It’s officially NBA All-Star weekend. While the season is already more than halfway over, it’s time for players to take in this weekend’s festivities, and then enjoy an extended breather before getting back into action and preparing for the playoff push.
However, even though the players are on a mini-vacation, general managers around the league are hardly relaxing. With the annual trade deadline coming up next Thursday, you better believe every GM is going to be working the phones on an hourly basis in attempts to make a deal. Some will be trying to shed players from an underperforming team while others will be aiming to add one or two final pieces to shore up for the postseason.
One man who’ll definitely be fielding a ton of calls in the coming days is Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough, and it’s almost a certainty all inquiries will be about one of the team’s best players: point guard Goran Dragic.
The Suns are hanging on to the final playoff seed in the uber-competitive Western Conference. Naturally, their stance through most of the season has been to reject any and all offers for Dragic, despite the fact he can opt out this summer and become an unrestricted free agent. However, the mindset of the front office appears to be changing, as it’s now being reported the Suns guard is available for the right price.
I can see where this news may be troubling to Phoenix fans. Why would a team attempting to make a playoff run consider dealing one of their marquee players be a good idea? However, though this may be a tough pill for the Suns to swallow, not only is it a good thing the team is listening to offers on Dragic, there are more than a few reasons why moving him before the deadline is a must for Phoenix.
Yes, as mentioned, Dragic is one of the key players for the Suns. He’s someone the team has been very adamant about holding on to for quite some time now. Likewise, dealing a top-end talent while also attempting to clinch a playoff seed isn’t exactly a very common strategy these days. However, Dragic’s potential upcoming free agency is a huge curveball.
It’s almost guaranteed Dragic is going to opt out this summer. Now, while no team can offer him more money than Phoenix, it’s tough to believe they’re high on his list of potential suitors. While his stance in September appeared to favor the idea of re-signing with the Suns, things have changed since then.
Just a few weeks ago, Dragic shifted from “I’ll just re-sign with Phoenix” to “every team is an option.” The Suns are hardly going to be the only club vying for Dragic’s services in the offseason, and many of those teams can offer him something Phoenix no longer can: a non-overloaded back court.
This is easily the biggest reason why the Suns have to try and move Dragic before the deadline. The team is very stacked at guard, especially after re-signing Eric Bledsoe and bringing in Isaiah Thomas during a very active offseason. While this would appear to be a positive of sorts for Phoenix, Dragic doesn’t feel the same way.
When the Suns were struggling a bit early in the season, Dragic was asked what he thought was causing the rough start. His response, point blank, was, “Because there’s only one ball and we’re all point guards. That’s an easy answer.”
The Suns can’t guarantee him more opportunities to be the primary ball-handler, not with Bledsoe and Thomas excelling at this as well. There will certainly be other interested teams who can promise this to Dragic, and with his candid frustration about the situation in Phoenix, you wonder how much their ability to offer more money will be the primary factor in his choice.
Bledsoe and Thomas aren’t going anywhere, as the ink is still drying on their respective contracts. So, if the Suns are looking to clear up their traffic jam at guard, Dragic is the only feasible option.
The worst thing a franchise can do is lose one of their best players in free agency while getting nothing in return. A team like Phoenix wouldn’t be crippled if Dragic indeed went to greener pastures this summer, but it still would hardly be an ideal situation for them to handle. And, even though they would still be a good team without Dragic, they’d be in an even better position if they got something in return for his departure.
Right now, word is the Suns are looking for a first-round draft pick from anyone who wants to try and pry Dragic out of Phoenix. This is a good starting point, but there’s potential for the Suns to have someone sweeten the pot.
By his own admission, McDonough noted his team’s roster is off-balance, and there’s an obvious need for depth in the front court. This is easily his best chance at adding a key player or two in exchange for Dragic. The offers may be just a first rounder now, but as the deadline nears, there’s a big chance a team feels pressured into over-paying.
At the end of the day, while Phoenix obviously needs to push for the best deal possible for Dragic, it’s crucial for the team to get a trade done. As we’ve seen in the past, just because a player is for sale doesn’t guarantee a deal is made. There’s always a chance the Suns double back and try to hold on to Dragic. It’s important the front office resists these urges as much as possible, though.
Phoenix’s hold on the eighth playoff seed, while narrow, is going to be a factor in their decision. It could cause them to balk at the idea of moving such a crucial piece in Dragic, convinced he’s a key to their attempts at a postseason run. Will the risk of losing him in the offseason still exist? Of course. At the same time, a playoff berth could go a long way in convincing Dragic to re-sign this summer.
Again, though, this type of thinking needs to take a backseat for the Suns.
Phoenix is only half a game above the Oklahoma City Thunder, hardly anything you could label as “breathing room.” Sure, they’d be in the playoffs if the season ended today. However, the Thunder are way too talented to be held at bay for long. What happens if Phoenix’s affinity for Dragic outweighs the offers they receive, and he remains on the team only to watch them come up just short on the postseason? If you top this scenario off with the aforementioned likelihood Dragic is wooed away this offseason, you’ll only find more reasons why dealing the guard is vital for the Suns.
Some fans may see such a move as giving up on the current season, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not saying the team needs to give up, that they would get blown out if they won themselves a first-round date with the powerful Golden State Warriors. However, what I am saying is there are a lot of potential title contenders in the West, and I’m not sure Phoenix is one of them.
When you consider this, why would you want to hold onto Dragic for what could be just an additional few months? Why not collect potential assets which could go a long way in turning the Suns into an even better team next year?
On top of this, a trade for Dragic would hardly be only considering the future. As mentioned, the team already has plenty of back-court talent in Bledsoe and Thomas. As a result, dealing Dragic wouldn’t guarantee they fall short of the playoffs this season. If the team ended up netting a decent big-man in return, it might even help their postseason odds.
The bottom line is the Suns happen to be in a unique situation in which trading one of their best players might help them both now and for the future. When the only two routes to choose from are this or keeping said player only to see him bail in free agency, it’s difficult not to see which is the best option to take.
This won’t be an easy decision for Phoenix to make. It took them this long just to put a price tag on their prized guard. Dragic is a favorite among both the fans and the front office, and losing him won’t be easy for either.
At the same time, you have a player who’s basically already claimed he’s going to opt out this offseason, who’s openly stating his interest in hearing offers from all teams this summer, and who has vented his frustration about having to work with one too many point guards. The writing appears to be on the wall.
Again, this will not at all be considered a talent dump from the Suns. They have the right people on their roster to help them survive losing a quality player like Dragic. Not a lot of teams could say the same about their rosters. Move him now, get the best assets you can.
Phoenix can’t just focus on this season alone, they need to consider the present and beyond. There’s a great chance the beyond won’t feature Dragic, whether they keep him this year or not, and this is why their top priority must be trading him away.