We’re just about one-quarter of the way through the NBA season, and yet the fate of the Phoenix Suns has already been decided.
At 4-20 and having suffered an embarrassing blowout loss to the now-decent Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, the Suns are entering another inevitable bottom finish.
It’s not that they are off to yet another bad start. It’s that everyone who is ahead of them at the moment is in a dogfight for a playoff spot (click here for the best basketball odds available online), and are all at minimum seven games ahead of the Suns in the standings.
There may be optimists for out there for the Suns with a relentless “Never say die!” mindset, but this tweet from Marc Stein yesterday would imply that Phoenix is waving the white flag already.
The Suns' Trevor Ariza is seen by rival teams at the top of the list of players who will be made available via trade after Dec. 15, league sources say
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) December 4, 2018
A guy like Trevor Ariza would attract pretty much every team in the NBA. Though his numbers may have taken a hit – 9.9 points a game on 37 percent from the field including 35.7 percent from three – Ariza is one of the clear-cut three-and-D wings in the NBA.
$15 million is an overpay for a guy like him, but since his contract expires after this season, it’s more than affordable. The real question is, is he going to leave Phoenix by trade or by buyout?
When Ariza’s trade restriction expires, it will make for a fascinating race to see who gets Ariza, and how. Though the Suns appear to want to trade Ariza for some value, interested suitors seem to want a different outcome.
Ariza is on a one-year, $15 million deal with Phoenix. Interested teams have been hoping the Suns would just buy Ariza out like they did with Tyson Chandler, but they are expected to pursue trades to try to get at least one asset in return
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) December 4, 2018
Once Dec. 15 arrives, it’ll be intriguing to see who is willing to part with what to get about three-fourths of a rental of the 17-year swingman, and, if that doesn’t happen, it’ll be even more curious to see where Ariza decides to go if he winds up on the buyout market.
First, let’s start with the teams that could make a realistic trade for Ariza.
The Jimmy Butler trade has so far proven to be a success in Philly, as the team has gone 9-2 since he joined the team, making them 17-8 on the year.
While their three-point shooting has been quite well (they’ve shot 37.9 percent from distance since the deal), their defense has slipped. It rates 12th in the league with a 106.9 defensive rating. That’s above average, but Philly’s defense was rated fourth last year at 105. Their top competitors – Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston – all have top-notch talent on the wing, so they will need as much defensive help as they can get around the perimeter.
At 33, Ariza’s not the shutdown defender that Robert Covington is, but he still has enough juice left that he can be of service to Philly. Getting him would give the Sixers’ fantastic depth on the wing.
Philadelphia can offer Phoenix expiring contracts like Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, but the one asset they have that would knock Phoenix’s socks off would be Markelle Fultz. Fultz doesn’t fit in Philly’s timeline, but he would in Phoenix. The Suns are in the rebuilding phase and they need a point guard, so trading Ariza for him would be perfect for both sides.
Since Fultz is getting paid $8+ million, matching him along with other salaries with Ariza would be a sinch.
Los Angeles Lakers
Thanks to Tyson Chandler, the Lakers have really picked it up defensively in the past month, but their outside shooting is subpar at the moment. The need for Ariza stems primarily from their need for more three-point shooting.
The Lakers currently rank 20th in the NBA in three-point shooting, which has probably played a role in them being tied for the 15th highest rated offense in the league at 108 points per 100 possessions. Their best shooters from deep are Rajon Rondo (43 percent), Josh Hart (39.6 percent), LeBron James (36.6 percent) and Lance Stephenson of all people (36.7 percent). Everyone else in their rotation who regularly shoots from deep doesn’t shoot any better than 32 percent.
Both LeBron and Rondo thrive playing with guys who can spot up around the perimeter because of their elite playmaking abilities. Considering Ariza played with James Harden and Chris Paul last year, it’d be safe to assume that he would easily fit next to those two.
The Lakers aren’t trading any of their top young talents for Ariza, but Ivica Zubac could be in the mix. What the Lakers have to offer are plenty of one-year deals to trade: Stephenson, Michael Beasley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. When Rondo returns, somebody’s minutes are going down. That somebody could be used in a trade for Ariza.
There’s no doubt that the Lakers are talented, but what steadied the team was a veteran presence who knew his role like Chandler. Getting another one like Ariza, who has championship experience as a Laker, could take them even further.
As odd as it sounds, acquiring a grizzled veteran might actually be the right move for the Kings right now. Sacramento currently has a winning product, as it is in the thick of a very intense playoff race with an impressive record – for them – at 12-11.
They’re on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Lakers. They are actually the best three-point shooting team in the league right now, as their three-point percentage is 38.8 led by Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica. What they would need Ariza for is defense.
Sactown currently has the 20th-rated defense in the league. That isn’t terrible, but with how things are going with the Kings, improving their defensive personnel is a must since they’ve proven so far that they have what it takes to compete. Getting a player like Ariza could take them even further.
Troy Williams and Justin Jackson haven’t done a bad job as the backup wings, but Ariza brings experience that this team needs. The Kings’ vets in the rotation – Bjelica and Iman Shumpert – have done a solid job, so there’d be no hurt in adding another one.
The Kings have players out of the rotation who are expiring – Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos, Ben McLemore – as well as young players who could use a fresh start like Skal Labissiere or Frank Mason III. The Kings aren’t a contender, but getting a guy like Ariza can help break their reputation as a joke franchise in the league.
It wouldn’t surprise this writer in the slightest if somebody else traded for Ariza. It’s just that these three teams have the most sensible packages on paper.
In the unlikely event that Ariza gets bought out, expect these teams to pursue him.
Houston – They have the 24th-rated defense at 111.7. They have the seventh lowest three-point percentage at 34.2. The Rockets were much better in both categories last season with much of it having to do with Ariza. They didn’t want to the guy to leave but they couldn’t top Phoenix’s offer. They’ll grab Ariza at the first opportunity he’s on the market.
Oklahoma City – Ariza would fit in like a glove since they have the highest-rated defense in the league at 100.5. What stops the Thunder from being a contender is their dreadful spacing, as they shoot just 31.1 percent from the field. Getting a trusted floor spacer like Trevor could do so much good for OKC.
New Orleans – They are in a very similar spot to Houston. They have the 26th-rated defense at 111.8, while ranking No. 19 in three-point percentage at 34.5. Ariza helps in both departments as well as helps them play more small-ball, which they could definitely use.
This season, we’ve seen teams who have made quick fixes with their severe issues. First, the Lakers added Chandler to improve their defense. Then, the Jazz added Kyle Korver to improve their three-point shooting.
With Trevor Ariza going on the market soon – which team will he be a quick fix for?
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