What now? Sorting the Phoenix Suns’ post-trade deadline position

Aaron Gordon (Photo by Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports)
Aaron Gordon (Photo by Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports) /

First, a sarcastic thanks to the Orlando Magic for spotlighting Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier so strongly that they led an upset of the Phoenix Suns.

All three were traded on Thursday.

Gordon joined one of the Suns’ principal rivals, the Denver Nuggets, on NBA trade-deadline day in a move that boosts Denver’s hopes.

Vucevic and Fournier, at least, went to the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, respectively.

And the Nuggets further frustrated some Suns fans by bringing aboard veteran defensive presence JaVale McGee.

In the wake of interesting moves on NBA trade deadline day, the Phoenix Suns find their path to playoff success a little more difficult.

The primary improvements among Western Conference contenders:

Phoenix Suns rivals who improved: Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers sent Lou Williams to Atlanta for Rajon Rondo. There was no specific stipulation, however, that this version was “Playoff Rondo” instead of the existing version from 2021 (Rondo was great with the Lakers, pretty awful with the Hawks this season.)

But if there is even a hint of “Playoff Rondo,” the Clippers will benefit. The guy knows how the postseason operates and figures to provide steady leadership in the backcourt when mid-May rolls around.

Rondo, in 14.9 minutes per game carries averages of 3.9 points, 3.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds.

Suns angle: Eh, Chris Paul can handle him.

Phoenix Suns rivals who improved: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets sent guard Gary Harris, rookie R.J. Hampton and Denver’s protected 2025 first-round pick to Orlando for Aaron Gordon.

Just what Nikola Jokic needed: another proactive scorer who spaces the floor, enabling Jokic and Jamal Murray to have more fun on offense.

And that rim protector the Suns may be seeking? The Nuggets secured the services of JaVale McGee, sending F/C Isaiah Hartenstein to the Cavaliers with a protected second-round pick in 2023 and another second-rounder in ’27.

Phoenix could really use some help defending the post. Dario Saric has been sensational but he’s not going to grow another five inches before the playoffs.

Suns angle: The Nuggets are a problem.

Phoenix Suns rivals who improved: The Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers acquired guard Norman Powell from the Toronto Raptors for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood.

Powell, 27, owns career highs in points (19.6), 3-pointers (2.8 per game) and 3-point percentage (43.9%).

Suns angle: That is a scary trio of playmaking, shooting guards: Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Powell. Possible early playoff matchup just became more difficult.

But all is not lost. There is hope in another market.

The Phoenix Suns hold the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference, and the buyout market offers an opportunity for improvement.

Once the dust settles from trade-deadline day, teams will carefully consider what to do with players they were unable to move, and that includes buying out those players.

Among those players is the No. 1 target who fits the upgrade criteria for the Suns.

While the lack of movement on Thursday likely disappointed a few “go for it” Suns fans, it makes sense to fight the urge to make a deal just to make a deal.

Compromising future assets for a meager return wasn’t part of general manager James Jones’ plan, which could include one of these guys: LaMarcus Aldridge, Andre Drummond and Hassan Whiteside.

The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t do much on Thursday but are a prime contender to land Drummond, according to ESPN’s trade-deadline broadcast.

Fine. The Suns can acquire Whiteside.

One problem with the best-case scenario pursuit of Whiteside, though, is the NBA’s playoff format. With 10 teams now included because of the Play-in format, the Sacramento Kings may fool themselves into believing Whiteside should be kept aboard to help with the team’s postseason hopes.

Sacramento is only three games back in the loss column from the 10th spot.

Here’s a refresher on the 2021 postseason (take a deep breath and focus) from the NBA:

"The teams with the seventh-highest and eighth-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have two opportunities to win one game to earn a playoff spot. The teams with the ninth-highest and tenth-highest winning percentages in each conference will each have to win two consecutive games to earn a playoff spot.At the conclusion of the regular season, the team with the seventh-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the eighth-highest winning percentage in its conference in a Play-In Game (the “Seven-Eight Game”). The winner of the Seven-Eight Game in each conference will be the seventh seed in the playoffs for its conference.The team with the ninth-highest winning percentage in each conference will host the team with the tenth-highest winning percentage in its conference in a Play-In Game (the “Nine-Ten Game”). The loser of the Seven-Eight Game will host the winner of the Nine-Ten Game in a Play-In Game, and the winner of that game will be the eighth seed in the playoffs for its conference."

The deadline has passed but the Suns’ roster complexion could still change.

Next. Phoenix Suns still top five. dark