5 2014 Free Agents Who Make Most Sense for Phoenix Suns

Ben Leibowitz@BenLeboCorrespondent IIIMay 3, 2014

5 2014 Free Agents Who Make Most Sense for Phoenix Suns

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    After a miraculous 48-win season that came just short of vaulting the Phoenix Suns into the playoffs, it’s clear that the rebuilding process is moving along quicker than initially anticipated.

    What Phoenix needs now, though, is to add complementary pieces who can upgrade the upstart roster. Having three first-round draft picks is certainly a perk, but general manager Ryan McDonough has said, “I think it’s unlikely that we’ll bring in three rookies to the Suns,” per BrightSideoftheSun.com’s Dave King.

    As a result, free agency will be key as the Suns continue to adapt for the loaded Western Conference.

    Goran Dragic displayed All-Star-caliber skills throughout 2013-14. Eric Bledsoe was a dynamic two-way player when healthy. The Morris twins continued to improve and the emergence of Gerald Green from “just a dunker” to a legitimate threat opposing teams had to game plan for had fans grinning from ear to ear.

    The most logical step at this juncture is to retain the team’s own crop of free agents. Bledsoe—who is poised to become a restricted free agent—has to be the No. 1 priority. P.J. Tucker (restricted) and Channing Frye (who could decline a player option) proved themselves as key rotational cogs who should be retained at reasonable prices.

    Those three guys are being emphasized here, so they won’t make the list of other sensible targets whose contracts expire for other organizations.

    But who exactly are the available players McDonough and Co. should pursue?

Honorable Mention: Carmelo Anthony, SF, (Early Termination Option)

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    The general consensus among Suns fans is that Carmelo Anthony is an offensive black hole. Some of the Phoenix faithful say he would single-handedly risk destroying the squad’s precious team chemistry.

    I totally understand that outlook.

    Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, however, occupies the opposite end of the spectrum.

    “It’s interesting because with USA Basketball, they talk about him being a playmaker,” Thibs said of ‘Melo’s notorious reputation as a ball-stopper and selfish player, per the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson. The 2011 Coach of the Year added the following opinion:

    He scores and if a guy is open, he passes the ball. I think oftentimes it’s who he plays with.

    A lot of the things that you hear about him I heard about Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Paul Pierce before they came together and won it. That changes perception. Carmelo has been one of the elite scorers in the league for a long, long time.

    Despite all the negativity surrounding Anthony as a potential alpha dog on a championship team, one of the best minds in NBA basketball is focusing on the positive.

    The Syracuse product has always been an electric offensive player. In 2013-14, he even managed to haul in a career-high 8.1 rebounds per game

    The New York Knicks have had success in recent years, but the supporting cast around their best player has been admittedly lackluster—or, at the very least, overrated. Is there a chance he could thrive under head coach Jeff Hornacek in Phoenix with a fresh new set of teammates?

    His uncanny ability to score in half-court sets and crunch time would be an ideal fit for the Suns. With that said, it’s highly unlikely that Anthony would scorn the money, market and fans of N.Y. by taking his talents to the desert.

    His wife, La La Anthony, already stated in January, “I definitely think he will stay,” per ESPN.

    The “Anthony to Phoenix” narrative may ultimately be a moot point.

5. Ed Davis, PF, (Restricted)

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    Memphis Grizzlies power forward Ed Davis will turn 25 years old in June. His status as a young player with multiple years of NBA experience will provide a nice combination for the Suns during their eventual free-agent search.

    The Toronto Raptors selected the southpaw in the 2010 draft lottery. While he’s never really received an opportunity to shine, there’s reason to believe he has plenty of untapped potential.

    During the 2012-13 season, for instance, the North Carolina product notched six double-doubles with Toronto before getting traded to Memphis. After the trade, he managed to pick up three more games of at least 10 points and 10 rebounds despite receiving limited playing time.

    Davis has been buried on the Grizzlies’ depth chart behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but he’s a talented young player. During his four seasons in the pros, he’s never shot below 51 percent from the field.

    His scoring efficiency and rebounding prowess would be a huge boost for Phoenix. There’s a chance he could even join the ranks of other diamonds in the rough in Phoenix like Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee.

    One key caveat, though, is the fact that Davis is a restricted free agent. Memphis will have the final say as to whether he stays or goes, but retaining Z-Bo may be higher on the Grizzlies' list of priorities.

4. Trevor Ariza, SF, (Unrestricted)

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    Although retaining the gritty, defensive-minded Tucker through free agency should be a priority for the Suns, bringing in an upgrade at the position isn’t a bad idea.

    Trevor Ariza is still putting in work for the upstart Washington Wizards, but he’ll become an unrestricted FA when their playoff run inevitably comes to a close. He’ll turn 29 this summer, and it’s logical to believe he’s poised for a significant payday after a career year in Washington.

    Ariza continued to establish himself as a reliable 3-and-D swingman. He cashed 40.7 percent of his long-range attempts during the regular season and shot the lights out from the corners. According to NBA.com, the veteran small forward drained 44.2 percent of his treys from the left corner and 45.6 percent from the right corner. He was downright lethal when he got to those sweet spots, but the entire package was impressive.

    Ariza essentially brings everything to the table that Tucker does, so the Suns wouldn’t lose much from a talent perspective if one of those two guys was brought off the bench. Phoenix could basically go through 48 minutes of action with tenacious defenders who can spread the floor on offense.

    If Tucker wasn’t retained, Ariza would be seen as an instant upgrade to replace him.

    The price may be somewhat steep, but don’t be surprised if he comes at a discount when compared to a former All-Star like Luol Deng.

3. Rodney Stuckey, PG/SG, (Unrestricted)

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    The Suns backcourt appears to be pretty well solidified with Dragic and Bledsoe (assuming the latter gets brought back).

    Adding more firepower off the bench, though, would help in terms of overall depth. More importantly, it would keep the starting backcourt fresh for a potential playoff berth in 2015.

    Detroit Pistons free-agent guard Rodney Stuckey has had his ups and downs during a seven-year career. He’s never been a stickler for offensive efficiency, but he averaged 15.5 points, 5.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game for Detroit during the 2010-11 season.

    The 28-year-old got off to a fabulous start this season by averaging 16.9 points on 49.5 percent shooting from the field and a 37.5 percent clip from long distance in November. He couldn’t sustain those numbers, but had a bit of a resurgence during April by posting 19.9 points on 45.1 percent shooting.

    Is it possible that Stuckey just needs a change of scenery to thrive in a new system and role?

    There’s certainly a chance, but Suns management should only consider this option if they can snag him at a cheap price tag.

2. Pau Gasol, PF, (Unrestricted)

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    The Suns surfaced as a potential suitor for Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol during his inevitable stint on the trade block, per ESPN’s Marc Stein. Talks broke down because the Lakers insisted upon receiving another asset (first-round pick or young player) in addition to the cap space they’d be saving by acquiring Emeka Okafor’s expiring deal.

    Will Suns management still be interested this summer when the Spaniard is available for nothing but his next contract? Even though he’ll be 34 years old in July, I don’t see any reason why Phoenix wouldn’t still be intrigued.

    Gasol is a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion. His experience as a proven winner would bring a dynamic to the young Suns they don’t currently have in place.

    Questions will certainly abound regarding how much—or how little—the 7-footer still has left in the tank. If his torrid month of January is any indication, though, he can still be an All-Star-caliber player when facing elite competition.

    During 2014’s first month, Gasol threw back the clock by averaging 20.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.7 blocks for a bottom-dwelling Lakers roster. Scoring efficiency has been an area of concern for him in recent years, but he cashed in 51 percent of his attempts during that span.

    Phoenix needs an interior presence who can post up, hit mid-range jumpers and pass effectively out of double-teams. Pau fits all of those criteria when healthy.

    Now that the Suns don’t have to surrender a first-rounder to get him, expect McDonough to show renewed interest.

1. Greg Monroe, C/PF, (Restricted)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    While Greg Monroe doesn’t bring two championship rings to the table, he’s a viable interior force who will turn 24 years old in June.

    His youth would allow him to grow alongside Bledsoe and the rest of Phoenix’s core. However, the fact remains that the No. 7 overall pick of the 2010 draft hasn’t shown much year-to-year improvement since his second NBA season. Here are his numbers by season:

    2010-11: 55.1% FG, 9.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.6 BPG

    2011-12: 52.1% FG, 15.4 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG

    2012-13: 48.6% FG, 16.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.7 BPG

    2013-14: 49.7% FG, 15.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.6 BPG

    As you can see, Monroe made a significant leap from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign (due in part to an increase in minutes and a promotion to being a full-time starter). His stats since that point, though, have leveled off and even regressed.

    On top of that, the Georgetown product is a very poor shot-blocker. Considering that he sports a 6’11” frame, he should swat at least one shot per contest, but he hasn’t even come close.

    This argument clearly harps on the negatives in Monroe’s development. He’s still very young, and big guys tend to take longer to develop if they don’t simply overpower opponents from the outset. He may very well develop into a complementary piece for a title contender down the line.

    Has McDonough done enough scouting on him to know for sure?

    Perhaps the more pressing question is whether the Pistons are willing to part with the young big man. He didn’t jell with new addition Josh Smith, but Detroit may not be ready to part with him just yet—especially for no yield.

    The Pistons will have the final say, since Monroe will be a restricted free agent. If the Suns are genuinely interested, perhaps they could sweeten the pot with sign-and-trade offers.

    There's concern that Monroe has already reached his ceiling, but it's more likely that he's just a late bloomer.