Fixing ESPN’s lopsided Spurs, Knicks, Suns proposed trade

Gregg Popovich (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Gregg Popovich (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images) /

With the deadline days away, ESPN recently proposed a trade for all 30 teams. This includes a three-team deal for the San Antonio Spurs involving the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. Although the deal is supposed to be beneficial to the Spurs, it would have the opposite effect. On the other hand, the hypothetical trade would be great for both the Knicks and the Suns.

In ESPN’s proposed 3-team trade, the Spurs would receive Evan Fournier and Dario Saric, a 2023 first (from New York via Washington), and Phoenix’s 2024 lottery protected first. Meanwhile, the Knicks would land Jae Crowder and Josh Okogie, while the Suns would receive Cam Reddish and Jakob Poeltl. There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with the Spurs.

The Spurs need more in the proposed trade.

The Spurs receiving two first-round picks for Poeltl is exactly what they’ve been seeking, but there are a couple of catches. Washington’s 2023 first-round pick is top-14 protected. That means that the Wizards would have to make the playoffs in order for the Spurs to receive that pick. The Wizards are playing much better of late, but that still seems unlikely given that they’re ninth in the East, and five-thirty-eight projects them to finish with the 12th-worst record in the NBA.

I don’t see the Spurs trading Poeltl for essentially a 2024 first-round pick from Phoenix, a pick that’s likely to be in the 20s. Not only that, but if the pick somehow doesn’t convey next season, it would turn into two second-round picks.

Worse yet, the Spurs would be saddled with Fournier’s $18.8 million salary for next season. Put it to you this way: the Spurs would be giving up the best player, receiving far less than they could receive for that player elsewhere, and being stuck paying another player they don’t need almost $19 million next season. This is a terrible deal for the Spurs.

They alone could (and probably would) blow up this proposed 3-team deal. After all, they have no reason to settle for such a bad deal, especially with teams such as the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, and Golden State Warriors all vying for Poeltl.

The Suns and Knicks are clear winners in this hypothetical deal.

The Suns have struggled with injuries all season and are in need of reinforcements. Acquiring Poeltl and Reddish would certainly qualify as that. Assuming Poeltl comes off the bench, he’d likely be the best backup center in the NBA and decrease the Suns’ dependence on DeAndre Ayton, whose effort tends to come and go. In fact, re-signing Poeltl using his Bird Rights in the offseason could make Ayton expendable, potentially allowing them to more than compensate for the assets lost in this deal.

As for Reddish, he’s been a trade target for many teams, who all apparently still believe in the talent of the former 2019 10th overall pick. The Suns would essentially acquire him as a throw-in, and he’d be a low-risk, high-reward player.

The Knicks would receive a valuable rotation player in Crowder as a part of the deal and Okogie, a young athletic wing. Considering they’d only be giving up a non-rotation player and a first-round pick that was unlikely to convey, this would also be a good deal for them.

How to fix the proposed ESPN trade?

While the trade would likely get the go-ahead from the Knicks and the Suns, the deal leaves a lot to be desired for the Spurs. As mentioned, the deal falls short when it comes to the return value for Poeltl. Fixing the deal starts with the pick the Spurs would receive from the Knicks.

The Knicks have four first-round picks in the 2023 NBA Draft, but two of those selections (from the Pistons and Wizards) are highly unlikely to convey. That leaves the Knicks’ own pick as well as the Mavericks’ pick. Giving the Spurs the better of those two selections ensures that they would actually get two picks from this deal, with both the Mavs and Knicks’ selections expected to be in the 20s.

Additionally, the Suns’ pick should only be top-three protected in 2024, all but guaranteeing that their selection would transfer to the Spurs next season. Those two tweaks instantly make this deal more palatable for the Spurs by dramatically increasing the chances they actually receive two picks for Poeltl. It would also compensate them for taking on Fournier’s salary for the 2023-24 season.

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Overall, while ESPN’s proposed Spurs, Knicks, and Suns three-teamer is fairly lopsided against the Spurs, there is a way to fix it. Doing so would require changing which pick the Spurs receive from the Knicks and decreasing the protections on the Suns’ selection. Those adjustments would make this hypothetical deal much better and increase the chances of it actually happening.