The NBA’s February 9 trade deadline is just over a month away, leaving the Phoenix Suns in a unique position.
At 20-18 on Wednesday, the team is on a six-game, seven-game slip. It will be without star Devin Booker for at least the next three weeks as he recovers from a sprained groin.
The Suns are seventh in net rankings — fifth offensively and 13th defensively — for the entire season. But even before Booker’s last Christmas appearance, things were going badly.
Take out the first 10 games of the year through Nov. 7, and Phoenix drops to 16th net — fifth offensively and 25th defensively.
And considering their recent 4-11 streak from Dec. 5 to Wednesday, Jan. 4, the team is 29th in net standings — 20th offensively and 29th defensively.
There is a “reset or reassemble?” argument to have about this team right now.
Jae Crowder’s absence all season, Cam Johnson’s recovery from a torn meniscus and Booker’s groin injury contributed to the downfall. Chris Paul’s age and slowness to peak form, as well as the challenge of handing attacking responsibilities to Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, all represented speed bumps.
With the Suns just 4.5 games off the top of the Western Conference but 3.0 games away from being out of the play-in picture, the president of basketball operations and general manager James Jones has some decisions to make.
Here’s a quick look at the current roster status with the upcoming trade deadline.
Suns roster construction
Phoenix has 14 players on standard NBA deals and two additional two-way contracts that don’t count toward the 15-player cap.
This leaves them a spot on the open roster, which Jones has typically used in case the team has an opportunity to sign a player who was cut at the deadline. The Suns have the mid-tier taxpayer exception, which gives them the flexibility to spend more than the veteran’s minimum if competition arises in that market.
Needs, there are plenty: the creation of shots on the ball (for oneself or for others) and the depth of the wing seem to be priorities.
The spot on the open roster could also be used for a 10-day contract addition.
Or at the end of the year, he could be filled by signing Ish Wainright or Duane Washington Jr., who have two-way contracts. Putting them on a standard contract would make them eligible for the playoffs.
Jae Crowder remains in the market
Crowder and the Suns have agreed they will seek trade options for his expiring $10.2 million contract, and the forward has not been on the team since last season.
While Eastern Conference contenders like the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat have been linked in terms of interest, it looks like the Suns want at least one top-notch player in exchange for Crowder. This could mean the deal includes more than just the former starting striker.
Crowder averaged 9.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game last year and has been central to the Suns’ success the past two seasons.
But his reasons for not wanting to return to Phoenix — whether it’s a desire for a contract extension this summer or otherwise — have hurt his business value. To complicate matters, suspended Suns owner Robert Sarver must sign any deal involving Phoenix’s salary of $10.8 million or more, as reported by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
In summary, it looks like Jones wants to use Crowder’s deal to make a big move, which means it could take until the deadline and require a multi-player, multi-team effort.
Ayton’s Contract Situation and Other Contractual Oddities
All three Suns centers have asterisks in their contracts this year.
Most notable, by far, is starter Deandre Ayton. He signed a four-year, $133 million contract with Phoenix after the team matched an offer from the Indiana Pacers on June 14.
While Ayton and head coach Monty Williams seemingly got over their riff that started in Game 7 of last season’s Western Conference Semifinals and continued into the start of 2022-23, his game has included peaks and more valleys. Ayton struggled to adapt with Paul sidelined for part of the year and as the team tried to get more attacking through him.
Ayton’s percentages increased, however, to 61 percent shooting. He is averaging 17.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
This year, the center’s salary is $30.9 million.
With the Suns matching the Pacers’ offer sheet, the team can’t trade the center until Jan. 15. But Ayton also has the power to veto a trade for a year after the contract is signed. It cannot be traded to Indiana during this time.
Beyond Ayton, center Bismack Biyombo can veto any trade this year, while Jock Landale’s deal becomes fully guaranteed on January 10, according to Spotrac.
And that may put the cart ahead of the horse, but Paul’s current contract, signed two summers ago, is about to lose its non-tradeable status.
His contract pays $28.4 million this season and $30.8 million in 2023-24. Only $15.8 million from this next year is guaranteed through June 28.
Johnson, who could be re-evaluated and return soon, is recovering from meniscus surgery to add to a relatively long list of injury issues in his basketball career. Still, his restricted status and sniper abilities could be a key addition to any business package.
Crowder ($10.2 million, unrestricted)
Dario Saric ($9.3 million, unrestricted)
Cameron Johnson ($5.9 million, restricted)
Torrey Craig ($5.1 million, unrestricted)
Damion Lee ($1.8 million, unrestricted)
Josh Okogie ($1.8 million, unrestricted)