Best Bargain-Bin NBA 2014 Free-Agency Options for Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns have to make a couple of key free-agency moves in order to become a better team next season.
Considering that Phoenix won 48 games during the 2013-14 campaign, one might be quick to question how much better the Suns can be. The answer: a whole lot.
The Suns posted an impressive record last season but still missed the playoffs in a brutal Western Conference. Phoenix likely needs to aim for 50 wins just to get an opportunity to participate in the playoffs as a road team.
A two-game difference doesn't seem big, but teams are getting better.
According to Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, the Dallas Mavericks added Chandler Parsons when Houston decided not to match the offer sheet he had signed with Dallas. The Mavs also brought Richard Jefferson into the mix via free agency.
The remaining teams in the West could also make moves that bolster their rosters.
Luckily, ShamSports.com indicates the Suns should have about $30 million in cap space to work with after we include Thomas’ annual salary. Granted, Eric Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, and whatever it costs to bring him back will be deducted from their cap space.
Although it's tough to determine Bledsoe's future salary, let's assume he signs the four-year, $59 million max contract Sporting News' Sean Deveney suggested he was looking for earlier in the 2013-14 campaign.
The Suns would have around $19 million to spend on prospective players. Ideally, the Suns need to exploit market inefficiencies.
The franchise requires low-salary players that fit in with the roster. This would allow the team to add multiple quality guys, which in turn would make them more formidable. Cheap talent usually wins out.
Phoenix has needs at the forward and center positions after losing Channing Frye to the Orlando Magic in free agency. The Phoenix frontcourt is fairly decent, but decent won't cut it in the Western Conference.
Which players can the Suns bring in to help improve the team?
Phoenix will need a defensive presence in the paint next season, and Jermaine O’Neal is certainly a good option.
Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that O'Neal might choose to retire this summer, but the Suns should inquire about bringing him back for a second stint (he played in Phoenix during the 2012-13 campaign).
Miles Plumlee brought a bit of toughness and rim protection last season, but he’s not a big deterrent. At 6’10’’, he’s undersized for the center position and his inexperience is an issue.
Opposing centers get to their favorite areas against him and can punish him in the paint.
O’Neal would be a great addition to the Suns because he would help in those specific areas. He’s a physical defender that’s been around the block a few times. O’Neal, who will be 36 by the time the season opens, can share his wisdom with the Suns and even help Plumlee grow as a player.
O’Neal would probably be the second-unit center, a role in which he thrived last season with the Golden State Warriors.
Considering the fact he’s thought about leaving the sport, his deal would be a short one. Something along the lines of $3 million for the upcoming season could work.
Drew Gooden is a serviceable reserve center, and the Suns could certainly use him considering his rebounding prowess. Gooden is a decent mid-range shooter and solid finisher on the interior.
Those tools allow him to be a functional offensive player, but his strength is on the boards. Gooden boasts a career average of 3.4 offensive rebounds per 36 minutes, which allows his team to get second-chance opportunities.
Given that Phoenix has no depth whatsoever at the center position, Gooden would help bolster the rotation up front. He’s not a game-changer, but his ability to control the boards might give the Suns a bit more offensive punch.
Phoenix was an average team in terms of pounding the glass last year, and a small uptick on this front could end up being the difference going forward.
The organization should consider signing Gooden to a three-year, $6 million contract. ShamSports.com indicates Gooden made less than the league minimum (he made the prorated amount of the minimum) with the Washington Wizards during the 2013-14 season.
Thus, a $2 million annual salary would be a healthy increase.
To be clear, Villanueva was on the roster of the Detroit Pistons last season, but it might be fair to say that no one actually realized this.
He signed a five-year, $35 million deal in the 2009 offseason with Detroit, and the Pistons have gotten very little in return for their investment. Basketball-Reference.com tells us Villanueva produced 9.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game as a member of the Pistons.
What’s more, the 2013-14 season was the worst of his career. Villanueva averaged 4.6 points and 1.7 rebounds in nine minutes per game.
He’s probably somewhat of a forgotten man, which could benefit Phoenix.
At 6’11’’, he’s a natural fit at power forward and could even play center in some small-ball units. The Suns should give Villanueva a look because he can shoot the ball from deep.
Villanueva is a career 34.3 percent shooter from downtown. His proficiency form long range is good enough that Phoenix might be able to replace some of what it lost with the departure of Channing Frye.
Frye is a superior shooter (career 38.5 percent shooter from deep), but Phoenix simply needs someone to pull away a defender from the paint, and Villanueva would certainly qualify.
He would probably complement Goran Dragic and Bledsoe fairly well in the pick-and-pop, too.
The most interesting aspect involving his prospective acquisition is the fact that it’s a low-risk move. Considering that he only made 38 percent of all his shots and barely played during the 2013-14 campaign, Phoenix might be able to get him for cheap.
The Suns should offer a two-year deal worth $4 million total. The second season would be a team option. That would be a great way to extract the best Villanueva has to offer at a bargain price.
In the event that he brings nothing to the table, Phoenix can easily watch him leave after a year or perhaps cut him during the season.
The Suns have a bit of history with Shawn Marion, and that might come into play if they try and lure him from the Dallas Mavericks.
Marion is a hybrid player capable of defending every position on the floor. Also, he’s good in the open court, rebounds the ball (7.4 boards per 36 minutes last year) and disrupts plays by getting into passing lanes.
Marion, who will be 36 when the season opens, understands his limitations and could provide veteran leadership to a team that only had three players who were 30 or older last season.
The Suns could use him at both forward spots considering his defensive prowess and sporadic ability to connect on the long ball (career 33.2 percent from three-point range).
Phoenix might be able to scoop him up with a three-year, $14 million deal. Marion could very well return to the Dallas Mavericks, but their commitment to Chandler Parsons might be a sign that Dallas is ready to move in a different direction.
I favor Marion in this spot over the previous players because he’s a proven commodity that consistently produces for his teams.
Greg Monroe is perhaps the best young free agent on the market. He will be a 24-year-old center when the 2014-15 season tips off. He's also a restricted free agent.
Monroe scores from the high-post area and with his back to the basket. He’s a solid rebounder, judging from his average of 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career.
The one area where we don’t get to see him shine enough is his passing. Monroe is quite good at hitting cutters and open players in standstill position.
Sadly, he hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity to do so with the Detroit Pistons because their players aren’t great at moving without the ball.
Thus, we've only seen glimpses of what he can do.
Phoenix might be able to unleash Monroe on the rest of the league. The Suns love to spread the floor with shooters and keep defenses guessing by moving around players. Thus, Monroe would have a system in place that emphasizes his strengths.
He would get opportunities to attack single coverage and look for open teammates whenever defenders converge on him.
The tricky thing about Monroe is that he’s a restricted free agent, which means the Pistons can match any offer sheet he signs with another team and retain his services.
Typically, teams overpay restricted free agents with the hope that the player’s original team refuses to cough up that amount of money (as seen with Parsons’ deal).
Monroe’s case might be a little different because Phoenix could actually get him at a bargain rate even by overpaying.
ESPN.com’s Amin Elhassan (membership required) believes that Monroe should probably make around $14.5 million annually.
The explanation is fairly simple: Derrick Favors, a lesser player by comparison, signed a four-year, $49 million extension last October. Naturally, Monroe should make more. He’s more productive and has a more polished offensive repertoire.
Keep in mind, he hasn’t played in a system or with teammates tailored to his game. It’s worth noting that Detroit failed to offer him a contract extension before the start of the 2013-14 campaign, which could be a sign the franchise wasn’t willing to pay him at market value.
I think Phoenix should.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.