For infinitely simplistic basketball reasons, trading for Brandan Wright was a superb move.
Wright, who is currently shooting a video game-esque 72 percent from the field, projects as a better version of Miles Plumlee. He’s an incredible finisher on pick and rolls, a strong rim protector and on this Phoenix Suns team, a potential terror in transition.
Unless Minnesota makes dramatic improvements this offseason, all the Suns will have given up for him are two future second round picks.
Beyond the immediate on-court benefits, the trade is representative of general manager Ryan McDonough’s philosophy for team building. Going over the Suns’ transactions since McDonough got the job, a clear trend emerges. He builds around tradable assets with upside that he acquired for less than their talent suggests they should’ve been worth.
McDonough’s first significant personal move was to trade for Eric Bledsoe. He realized the Los Angeles Clippers valued Bledsoe less than he did and took advantage of it, acquiring one of the best athletes in the league at below market value.
The same logic went into re-signing Bledsoe this summer. Sure, the five-year, $70 million deal was probably an overpay given Bledsoe’s NBA resume and injury history, but all that ultimately matters is that the deal is easily moveable if Bledsoe stays healthy. As it turns out, Bledsoe’s done more than that. Here are his numbers per 36 minutes over the last two seasons and over the Suns recent 8-2 run (from Dec. 20 to Jan. 6):
- 2012-2013: 14.9 PPG, 5.4 APG, 5.2 RPG, TS 51%
- 2013-2014: 19.4 PPG, 6.0 APG, 5.1 RPG, TS 58%
- Previous 26 games: 17.1 PPG, 6.0 APG, 5.4 RPG, TS 56%
- 10-game stretch: 20.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 6.3 RPG, TS 57%
Bledsoe is slowly emerging as the alpha dog for one of the league’s most talented backcourts. Thanks to McDonough’s ingenuity, Phoenix has his rights for the next five seasons and can decide whether they want to watch him develop into a superstar or use him as the centerpiece in a trade for a bigger one.
Bledsoe’s backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas is another great example. It’s rare that one of four players in the league to average over 20 points and six assists per game was available for a multi-year contract at less than $7 million a year.
McDonough took advantage of another market inefficiency and, barring a complete collapse in value, Thomas could be traded for a mid-to-late first-round pick tomorrow without Phoenix losing any skin off its proverbial back.
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Most of the league’s bottom-feeders, which the Suns were (or at least expected to be) when McDonough took over, are attempting to build through tanking. Oklahoma City showed that with an outstanding scouting department and a whole lot of luck that a tank job can produce a contender.
Without that luck, it can be a multi-year slog that may or may not pay off, as Philadelphia, Orlando, Charlotte, New York (unintentionally so) and a couple of other teams are finding out.
It’s fair to point out that it’s unlikely that McDonough or anyone in the league predicted just how good players like Bledsoe and Markieff Morris would be when they were acquired on the cheap. But that’s just it: teams that are unabashedly tanking rarely add players they’re going to have to pay down the road other then the ones they drafted.
The 76ers (who are executing the ideal tanking plan) would never have a chance at finding a player like Bledsoe because that’s not how you get bad.
Belatedly getting back to Wright, the Suns have his Bird Rights and according to the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro, the young center sees himself as a great fit with the team and may be open to signing a long-term deal this offseason.
Wright has already tangibly shown his trade value in being the centerpiece of the deal that sent Rajon Rondo to Dallas. Combined with being young and talented, he’s the ideal player for McDonough’s apparent philosophy.
I had a relatively lengthy conversation with McDonough back on Suns Media Day and he hinted at the possibility of pulling off a trade similar to the one the Houston Rockets did to obtain James Harden if the opportunity presents itself. To paraphrase, he said something along the lines of, “We want to be the first team called in those situations.”
And the Suns have done just that. Phoenix actually has significantly better trade chips than Houston did when they acquired Harden. The Rockets traded Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks and a second to obtain Harden. The Suns could easily top that level of offer with something along the lines of Alex Len, T.J. Warren/Archie Goodwin, two firsts (could include the Lakers’ top-five protected pick) and a second.
Obviously it’s rare that a young superstar gets dealt. (Plus, despite whatever revisionist history you may be looking at, no one projected Harden would be quite this good). It took an owner’s absolute refusal to pay the luxury tax and a roster already featuring two of the top 10 players in basketball for it to even be borderline justifiable. But those extreme circumstances do happen, and Phoenix has the ability to take advantage of it.
McDonough has struck the perfect rebuilding balance in constructing a team that’s highly competitive, with an embarrassing amount of young talent (with more on the way), and the flexibility to trade for whoever they want. Given that young talent and projected internal growth, it’s not unreasonable to suggest this team is one more star away from legitimately contending.
Ryan McDonough better keep his phone charged and at the ready because at some point over the next couple of years, he’s going to receive a very important call.