Even though the San Antonio Spurs have seemed to serve as the leading suitor for the star power forward's services, with other teams—the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers—also in contention, the desert-based franchise is leaving no doubt it wants in on the chase. Trading away Marcus Morris and a few other pieces made that perfectly clear.
As reported by Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Suns used the second day of the free-agency period to hand one half of the Morris twins, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger to the Detroit Pistons, receiving nothing more than a 2020 second-round pick in return:
Without context, this looks like a horrible move for Phoenix. But as is always the case in the NBA, context is king.
Morris, Bullock and Granger are obviously worth more than a second-round selection coming so far off in the future.
After all, Granger, at the age of 32, isn't too old to rule out a resilient campaign after dealing with injuries for so many years, and the magical Phoenix training staff could've turned him into a true rotation member. Bullock, meanwhile, is two years removed from the Los Angeles Clippers making him the No. 25 pick of the 2013 NBA draft, but he hasn't really received an opportunity to succeed in a major role.
So, what gives?
Well, it's all about the money. Phoenix would've needed to engage in a sign-and-trade in order to land Aldridge, but this ensures the team can take a more direct route. By giving away three players under contract and receiving only the future pick, the Suns are clearing cap space for that rather obvious reason.
|Salaries of the Departed Suns|
|Reggie Bullock||$1,252,440||$2,255,644 (Team Option)||RFA ($3,313,541 QO)|
Those may not seem particularly significant, but the combination is enough to boost Phoenix's financial flexibility into max-contract territory. General manager Ryan McDonough can now offer Aldridge all the money he desires, absorbing him into the fold without needing to send away even more players.
But there's an enduring issue: Getting Aldridge and Tyson Chandler isn't going to be possible without further moves, and the Suns have already committed to signing the ex-Dallas Mavericks center.
Per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, he's coming aboard for four years and $52 million. That eats up over half of the space the Suns have cleared—assuming the money is split evenly over the years—and it means two more players must be moved before Aldridge can actually be brought aboard. As Wojnarowski subsequently tweeted, "Suns need to get off Markieff Morris/PJ Tucker in sign-and-trades or dumps to get closer to space needed for Chandler and Aldridge."
Considering the value each of those players enjoys, that shouldn't be particularly tough. The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers would have use for those rotation members, and they have the cap space to just absorb the current contracts. Even if Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak and Knicks president Phil Jackson don't bite, there should be other teams willing to take a chance on the established talent.
The Mavericks could also get their hands on some combination of Morris and Tucker, even receiving the both of them in a sign-and-trade for Chandler. He's already agreed to terms, but nothing is truly official until the moratorium lifts July 9, so there's still plenty of time.
Given the shallowness of Dallas' current rotation, it's a move that would make sense for both teams.
But the overarching points are twofold: Further moves are possible, and, perhaps more importantly, the Suns feel they're worth making. They wouldn't be shipping off talent—essentially for free—without legitimately thinking they were major players in the Aldridge hunt.
And why wouldn't they after they received such positive feedback from the first meeting?
- Aldridge's ability to serve as the face of the franchise
- The stability of a roster with Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler
- The fact that winning in Phoenix would be more special
- That he wouldn't have to play the part of a second or third wheel
All of that is valid, even if the third point is inevitably going to be the most controversial of the four.
But of the five franchises speculated to be in the chase, four have won a championship at some point in their history, and the Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs have all done so in the last decade.
That's not even remotely the case for the Suns. They've made it to the NBA Finals twice—once with Paul Westphal, Alvan Adams and Gar Heard leading the charge in 1976, and again in 1993, when Charles Barkley couldn't get over the hump against Michael Jordan. But a title has eluded this franchise, and the reward for winning one would be rather substantial.
In one word: immortality.
"We're going to be aggressive and target the best players," McDonough told azcentral.com's Paul Coro before the start of free agency. "I think you'll see us go after the top guys. We hope to get meetings with some of the top free agents and sell them on all Phoenix has to offer."
So far, he's lived up to his word. Even more importantly, he's committed to a path that leads to Aldridge, and he's not going to go down without putting up a serious fight.
Trading away Morris, Granger and Bullock is only the start. This pursuit gained quite a bit more legitimacy after that first trade, and it won't end until Aldridge comes to the desert or signs on with a different squad.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.