Late on Aug. 30, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped an out-of-nowhere bomb on Twitter, reporting a mid-offseason deal between the Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets which saw multiple players switch sides.
The trade breaks down as follows: General manager Daryl Morey and the Rockets were finally able to rid themselves of Ryan Anderson and his albatross of a contract simply by attaching 2018 second-round pick De’Anthony Melton to the deal, in exchange for the 2016 draft’s No. 8 overall pick, Marquese Chriss, as well as veteran guard Brandon Knight.
A few different variables make this trade interesting, perhaps none moreso than the fact Knight was projected by many to be in line to start for the Suns at point guard in 2018-19.
Now, following his exit, the job is wide open.
Phoenix could very well choose to go in-house to fill the opening. After all, Melton, who averaged 16.4 points, 7.2 boards and 4.0 assists in summer league, looks ready for a big role as a rookie. Or if not him, Elie Okobo, the Suns’ No. 31 pick in the 2018 draft, could also be a decent candidate, though he looks to be a little farther away from contributing to a winning situation.
The likeliest outcome, however, according to Wojnarowski at least, is the Suns hitting the trade market for a suitable starting lead guard:
Below, we break down five candidates who could fill Phoenix’s hole at the position.
TERRY ROZIER, BOSTON CELTICS
Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier would make a ton of sense as a trade target for the Suns. He’s coming off a career year in which he averaged 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range along the way, his best mark since entering the NBA. He’s young, but not so young that he’s not ready to contribute towards a playoff push, which Phoenix very obviously covets in 2018-19. And he would be coming over from a winning situation, so he would be a great addition to what is presently a very young, inexperienced locker room.
The issue here is, until the Celtics are certain that Kyrie Irving will return to form following his latest knee surgery, and that he’ll re-sign with them next summer, they may not feel all that inclined to trade away a point guard who could take his place were the worst come to fruition.
It’s unfortunate for the Suns considering how perfect a fit Rozier, with his strong two-way presence and knockdown shooting ability, would have been in their backcourt. Nevertheless, this one just doesn’t seem very plausible – that is, unless, Phoenix offers up a package containing at least one unprotected first. Even then, this would be a tricky one to pull off.
SPENCER DINWIDDIE, BROOKLYN NETS
With D’Angelo Russell set to be the Brooklyn Nets’ future at lead guard, and Shabazz Napier acquired to back him up, Spencer Dinwiddie, who broke out last season and is on the last year of an extremely team-friendly deal, is a prime candidate to get traded this season.
Phoenix would be a pristine landing spot for the Colorado product.
Last year, Dinwiddie put up impressive averages – 12.6 points, 6.6 assists and 1.8 three-pointers nightly – while ranking in the 68th percentile as a spot-up shooter, according to Synergy Sports. Thanks to his improved shooting, Dinwiddie would have the ability to space the floor next to burgeoning superstar Devin Booker, who, in this hypothetical scenario, would maintain his role as the Suns’ primary ball-handler/playmaker. What’s more, Dinwiddie’s excellent marks as the pick-and-roll ball-handler (72nd percentile in 2017-18 per Synergy, with passes included) and as an isolation scorer (73rd percentile) would provide Phoenix with efficient primary offense on certain possessions, giving Booker brief respites when needed.
Additionally, with his size (6-foot-6) and length, Dinwiddie also doubles as a plus defender, a must for whoever the Suns choose to be a part of their long-term backcourt next to Booker, who, as of yet, hasn’t show much as a ball-stopper.
In order to get a deal done, a package centered around Dragan Bender and a draft pick could get things done between these two sides. Bender hasn’t come close to reaching his potential yet, but as a 7-foot-1 floor-spacer at the 4, he would theoretically be an interesting fit next to a young rim-diving center like Jarrett Allen. Acquiring the 20-year-old big man could be a savvy gamble by the Nets.
PATRICK BEVERLEY, LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
This offseason, Phoenix has shown zero hesitation in adding veteran pieces who can help them speed up the rebuild, like Anderson and Trevor Ariza. That’s what makes Patrick Beverley, despite now being 30, a realistic trade target for Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and Co.
From a Los Angeles Clippers perspective, there are a few reasons to believe Beverley could be moved at some point in the next few months. For one, he has a single year left on his current contract, making his long-term future with the club far from secure. Secondly, with L.A. adding two young pieces to their backcourt in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jerome Robinson in this past draft, who both warrant an extended look in 2018-19, Beverley could be expendable. Plus, if the Clippers want to keep at least one veteran floor general this upcoming season, they would still have Milos Teodosic under contract.
In Beverley, the Suns would be acquiring a near-perfect fit to place next to Booker. The tenacious, defensive-minded point guard isn’t just one of the best ball-stoppers the league has to offer, during his time with Houston, he also proved to be a more than capable offensive weapon. Beverley shot 39.1 percent from three over his last two seasons with the Rockets, ranking in the 80th percentile as a spot-up shooter in the latter of those two years.
To get a deal done, Phoenix could offer something like a protected 2021 first-round pick, or multiple future seconds, to land the two-way point guard.
GEORGE HILL, CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Nothing that’s transpired over the last six months should lead one to believe George Hill will be part of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ long-term plans. The veteran point guard struggled mightily after getting traded to the Cavs last February, averaging 9.4 points per contest for the team, and shooting 35.1 percent from deep, despite the open looks LeBron James consistently set up for him. If his poor play wasn’t enough of an indicator, Cleveland drafting Collin Sexton in June pretty clearly put the writing on the wall as far as Hill’s future with the club.
Nevertheless, Hill isn’t too far removed from averaging a career-high 16.9 points nightly with the Utah Jazz in 2016-17, making it reasonable to think he still has something left in the tank. For the Suns, he would provide impactful 3-and-D play (Hill is still an able defender, and has converted 40.8 percent of his triples over the last three seasons) to slot next to Booker, while arriving with loads of playoff experience and a confident, grizzled attitude that may help shift Phoenix’s culture.
A Suns package for Hill could center around TJ Warren, who is still just 24 years old and has upside as a bucket-getter on the wing. With Cleveland losing James this summer, landing a promising small forward like Warren may be enticing.
KEMBA WALKER, CHARLOTTE HORNETS
The top realistic target for the Suns in their hunt for a starting point guard has to be Charlotte Hornets All-Star Kemba Walker. Even though Walker is a superior player to Rozier, Phoenix nabbing him feels likelier than them landing the Celtics guard, and here’s why: The best immediate asset the Suns have to offer at the moment is one of their young, promising wings. Boston may not have much of a need for any of them, but Charlotte? That’s a different story.
Following back-to-back subpar seasons, the Hornets went through a change in leadership, both at head coach and in their front office. New general manager Mitch Kupchak will have to decide whether to give Charlotte’s current core on more go at it, or begin the rebuilding process sooner rather than later, and the fact 2018-19 is the final year of Walker’s team-friendly deal may push them in the latter direction.
As far as what a Hornets/Suns deal for Walker could look like, a package involving Josh Jackson and Mikal Bridges could make some sense. It may seem expensive at first glance, but at the end of the day, the Suns would be landing a borderline All-NBA caliber floor general, one who still has years of his prime left and one who would be a great fit with the future of their franchise at 2-guard; Walker and Booker would immediately form one of the NBA’s most entertaining and productive backcourts. Additionally, from a more macro sense, a starting five of Walker, Booker, Ariza, Anderson and Deandre Ayton would be pretty potent. It may not get Phoenix into the playoffs right off the bat in 2018-19, but it would put them on the right path.
If the Suns are going to make any move for a big-time point guard, there’s no reason to do it unless they think it’ll allow them to take the next proverbial step as a franchise. Walker would help them do just that.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.