Should Phoenix go hard after Paul George?
As soon as Paul George made it official that he wants to leave Indiana in summer ’18, we’ve heard trade rumors about him and practically every organization in the league. The Lakers (of course). The Cavs. The Celtics. Even the freakin’ Golden State Warriors. However, one is mentioning the Phoenix Suns.
Why? Well, for starters, no one ever mentions the Phoenix Suns. Along with the Orlando Magic, they’re probably the most forgotten franchise in the NBA. Both teams have some young talent, but aside from Devin Booker (and maybe Aaron Gordon?), there’s not a surefire franchise building block in sight.
And that’s a problem. The Suns need something — anything — to drum up excitement, either for the present or the future. Of course, that can absolutely happen if you stay the course and continue the long-term rebuild. I happen to love Kansas SF Josh Jackson. To me, he’s the #1 prospect in the draft, and an ideal fit along Devin Booker. If the draft goes Markelle Fultz 1, Lonzo Ball 2, and Jayson Tatum to the Celtics at 3, then Jackson to the Suns is a homerun. There you go: instant excitement. That’s a young core that can make major waves.
However, if Boston (or L.A.) takes Josh Jackson, then the Suns can wind up with a good-but-not-great prospect like Jayson Tatum, who wouldn’t move the needle as much in my mind. The Suns would have a solid young core, but nothing matching the level of a Philadelphia or Minnesota. They may continue to mire in mediocrity and irrelevance for a while.
Given that, let’s try to play out this hypothetical: would a Paul George trade make sense for Phoenix? Let’s go step by step to explain why it makes (some) sense.
Why it makes (some) sense for Indiana
Because of Paul George’s public flirtation with the Lakers, his trade value has plummeted. Ideally, the Pacers would want some young talent to help with their rebuild, but that’s hard to find. The Lakers can offer some, but they also can hold firm and wait until his free agency. If the Lakers are only going to offer you, Julius Randle, at most, then you may be able to outbid them.
Meanwhile, the Suns have some young trade chips that may intrigue the Pacers more. Among them: the #4 pick. Dragon Bender (the #4 pick last year). Marquese Chriss (the #8 pick last year, but possibly more promising than Bender.) T.J. Warren‘s also a promising scorer. If I’m the Suns, I try to hang onto this year’s #4, but I’d be comfortable dangling Bender and Tyler Ulis. It’s not an overwhelming package by any means, but it’s not terrible. Maybe Indiana can talk themselves into a Myles Turner/Bender or Turner/Chriss frontcourt of the future. Throw in a future first, and you may be in business.
Why it makes (some) sense for the Suns
Given their 24-58 record, the Suns are theoretically a long way away from the playoffs. But if they get Paul George, can that change overnight? Perhaps. We’re talking about a lineup that could feature Eric Bledsoe at PG, Devin Booker at SG, Paul George at SF, Jared Dudley at PF, and Tyson Chandler at C. If you can keep T.J. Warren, he’d be a beast of a 6th man. Maybe I’m crazy, but that feels like the makings of a playoff team to me.
Obviously, you don’t want to throw your chips into a Paul George trade for a possible #8 seed, but that lineup also has upside potential. Right now, George is only 27 years old — the same age as Eric Bledsoe. Devin Booker is only 20. You’d also have whatever asset that you didn’t trade, be it the #4 pick or Marquese Chriss. With a Paul George trade, the Suns present and future could still be bright.
In fact, that young core would have a huge opportunity in 2019 (when some of their veteran contracts come off the books) to add another marquee free agent to the mix that could potentially push them over the top. Would this gambit work? Maybe, maybe not. But we wouldn’t be talking about the Suns as irrelevant anymore.
Why it makes (some) sense for Paul George
Of course, no deal is going down without Paul George agreeing to stay in Phoenix, or at least giving it an honest one year chance.
If the Suns trade for George, they’d own his Bird Rights, and be able to offer him more than the Lakers on the open market.
They’d also potentially offer him more talent as well, both in the short and long term. As mentioned, George is 27. Does he really want to play his prime years with kids like Brandon Ingram? In Phoenix, he’d have players like Bledsoe and Booker who are closer to their primes, as well as some steady and likable vets like Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley.
George may love the idea of coming home to L.A. and the Lakers, but Phoenix isn’t that far away. It’s a change of scenery and a move out West — just not the one that everyone’s expecting.
To me, it makes some sense, but I understand there are a lot of limitations here given that Phoenix is in deep rebuild mode at the moment. What do you think? If you ran the Suns, would you even entertain this idea?