The Phoenix Suns have certainly had a notable offseason already, and we haven’t even hit July yet. The latest in a litany of Twitter-trembling news coming from Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report, who recently reported that center Deandre Ayton would be staying with the organization for the foreseeable future.
In a way this made sense, and the merits of keeping Ayton have been discussed at length here already. There aren’t many top 10 bigs in the league today who are 25-years-old and who have helped power a team to the NBA Finals in the past. It is hard to get fair value on a player like that, which is why a move for Ayton never seemed to properly materialize for the organization.
That was until Marc Stein hit us with the news on Tuesday that the Suns were indeed close to moving Ayton on draft night, in a deal that would have sent him to the Dallas Mavericks.
According to Stein, that deal broke down because the Suns balked at the idea of former player JaVale McGee being included in the deal as a credible piece. The package in full, would have seen the Suns land Tim Hardaway Jr., Richaun Holmes and the aforementioned McGee. Easy to see then why the Suns ultimately didn’t go for that deal, or should the Suns be picking up the phone again?
On the surface, isn’t this pretty much everything the Suns could want in terms of depth to put around Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal? Holmes is one of the feistier backup big men in the league, and you could make some sort of argument that he would be just fine as the starting five alongside his star-studded teammates.
At his peak in 2020-21 with the Sacramento Kings, Holmes was averaging 17.6 points and 10.2 assists per 36 minutes. He has started a sneaky 161 regular season games in the past, and up until last year’s awful 8.3 minutes a night with the Kings, he had averaged nearly 30 minutes per contest in two of the three seasons with the Kings that preceded that.
This isn’t a case of Holmes being buried treasure, as his value is known throughout the league. But what is certainly true is that Holmes was pushed out of the Kings’ rotation because they had Domantas Sabonis and forwards Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes eating up a lot of minutes as they finally made it back to the postseason for the first time in a generation.
Holmes could certainly do a job for the Suns, and paired with Jock Landale (who the franchise will try and bring back), they would have some kind of presence covering the paint for the team. This deal isn’t really about Holmes however, and Hardaway Jr. is where this gets more interesting. If this was Dorian Finney-Smith, and not Hardaway Jr., this deal may have been done already.
The Suns don’t need any more offensive firepower, and instead would much prefer a bigger wing to chase around and hound opponent’s star players. This is why they drafted Toumani Camara in the second round last week. But what if Hardaway Jr. could reinvent himself? Something like a much less effective version of what Aaron Gordon provides for the Denver Nuggets.
Hardaway Jr. has never been known for his ability to defend, but it is amazing what 10 years in the league and only 28 postseason games while stuck on a Mavericks team that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere will do to a player. Hardaway Jr. wasn’t even all that bad defensively last season, with the Mavericks having a rating of 114.5 when he was on the court.
Just below league average, but right in line with what the supposedly tough New York Knicks (114.2) managed in the regular season. The year before that, albeit in only 42 games played, Hardaway Jr. posted an even more impressive 107.7. This isn’t about Hardaway Jr. answering all of the Suns’ problems and trying to be their new Mikal Bridges.
But at 30-years-old he is a veteran who surely wants to win, is comfortable with the ball in hand and has shown that he may just be able to turn it up defensively another notch. You pair that with Holmes, and you’re onto something in a deal for Ayton. They are two players who solve some of the more glaring depth issues the organization currently has.
A couple more reasons for the Suns to pick up the phone to the Mavericks again, and they would be moving on from the near $102 million owed to Ayton over the next three seasons. Both Holmes and Hardaway Jr. have two years left on their deals, with Hardaway Jr.’s decreasing slightly in value in the final year (just over $16 million), and Holmes making $12 million in both seasons.
Holmes also has a player option, and will be 31-years-old by that point. The kind of age that players opt out of deals to go after another final payday if they can. So this deal would help the Suns both with their rotation now, and their cap sheet in future. Adding McGee to the mix may have seemed insulting, but perhaps something else can be worked out.
The Suns have essentially zero draft capital for the rest of the decade, while the Mavericks have some picks to play with. They probably wouldn’t part with a first, but what about 12th overall pick and project player Dereck Lively II? Or even Oliver-Maxence Prosper? The Mavericks, like the Suns, need to win now, although the Suns could do with some more cheap rookies on the books.
The Mavericks are also on the clock big time with superstar Luka Doncic, who has looked on as the franchise traded away some valuable players to get Kyrie Irving. Their direction to contention is murky at best right now, and so they may not have the time to develop a prospect like Lively II, good and all as he may be. No, they need a borderline All-Star in Ayton right now.
This deal feels dead in the water right now, but do not be surprised if it makes a return to our news feeds again this summer. The Suns know now what Ayton is worth around the league, and while the deal from the Mavericks doesn’t feel like much, perhaps it can be worked into a slightly better haul?