax, another apron, Phoenix was over before time season.
With that in mind, there are smaller roads where there isn’t as much hassle, and the only downside is, well, spending more money.
Ishbia paid to retain associate head coach Kevin Young, making him the league’s highest-paid assistant coach. Veteran coach David Fizdale is also on the staff and was pursued with a “significant financial game.” according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The back half of the draft is a different path. Early to mid-second round picks may come up for sale. A future second rounder (expected to be less valuable) with a few bags of cash attached to it can get the job done, or even cash itself.
Last year, the Los Angeles Lakers awarded a 2028 second-round pick and $2.15 million for the 35th selection. In 2019, the Golden State Warriors sent $1.3 million and a 2024 second-rounder to No. 41.
It doesn’t happen as often as we think, but there are opportunities there. Is it worth it? Absolutely!
Here are rotation players emerging from the first half of the second round in 2017-21: Dillon Brooks (45th in ’17), Jalen Brunson (33rd in ’18), Mitchell Robinson (36th in ’18), Gary Trent Jr. (37th in ’18), Jarred Vanderbilt (41st in ’18), Bruce Brown (42nd in ’18), Nic Claxton (31st in ’19), Cody Martin (36th in ’19), Daniel Gafford (38th in ’19) ), Jaylen Nowell (43rd in ’19), Xavier Tillman (35th in ’20), Tre Jones (41st in ’20), Herbert Jones (35th in ’21) and Ayo Dosunmu (38th in ’21).
Not only is it a steal for value, but if the player turns out to be good, it’s an incredibly cheap contract for a consistent piece of the lineup. Jones made one combined $3.5 million in his first two seasons and started 135 games for a good Pelicans team.
Although the development process takes a while and it’s more of a different contract type, it also works. Claxton entered his third season for Brooklyn with a salary of $1.8 million, and signed a two-year, $17.5 million extension the next summer, and was one of the best defenders in the league last year with a number of 8.5 million dollars.
Finally, two-way contracts have complicated the end of the draft, as players get promises from more desirable situations to receive that deal and settle for not being selected so they can go wherever they want. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort and Lakers guard Austin Reaves are two recent examples of two-way guys who should have been selected and weren’t.
Phoenix needs to start aggressively pursuing the two-way market that pops up on a few dozen guys on draft night, something that might seem as easy to write off as inconsequential, but tell the Lakers that this last season, if Reaves was not their third best player on a run to the Western Conference Finals.
It is, after all, a lottery ticket. Most of those guys flop and of course there is a balance. Phoenix doesn’t want to fill the back half of its roster with inexperience. But an extra swing at the plate could be the difference in landing a power-hitting player, and as we’ve discussed, the Suns don’t have much maneuverability to make that happen any other way.
The goal for the Suns should be to use as many darts as possible on draft night to try to come out of it when March and April roll around with one rookie who will be both a short- and long-term factor in the rotation. Trading up in the first half of the second round, picking No. 52, and immediately filling both two-way spots with a pair of top-rated undrafted prospects is the plan.