James Harden likes Phoenix, and that's enough to get excited about

The NBA is a league where superstardom is not only needed to win, but needed to boast about relevance. Or at least, it’s used to boast about a pseudo-relevance.

Like the Phoenix Suns’ moves this offseason or don’t, it’s hard to give this team a face. The front office knows this, and after watching helplessly as the New Orleans Hornets matched Eric Gordon’s contract, the Suns must look past this free agency period for finding that face of the franchise.

Let the speculation waft across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Arizona Republic’s Dan Bickley, in London covering the 2012 Olympics, dug for hints that former Arizona State and current Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden would consider returning to the Valley to play for the Suns.

“I love it there,” Harden told Bickley. “My mom lives there still. So that’s definitely my second home as far as my comfort level and going to school there. But obviously, I’m with the Thunder right now and what we have is special.”

OK, so we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The wildly-talented Harden will be a restricted free agent after next season, and that’s if he doesn’t come to terms on a contract extension. With the Thunder grappling to hang onto its young core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Harden, it seems likely one of the latter two will be on other rosters come 2013-14.

Naturally, fans in Phoenix would hope that Harden brings his versatile, smooth style back to a city he’s familiar with, and that all depends on how Oklahoma City decides to invest its money. Do the Thunder keep the bearded assassin to create the best 1-2-3 trio in the NBA, or do they allow Harden to go — you’d think they will trade him for assets — and keep the shot-blocking Ibaka? Maybe they sign both and hope they can fill in the roster with veterans on the cheap, as has the Miami Heat.

Talent-wise, it’s hard to see the Thunder letting Harden leave, even if that restricts them to being a perimeter-oriented team.

Either way, this is all speculation. Yet Harden’s comments are important not in that the Suns have a good chance at signing him so much as they reflect a point that PBO Lon Babby has made often this offseason.

Phoenix can attract quality talent, at least to a degree.

Historically, they haven’t exactly been the masters of free agent signings in recent times, but that doesn’t mean the Suns haven’t been able to acquire elite NBA players. Many of Phoenix’s best players have come from the draft (Dan Majerle, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion) or via trade (Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley, Jason Kidd, Penny Hardaway).

Steve Nash’s free agency signing was special in that he’d already played for the organization. In a similar light, Gordon wanted to come to Phoenix after a solid pitch from the team, but his younger brother attending ASU probably had a great deal of significance, too. Like Nash and Gordon, Harden already has connections to the Valley of the Sun.

And like Gordon, it’s still to be determined whether Harden can live up to being a legitimate elite player in the league rather than a Joe Johnson-like, tier-two star — this is where we talk about a team having pseudo-relevance.

Truthfully, it’ll be shocking if the Suns will even have a chance to make a run at the former Sun Devil. He’s not going to throw any options out the window at this premature point of figuring out his future, as Royce Young writes.

Still, you’ve got to like reading those comments if you’re a Suns fan. The fact that these players who are familiar with Phoenix want to consider the Suns is a sign that maybe one day they’ll make the free agency catch to return to prominence in the post-Nash era.

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