Trade For Plumlee, Green Paying Off in Spades
It’s the rare deal, Ryan McDonough said, that served everyone’s purposes.
The Suns General Manager executed an offseason trade with Indiana, shipping off a starter (Luis Scola) for two reserves (Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee), as well as draft pick.
The players’ roles are reversed now for different reasons. Plumlee starts at center for the Suns because his personal improvement made it a no-brainer. Green is also in the first five due to 1) Eric Bledsoe’s injury and 2) he’s proven more than capable of the role already.
Scola, meanwhile, provides steady production and veteran leadership off the bench.
“I think it was a good deal for both teams,” he said. “Both teams were at different stages in their development. We were looking to get younger and more athletic and acquire assets. Indiana was trying to win a championship.”
While the Pacers’ goal is still up in the air, consider it “mission accomplished” for the Suns. The average age of their active roster is just 25.5 years. They are athletic, using their speed to lead the league in fast break points.
That’s the surface of the trade and its aftermath, anyway.
The Suns’ starting center couldn’t have appeared further away from that role a year ago. Indeed, a good night for Plumlee was simply shedding his warmups and getting on the court.
When he wasn’t playing, however, he was watching. He soaked in everything he could during the season and the Pacers’ run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
He saw Roy Hibbert write the book on rim defense and mentally recorded a Cliff’s Notes version for himself. He noted David West’s footwork in the post, then experimented in practice.
“The Pacers are the reason I’m where I am today,” Plumlee acknowledged.
Yet when he initially heard he’d been traded, the second-year center admitted he “was confused.” He was a first-round pick, and those players rarely get dealt just a year after being drafted.
Then he talked to Pacers President Larry Bird, as well as his agent. Shortly afterward he spoke with the Suns’ staff, including McDonough and Head Coach Jeff Hornacek. He realized the move didn’t signal being unwanted by Indiana. He was greatly wanted in Phoenix.
“I looked at it more as a promotion,” Plumlee said.
Potentially, it was. He had to earn it, however, so he spent the offseason working with assistant coaches and former NBA big men Mark West and Kenny Gattison. As training camp and practices unfolded, McDonough would hear back from Hornacek about the center who was surprising everyone in the gym.
“I think Miles’ athleticism stood out, especially his footwork on both ends of the floor,” McDonough said. “It’s pretty unique for a guy his size. He’s always rebounded at a high level, even going back to his days at Duke. He has a pretty good motor.”
His post scoring in particular was far ahead of McDonough or Hornacek’s initial projections. In his debut with the Suns, he scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. He leads the Suns in rebounding (8.7 rpg) and blocks (1.7 bpg), and is 0.4 points away from being the eighth player on the team to average double-figure scoring.
“That’s been a pleasant surprise, just his ability to score around the basket,” McDonough said. “I think he’s one of the better finishers around the rim in the league, now, for the lobs and putbacks.”
Few paths have more turns or stops than Gerald Green’s NBA career. Phoenix is his seventh NBA team, and that’s not counting a trio of D-League clubs and foreign teams.
Green appeared to make good on his NBA comeback in 2012, averaging 12.9 points on 48 percent shooting with New Jersey.
Encouraged, the Pacers signed him that offseason. He floundered, scoring just 7.0 points per contest while shooting 36.6 percent from the field.
To many, he looked done. To McDonough, simply down.
“Gerald’s stock was probably a little bit down after his struggles with Indiana last year, but I’d seen him progress and I knew he had the physical tools to do it,” McDonough said. “We knew he was healthy. We knew he was a good kid who worked hard.”
Green heard the encouragement from both general manager and head coach. He took them at their word, and it’s paid off in spades for the Suns. The veteran swingman ranks 10th in the league in three-pointers made and has logged 15 games with at least three makes from beyond the arc.
That’s all before mentioning his aerial assaults on the rim.
“Here I can just play my game,” he said.
McDonough doesn’t deem the rise of Green or Plumlee as “out of nowhere.” He had scouted both before and during their NBA tenures. He knew that, in the right situation, both players could flourish.
It didn’t hurt that they also fit his personal trading philosophy.
“I guess I always like to buy low, if possible,” McDonough said. “It’s harder to trade for a guy when he’s at his best and stock is at an all-time high.”
Still, the stock needs to be placed in promising conditions. Indiana was a slower, older team. Phoenix wanted to go younger and faster.
Hornacek gave McDonough his whole-hearted approval of the deal. As an assistant coach, he’d seen Green get hot for stretches at a time. He also said Plumlee was one of the standouts during pre-draft workouts at Utah in 2012.
“It’s not like these guys are new players,” Hornacek said. “It’s how they fit with what we wanted to do. We both felt they would fit in.”
They have done far more than that, often providing player-of-the-game performances to secure a win.
And while measuring the impact of a player is an imprecise science at best, Hornacek didn’t need much time to come up with his evaluation on the former Pacers.
“Miles and Gerald have been big for us,” he said. “They’ve obviously helped us win a lot of games. The style we play, Miles rolling to the basket, Gerald shooting threes…we probably would be well under .500 [without them]."