No one really expected the Phoenix Suns to be in this position; at least not this soon. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but as the Suns competed for a playoff spot and developed an infectious style of play, it became clear that the franchise's timeline to contend was in the process of being accelerated.
That should hold true this offseason as well. The Suns can now act more like a team on the brink than a team biding time, and pursuing a blockbuster trade with all the assets that have been accumulated in such a short amount of time should be the primary focus.
With some teams you might worry about cashing in too early, but the Suns have enough assets to spare, even if it's going to take a lot to trade for an available superstar like Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love.
No one on the roster is truly untouchable, it seems, and trade pieces like Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Alex Len and multiple first-round picks (Phoenix has three this year and likely two next year) is more than enough ammunition to outbid most every team vying for Love's services.
Suns interested in Love deal w/best assets Dragic, Bledsoe & picks.NBA sources say it will take full max deal to control free agent Bledsoe.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) June 7, 2014
Of course, there needs to be a balance. We've seen the result of a franchise moving too much talent to acquire a superstar, like the New York Knicks did when they acquired Carmelo Anthony. You can argue about who won that trade to this day, but it's hard to deny that the Knicks fought an uphill battle surrounding Anthony with enough talent to compete for a championship. That's all that matters in the end.
That should serve only as a yield sign for Phoenix, however. New York still had their chances, and bad injuries (Amar'e Stoudemire, mainly) were the primary culprits.
Finding the right balance is important, but you would think that either Dragic or Bledsoe would need to headline a deal for Love. While it's possible that Morris, Len and at least three first-round picks would get a foot in the door, it's no sure thing.
It's important to note, however, that combining multiple draft picks has always been the plan of Suns GM Ryan McDonough, who took over last year and has hit on nearly every move he's made.
Here's what McDonough told Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com earlier this year about his plans for Phoenix's multiple draft picks:
Our preference would probably be to maybe package a few of them. We’re obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available. That’s kind of generally what we’ve wanted to do, not only with our draft-pick situation but also with the cap space that we’ve acquired.
McDonough is smart. The Suns were actually a pretty deep team last year, and that was without much playing time at all going to former first-round choices Len and Archie Goodwin. There simply won't be enough floor time for these players to develop like they need to without some consolidation of assets.
That's not to say that building internally and not jumping over a blockbuster deal is impossible, but it just might be a little tougher than you'd expect. Phoenix could certainly play this slow and wait for the perfect opportunity, but is Love not the perfect fit? Is now not the right time?
Phoenix's slash-and-kick style is a perfect fit for a pick-and-pop, stretch 4 like Love. He'll space the floor, and his two-man game with either Dragic or Bledsoe would immediately become one of the league's toughest actions to stop. Love's rebounding and outlet passing lend plenty to an up-tempo attack as well. He's a perfect star for what head coach Jeff Hornacek and the entire roster are built to do.
And as for the timing? The Suns aren't going to stay cheap forever. Draft picks cost money too, but more importantly, Bledsoe should get seriously paid this offseason in restricted free agency, and Phoenix will need to match if they can't negotiate a price cheaper than Bledsoe's max beforehand.
Here's what McDonough told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com about Bledsoe's restricted free agency earlier in the year, a sentiment that has been echoed by other members of the organization since then:
"Obviously we don't have a whole lot of money committed for the future, we don't have a lot of long-term contracts on our books," McDonough said." So we'll have no problem stepping up and paying Eric whatever it takes to keep him."
Whatever it takes?
"Correct," McDonough said. "Any reasonable offer.
"We have some advantages. We're able to give him another year, five instead of four if we choose. We're able to give him higher-percentage increases than other teams too. And then if another team does make an offer, we can always match that. So we feel like we're holding the cards with Eric, and more importantly, I think Eric's had a good experience here so far. He's played well and the team has played fairly well. I think he kind of likes what we're doing."
It's about more than just Bledsoe, however. Dragic is a ridiculous bargain at $7.5 million a year, but he has the right to opt out of his contract after this season. Any agent with half a brain will push Dragic to do that, as he should be able to re-negotiate or find a much more lucrative offer without any real effort at all.
Do you think Love would agree to sign long-term in Phoenix?
Point being, after next season it's very possible that Dragic and Bledsoe will be making around $25-30 million combined, or somewhere close to half the team's total payroll. That will make it tough to find room to pay another superstar, even if there are no bad long-term salaries on the roster now.
When you factor in that both Markieff and Marcus Morris are eligible for extension and could be restricted free agents next offseason, though, things start to get hairy.
Financially, the time is now. Love is the right player, so long as the trade price is justifiable and he agrees to sign on long-term in Phoenix.
The whole reason you acquire multiple assets and clear salary is for this exact situation. All the internal building has led to this. A star player is available, he's a perfect fit and his team lacks leverage.
All the pins have been set up perfectly. Now all McDonough and the Suns need to do is strike.