Suns ready to take another big swing in free-agent market

Unrestricted free-agents LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love figure to be atop many a team's wish list, including the Suns.

A year ago, the plucky Suns and their 48-victory revival were instigating high hopes galore.

The highest of hopes was the inspired premise that restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe might coax super-friend LeBron James into ditching Miami for a powerhouse-caliber rebuild in Phoenix.

But with Free Agency 2015 now on our doorstep and another failed playoff chase in the bank, Suns followers are sifting through a pile of team needs. The to-be-solved list is being prioritized, when possible, although the more quixotic among us still are trying to imagine how multiple issues can be solved in one dream signing.

General manager Ryan McDonough has been using $12 million as a number available to the Suns in free agency right now. That would not include cap holds for free agents Brandan Wright, Gerald Green and Marcus Thornton. McDonough does have the capability of creating more spending loot (hiring a star would cost about $20 million per season) by trading existing salary and doesn’t have to renounce those holds on the Wright, Green or Thornton until officially cobbling together an offer for a big-ticket player.

Anyway, before we lob any names into the free agency preamble, let’s look at those aforementioned team needs (displayed in order of perceived relevance).

–Star power

–Sign Brandon Knight

–Veteran leadership

–Inside player to serve as stunt double for Alex Len

–Shooting upgrade

–Rebounding upgrade

Top 10 free agents

–Backup point guard

We could alter this a bit and refer to the category as Star Power Forward, because — besides Marc Gasol — two names generating the most free-agent chatter around the league are four men LaMarcus Aldridge (unrestricted, Portland) and Kevin Love (unrestricted, Cleveland).

Although Love’s leadership qualities have yet to be validated, both he and Aldridge would greatly help solve multiple needs on our list.

Aldridge, for example, would be expected to provide star-level productivity, a respected presence that younger teammates might respond to, rebounding consistency, and sufficient inside gusto to spell Len at center when league trends allow the Suns to play small.

Love probably would return to star status (at least statistically) in Phoenix, provide a floor-spacing threat as a shooter, keep the defensive glass clean and also work down low — where he can score — in small-ball alignments.

Having Aldridge or Love would enable the Suns to only need a reasonably accomplished big man as insurance for Len.

For the record, there are several good to way-above-good centers hitting free agency, but the Suns’ commitment to Len prevents us from spending time going down that path.

Unfortunately, conventional gossip puts Phoenix several notches down the receiving line for Aldridge and Love — even though Phoenix did make Aldridge’s seven-city visit list.

San Antonio and the Lakers are among the destinations frequently linked to Aldridge, while Love’s return to Cleveland remains a solid option.

According to a Sunday report out of Wisconsin, the Suns and Knight have agreed to a five-year, $70 million contract. Rght, that’s what they eventually worked out with Bledsoe — after months of restricted-free-agency hand-wringing — last summer.

Keeping Knight, the big "get" during the 2015 trade-deadline purge, is important for many reasons. And perception regarding the spoils of his trade-deadline acquisition probably isn’t the most important.

What’s really crucial is Knight’s potential as a shooter, his lead-guard experience (for use when Bledsoe is resting) and the star resemblance displayed while playing for the Milwaukee Bucks.

This deal probably won’t become official until after the Suns make whatever free agent moves they can close with players from other teams. When that’s complete, they can go over the salary cap to sign their own player (Knight).

By the way, until the Suns either thrive with Bledsoe and Knight working in tandem or the next season’s trade deadline expires, there will continue to be rumors regarding Phoenix’s attempt to move Bledsoe.

Although they’ll probably listen to anything offered, McDonough and his crew will hope to hear the name of someone matching or exceeding Bledsoe’s level of current and future productivity.

That probably won’t happen.

There are several experienced and somewhat-talented hands hitting unrestricted free agency.

The trouble is convincing them — without the vehicle of excessive contractual offers — that the Suns are on the cusp of something really swell.

Atlanta Hawks small forward DeMarre Carroll and four man Paul Millsap are respected players hitting unrestricted status off strong seasons, but selling the notion that greater team success is around the corner in Phoenix won’t be easy.

And Carroll’s success may be more influenced by playing with good players; it’s doubtful his presence could raise the level of lesser players.

Arron Afflalo is a hard-nosed vet with an unrestricted tag, but he didn’t exactly kill it during his audition in Portland. If a Monday report is accurate, that may not prevent Carmelo Anthony from convincing Afflalo to join him in New York.

Speaking of Portland, two-guard Wesley Matthews and his repaired Achilles tendon is out there, but the price doesn’t seem to be right.

San Antonio shooter Danny Green is being pursued around the league and might be had if the Spurs’ shot at Aldridge and re-signing of Kawhi Leonard makes Green too pricey.

Perhaps part of the Suns’ leadership problem can be diminished if another Danny — current employee Granger — is able to return to a reasonable percentage of what he provided as an Indiana Pacer.

While he doesn’t fit the inside-player profile, Jon Leuer (a draft-night acquisition from Memphis) is on hand to attempt to provide a stretch-four threat that Anthony Tolliver didn’t deliver during the early stages of last season.

Leuer could work with Markieff Morris in a small-ball deployment, but adding another back-up option for Len seems prudent.

The aforementioned Wright was less efficient in his Suns debut than he had been in Dallas but still qualifies as a stellar second-level player in the role of pick, dive and dunk center. He also is fine as a shot blocker from the weak side, has the chops to defend ball screens and just knows how to play.

But there should be a strong market for Wright; investing time and freezing cap space in a quest for elite free-agent prospects who probably won’t come here could lead to the 6-foot-10 lefty getting antsy and moving on.

Top pick Booker groomed for pro ball

One unrestricted free-agent prospect who already fills this reserve role nicely is Kosta Koufos, who — working behind Gasol — provided the Memphis Grizzlies with 5 points and 5 rebound per game in limited minutes. Koufos wouldn’t break the bank, might push Len to raise his productivity and be willing to accept his situation if Len plays well enough to keep him on the bench.

The market also will include old pal Robin Lopez and  Omer Asik, two recent starters who probably would seek situations with more playing time than is available in Phoenix.

Carroll has become a somewhat enlightened practitioner from behind the 3-point arc and defends well, but the current Suns logjam (for now) is at small forward. He has more maturity than those who worked there for Phoenix last season, but — as suggested above — might not provide anywhere near requisite bang for the bucks that his last season in Atlanta could afford him.

Thinning the Suns’ small forward herd through transaction is complicated by the legal status of Marcus Morris and off-court decisions from incumbent starter P.J. Tucker.

With second-year pro T.J. Warren seemingly ready for increased playing time and Coach Jeff Hornacek probably wanting to provide it, the perimeter shooting won’t be easily remedied by him.

Drafting 18-year-old shooting guard Devin Booker is a great start in that direction, but his participation as a rookie might not be enough to make a difference.

There are several impact rebounders in this summer’s free-agency pool. But the chance of Phoenix landing any of them seems unrealistic.

An unrestricted four man is Toronto’s Amir Johnson, who made 75 starts and gave the Raptors 6 rebounds in 26 minutes per game. Another who just received his marching papers from the Los Angeles Lakers is former University of Arizona insider Jordan Hill. And he can board; like Johnson, he averaged 26 minutes, but averaged 8 rebounds.

It’s hard to imagine we’re at this stage, but the Suns do need someone capable of pushing the pace and delivering the ball when Bledsoe and Knight are down.

It figures that little playing time will be available at this position, so filling this role won’t require much expenditure.

Interestingly, one of the names popping up is Ish Smith, who had the job two seasons ago. Ironically, if Ish had been a tad more accurate as a shooter, the entire point guard overload from last season might not have happened.