For the first time since they made a five-player trade on Oct. 25, 2013, the Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns met Friday night, and the Suns did all they could to prove that the deal has fallen in their favor. While Phoenix ultimately fell 101-95 to the Wizards, they were able to sufficiently show that first-year general manager Ryan McDonough made a good move by clearing up roster space and moving center Marcin Gortat.
When the Suns pulled the trigger on the trade, they agreed to take on the nearly $14.5 million dollar salary of forward Emeka Okafor, who likely will never play for the team because of a severe back injury. At the same time though, Phoenix was able to shed the salaries of Gortat ($7.8 million) and reserve guards Shannon Brown ($3.5 million), Kendall Marshall ($2 million) and Malcolm Lee ($1.1 million), meaning that the finances were basically a wash.
At the time, the popular belief was that the Suns were tanking their season by letting go of Gortat, who was seen as the most talented player on a weak roster. As it turns out, however, the trade of Gortat opened the door for a young impact player in the making, Miles Plumlee. The 25 year old, who was acquired from the Indiana Pacers this past offseason, has been virtually even with the 29-year-old Gortat in terms of production this year. While averaging nearly five fewer minutes per game than Gortat, he has averaged 8.7 rebounds to Gortat’s 8.8 and equaled him with 1.6 blocks per game. Though Plumlee has 9.7 points per game compared to Gortat’s 12, he’s arguably shown more ability as an offensive force in the paint than Gortat ever did with the Suns.
Friday night’s contest provided further proof that the trade was a good move for the Suns. Gortat played more than eight minutes more than his de facto replacement, yet both had 14 points while Plumlee had one more rebound. When you factor in that Plumlee is slightly bigger and stronger than Gortat, four years younger, and more than $6 million cheaper, it seems like the center swap was an obvious win for the Suns. That’s not even considering the fact that Plumlee likely will be supplanted soon by 2013 fifth overall pick Alex Len, who can combine with Plumlee and Markieff Morris to create one of the most dangerous young front-court rotations in the league.
In addition to the emergence of Plumlee, the trade also has allowed several other players to emerge that otherwise probably would have been stuck at the back end of the bench or even released. Gerald Green, who would have been stuck behind Brown and Marshall had they not been traded, took advantage of an opportunity and is now averaging 13.7 points per game as the team’s starting shooting guard. Reserve guard Ish Smith, who has had some huge games for the Suns this year and has been especially hot as of late, almost certainly would have been cut had the team not pulled off the trade.
It was easy to see that Brown and Marshall were not ideal fits in head coach Jeff Hornacek’s system, so props go to McDonough for getting rid of them in a timely fashion. Seeing ashow Brown is still jobless and it took Marshall almost three months to find an opportunity on a point guard-needy Los Angeles Lakers team, it seems as if it was a sensible move.
Perhaps the greatest part of the deal for the Suns, though, is that they also received a top-12 protected first rounder in the 2014 NBA Draft. With Washington currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, it’s likely that the Suns will be able to take advantage of this pick and make even more improvements to an already successful young squad. With a draft class that many believe is one of the most talented in NBA history, the Suns could have as many first rounders that they can use to either continue their youth movement or trade for an established contributor. While the Suns continue their surprisingly effective season, it’s time to give McDonough credit for the win on his biggest move so far.