When the Phoenix Suns landed at the free-agent party of July 2012, they really went to work.
There was the facilitation of Steve Nash’s getaway to Los Angeles, the return of Goran Dragic, the ambitious offer-sheet signing of Eric Gordon and the curiously optimistic hire of Michael Beasley.
The Suns also waved bye-bye to Grant Hill, did the same with Robin Lopez (for the opportunity to pick up another underperforming ex-Minnesota Timberwolves forward) and made the winning bid for Houston Rockets amnesty casualty Luis Scola.
Don’t expect anywhere near that level of activity from the Suns in July 2013.
For non-starters, Phoenix has a crowded roster, little current room under the anticipated salary-cap number ($52 million) and a seemingly resolute commitment to actually rebuilding.
One year ago, parting company with Nash and Hill should have started an already-overdue excavation. By making that aggressive move to grab Scola, however, the Suns again refused to accept the inevitable. The New Orleans Hornets, it should be noted, saved the Suns from themselves by matching the Gordon offer sheet, preventing Phoenix from absorbing a contract that could have haunted the franchise for a while.
Anyway, because they were able to accidentally tank their way to 57 defeats, the Suns started to vigorously embrace the avoidance of bad contracts and the stockpiling of draft picks, a.k.a. the process of rebuilding. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the past season was following the L.A. Lakers’ quest to reach the postseason and snatch a second 2013 lottery pick from the Suns’ grasp.
Part of the acceptance of their predicament was the addition of general manager Ryan McDonough, who arrived from the Boston Celtics with a strong reminder that the rebuild will take a while.
So, with the NBA careening into the Dwight Howard free-agent derby, we’ve heard and/or read very few names associated with potential employment in Phoenix.
Oh, there were whispers that Andrew Bynum might take reasonable money and short years for the opportunity to have his knees resuscitated by the Suns’ powerhouse medical and training staff. But the drafting of Maryland center Alex Len has put a chill in that rumor.
And we also were treated to a report from a New York-based NBA scribe who suggested Phoenix could be a potential destination for Knicks free-agent guard J.R. Smith. Even while disregarding his on-court selfishness and a history of off-court issues, Smith represents the type of player who could be considered anathema to any long-range franchise resurrection plan. Although he’s a reckless high-volume shooter (but not a high-volume maker), Smith still would be an upgrade at two-guard … and might enable the Suns to win enough games to wreck their status for the anticipated bonanza known as the 2014 NBA Draft. He also is nowhere good enough to help them contend for a playoff run, even one that would end quickly.
Perhaps instead of going there, the Suns decided over the weekend not to waive shooting guard Shannon Brown, opting to pay his full $3.5 million this season rather than bounce him and save half of that. They also have yet to reconcile the futures of swingmen P.J. Tucker (expected to return) and Wesley Johnson. Veteran big man Jermaine O’Neal, who experienced a bit of a rally last season, could be useful elsewhere.
A look at the free-agent class of 2013 reminds us that — aside from Howard and L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul — there are few, if any, prospective hires good enough for a franchise truly in touch with its rebuilding process to make.
It also should be pointed out that teams with modest rosters (such as the Suns) aren’t exactly catnip for talented free agents looking to be part of a winning team. Sure, money can trump that aspect of free-agent recruitment, but Phoenix isn’t in a big-giving cap situation right now.
It has been posited that the Suns could clear some space by moving the plucky Scola to a contending team. And there certainly could be a solid trade market for center Marcin Gortat and his expiring contract, although alleged interest from the Portland Trail Blazers has been swept aside by talk of Chris Kaman and Tiago Splitter showing up on their radar.
But with the Suns focused on the assimilation and maturation of Len, don’t be surprised if they keep Gortat until the trade deadline, when a team desperate for inside assistance during a playoff run could cough up something better.
Swingman Jared Dudley, whose combination of a reasonable contract and respectable productivity will generate interest from contenders, is another Suns player to watch this July.
Just don’t forget that these trade chats go both ways; some teams do have cap room and can absorb salary. But — unfortunately for those of you fascinated by trade talk — many of the contending-type teams that would be interested in adding a Suns veteran have little to no cap space. So to make room for one of the aforementioned players, they probably would have to send a hefty salary or two back to Phoenix, where we’re hoping bad contracts — with McDonough around — no longer will come to die.