The Suns And Bucks Are All In

The Suns biggest need this offseason was impact.

It didn’t matter where it came from.  All that was known was that it’d be hard to find. 

This draft doesn’t offer much, especially at the No. 10 overall pick.  The Suns spending big in free agency seemed unlikely considering they recently sold their G-League team, and had brought in Ricky Rubio the offseason before.  Despite the 8-0 run in the Bubble, the team felt kind of stuck as just a competitive group that likely wasn’t going to crack real success, and had to rely on their best player just to hit that low mark.

That changed in a hurry Monday morning.

The Chris Paul trade was a deal that felt like it could have gone bad.  When th news broke, breathing stopped while waiting for the package going back to the Thunder.  It seemed like it would take a lot.

But it really didn’t.  The Suns swapped point guards (Rubio for Paul), traded an inefficient sixth man in Kelly Oubre, gave up two younger guards with some upside (Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque) and moved off a first round pick that is probably the best asset in the deal all in return for one of the 40 best players of all-time and a top 10-15 player in the league.  Not bad.

The Oubre label might seem harsh, but with the emergence of the Mikal Bridges-Cam Johnson at the 3-4 lineup in the bubble, a starting role was not going to exist for Oubre, even with the energy and scoring he brings.  Additionally, Oubre’s contract has been a hot topic since last offseason, and the flamboyant wing was likely going to want more security as he’s scheduled to hit the market again next summer.  

Oubre would have been a nice pop off the bench in a sixth man role, but he’s not exactly the ball-handler you want in that spot.  Plus, his poor outside shooting can lead to some inefficient and poor shot selection at times, making him an occasional tough fit.  Plus, it’s not wild to wonder whether Oubre would have been happy not starting – a suspicion says that’d be a tough sell for him.

Lecque was a project, and didn’t have a home thanks to the sale of the Northern Arizona Suns.  Jerome had a tough rookie season thanks to a lack of playing time and injuries – his impact at backup point guard was also not enough, leading to the signing of Cam Payne pre-bubble.  

It’s legitimately possible the 2022 first round pick the Suns gave up in the deal is the No. 1 asset in it, and that’s even after reports trickled out Monday morning that the infamous “double draft” – the year where high schoolers will be able to enter the league after graduation on top of the college freshmen class – might come in 2023 instead of the year before.  That would make 2022 picks way less valuable than previously thought, and make the price on 2023 selections sky-rocket.  The Suns seemed to do a nice job holding firm on ’22, as 2021 figures to be a loaded draft class as well.

Phoenix was able to flip that package into an All-NBA player last season in Paul. Paul’s the exact type of help Booker and Co. needed.  Rubio provided it, sure, but lacked the secondary scoring punch and offensive impact that Paul now brings.

CP3’s age and contract is subject to some critics, and in a way rightfully so.  But Paul is coming off a second-team All-NBA season (He was third-team on this ballot), led the league’s best clutch offense and surprised everyone by dragging OKC to a fifth seed in the playoffs and taking Houston to seven games in the first round.  He’s also the Point God, too.

Paul’s contract doesn’t matter because he’s likely never going to play down to the level we expected him to on it.  Sure, a second-team All-NBA appearance may not be very likely again, but playing at a slightly worse level or even a whole step lower  than that doesn’t make the contract a waste.  

Why?  First, this is Phoenix’s big move.  There’s nothing coming that is bigger than this.  This is the team they’re moving forward with.  Paul’s contract isn’t blocking anyone else.  Second, the Suns didn’t give up anything significant, so it’s not like they gave up truly meaningful assets for someone on a brutal contract.  Paul’s shown so far that he’s likely to outplay the negative value of his deal.  

It feels like there had to be better deals for Oklahoma City, unless teams were still deathly scared of trading for Paul’s contract.  Perhaps these could be teams trying to maintain cap flexibility, and didn’t want the large salary figure Paul brings on their salary sheet.  But after seeing what the Bucks gave up for Jrue Holiday Monday night, it seems hard to believe Paul could be had for so much less.  Where was Milwaukee on Paul if they were willing to give up what they did for Holiday?  What about Philadelphia?  The Mavericks?  Denver?  Bueller?

This trade feels like selling low for the Thunder.  It’s possible they didn’t have a choice, but why not hold firm for one of Johnson or Bridges?  Or potentially a straight up deal for DeAndre Ayton?  Oubre is a sneaky young piece (still 24 years old – will be 25 by the season’s tip) for them, but his deficiencies were noted above.  His defense will be a nice addition to a Thunder team that could use it, though.

Rubio makes zero sense for OKC’s timeline, and point guards are found more commonly than any other position through the league, which limits his potential flip value in February.  Plus – who’s taking on that deal for a non-needle mover?  Rubio was in the deal to make the money work, but why didn’t the Thunder demand more draft compensation from Phoenix to make up for the taking on of Rubio’s deal?  Lecque and Jerome are fine flyers – with Lecque being the ultimate project and fitting what OKC is doing well.  And then there’s the first round pick, which the Thunder should have bargained to be a 2021 or 2023 pick instead of 2022.

The Thunder have more moves to make, and perhaps they will be a bit better than this one.  But Paul was supposed to be the asset anchor of the Thunder’s rebuild, and this deal didn’t get it done.

On the Jrue Holiday trade to Milwaukee…

If Giannis Antetokounmpo is Shaq – well, Jrue Holiday isn’t exactly Kobe.

But he fits the mold, and clearly, that’s all that matters to Milwaukee.

Holiday’s shipment to the Bucks was stunning because of what the deal consisted of.  The Bucks were able to swap Eric Bledsoe and his contract for the Pelicans star point guard, but had to give up potentially five first round picks (Three first rounders and two first round pick swaps) to do it in addition to a reliable role player in George Hill.

Holiday is perfect for Milwaukee.  The Bucks upgrade at point guard, as Bledsoe’s a good defender but doesn’t quite hit Holiday’s level due to poor shooting, high usage and lesser passing ability.  Holiday’s the guy they need if Antetokounmpo is going to turn the corner in the playoffs, and play as more of a true big rather than a driving guard.  Additionally, Holiday brings better shooting and more efficiency to the Bucks offense, while making their defense somehow even better than it was prior.

It cost them a lot though, and perhaps too much.  Bledsoe’s a wash, but Hill was one of the league’s best shooters in 2019-20 and was able to double as a three-point threat off-the-ball and a nice backup point guard.  The amount of picks is asinine, especially considering who they’re going to (New Orleans – who owns the Lakers future thanks to the Anthony Davis trade).  It’s the type of deal you practically guarantee a title with, though the Clippers have yet to do that and Golden State and Brooklyn are rising as legitimate contenders.  The picks are likely to be late in the first round, but what happens if an injury occurs, or if the team is flipped on its head in the summer of 2021?  Then what?

You would hope Milwaukee made this deal not to convince Antetokounmpo to stay but as a gift for him committing to stay.  It’s an unprecedented, dangerous deal to make without knowing whether you’re losing the back-to-back MVP in a year or not.  A future without Antetokounmpo is a bleak one.  One without him and your draft picks is devastating.

The deal for New Orleans is more than they likely could have asked for.  The sheer volume of picks just adds to their war-chest, and there was likely no higher bidder – topping that offer means another star would have to be involved.  The Pelicans got the Bucks to seriously overpay, and for that they have to take on Bledsoe.  But they get Hill, who can be a competent role player in multiple facets and mentor whoever they need him to.  

On Bogdan Bogdanovic’s sign and trade to Milwaukee…

It’s possible to look at the Holiday trade as a combination of it and Milwaukee’s next deal, which featured the Bucks sending Donte DiVencenzo, DJ Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova to the Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic in what will be a sign-and-trade deal on Sunday morning.

Let’s evaluate it that way instead: The Bucks traded Bledsoe, Hill, Donte DiVencenzo, DJ Wilson, Ersan Ilyasova, three first round picks and two first round picks swaps for Holiday and Bogdanovic – who they will be paying a large contract to.

On the aggregate, it’s not as bad.  But moving five first round picks on top of your only two young assets for a non-guaranteed championship is still a risky deal.  Stars who will deliver a ring earn that type of package, not necessarily two really good players.

If the Bucks overpaid for Holiday, then they certainly underpaid for Bogdanovic.  DiVencenzo is the star of the deal for the Kings, but aside from that Sacramento is looking at a defense-only wing in Wilson and a veteran big who doesn’t fit their timeline (Ilyasova has flip potential, though).  Sure, Milwaukee has to pay Bogdanovic, but the sneakily-veteran Serbian combo-forward brings a lot of what Malcolm Brogdon did to the table for Milwaukee, and that’s in addition to a real point guard in Holiday.

At the end of the day,  Milwaukee can still be called a loser in these deals because of Brogdon.  They refused to pay him, and instead they’re making panicky, win-now deals to make up for it.  Paying him would have alleviated the need for all of this.

But, Holiday-Bogdanovic-Middleton-Antetokounmpo-Brook Lopez is a ridiculous team, full of defense and ball-handling that can help support Antetokounmpo in the playoffs.  Here’s to hoping they get more than one run at it.

The deal for the Kings is a bit underwhelming, but Sacramento was likely operating with low leverage as the necessity for a sign-and-trade manifested after they learned what offers Bogdanovic would get on the open market.  Sacramento smartly salvaged what they could, and it landed them a young wing moving forward in DiVencenzo.

This move would presumably clear the way for Buddy Hield to remain a King – Hield on his contract is a better than deal than Bogdanovic on his.  Sacramento now needs to get back to their speedy ways, and turn the fun core they once had loose again.

On Dennis Schroder’s trade to the Lakers…

It seems as though the LeBron James at point guard experiment is over after one season, and it’s not because it failed.

There’s just no need to make James work that hard anymore, even if he did finish third in the assists per game leaderboard last season.  With Rajon Rondo likely moving on, finding someone who qualifies as even more of a flier than Rondo was last offseason is a tough bet – and getting Rondo’s production we saw in the bubble from someone other than him is even more unlikely.  So, to counter the loss, the Lakers went after once of the best point guards available on the trade or free agent market, and it cost them hardly anything.

The inclusion of Danny Green along with the No. 28 pick for Schroder was a bit surprising, just because even after a tough playoffs, Green represented basic competency on the Lakers roster (Making the money match was likely why Green was shipped).  But perhaps LAL will find another wing to take over his role, and are okay with getting lesser production there with what Schroder brings to the table.

Schroder likely becomes the Lakers starter alongside James and Anthony Davis, with the rest to be determined.  Regardless, Schroder is the best point guard on the Lakers roster now that James is seemingly moved out of the position.  His scoring acumen will be received well by the Lakers, who could use a consistent punch next to their superstar duo.

This trade should have been a precursor to our disappointment in Oklahoma City.  Schroder and Paul should have netted real value, and both came up a tad short.  The No. 28 pick is a rough one in this draft, depending on how the board falls.  The positive is that Green is likely someone who can be flipped, unlike Rubio.  Green could easily net the Thunder a first round pick before the trade deadline – as Green’s sound defense and (occasionally) competent shooting is a massive plus to a potential contender.

Like the Paul trade, the Thunder should have likely gotten more, and the Lakers, for once, didn’t overpay and made a savvy move.

On Robert Covington’s trade to Portland…

This deal was similar to the Holiday move by Milwaukee in that Portland gave up a lot for someone who is 1) really good and 2) fills a major need and will make an immediate impact because of it.

The Trail Blazers had to pay up, sending two first round picks (including their No. 16 overall selection Wednesday night) and Trevor Ariza (back!) to Houston in exchange for Covington, who next to Gary Trent Jr. gives Portland the length they need to make up for their defensively-limited backcourt.

Covington improves Portland dramatically on both ends.  After the years of Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless on the wings, the Trail Blazers finally have a powerful two-way duo in Gary Trent Jr. and Covington.  

There’s likely a ceiling on what Portland can be defensively thanks to their two guards, but Covington was an important glue guy during his short time in Houston, and can do a little bit of everything on the defensive end.  There might be some rim protection skills hidden in his game.  

The price was not cheap, but reports indicated that Portland was not in love with anyone at No. 16 overall Wednesday night (The Athletic’s John Hollinger reported that Jay Scrubb was a target for the Blazers with the pick – a player who will not be ranked on the big board released Wednesday).  The extra first may be overkill, but Covington is an upgrade over Ariza, who pre-pandemic played well for Portland but is 35 years old and had shown serious decline the past two years.  

This has the potential to be a needle-mover deal for Portland, though they’re probably still on the outside of the West’s upper echelon.

One would think Houston was not too keen on making this deal initially.  Even with James Harden and Russell Westbrook wanting out, the Rockets seem firm on trying to compete in 2020-21, and keeping Covington would have certainly helped them do that.

It’s likely that the offer was just too good to pass up on.  Houston needs all the picks it can get, and they’re getting a decent replacement in Ariza (who’s never been the same since leaving Houston to sign with Phoenix in 2018).  Covington was a critical part of Houston’s small-ball philosophy, but with former GM Daryl Morey now in Philadelphia, the Rockets could be shifting away from such insistence on that style of play, making Covington expendable at the right price.

Perhaps Houston is still wanting to play that way and sees Ariza as a similar fit, with the picks making up for the loss in talent.  Regardless, it was an interesting deal for the Rockets, and is likely a precursor to something bigger, whenever that may come.

On the Bruce Brown trade to the Nets…

The first deal after the trade moratorium opened was perhaps the strangest one made.  The Pistons moved one of their few young assets to a contender for a lesser young(er) asset in Dzanan Musa and a second round pick.

Brown had been a pleasant surprise last year, really emerging as a ball-handler and defender on a bleak Pistons roster.  He, Sekou Doumbouya and Luke Kennard were really all Detroit had to look forward too.

Now the Pistons get Musa, who’s a young, deadly shooter but has spent most of his time in the G-League.  Musa and Deividas Sirvydis – Detroit’s second round pick in 2019 who’s still overseas – gives the Pistons some serious shooting depth for the long term, but ball handling and defense comes at a premium in this league, and Brown did both quite well.  A second round pick in return was not enough.

The Nets didn’t really need Musa either, nor did they need the pick.  The same could be said about Brown for them, but why would Detroit sell so low on someone who gave them solid, unexpected contributions?

What a weird deal.