Championship-Chasing Phoenix Suns Add Premier Wing Defender Royce O’Neale

The Phoenix Suns had their eyes fixed firmly on the postseason when they added wings Royce O’Neale and David Roddy in a three-team transaction at the trade deadline Thursday.

O’Neale, a ‘three-and-D’ wing, immediately became the Suns’ defender most capable of matching up against the athletic wings and off guards in Western Conference, a group that includes but is hardly limited to the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James, the Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George, Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. and Oklahoma City’s Jalen Williams.

“If we’re not chasing a championship, what are we doing?” Suns general manager James Jones said. “This is all about getting better and getting ready to run that race to the postseason.

“We wanted to come out of it with a player who could help us in the playoffs. Looking at our options, Royce and David provided us something that we desperately needed. Some more physicality. Some toughness defensively. And the shooting is something that we always value.”

Because of advanced offensive threats Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, these Suns in general terms are built to outscore teams. They have played most of the season with shooting guard Grayson Allen as the fifth starter to go with the big three and center Jusuf Nurkic, a lineup that has left them without a wing defender.

Durant has been assigned to cover opponents from center Domantas Sabonis and power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo to smaller wing players, and O’Neale adds a second mobile and switch-able defender. Small forward Josh Okogie has been the Suns’ most active wing defender to date, but opponents often disregard him on defense, opting to blitz Booker or Beal.

O’Neale, 6-foot-6, was acquired from Brooklyn for reserves Keita Bates-Diop and Jordan Goodwin and three second-round picks. Roddy, 6-4, was acquired from Memphis for reserves Chimezie Metu and Yuta Watanabe and a swap of 2026 first-round draft picks.

The Suns absorbed a prorated portion of the remaining $9.5 million on the final year of the four-year, $36 million contract extension O’Neale signed with Utah midway in 2020 season. They also added another potential $9 million through 2026 if they exercise their option on the final year of Roddy’s rookie contract signed July 22.

Both players were acquired with the long term in mind. The Suns have Bird rights on O’Neale after his contract expires this summer, which provides a salary cap exception should they retain him.

The three-team trade put the Suns further over the second luxury tax apron as set out by the collective bargaining agreement, guaranteeing a substantial tax burden. The salary tax level is $165.294 million for the 2023-24 season, which means a teams whose payroll exceeds $182 million are subject to an additional tax hit. The Suns’ payroll is about $8.5 million over the second apron limit.

“Mat’s directive since Day 1 has been we are here to win championships, and we chase it,” Jones said. “If that means spending more money, it’s just money. We don’t just want to compete today. We want to compete now and in the future. When we target players, we are always looking for guys who can get better with us.”

How the fifth starting spot and the crunch time minutes shake out is yet to be determined, but O’Neale is expected to jump right in. He averaged a career-high 8.8 points while starting 53 games last season, when he spent the first four months with Durant and the Nets after playing this first five seasons with Utah.

O’Neale was used off the bench most of the time in Brooklyn this season, ceding time to former Suns Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson while expanding his range. He averaged 2.1 three-pointers per game and shot 38.1 percent from distance with the Nets. Roddy averaged 8.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists — all career highs — in 48 games with Memphis this season.

“These guys are about winning,” Jones said. “People always ask about minutes. The players decide that.”

More decisions are forthcoming. The Suns have two open roster spots by trading reserves Bates-Diop, Mets, Watanabe and Goodwin. Jones said they will be aggressive in seeking additional depth in buy-out market, although they are hamstrung by their financial situation. They are prohibited from signing a player whose salary exceeded $12.4 million before he was waived.

“More shooting. More defense. More passing. More rebounding,” Jones said of his wish list. “When we look at our team, we like where we are but we feel we can always get better. Hopefully the next couple of weeks affords us the opportunity to build on our chemistry.”

First appeared on www.forbes.com

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