During the approach to NBA free agency 2014, the Suns were one of several teams expected to have their July timelines influenced by the situational whim of LeBron James.
But based on a report from Yahoo! Sports, this whim could impact Phoenix in a way even the most optimistic fan probably didn’t seriously consider.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski — one of the most respected (read: accurate) NBA reporters in the country — the Suns are preparing to take a big swing at basketball’s best player. It also should be noted this information really won’t qualify as a bombshell until it’s accompanied by news that LeBron is showing a significant level of interest in coming here and taking on the nasty Western Conference.
With the ability to renounce Bird Rights and corresponding cap holds on a couple of free agents not named Eric Bledsoe, we’ve always known the Suns could muster enough cap space to woo James.
The Wojnarowski story estimates the Suns’ available loot at $33 million. The team can reach just under $27 million by saying bye-bye to the Bird Rights of unrestricted free agent Channing Frye. Getting to the $33 million would require moving a couple of players from a roster that has a few young, improving second-tier players. They also would save some money by not bringing back restricted free agent P.J. Tucker.
With an additional $10 million or so required to hire James and another max crony as suggested in the report, Wojnarowski wrote the Suns could "shed" that much in salary to make it happen.
But moving enough in contracts to unload the $15 million required — that’s in addition to not re-signing Frye and Tucker — to bring in two big-time players could reduce the attraction in the leftover supporting cast. But ,the Suns still would figure to have more depth than the restructuring Miami Heat will be able to reach.
Considering the aggressive approach to roster-building we’ve seen from General Manager Ryan McDonough, encouraging LeBron to take his talents from South Beach to South Mountain shouldn’t come as a surprise.
With Bledsoe checking in as a LeBron pal (they also happen to have the same agent), the notion never seemed completely unreasonable. But Wojnarowski also reported the Suns have lined up sufficient financial flexibility to add another LeBron playmate; the report offered Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh as potential options.
James’ decision to opt out of his contract with the Heat could make it difficult for teams also eyeballing Bledsoe to pursue both. Signing Bledsoe to an offer sheet would make it next to impossible for suitors of James and/or Anthony to have enough available cap space to go after one of the superstar small forwards.
Only three teams – the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Toronto Raptors – seem capable of offering Bledsoe enough salary and long-range stability to make a serious run at the Phoenix point guard.
But the reported primary free-agent targets for the Lakers and Mavericks are James and Anthony. Unlike Phoenix, neither team has the financial latitude (at least as of now) to land Bledsoe, too.
Even as Miami’s Big Three (James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade) will have exercised their early-termination options by Monday night, cap holds on all three exceed the cap threshold, making it impossible for the Heat to marshal a big offer for Bledsoe.
As pointed out by Wojnarowski, Suns owner Robert Sarver is no stranger to the luxury tax. That hardly suggests he enjoys it, but zooming into luxury range with James in the lineup should create revenue streams capable of easing — if not erasing — that burden.
In the Yahoo! story, it was posited the Suns wouldn’t have to unload Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee or Goran Dragic to make this two-superstar-signing a reality.
"Suns officials understand the bid will be something of a long shot, but are determined to get a meeting with James to convince him how the possibilities of two full max contracts, a roster stocked with talented, young players and the chance to pick the superstar free-agent partner of his choice ought to make Phoenix one of his most appealing suitors.
"Phoenix is determined to emerge as a legitimate destination for James and Anthony, who have privately shared an affinity for playing with each other in the NBA. Salary-cap structures make it prohibitive for teams elsewhere to fit these two stars together without completely gutting a roster, but Phoenix’s general manager Ryan McDonough has constructed a far different reality to sell them in potential meetings next week, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
"The Suns have $33.5 million in salary-cap space and could shed the next $10 million needed to sign James and Anthony to maximum contracts without unloading the young core of guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic and center Miles Plumlee."
But having Dragic in a lineup with Bledsoe and James seems like a tactical reach. Three dominant ballhandlers — and that’s not including Anthony — would make fluid ball movement a challenge … even for coach Jeff Hornacek.
Although all of this is conjecture for now, Dragic might be the odd man out in this golden scenario. With one year separating him from the ability to opt out of a contract he greatly outplayed this past season, Dragic has market value right now.
He could be moved for even more flexibility-forging, draft-pick compensation; removing his salary also would reduce the luxury-tax burden.
While these dream-team scenarios are nice to dream about, the Suns are also preparing for other, more likely, free-agency ramifications.
The aforementioned retention of Bledsoe certainly seems quite probable. While there are a couple of other teams (Milwaukee and Detroit) that would be upgraded with Bledsoe as their PG, those on-court situations aren’t close to as solid as the one he now has in Phoenix.
The Lakers and Mavericks, as listed earlier, could be dangerous potential buyers, but they have other priorities until further word from James and Anthony. The Raptors are a solid team in the weaker Eastern Conference, but they are expected to spend the opening free-agent salvo in an attempt to bring back guard Kyle Lowry.
According to those connecting the dots, the Golden State Warriors could take Frye out of Phoenix and reunite the veteran stretch four with Steve Kerr and Alvin Gentry.
But the Warriors also have other moves on their agenda and little cap room with which to exceed an offer from the Suns … well, assuming the Suns aren’t clearing space for LeBron.
The Suns also represent home for Frye and his family while offering a Hornacek system that makes him relevant.
As with Frye, the Suns would like to keep Tucker, the defensive stopper whose improved corner 3 enabled him to remain in the starting lineup.
There are interested suitors, although Tucker’s value to other teams might not be as high as it is to the Sun. But if he receives an offer, the Suns have the leeway to pass up matching. Marcus Morris, first-round pick T.J. Warren and swingman Gerald Green could eat the small-forward minutes.