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Brandon Knight trade to Rockets reminds us of the Suns’ many previous mistakes

To all the prospects Phoenix has loved before, farewell.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Rockets (championship contenders) and Suns (worst team in the NBA last season) made a trade in the dusk of August, shaking up Houston’s salary cap sheet and Phoenix’s rotation. Ryan Anderson and second-round pick De’Anthony Melton are headed to Phoenix. The Suns sent Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss to Houston.

Albert Nahmad projects the Rockets will save about $11 million in total payroll in 2018-19 because of the trade. The savings could be even greater in 2019-20 if Houston declines the final option year on Chriss’ rookie deal. Meanwhile, Knight likely supplants Michael Carter-Williams as Chris Paul’s back-up and provides some injury insurance behind CP3, James Harden, and Eric Gordon. Chriss has been a disappointment in the league, but his optimal style might mesh with the system Mike D’Antoni is running and benefit from CP3 and Harden’s passing brilliance.

The Suns ... uh, yeah. The Suns are still moving deck chairs around. Neither Knight or Chriss — and certainly not Anderson or Melton — would have or will determine whether Phoenix competes this season, as appears to be the goal. The fact the Suns signed Trevor Ariza on a lucrative one-year deal in the earliest moments of free agency indicates that Phoenix’s tank job had ended. Trading away a young prospect in Chriss and taking on extra salary reinforces the same. The Suns are not interested in being the league’s worst team again.

But there’s not a soul on this roster who can reliably play NBA-level point guard better than Isaiah Canaan, and not a soul other than Devin Booker and maybe Josh Jackson who can create offense. (The Suns drafted Elie Okobo out of France in the second round. Rookie point guards are trouble.) That’s a bad recipe for winning. A move to send out Knight without another point guard coming back has many assuming that the Suns have another trade up their sleeve, perhaps a blockbuster for someone like Kemba Walker or a more modest deal for a Patrick Beverley type of player.

Regardless, this deal with Houston is a good reminder of the mistakes the Suns have made in this bizarre, stunted rebuild.

Phoenix once traded an unprotected Lakers pick for Knight, then a young solid player on the cusp of free agency. After paying a heavy price to get him in the trade, the Suns indeed paid him a huge sum in free agency. He has been injured and ineffective ever since, a disastrous replacement for 2018 All-Star Goran Dragic. The Suns eventually got that pick back in the form of Mikal Bridges in the 2018 NBA Draft — to nab it, Phoenix had to send the Sixers both picks acquired from Miami in the Dragic deal! (That’d be 2018 No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and an unprotected 2021 pick.)

This is the bow on the hellish Knight era, then: the Suns traded a good draft pick for him (bad), but acquired two premium draft picks in trading the strong point guard Knight would replace (good). Knight was a nightmare, the Suns traded both picks from the good trade to replace the pick lost in the bad trade, and then traded Knight for a less reliable player making more money (Anderson). Does that sound like an effective team-building strategy to you?

Then we get to Chriss, one in a series of failed lottery picks in this rebuilding era of the Suns. Chriss retains the benefit of youth and upside, and Phoenix gets a slight reprieve due to the low quality of the 2016 NBA Draft. That said, the Suns traded up to land Chriss at No. 8, sending the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic to Sacramento in the shuffle. Bogdanovic is way better than Chriss or either first-rounder Phoenix sent to the Kings in the deal. (The Suns’ front office would point out that while Chriss has been a flop, at least he’s not Georgios Papagiannis, who the Kings took with the Suns’ No. 13 pick that year. He is out of the league two years into his NBA career.)

Ryan McDonough, the Suns’ general manager who came from the talent-laden Celtics organization, has such a mixed draft history. Booker was a brilliant scoop in 2015, and T.J. Warren was pretty good in 2014. But then we get to Alex Len in 2013, Tyler Ennis in 2014, Dragan Bender and Chriss in 2016. The jury’s out on Josh Jackson, Ayton, and Bridges. Technically, the jury was still out on Chriss until the Suns pitched him across New Mexico.

Booker is a star. The youngest kids on the roster have potential. But there has been so much organizational waste — wasted salary, wasted trade assets, wasted draft picks — in Phoenix. It’s hard to find two bigger examples than in Knight and Chriss.

On the court, a pass-first point guard could make the Suns a little intriguing, a low-key League Pass addiction for the most severely addled. The lack thereof will ensure further waste of time in the development of the promising young players and usefulness of the high-priced veterans (Ariza and Anderson).

But does anyone trust the Suns to make an effective, good trade for a point guard? We’ve been fooled before. Just ask Brandon Knight.