Phoenix Suns may mull key moves at the deadline

Phoenix Suns, Cameron Payne (Photo by Jeffrey Swinger/USA TODAY Sports)
Phoenix Suns, Cameron Payne (Photo by Jeffrey Swinger/USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns, despite an ugly loss in New Orleans on Wednesday night, are generally a feel-good story this season.

From the addition of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder to a ramped-up interest in playing defense to Devin Booker’s reassurance — via his game-winner in Dallas — that he’s an alpha-dog leader, the Suns are a team finally on the rise.

But the Phoenix Suns don’t have all the answers, in hindsight, and could have found themselves in even better position.

Let’s start with the offseason, during which the Suns decided to stick with Orlando bubble star Cameron Payne.

Not a bad decision, given his contract and upside.

But should they have secured more certainty for those valuable minutes?

The backup point guards available included Trey Burke, Reggie Jackson and D.J. Augustin.

Second-guessing is rarely productive but always worth a discussion. Many Suns backers are thinking an upgrade behind Paul would serve Phoenix well entering the final-month drive for the playoffs.

We’re thinking Payne is well worth the risk vs. reward. He’s a developing NBA guard who has the pedigree (first-rounder) and the upside — as well as the modest contract — to secure confidence for this season.

The real second-guess for the Phoenix Suns is the same held by several, if not all, NBA teams: Christian Wood was there for the taking.

The Houston Rockets won this one, signing Wood to a three-year, $41 million contract after Detroit had foolishly decided to let the 25-year-old get away.

Wood has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the NBA season, scoring more than 23 points while putting up 10+ rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. He’s almost 40 percent from 3-point land, too.

While the Phoenix Suns didn’t acquire Christian Wood, they do have a chance to improve the backup center position with a few possibilities.

It’s a long time until the March 25 NBA trade deadline, but speculation never takes a break.

Frank Kaminsky has played to his potential through 19 games, but is that going to be enough to lock down a playoff spot? Do the Suns need a better defender and rim protector behind Deandre Ayton?

And, really, how many different ways can we set up the idea that they need a better option than Damian Jones and Kaminsky?

First up: Robin Lopez.

The guy who frequently drew the ire of Suns fans while he played for Phoenix is limited. But what he does well comes largely on defense. Lopez was scoring 7.2 points and colleting 4.2 rebounds on a career-high 64 percent shooting from deep through his first 16 games.

His presence is valuable (16.6 defensive rebound percentage) and he is an eager participant in an offense that relies on motion and screens.

Nerlens Noel is still only 26 years old. He’s gradually improving, posting 7.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.4 blocks per game on 54 percent shooting from the field.

Noel shows well in a couple of advanced metrics, owning a blocks-percentage of 9.4 (Rudy Gobert is at 7.2) and a defensive box plus-minus of 3.7.

He’s on an affordable one-year, $5 million contract with the Knicks, who may consider themselves sellers once again next month.

Finally, the puzzle called Hassan Whiteside is always a potential target for teams looking at shot-blockers.

He’s on a veteran’s minimum deal, and, like the Knicks, the Kings could very well be in the mood for shedding unnecessary parts in March.

Whiteside’s per-36-minute stats are impressive: 19.1 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.

Looking for a lucrative deal for 2021-22, he would surely be a motivated addition to a potential playoff roster.

Next. Phoenix Suns and this week's NBA power rankings. dark