Apr. 18, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden following the game against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
All the moves made by the Suns this summer were just the precursor to what can be in 2013. Are the Suns a choice destination for the cream of the crop? Time will tell.
This was the "summer before the summer" despite the frenetic active pace the Suns set going after players. This year they loaded up on quality role players that can play in any system, which is good because next year they will create their identity.
Look, it is pretty straight forward with this roster - this team does not have a franchise player, but they do have a few talents that could become the second and third tier players on a very good team. Next year has to be the payoff.
By collecting assets like Michael Beasley for a reasonable price, drafting Kendall Marshall, acquiring Wesley Johnson as an expiring contract, and maintaining their overall budget the team has options.
Those pieces could be invaluable in sign-and-trade situations come the Summer of 2013 when franchise changing stars hit the market for the first time since LeBron James and Dwayne Wade paraded from city-to-city like high school recruits. It is still a very good possibility that Chris Paul and Dwight Howard do the same thing next summer while the likes of James Harden and Andrew Bynum all seek max offers themselves.
How is this relevant to the Suns?
Well thanks for asking, next summer seven teams including the Suns can offer at least one max contract in free agency. The Spurs (12.2 million), Bucks (16.9), Bobcats (32.1), Jazz (32.3), Rockets (35.5), Hawks (41.2), and the Suns (13.9) are primed to get their "face of the franchise" next summer.
(Those numbers are considering all NBA teams would match team options for players drafted in the past three years via HoopsHype)
For the Suns, they were not able do that in the last two drafts or in free agency this year.
This year they extended a four year 58 million (14.5 million a year) contract offer to restricted free agent Eric Gordon that was immediately matched by the Hornets. The team can go that route again chasing the likes of James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Stephen Curry, or Tyreke Evans giving their original team the opportunity to match.
In unrestricted free agency the options are much better, but just as unrealistic to obtain as Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum, Monta Ellis, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, and Lamar Odom are the top prizes.
With the way this team is constructed over the next few years there are glaring holes - equally looked at as open spots for a star - at center and shooting guard.
Obviously the name that floats around, and for good reason, is Harden. Although he is not "from" Phoenix it is his second home as his mother resides here and he played for the local Arizona State Sun Devils. Sandwiching a player of Harden's skill level between the current perimeter duo of Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley masks the flaws and shortcomings of all three players forming a quality perimeter trio.
There is the unknown element with Harden as well. All of his success has come with All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant drawing most of the attention of opposing defenses. Can Harden be as productive or better with all of the attention focused on him?
Some Option B routes, which are not bad routes, would be to target restricted free agents DeRozan and Evans. Over the past two years Evans has really regressed as a player either due to the system or his lack of a desire to be great. The skill is there, but the conditioning, work ethic, and heart may not be. That is a concern that DeRozan does not bring to the table as he has added to his game over the same period of time getting better overall as a player. DeRozan is an above the rim athlete with ties to the west coast being from California and attending USC for a year.
It would take a max contract offer to make Oklahoma City, Sacramento, and Toronto even consider not re-signing Harden, Evans, or DeRozan respectively.
Then again this could be Eric Gordon 2.0 where the Suns fall in love (publically) with a player letting their current team garner an advantage in the offseason. Young studs usually do not get to wander off the farm, they need to be taken, which is exactly what the Suns need to do to get one of these three if that is the plan.
Ellis and Iguodala can exercise their Early Termination Opt Out (ETO) Clause as well creating potential Plan C Options. The 27 year old Ellis has seven years of experience in the NBA. He is experienced, but also just entering his physical prime as a player. Iguodala is another local option, but nothing more than a stop-gap at 29 years old for a team looking for young star.
Then again they could go big and try to bring home a franchise big man the caliber of Howard or Bynum. Those are farfetched options as both players are likely to resign in Los Angeles and Philadelphia respectively.
Marcin Gortat is familiar with backing up Howard from their days in Orlando while Channing Frye and Markieff Morris would be perfect offensive balancers for a "Dwight Howard Offense" like back in Orlando when they went to the NBA Finals in 2009.
If Paul decides he wants to leave Los Angeles and Howard commits to Phoenix those assets mentioned earlier come in handy to make room for Paul and appease the Clippers. Unlikely as that scenario is the Suns set themselves up for the opportunity to entertain the possibility. That is an important distinction of the direction the team has going forward. They are giving themselves options, finally.
All-in-all next summer should be interesting so long as they do not profess their love for a player weeks before the signing period losing the little leverage they may have. Sure the current team has all the leverage in general, but discretion never hurts in these matters.
All of this is speculative and irrelevant if (when) Toronto, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Oklahoma City all realize what they have.
However the NBA is a fast-paced arms war these days where a handful of teams already have all their bullets accounted for. Teams like the Suns and others are a choice destination after Los Angeles (both of them), Miami, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn, New York, Chicago, Memphis, and Indiana are no longer options.
Where do you go when all the top teams do not have a home for you? You make a home that you can eventually turn into a top team.