During our last visit to the NBA’s free-agent frenzy of 2014, the basketball-loving citizens of Phoenix were awaiting their cue to exhale.
That was almost a week ago. And they’re still waiting.
This prolonged breath-holding is on behalf of the Suns, who might or might not be ready to rock the basketball world with a dramatic roster reshaping when the signing period begins on Thursday.
Last week’s first round of negotiations offered little in the way of helpful clues.
The Woo LeBron James Project propelled Suns’ fans through the Fourth of July holiday. The one substantive piece of information to emerge was a report the Suns — represented by owner Robert Sarver, basketball ops president Lon Babby and general manager Ryan McDonough — were one of five NBA teams to make face-to-face pitches to LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul.
Team James will meet with Miami Heat president Pat Riley early this week, then — according to various posts — LeBron and his planners are to decide which teams receive an audience with The King himself.
Where it gets complicated for the Suns’ braintrust are the domino implications of a James pursuit on reconciling the futures of their own free agents.
It would seem wise if restricted free agents Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker were re-signed without the burden of another team’s offer sheets to ponder, such moves would seriously impact Phoenix’s salary-cap flexibility by transforming what are now cheap cap "holds" into much more burdensome anchors. The upshot would make it really difficult to add an elite free agents without moving a chunk of the talented young roster that makes the Suns such an attractive a destination.
The Suns’ attractiveness as a viable LeBron destination can be traced to ace Yahoo Sports and FOXSports1 reporter Adrian Wojnarowski, who seems to be the only national NBA scribe to seize the premise Phoenix would be a swell landing spot for LeBron. Wojnarowski on a couple of occasions reminded readers Phoenix could muster enough cap space for James and another high-level playmate (i.e. Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh) while still suiting up Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and center Miles Plumlee.
Virtually everyone else tracking the pursuit of LeBron seems to think the Suns have no chance. A return to Miami remains the odds-on favorite, but a return to Cleveland is gaining momentum in the latest speculation.
In the meantime, very little chatter regarding other free agents has included the Suns.
Center Spencer Hawes visited here last week but reportedly made a verbal agreement to join the L.A. Clippers the next day. While he’s become a fine 3-point shooter and rebounds his area, Hawes is less versatile than Channing Frye, who is leaving to join the Orlando Magic.
The crowd of small forwards previously referenced as Suns’ bait are being mentioned almost everywhere but here.
Luol Deng, for example, hasn’t had his name linked with Phoenix in months; he’s reportedly closing in on a deal with the Atlanta Hawks.
Utah swingman Gordon Hayward, whose history with Suns coach Jeff Hornacek provoked expectations of interest from Phoenix for almost a year, has visited Cleveland and mustered reports of interest from Charlotte, Dallas and Boston.
Houston Rockets three man Chandler Parsons — rumored to be expendable if his team were to land a bigger name — certainly seemed like a guy who’d fit in with the Suns. But there have been no reports connecting Parsons to Phoenix; it’s believed that the Mavericks wouldn’t mind him as their own Plan B or C.
A few hours after Patrick Patterson was reported to be a Suns target, the 6-foot-9 power forward reached an agreement to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors.
And the rumor putting Kent Bazemore in the Suns’ crosshairs lost steam when it was reported he, too, was close to a deal with the Hawks.
There’s been no such chatter/orchestrated leaks from either the Bledsoe or Tucker camps. While the Milwaukee Bucks were reported as potential Bledsoe suitors, the Suns’ promise/threat to match any offer might be working. It’s also true that few teams have the cap space and roster strength necessary to interest Bledsoe.
Quite a few teams reportedly are interested in adding the defensive-minded Tucker to their rotations, but all have been hesitant to offer more money than the Suns would gladly match.
Golden State and Cleveland had been frequently mentioned as possible destinations for Frye. But the Warriors spent their limited loot on Shaun Livingston; the Cavaliers, as noted, are courting bigger fish.
The whale, of course, is James, who could become the lead free-agent domino for an entire league. Or it could be Heat teammate Chris Bosh, whose financial direction could determine a shift in the balance of roster power.
If Bosh leaves Miami for Houston, for example, it could push LeBron out of Miami. Or it could keep him there and drag Carmelo Anthony out of New York and down to South Beach.
One of those big names should make a decision this week.
And if any of these decisions fails to bring a seismic shift to Phoenix, expect the Suns to move quickly on keeping their own free agents.
If they are incapable of adding an elite player without gutting the roster, they’ll save their money and wait.