Franchise players have carte blanche, and rightfully so. Legitimate superstars are power brokers in the NBA because it’s been proven time and again that a team needs one – and preferably two or three – to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy come season’s end.
But that distinction carries no definition. Just because a guy is his certain squad’s best, highest paid, or most accomplished player doesn’t mean he’s an overlord the status of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, or the select few like those luminaries.
If it wasn’t clear before that the Phoenix Suns understand that reality, it certainly is after Thursday’s wild trade deadline. Not only did GM Ryan McDonough and company trade their team’s lone All-NBA honoree, but also made a series of subsequent moves that improved Phoenix’s present and future more than anyone could have imagined given the contentious circumstances of earlier this week.
Goran Dragic is out, Brandon Knight is in, and the Suns pulled off that effective swap by gaining two additional first-round picks by the deadline’s passing.
Phoenix should be proud of such an impressive overhaul just hours removed from Dragic’s public trade demand. Does that mean it should throw its former star under the proverbial bus? Probably not, but McDonough did just that while speaking with reporters on Friday.
Dragic handled his departure from the Suns as gracefully as any player who publicly requested a trade possibly could have. His displeasure shouldn’t have come to that awkward place at all, of course, and the 28 year-old said as much in a farewell message to the Phoenix organization and its fans posted on twitter.
“Thank you to my fans, teammates and many friends in Phx!! You are what made #cluborange a 2nd home for me and my family! The Suns organization has been good to me and I hope everyone knows I’d never say or do anything to purposely offend or minimize the success we’ve had.”
“Although my recent words came out harsher than I’d intended, I did feel it was time to find a better fit for me as a bball player who only wants to be the best and help my team in every way. I’m proud of my time in Phx & never want anything to take away from that or the relationship I’ve built and will continue to build in the community.”
Classy. Remarks of McDonough and Suns president Lon Babby aren’t.
We understand what Phoenix’s front office braintrust was trying to accomplish by downplaying the loss of Dragic. It’s a savvy public relations move more than anything else – a reassurance to Suns fans that all is right in the desert despite The Dragon’s exit and so much player turnover as the team fights tooth and nail for a playoff spot.
But the acquisition of Knight should speak for itself. He’s a very good player enjoying a career season, and is a better fit alongside Eric Bledsoe than Dragic or Isaiah Thomas ever was. Another huge positive: Knight is over five years Dragic’s junior. When signing or extending starry free agents to multi-year deals as the team will do with the former and would have tried to do with the latter, age and mileage matter more than ever.
The same goes for the presence of Bledsoe and Markieff Morris. Both players are firmly entrenched as franchise pillars while quietly ascending up the league ranks at their respective positions. Whether either is better than Dragic is irrelevant now, and actually was from the beginning, too – basketball isn’t played on paper or in the minds of talent evaluators, and any difference in quality between Dragic and Bledsoe, specifically, is negligible enough to willingly overlook anyway.
Media hates the company line, and we certainly wouldn’t be discussing McDonough’s jabs if he stayed on the other side of it. But his approach to discussing Dragic’s exit seems petty, especially considering his team might have come out better on the other side of so much movement. Plus, what if opposing players – who double as prospective free agent targets – are put off by McDonough’s tone? You never know, and saving face certainly isn’t worth that debilitating possibility.
The trade deadline came and Phoenix emerged from the muck in a better place. And like McDonough so ably did by wheeling and dealing yesterday, his eyes should be on the present and future as opposed to the (very recent) past.