Best Stars for Phoenix Suns to Pursue in 2014 Offseason
The Phoenix Suns have surprised everyone by joining the playoff race in the Western Conference, but that might pale in comparison to what Phoenix does this offseason.
Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has set his team up brilliantly for the future. The Suns could have as many as four first-round picks in this year's loaded draft along with the ability to match any offer Eric Bledsoe receives in restricted free agency.
If Bledsoe receives a max deal or somewhere around that number, the Suns should still have in the area of $12 million to offer. Make no mistake: Bledsoe is the top priority this offseason for Phoenix.
While $12 million might not be enough to go after the big stars like Carmelo Anthony, the Suns can still add a very good player at that price point.
Phoenix wasn't expected to be in the position to bring in a star player quite yet, but this season has shown that the Suns aren't far off from being a serious competitor. With warm weather, a young team that plays a fun style of basketball and great management, Phoenix will be one of the more appealing free-agent destinations out there.
But which players should the Suns go after? Excluding the Big Three in Miami and other veteran max players, here are five choices the Suns could pursue in the 2014 offseason.
It may not be the wisest idea for the Phoenix Suns to tie up all of their available cap space in an offer sheet to a restricted free agent, but testing a team like the Pistons isn't a bad idea.
If Phoenix can clear a little bit more salary between now and free agency, signing Monroe to a maximum offer might be worth a shot. Just keep in mind that Phoenix needs to keep max room available for Bledsoe so it can match his offer sheet, no matter the size.
Teams typically shy away from giving offers to restricted free agents unless there's some doubt as to whether the team will match. With Andre Drummond and Josh Smith on board, perhaps the Pistons would balk at singing Monroe at that price.
Adding a young frontcourt scorer and rebounder like Monroe would be ideal, as that's really the one missing piece in Phoenix right now. This might be unlikely, but it could be worth pursuing.
Like Monroe, Hayward is a restricted free agent. The only difference is, Utah seems much, much more likely to match on any offer considering Hayward fills a need and has plenty of value around the league.
It's fun to think about Hayward in Phoenix next to Goran Dragic and Bledsoe, though. The Suns would have arguably the best perimeter attack in basketball with that trio.
Unfortunately, even a max offer feels like a waste of seven valuable free-agency days for the Suns. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Jazz will match any offer given to Hayward, just as the Suns will with Bledsoe.
However, if there is any indication that Utah has a change of heart or that Hayward is willing to force his way out publicly, expect Phoenix to be at the forefront of the list of suitors for his services.
What seems more likely is that the Suns will stay in their projected price range and go after unrestricted free agents. There's just too many hoops and the potential to end up empty-handed with restricted free agents.
If the Suns are looking to add a veteran wing, Deng could fit the bill. Although Phoenix may be better served to skew young and find a better three-point shooter, Deng's defense would certainly be welcomed on the perimeter.
Given the disastrous situation in Cleveland, it seems more and more likely that Deng will be looking for a new home. Deng isn't a true star, but next to Dragic and Bledsoe, the Suns would have an awfully good core to build around.
Deng won't be cheap, and Phoenix will have to fend off teams that are in more of a "win now" mode, but this could work.
Trevor Ariza may not be one of the biggest names or even one of the best available free agents, but he might be the best fit for Phoenix.
Ariza is an incredibly capable three-point shooter, particularly from the corners. He's also an excellent defender with plenty of size, which would give Phoenix one of the most formidable perimeter defenses in all of the league.
If Ariza were to accept an offer somewhere in the range of $7 million a year, that would give Phoenix the ability to go out and get another free agent in addition to bringing back Bledsoe. That may be enticing, especially if the Suns aren't in love with any of the higher-dollar free agents.
It's highly unlikely that Ariza will be Phoenix's primary target, but he'd be a really nice pickup if any of the bigger projected targets failed to materialize.
Admittedly, it's a little difficult to see Anthony leaving a bigger contract in New York to play in a smaller market like Phoenix for less money. But with that said, it seems safe to assume that Anthony will explore his options in free agency based on what he told Rafi Kohan of the New York Observer earlier this season:
I want to be a free agent. I think everybody in the NBA dreams to be a free agent at least one time in their career. It’s like you have an evaluation period, you know. It’s like if I’m in the gym and I have all the coaches, all the owners, all the GMs come into the gym and just evaluate everything I do. So yes, I want that experience.
Anthony may want to join forces with another star, and Phoenix has two up-and-coming ones in Dragic and Bledsoe.
Phoenix has the assets (draft picks, expiring deals, players on rookie-scale deals) to make a big-time trade to clear some cap space before free agency in an attempt to go after Anthony.
With a core of Dragic, Bledsoe, Anthony and the means to possibly acquire another impact player via trade, the Suns would instantly become a championship contender. If that's what Anthony is looking for, Phoenix should command his attention this offseason. Very few franchises are in better shape going forward.
Besides, if Anthony can't team with LeBron James, maybe "Mini LeBron" will be an acceptable substitute.