Can the Suns kick the tires of this Thaddeus Young trade?
The Phoenix Suns are currently facing something they haven’t had to navigate much during their memorable 2020-21 run to the NBA Finals: injuries. Dario Saric hasn’t played all season. Deandre Ayton suffered a bruised leg earlier this year. Frank Kaminsky has a stress reaction to his right knee, return date to be determined. Abdel Nader is on “injury management”. Devin Booker came out with a hamstring problem.
Last season was a mirage compared to the rest of the league as the team avoided setbacks that landed the starters on the bench. When injuries arise, so does a common narrative: do they need to add depth? If so, a familiar name comes to mind.
In 72 regular-season games last year, the Suns pitched Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton a total of 36 times, which is 50% of the season. The team went 26-10 with this lineup, good for a 0.722 winning percentage. In total, the team had 9 different starting lineups throughout the regular season. In the playoffs, Monty Williams featured this roster in 20 of 22 games played.
For reference, here is the number of starting regular season rosters the top teams in the league posted last season:
Good, bad, or indifferent, if you have consistent health you tend to win more basketball games. I know, I need this annoying Captain Obvious guy from the Hotels.com ads to make an appearance here because I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know.
What might interest you is that in the first 24 games the Suns have featured 3 different starting lineups. We are 30% of the season and 33% of the way to reflect the measurement of the starting lineup from last season. Through the lens of the runoff economy, as Dave King pointed out, it puts more stress on the Phoenix Suns bench players.
Which means it’s time to end the conversation with Thaddeus Young.
Think about Friday night against the Golden State Warriors. Did your heart sink as Mikal Bridges was seen walking towards the locker room with a towel wrapped around her right hand? (Side note: Was it just me or did that towel look like it was soaked in blood? I believe it was the NBA logo, but it made me more worried than necessary.) that Devin Booker had come out with a hamstring problem – for how long we still don’t know – and to think that we might lose Mikal for a while was a lonely place.
Fortunately, Bridges returned to the game, with the news that he had just dislocated his little finger. I say “just”, but if you’ve ever dislocated a knuckle, it’s quite a painful experience.
Those fleeting moments, however, brought me back to pre-season conversations about building the Suns’ depth and how decisions James Jones does not have doing so could cost the franchise again.
During the trade deadline and buyout season last spring, the Suns had plenty of opportunities to meet their one crying need: a great depth of man. Names like Gorgui Dieng and JaVale McGee were available on the market, but Jones didn’t pull the trigger to bring them to the valley. Looking back, having one of these available during the NBA Finals could have been the missing ingredient for an NBA Championship.
Over the past offseason, Thaddeus Young’s name has started to appear regularly on our Twitter timelines.
I’m told the Suns have discussed trade options involving both Jalen Smith and Dario Saric together and separately. All discussions regarding Thaddeus Young and Spurs will center on Dario Saric and Jalen Smith. Nothing is imminent at the moment but discussions are ongoing.
– Jersey FLEX (@FlexFromJersey) August 10, 2021
The 6’8 “forward was sent to the San Antonio Spurs by the Chicago Bulls as part of the DeMar DeRozen trade. It was not clear whether or not the Spurs intended to use the serves. the 33-year-old, given that the young core of the squad aligned with Young’s schedule. His $ 14 million salary allowed the deal to go through, but rumors were circulating that Spurs were buying it.
Thad Young would be an ideal choice for the Phoenix Suns and adding him would provide another veteran off the bench who understands his role within the confines of team dynamics. His 2020-21 season has been very productive: 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists in 68 games for the Bulls. He is currently averaging his highest FG% in his lowest MPG of his career.
The Suns would use Young correctly; he was playing at the save center against Phoenix on Monday. It would fit nicely into the forward position of the backup power, moving Cam Johnson to the backup three. The 3×5 philosophy (3 deep out of the 5 positions) would be completed, like the last infinity stone in Thanos’ gauntlet.
The path to a trade existed, as the Suns would be able to offer Dario Saric, who is most likely out for the season with a ripped ACL, and former No.10 overall pick Jalen Smith for Young, as the rumors.
Smith would be the key to the deal as the 21-year-old has an advantage and has just led the NBA Summer League on the rebound. It would be an age upgrade, if you will, for Spurs as he plays the same position as Thad but is 12 years younger. Dario and his $ 18 million over the next two years would be the contract that would make the deal work.
While the deal was tempting, especially for Phoenix, it takes two to tango. We tend to see it through the way it benefits our side of the deal, but fail to see it from the opposite perspective. Why, at the start of the season and not yet involving someone with a productive playing career, would Spurs trade Young at a conference opponent for an unproven lottery player and a dismantled vet? Why not just stick with your healthy vet and see if it works?
San Antonio held all the leverage, knowing that if Young did not work, there would be plenty of trade deadline offers available for the forward. The rumors faded and the season began.
The Spurs are now 8-14 after a 4-point loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday night. They’re 12th in the Western Conference and fans are already eyeing the 2022 NBA Draft. Yes, they’ve won 4 of their last 5, but they don’t have the coins to win it all this season. The 2021-22 season is one they will be looking to use as a catalyst rather than a chance to win now.
What’s interesting about the NBA compared to commercial players is the game at stake. More teams have a chance of qualifying for the playoffs, which means fewer teams are likely to. abandon their season and make deals for the future. Spurs could be one of the few teams to do so. Therefore, the team still hold the leverage when it comes to a deal with Thad Young, and it’s time to start thinking about what they can get for him.
This is where I start to fall victim to the way of thinking I set out above, trying to make a trade with Phoenix seeing Spurs and their needs through the eyes of Suns fans. Personally, if I’m the Suns, I still hold out and see what the trade deadline holds. But if I’m the Suns, I’m doing all I can to keep Thad in Phoenix after playing here on Monday night.
If Spurs choose to prepare Young on the draft pick-up trade deadline, teams looking to acquire him may not be able to provide the draft capital they want. After all, these are teams that are tied to the playoffs and likely won’t be able to throw a lottery pick as part of a deal. Add to that Young’s $ 14million price tag, and most playoff-linked teams might not have the assets available to make this deal.
Where Spurs are losing some of their influence is the fact that Young will be an unrestricted free agent next season. How many assets do they hope to collect for the equivalent of half a season of assistance?
Enter Jalen Smith in the chat.
What has hurt the Suns when it comes to making a deal with Thaddeus Young is their lack of confidence in Jalen Smith. For the second consecutive season, his playing time is sparse. He has played a total of 36 minutes this season. The reasons why he doesn’t have the confidence of James and Monty are debatable. The act of not playing it speaks louder than words.
Is playing Jalen Smith more frequently in an effort to show off his skills to potential business partners the answer? Apparently not. The minutes exist. Abdel Nader had some. Ish Wainright gets them now. The Suns know something we don’t know, and maybe it’s the Smith Mystery that’s more valuable than it actually is.
This is where James Jones has to sell the idea of Smith as an asset to Spurs. Of course, Dario’s leadership in the locker room is also a selling point for the deal, but Smith is the price.
He displayed the appropriate growth you’d want from someone who had the weirdest rookie season in NBA history, right? When given a chance in the Summer League, he shone. When given minutes in the preseason, he sparkled. Let’s be real … Smith is coming looks like a spur, right?
So Spurs general manager Brian Wright let’s make it happen!
Whatever the outcome with Young, the Suns need some help off the bench. You might disagree, especially given the role the bench played throughout the team’s 18-game winning streak. But I’m going to ask you this: who is Mikal’s replacement? Abdel Nader? Ish Wainright?
This is where the opportunity for the Suns lies. Young’s addition could give Cameron Johnson the three-minute backup. What about the Young / McGee combo in the painting? It would be one of the best bench pairs in the Association.
Sell it, James. Sell it.