Suns Upgrade Options on a Backup Big

Updated: December 28, 2021

Coming off the nail-biter loss at home against Memphis, and the Christmas day 4th quarter collapse against the Warriors, the Phoenix Suns find themselves in a rare state of things…on a losing streak. Now, it is only 2 games, and the Suns have been one the best and most consistent teams in the NBA. However, with DeAndre Ayton in health and safety protocol against the Grizz, we saw how much of their defensive identity is centered around their dynamic 5. JaVale has played quality minutes for the Suns as their backup-Big, yet, the entire league knows he can be exploited in numerous amount of ways despite his freakish athleticism.

Monty Williams has also shown a clear reluctance to use young 6”10, Jalen Smith, even though the Suns’ franchise wasted a lottery pick on him a few drafts ago. Because of Ayton’s defensive versatility, the Suns are one of the few teams that do not opt to go small in big moments down the stretch of games. The question is, going into a title-or-bust season in the twilight of Chris Paul’s prime, what type of team is this if they were to lose their starting big or even if Ayton simply got into early foul trouble in a playoff game?

To be fair, this could be said about any contender losing their 3rd best player that there might be a huge falloff. Yet most of the contenders in this league have already cashed out their draft capital for star power and depth. Phoenix has not. They currently have their 24, 26, and 28 picks locked and loaded to upgrade anywhere in their roster. With how quiet it has been on the trade block since all the bigs were made available, it has to be a question of how tempting it is looking to upgrade their backup big minutes with a player who could create serious problems for opposing second units. Here are two options they might consider.

Wood & Tate

The exchange would bring in Christian Wood, who would immediately become the best backup big in basketball. He has proven to put up big numbers in meaningless L’s for Houston, however, against 2nd units for a contender, he may prove to cause serious problems. Wood would also provide some insurance if Ayton were to get in foul trouble in a big game and they needed to lean on a dynamic big. Now obviously, Wood is not the defender Ayton is, but his offensive bag is arguably deeper. They could also experiment with Wood at the 4 and start to try a Crowder/Cam Johnson front court in the second unit going small. Although, having Crowder or Cam’s shooting and defensive versatility in the starting and closing units would most likely remain the best option. In both of these cases, because of how much is being size sent out, they would most likely get 1 additional 7-foot body off the buyout market as a 3rd big.

Ja’Sean Tate would be added in to bridge the gap between 2 & 3 first-round picks in the awkward value of Christian Wood. He would also be an additional scoring weapon off the bench in the playoffs when things get stagnant in the half-court in the non-CP3 minutes.


 Domantas Sabonis, if seen from the scope of an ex-Allstar, to come off the bench would be ridiculous. However, most analysts would bet their career if the odds were right that he probably will never repeat that feat as a Star of this league. He is a piss pour 1st option on a middle-of-the-pack team, however, arguably could be the 3rd best player on a title team. But how about as a backup big destroying second units while Chris Paul and Ayton sit? What type of answer would the Warriors or Memphis second units have for Sabonis’ electric 25 minutes off the bench? Especially as a high motor big, on limited minutes he should prove to be even more explosive. The temptation would be just to put him in the starting unit next to Ayton and go huge, but this would be a mistake. The Suns have an elite starting squad fluidity that should not be toyed with. Crowder or Cam Johnson should be playing the 4 to create the necessary spacing that helps CP3 and Ayton to operate at full efficiency. However, as a monster off the bench, Sabonis could swing a series, maybe even the finals.

The Package Sent

With Dario Saric being an expiring deal next year and presumably a decent rotation piece once healthy, he is a nice starting asset attached to picks. Jalen Smith also is a young player who has never really been given space to spread his 7’2″ wingspan in this win-now Phoenix environment and probably would be able to be retained in restricted free agency on the cheap. For both options, the Suns’ trade package could only be theoretically trumped by the Warriors who seem substantially hesitant about trading their young players or medium-size contract in their starting center Kevon Looney. For the Suns, the only true rotation piece that is being sent out is JaVale McGee who is the position being upgraded for.

The draft capital sent out is quite expensive, yet all these teams have shown a reluctance to move these bigs despite them being reportedly on the trade block. There is an argument that each of the trades could shave a 1st off the asking price, and in value, there definitely is a logic that would support it. However, I believe it is this asking price that it would take to actually execute the deal. Both options are pricy, yet they do look like serious upgrades for a team that already believes itself to be the best in basketball. After being beaten at home back-to-back by the Dubs and Grizz, selling picks to increase their odds at a title should at the very least be considered.


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