At an impressive 23-5, it’s hard to pinpoint where, or if, the Phoenix Suns need to improve. The defending Western Conference champions have proven last season was no fluke, as they sit tied with the Golden State Warriors for the best record in the NBA. Yet if Phoenix wants to pass Golden State and truly set itself apart from other title contenders, Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis could be the answer.
Domantas Sabonis wants out of Indiana
Just over 30 games into the 2021-22 season, the Pacers know their window of contention isn’t opening anytime soon.
League insiders reported Indiana’s plans to make its top players available for trades between now and the February 10 trade deadline. As the team inches closer toward a rebuild, veterans like Caris LeVert and Myles Turner could be dealt over the next few weeks. But Sabonis could be the big fish Indiana casts out to the rest of the league.
Sabonis is making it easy for the 13-18 Pacers to consider trading him. Action Network confirmed the 25-year-old has yearned for a change in scenery dating back to last season. His feelings of malcontent have only intensified as Indiana heads toward its first losing season since 2014-15.
The 6-foot-11 Sabonis is one of the more unheralded stars in today’s NBA. After a promising rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the two-time All-Star was shipped to Indiana along with Victor Oladipo in exchange for Paul George. He has steadily upped his scoring output over the last four years with the Pacers, finishing with a career-best 20.3 points in 2020-21. He has also averaged at least 12 rebounds and five assists in his last two All-Star campaigns.
The Phoenix Suns should go hard after Sabonis
As if their record didn’t say as much, the Suns boast a championship-caliber roster.
When healthy, Phoenix possesses a superstar in Devin Booker, a future Hall of Fame floor general in Chris Paul, a dominant center in Deandre Ayton, and a standout defender in Mikal Bridges. Even with Booker and Ayton missing a handful of games, Phoenix is finding ways to win thanks to a deep bench. Still, the opportunity to add a player of Sabonis’ caliber is too good to resist.
Although Sabonis isn’t the outside shooter Phoenix might covet to slot alongside Ayton, he can do everything else well. He’s an above-average scorer, an excellent rebounder, a surprisingly good passer, and a solid defender. He has flourished playing alongside a true center in Turner, so the adjustment to playing with Ayton shouldn’t be difficult.
Even though Sabonis is a 25-year-old All-Star, the Suns shouldn’t have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink to acquire him. Cameron Johnson and Jalen Smith are two younger role players Indiana may covet. In addition, Phoenix will likely lose its first-round pick for 2022 but owns its next several first and second-round selections. The Suns could part with those two young players, a veteran like Dario Saric, and a future draft pick in a future trade.
Domantas Sabonis helps the Suns now and in the future
Given how short championship windows can remain open, the Suns should do anything possible to win their first title in franchise history. Yet even if Phoenix falls short of its goal, Sabonis would give the team an excellent backup plan if Ayton ends up leaving the Valley.
The Suns were met with criticism after botching contract negotiations with Ayton this offseason. The 2018 first-overall pick was one of the notable players from his draft class to not ink an extension. Assuming he receives (and turns down) a $16.4 million qualifying offer next summer, the 23-year-old will become a restricted free agent. This would force the Suns to match any outside offer he receives or risk losing him.
However, Sabonis’ presence would soften the blow of Ayton walking away. The Pacers star is in the second season of a four-year, $75 million pact. So not only would he still be under contract for two more years after this season, but his annual cap hit of around $19 million is well below what many expect Ayton to land with his next contract.
It would be one thing to sacrifice your youth for a rental player. But considering the possibility of getting an All-Star for multiple seasons, Sabonis should be target number one for the championship-focused Suns.