Best Potential Free Agents for Phoenix Suns to Chase During 2014 Offseason
If a pair of basketball superstars from some parallel universe came to earth to survey the free-agency scene, determined to find the best possible balance between money, franchise flexibility and a chance to wield their talents in tandem, the choice would almost be too easy:
The Phoenix Suns, of course.
Sadly, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony—both of whom Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports the Suns will indeed pursue—might not even know a good thing when they see it.
For LeBron, the concern is as much about winning as it is not duplicating the disaster that was The Decision.
Even if the James-Anthony pairing proves a pipe dream, the Suns remain in an enviable position: flush with cash, loaded with talent and poised to improve upon a surprise 48-win 2013-14 campaign.
With tens of millions in projected cap space at their disposal, the Suns stand to be big-time players this summer. What follows, then, are 10 potential stars Phoenix should think of pursuing in the coming days and weeks.
Heading into the offseason, it was all but expected that plenty of teams would line up to try to make an offer for Gordon Hayward with the goal being to either force the Utah Jazz to match and overspend or blow them out of the water completely.
According to Jody Genessy of Deseret News, the Suns might just try for the latter:
The 6-foot-8 restricted free agent is expected to receive a significant contract offer, possibly upwards to a max deal, from the Phoenix Suns this coming week, according to sources.
... However, the Jazz plan on matching any offers for Hayward and intend to keep the versatile wing player in the organization as a major cornerstone in this rebuilding era, according to sources.
Strategically speaking, Utah guaranteeing to match any and every offer makes total sense. The idea being that simply stating as much will dissuade rival teams from even bothering to make an offer.
But few franchises boast both the cap space and the positional need as Phoenix, meaning it might well step up with a number big enough for the Jazz to balk. Even if the Suns wind up overpaying significantly for Hayward’s services, the value they’ve culled up and down the roster makes it a risk—and a mistake—well worth taking.
Fit-wise, it’s hard to hate what Hayward could bring to the table: a versatile small forward whose ability to shoot and pass make him a perfect candidate for Jeff Hornacek’s movement-oriented offense.
Just as Phoenix threatens to leverage Hayward out of Salt Lake City, so too could a Suns rival pull a similar stunt with third-year combo guard Eric Bledsoe.
If Phoenix spends heavily off the bat—be it on Hayward or someone else entirely—it might need a Bledsoe backup plan. Enter Avery Bradley, the similarly skilled, though somewhat less promising, prospect to whom the Boston Celtics recently extended a $3.6 million qualifying offer, per Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe (h/t MassLive.com’s Jay King.
In Bradley, the Suns would be getting a reasonable Bledsoe facsimile: a relentless perimeter hound capable of guarding both guard positions. That Bradley averaged a career-high 40 percent from three-point range last season only strengthens his theoretical fit.
With longtime frontcourt staple Channing Frye looking to work out a long-term extension with his longtime employer (per Paul Coro of AZSportsCentral.com), Phoenix would be wise to survey the power-forward scene—to see if its bountiful cap space might be more wisely spent.
Like Bledsoe, Greg Monroe is sure to field his fair share of big-time offers. And while the Detroit Pistons are claiming they’ll match even a max offer for the versatile power forward (per the Detroit Free Press’ Vince Ellis), new team president Stan Van Gundy has to be wondering how well his frontcourt troika of Monroe, Josh Smith and Andre Drummond will ultimately pan out.
Let’s assume the Suns let Frye walk and make a max offer for Monroe that the Pistons decline. What Monroe may lack in Frye’s three-point prowess, he more than makes up for in his ability to pass out of the post—something that could add another wrinkle to Phoenix’s offense.
LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony he is not, but Luol Deng would absolutely be a game-changing coup for the defense-averse Suns.
For a team that started P.J. Tucker for 81 of their 82 games (solid as he was), the Suns could certainly use an upgrade at small forward. Coming off a tumultuous year that saw him traded by the cash-strapped Chicago Bulls to the comically dysfunctional Cleveland Cavaliers, Deng could stand a change of scenery—and a winning one at that.
Not only can Deng guard four positions—thereby taking pressure off of Phoenix’s already-thin front line—his unselfish brand of ball and long-range prowess would prove an immediate boon.
Once you get past the LeBrons and Melos of the 2014 free-agent crop—the top tier, so to speak—one name jumps out ahead of all the rest: Kyle Lowry.
In trading for Lou Williams (per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution), the Raptors are already preparing for the possibility of life after Lowry. Might Phoenix make a run at the multifaceted floor general?
Such a move would likely entail the Suns losing out on Bledsoe, obviously. But a Lowry-Goran Dragic pairing could make for an intriguing backcourt indeed. Not only is each capable of playing both positions, but also the pair’s respective three-point prowess could make make for an even more explosive offensive duo than the Dragic-Bledsoe tandem.
As of this writing, the Houston Rockets have officially declined Chandler Parsons' player option, according to Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears, although the team had yet to make an official qualifying offer.
Should general manager Daryl Morey swing and miss on James and Anthony, it seems likely the Rockets will match just about any offer Parsons receives.
If, however, Houston reels in one of its A-1 fish, Parsons could be a perfect target for the Suns, whose brand of pinball passing perfectly suits the versatile forward’s skill set.
The long money might be on Parsons returning to Houston, but if Phoenix is willing to throw the house at him, the fit might well be worth the financial risk.
When the Suns traded Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards last October 25, their goal was simple: Take on more salary in the short term (in the form of Emeka Okafor’s expiring contract) in exchange for better cap flexibility later. As in, for this summer.
Oh, they also got Tyler Ennis out of the deal, too.
It sounds strange to think Phoenix would just turn around and spend some of that hard-earned bullion on bringing back Gortat. But if the hard-nosed (and skilled) Polish center is willing to come back at a reasonable price, it would certainly help bolster what stands to be—particularly given the enormous question mark that is Alex Len—a pretty thin frontcourt.
Miles Plumlee has proven himself a capable NBA center—a guy who can crash the boards and get easy buckets. But for Phoenix to truly take the next step, it needs someone of Gortat’s caliber patrolling the paint.
With the near-future fate of Dirk Nowitzki yet to be determined, the Mavs are a team in full-throated flux.
They too would love to see James or Anthony take their talents to the Big D. If that happens, it stands to reason Shawn Marion will be considered expendable.
Even if Dallas goes forward with a more low-key retooling, the Suns certainly have a case to make to Marion: Come play for a team that best suits your style while finishing your career where you first made a name for yourself.
If Marion can be had on the cheap, thereby giving Phoenix a chance to reel in a few more scorers, all the better.
If the Suns want to go the high-risk, high-reward route, Lance Stephenson makes for an intriguing play.
After a breakout 2014-15 season, Stephenson’s postseason antics—his back-and-forth with LeBron being the apex—were enough to make one wonder whether he hadn’t finally worn out his welcome with the Indiana Pacers.
Team president Larry Bird apparently doesn’t think so.
"Lance wants to be here, there’s no question about it,” Bird recently told Scott Agness of Pacers.com. “... So now it’s just getting the terms right and try to get him back.”
However, with Indy cash-strapped as it is, “getting the terms right” may prove the deal’s undoing as the Pacers probably can’t afford to pay Stephenson what he’s actually worth.
Should Stephenson decide to walk away from his adopted team, the Suns—assuming they could reel him in for less than what it would take to match for Bledsoe—would be wise to pounce.
Whatever your concern about Stephenson’s demeanor, he would undoubtedly give Phoenix the nasty edge any true contender desperately needs.
Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony
Why not us?
It’s a mantra that must be ringing through the Suns' minds as they enter this all-important free-agency period.
Phoenix doesn’t boast the banners. It isn’t particularly known for its nightlife—not in NBA circles, anyway. With the exception of Charles Barkley, the Suns haven’t exactly been big players on the superstar front. Even Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire were, for the most part, homegrown talents.
What the Suns do have, however, is something no other team can offer James and Anthony: a chance to not just play together, but to play together in a system purposely built to blow the doors off the rest of the league.
Here’s your potential opening night starting lineup: Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Miles Plumlee.
If that’s not a title favorite straight out of the gate, we don’t know what is.
The Suns might be long shots to land their dream duo. But the picture they can paint—one of pass-happy basketball poetry—is pretty tough to beat.