Since landing in Phoenix by way of a trade deadline deal with the Miami Heat, Tyler Johnson has played six games with the Suns and is soaking up plenty of minutes in the guard rotation for his new team. Though he is providing at least some kind of help for a roster desperately needing more guard play, the addition of Johnson didn’t really alter the trajectory for the Suns’ current season. Having only one winning season since 2012, their 12-50 record has them currently on pace to extend their streak of consecutive seasons with under 30 wins to four.
In an almost poetic way, Tyler Johnson is one of the last remaining pieces of the 2012 sign-and-trade that saw Phoenix exchange Steve Nash for a bevy of assets from the Los Angeles Lakers. The other piece is rarely used rookie guard De’Anthony Melton.
In total, the Suns were able to acquire a return for Nash that included two first-round picks and two second-round picks. Two of those picks, one of the first-round picks (from the Lakers) and one of the second-round picks (this came via Denver), conveyed the following year in the 2013 offseason. The Lakers, landing at No. 30, didn’t give Phoenix an abundance of options.
The Suns drafted Nemanja Nedovic with the last pick in the first round, despite players like Allen Crabbe, Alex Abrines, and Mike Muscala remaining on the board. Never playing a single game with the Suns, Nedovic was eventually traded to Golden State, where he would cap his NBA career with only one season in the league. The return from the Warriors was Archie Goodwin, who left as a free agent after three seasons and a total of 150 games with the Phoenix Suns.
With the 57th overall selection in the same draft, the Suns brought aboard Alex Oriakhi. The 2008-09 McDonald’s All-American forward never suited up for Phoenix, but he did play a pivotal role in their development. In the summer of 2014, Oriakhi was sent to Sacramento in order to acquire Isaiah Thomas in a sign-and-trade deal with the Kings. This was one of the more productive moves made by Phoenix’s front office, as the Suns (they just finished 48-34) then added a player who averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game in his third season.
Unfortunately, a gluttonous guard rotation headlined by Thomas, Eric Bledsoe, and Goran Dragic proved to not be conducive of the results the team had hoped. This led to the team dealing Thomas at the trade deadline in 2015. A deal with the Boston Celtics swapped out Thomas for Marcus Thornton and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round pick. Thornton would eventually walk during free agency, while Thomas would become an All-Star and finish top five in the MVP voting just years later.
The life of the Cavs’ first-round pick had an interesting journey. The Suns would later use that pick in a package of multiple picks and draft rights to gain the draft rights to Marquese Chriss from the Sacramento Kings during the 2016 draft. Phoenix sent its own pick, which was slotted at 13th, the Cavs’ pick, slotted at 28th, a 2020 second-round pick, and the draft rights of Bogdan Bogdanovic all in exchange for Chriss. Now, Chriss is already on his third team (on the Cavs, ironically) and Bogdanovic is one of the most optimistic players on an impressive young Kings roster.
The other two picks the Suns landed in the Nash deal didn’t prove to be any more fruitful than the first pair. In 2012, Phoenix utilized the Lakers’ 2014 second-round pick and Robin Lopez to snag Wesley Johnson and a 2016 first-round pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a three-team deal. Johnson, a former fourth overall pick, only spent one season with the Suns before heading elsewhere in the offseason.
That 2016 pick was later used in 2015 to bring in Brandan Wright from the Boston Celtics. Thankfully for the Suns, the pick was heavily protected and wound up being conveyed as second-round picks rather than a first-round selection. However, keeping suit with most of the team’s other acquisitions, Wright would spend only the rest of the 2014-15 season with the Suns before leaving as a free agent.
The last pick of the Lakers’ package, the 2015 first-round pick, was moved at the trade deadline of that season. A three-team trade sent that pick to the Philadelphia 76ers and brought back Milwaukee Bucks young point guard Brandon Knight. Showing a lot of promise as a scorer in his time with the Bucks, there was plenty of reason to believe that the deal was a no-brainer on the Suns’ end. The numbers Knight put up in 2015-16 seemed to support this.
However, in his three seasons with the Suns, he never played more than 54 games and missed the 2017-18 season entirely. After trading for him and committing significant long-term money, Knight eventually became dead money.
The 2015 Lakers pick the Suns traded to obtain Knight wouldn’t convey for several years. With the Lakers picking at second in 2015, 2016, and 2017, it wasn’t until 2018 that Philly was able to use that pick at 10th to draft Mikal Bridges. The Suns would then send their first-round pick at No. 16 and a 2021 first-round pick to acquire Bridges, who they could have had all along if not for a prior trade.
In the 2018 offseason, Knight and Chriss were traded to the Houston Rockets in a deal that brought back Ryan Anderson and his hefty contract, as well as rookie guard De’Anthony Melton. Anderson was then moved at the 2019 trade deadline for Tyler Johnson.
Seven years and numerous transactions later, the Suns have officially emptied the bag of resources obtained from trading Steve Nash. Despite their best tanking efforts, the team doesn’t seem to be any better off from it.