Phoenix Suns trade target helps team advance to in-season tournament final

T.J. McConnell has been a trade target for the Phoenix Suns in the past, and he is helping his current team the Indiana Pacers in the NBA's in-season tournament.
Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks: Semifinals - 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament
Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks: Semifinals - 2023 NBA In-Season Tournament / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

The Phoenix Suns have not featured at the NBA's inaugural in-season tournament Final Four style event in Las Vegas, having been knocked out by the Los Angeles Lakers in controversial circumstances.

Difficult as that loss was to take, it was made worse by the fact the Lakers hammered the New Orleans Pelicans in the semi-finals, and are now one game away from winning a trophy. Not that this tournament was the goal of the Suns for this season, but the excitement and interest the tournament has created at what is usually a dead time of the season for the NBA made it on worth trying to win.

On the other side of the bracket, the Indiana Pacers have provided the underdog story to the star power that has been the Lakers and LeBron James going all the way to the final. Tyrese Haliburton - a player the Suns could have drafted - has been incredible, and the Pacers have knocked off the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks en route to a date with the Lakers.

One player who has played a small part in the success of the team getting to this stage has been point guard T.J. McConnell, somebody the Suns have long been linked with.

In Las Vegas, McConnell came off the bench as a spark plug and provided nine points and four assists in 11 minutes of action against the Bucks. He was his team's 10th man as head coach Rick Carlisle extended his rotation, but he did not disappoint in the limited run which he received.

In fact his four assists were second only to Haliburton's incredible 15, while his 11 points was the fifth best on the team, eclipsing every other player who came off the bench, as well as starter Bruce Brown, who finished with 10 points. This display was all that is good about McConnell, a player who has clear deficiencies but who the Pacers' coaching staff also clearly trust.

Really he is everything the Suns wish that they could have behind Devin Booker, even more so because Booker has been in and out of the lineup all season due to a couple of different injuries. McConnell absolutely shouldn't start in Indiana and he wouldn't in The Valley either, but he is exactly the kind of player who can give you something during a big game.

These tournament games the Pacers have participated in have been the highest stakes contests they've played since current Suns' head coach Frank Vogel was managing the team. Not only does that speak to the trajectory of the Pacers in the time since Vogel departed, but also how successful the in-season tournament has been at creating drama and suspense.

So for the Pacers to be comfortable giving McConnell the ball for periods of a game against a team on the level of the Bucks really proves that he has something to offer a true contender out there. Which the Pacers are not quite yet - although they will be if Haliburton continues this ascension - but the Suns believe that they are now.

Last season they had Cameron Payne, now on the Bucks, running the show as the backup, and the results were as you would expect them to be. Payne gave it his all, but he's not the irritant that McConnell is defensively, nor is he the steady hand who has a habit of finding the right players to make a play at the right time.

McConnell didn't have quite the same impact in the quarter-final win over the Celtics, with two points and three assists in nine minutes of action. But he still made what was a nine man rotation (playing the eighth most minutes) on that occasion, and had the third most assists out of anybody on his team in that cameo performance.

It is about more than just the numbers with the 31-year-old though, and there is a reason he has been linked with the Suns repeatedly. He is an affordable veteran who wouldn't hurt the team in big games - as long as he was used in much the same way as he is now - and who could steer the ship while the likes of Booker and Bradley Beal were on the bench or worse, injured.

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Unfortunately for the Suns, given the makeup of their roster and cap sheet at this point, it would probably involve moving Grayson Allen in order to get McConnell. Not a good idea given how important Allen has been for the Suns so far this season. With these performances and the fact he has a role on a good Pacers team though, McConnell has done his own stock no harm recently.