The Phoenix Suns, for the first time in many years, aren't a likely player as the NBA trade deadline approaches. There's no longer any Amare Stoudemire drama, as there was in the last two years, and before that, it was the constant talk about moving Shawn Marion. As we've seen in those cases and again this year with the Carmelo Anthony saga, it's star players in their prime approaching the end of their contracts that generates the most buzz and the Suns no longer have any of those guys.
What the Suns do have is a handful of aging assets in Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Vince Carter; a couple of bigs in Robin Lopez and Marcin Gortat that would certainly be the objects of desire around the league; and two wing players in Josh Childress and Mickael Pietrus, who could help playoff teams immediately.
The following are my own predictions and speculation for what the Suns might do leading up to Thursday's trade deadline. This is based on my own ideas, along with general conversations with folks in and around the Suns' organization. These are not rumors (so feel free to spread them).
I am not going to get into the Steve Nash stuff again. I never thought he would be traded and I don't now. For similar reasons why the Suns won't likely trade Nash, there is no compelling market for Grant Hill.
It's not that this year's crop of championship contenders wouldn't love to add Grant to their roster; it's the reality of what they would be willing to offer for the 38-year-old on an expiring deal. Which is to say, not enough for the Suns to move him.
Vince Carter is where things get a bit more interesting, but not that much.
I have very little doubt the Suns will buy Carter out of the final year of his contract and, with an $18 million price tag for next season, I can't imagine any team picking up that option. So that makes Carter essentially an expiring contract with a $4 million kicker.
For a team to take on that $4 million buyout cost, they would need to be giving up a lot more in contract value, which means the Suns would be taking on a lot more salary. That goes against their desire to have cap space in 2012 when the next big crop of star free agents comes on the market. Basically, the Suns value Carter's cap space potential far more than they do his value as a trade chip.
That doesn't mean deals are impossible. For example, Alex at Bright Side of the Sun speculated on a trade with the Bobcats for Boris Diaw and Nazr Mohammed's expiring contract. This only saves Charlotte about $5 million, which isn't likely enough for them to move Diaw. He's worth more, except the Suns aren't likely to want to sweeten the deal to get him since his addition now would upset an apple cart that's slowly starting to roll in the right direction. In other words, it's possible, but problematic.
My bottom line with Vince: his salary is too big to move without taking back a lot of longer term money and the Suns don't want to do that. And Vince isn't worth enough now as a player for another team to justify bribing the Suns by including a nice young player in the deal.
With Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez both on the roster, there has to be several teams licking their lips to get their hands on one of the Suns' two centers. But obviously, the Suns also love having two bigs that are playing well, so the price would be very high indeed.
Of the teams in contention, only the Magic and Thunder would possibly have the need for another big and since the Suns already resisted the Magic's attempts to get Lopez in the deal earlier this season, that just leaves the Thunder.
OKC does have some young pieces they could trade for Robin if they really wanted to get bigger, with the key being Jeff Green. But it's highly unlike they would be willing to degrade their team by making that deal, even though they would push off the need to give an extension to one of their young guys by one year.
Serge Ibaka is on a favorable rookie contract and has a lot of upside and James Harden could be seen as expendable, given the wing production from Westbrook and Durant, so either of those guys is theoretically possible, but also highly risky for both sides and therefore unlikely. Lopez right now has high upside/high bust potential, which makes trading him very dangerous for all involved.
Where it gets a bit more interesting for the Suns is their two wings, Josh Childress and Mickael Pietrus.
Pietrus would be a guy that both the Bulls and Celtics would love to add. He brings veteran playoff toughness, depth at a position both teams are shallow, and he's a defensive option for various playoff match-ups. The Suns seem to be growing more and more fond of Pietrus, however, and he recently expressed his love for being in Phoenix, as well. MP has a player option for $5.3 million, which makes him a low-risk contract.
It really comes down to either the Celtics or Bulls having enough intriguing assets to convince the Suns to make a deal. Neither team is stocked with movable young players on rookie deals that would be the kind of prize the Suns would want. The Bulls have Taj Gibson and James Johnson, but Gibson is too much to give up for MP and Johnson probably isn't enough. The Celtics are in a similar boat with Semih Erden and Avery Bradley.
Still, if the will is there -- and it should be for MP, who could really help either of these teams -- then anything is possible. This is why Pietrus gets my vote for Most Likely To Be Traded Sun, but I would only put the odds at about 30 percent.
Josh Childress is another option, especially for the Celtics, who don't need the outside shooting as much as the Bulls. The problem is his contract, which pays Josh about $27 million over the next four years. If the Celtics want him bad enough, they could trade Jermaine O'Neal, who is only owed $6.2 million next year.
O'Neal is a shell of his former self, but perhaps could be cajoled back into health by the Suns training staff. But are the Celtics really willing to add an extra $21 million to their books just to get Childress? Not likely. Josh's inability to make an impact with the Suns this season (due to the wing logjam and his own limitations) has greatly reduced his value.
Still, moving Childress to the Celtics in some kind of deal to give them much-needed guard depth is possible, but I would put it at only about 15 percent.
You never know what might happen at the trade deadline and the Suns are never shy when it comes to pulling the trigger. Overall, they still feel they can make the playoffs this year and aren't in a position to blow up the roster. That leaves the possibility of some minor deals with Pietrus getting my vote as the guy most likely to get moved.
Stay tuned until Thursday.