Suns Need to Stop Shopping Jalen Smith even Amidst Title Run

Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports /

It took a global pandemic to make it happen, but former lottery draft pick Jalen Smith is finally fielding big time minutes, and even starting games for the Phoenix Suns.

With Deandre Ayton and JaVale McGee subjected to health and safety protocols, and Frank Kaminsky also unavailable, Smith became the only active center on the team to close out last week. Naturally, the Suns found themselves with no choice but to hand Smith the car keys during their past four games despite subtly declaring him a “bust” two months ago.

First going up against the Memphis Grizzlies and then the Oklahoma City Thunder, Smith’s game looked raw, backing up the ongoing rumors about his lacking readiness to play at the NBA level. But outside a few shaky moments, he still illustrated his versatile skillset as a big, turning a few heads in the process.

Against Memphis, Smith played 29 minutes and put up a then career-high 15 points while shooting 40.0 percent from the field. He also came away with a steal on Ja Morant during the game’s second quarter, putting his Giannis-like wingspan on full display.

Smith followed up that performance with 11 points against the Thunder. He also secured 14 rebounds and registered two blocks, which both went down as career-highs.

But against the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets last night, he took things to another level. Between both games, he tallied 38 points and 19 rebounds while shooting 62.5 percent from the field. He also came through with some fireworks during the Charlotte game’s second period, finishing off a moon-bounce dunk that sent Mason Plumlee to the shadow realm and put Cameron Payne into a coma.

Both on the account of Phoenix never playing him beforehand and his strong efforts, Smith is dropping career-best numbers night in and night out, and with that, has his trade stock at its highest since the Suns drafted him.

But even with all that considered, the Suns need to quit shopping him right now.

With his team option left out to dry, Smith becomes a unrestricted free agent this summer, making him available to all other teams even with Phoenix able to re-sign him as well.

That pending opportunity for other teams to add Smith is only a few months away, and with those teams knowledgeable of that, they also know it makes more sense to wait the Suns out rather than giving up a Thaddeus Young or Jerami Grant right now.

The Suns will get garbage trade offers for Smith and nothing that gets them closer to a championship than what Smith already provides. His athleticism, aggressiveness, and engagement on the court certainly make him worthy of at least 10-15 minutes each night, which is more than what can be said for the players other teams might offer in exchange.

By keeping Smith, the Suns accept a “worst case scenario” which sees him used as high-end rental, or at best, a chance to still use him this year and then re-sign him during the Summer depending on his market value. When you really get down to it, both options are not bad at all.

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For the fans who spent their last three months begging the Suns to swap Smith for a veteran forward or low-block defender, this might feel like a tough pill to swallow. But the timing of Smith’s breakout just does not make those trades possible anymore, making him more beneficial to the Suns on the court rather than as bait.