With James Harden off the table, where should the Phoenix Suns turn next?

It has been widely thought that the Phoenix Suns would make a major play this offseason for James Harden considering his star power, ties to the Valley and potential fit as a go-to scorer.

Daryl Morey had other plans, as the Houston Rockets swooped in with a blockbuster offer that looks brilliant so far considering Harden has filled up the cup for a combined 82 points in his first two games as a Rocket.

Last week after the deal was announced, I speculated on what the Suns could have offered for Harden. PBO Lon Babby told reporters that he did speak with OKC GM Sam Presti about a potential Harden deal but it never got close.

This past week a few more potential Suns restricted free agent targets signed extensions to take themselves off the board, including Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson. Although it’s unknown whether the Suns would have taken a shot at any of those studs to pair with Dragic in a smallish backcourt (Dragic can play the two, remember), their removal from the market further weakens an already soft 2013 free agency class.

ESPN’s John Hollinger painted that bleak picture in a recent ESPN Insider article:

The free-agency market is only going to exacerbate a team’s willingness to take chances. Don’t look now, but I count a whopping 13 teams that are looking at max salary cap space or close to it next summer — Dallas, Milwaukee, Orlando, Charlotte, Houston, Portland, Sacramento, Atlanta, Utah, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans and Phoenix. (A 14th team, Toronto, was on this list 24 hours ago before firing a $40-million bullet into its own plantar fascia).

On the demand side, we’re overloaded. On the supply side? Not so much. It’s difficult to find a single player who is both willing to relocate and worthy of a max contract.

I’m often asked by people who the Suns should target with their potential max cap space, and right now it’s very tough to say.

Josh Smith should be the top player on the market unless Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Andrew Bynum don’t re-sign with their teams (and if they don’t, they aren’t coming to Phoenix anyway), but based on how many teams will have the money to chase a stud like him, it seems like quite the long shot to even mention him in relation to the Suns.

His versatile game would surely boost Phoenix, but he will be 28 early next season and thus I’m not sure he would be the best player to lead the Suns into this new era, especially since his game might overlap with Beasley’s a bit anyway as combo forwards who sometimes take too many mid-range shots.

At best, he would probably make the Suns the Atlanta Hawks of the West, and why would he leave his home state for that?

The Suns could turn to a former Buck, as the combination of Brandon Jennings (restricted) and Monta Ellis (ETO) both would bring at least psuedo-star power. Jennings signed to play basketball in Arizona once before, but he seems to long for a big city and might not be the best backcourt partner for Dragic.

If he opts out, Ellis’ scoring would certainly help, but anybody who signs him is asking to add a bad contract to their books. With Ellis as a high-salaried player, the Suns’ ceiling would immediately shoot to “fun team that would be lucky to get to the second round of the playoffs.” No thanks, I’ll pass.

Tyreke Evans is perhaps the most intriguing talent available on the market. Evans will be a restricted free agent after the Kings declined to extend him, and presumably the right offer can land him. At the very least, one would have to think the Kings would be more open to a sign-and-trade than the Hornets were with Gordon last season.

The question, though, is what is Evans and do you really want to be relying on Michael Beasley and Tyreke Evans to be the dominant offensive forces on your squad?

The guy can blow by anybody, but entering his fourth year in the league he still can’t shoot, and he’s not exactly what anybody would call a cornerstone guy. Also, based on the dearth of available talent, it figures any team that signs Evans will have to overpay, and that’s the last thing the Suns should do. I consider Evans interesting but would probably pass depending on the circumstances.

Finally, I’ll give you one more player to consider: Paul Millsap. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent this summer who is guaranteed to make more money than he’s worth based on the supply and demand of this market. He’s a bruising power forward who has spent some time at the three with all of Utah’s depth upfront and would be a nice fit despite being the same age as Smith.

Perhaps the Suns’ best option would be to make an in-season trade for a stud. After all, a few years back that’s the method by which Robert Sarver expected his franchise to acquire its next big star.

The Suns can take back about $7 million in salaries (a huge advantage this time of year) and can offer an expiring contract in Wes Johnson and/or Sebastian Telfair and some of their trove of picks (10 the next three years).

Perhaps they could make a play for Millsap in that manner as it seems like Utah might be smart to trade one of its free-agent big men (Millsap or Jefferson) with Favors and Kanter behind them.

With such questionable options available on the free-agency market, the Suns would be wise to leverage their extra cap space into a smart deal rather than to overpay a second-tier option that might not be the best fit in their long-term rebuilding plans anyway.

  • KayGee

    Get Eric Bledsoe….have him start @ point and move Dragic to the two spot! Bledsoe has game, like a mini Westbrook.. ..hey its a start!

  • Ty-Sun

    There aren’t any great FA options for the Suns next season. Smith and Milsap are good options but at 28 neither are cornerstones to build the team’s future around. Ellis would bring scoring but as you said it would be a bad contract because he could never take the Suns past the 2nd round. I can’t see relying on Evans either.

    The Suns have already gambled on Beasley and Johnson (although Johnson isn’t much of a gamble since he’s a one year rental). They shouldn’t gamble on a player who is demanding a max contract next season. The in-season trade option seems to be the best idea although it might have to wait until next season to happen.

    Unfortunately, for those who want to bring that star player to Phoenix, I think they are just going to have to deal with the team we have now this season.

    Nothing against Marshall but I think that the Suns played it safe by drafting him. There are probably at least 2-3 players drafted after him that could have helped the Suns more this year and have more upside potential.

  • Shawn

    Why don’t the Suns trade for Eric Gordon? His injury is bogus (according to Hornets fans) and no one in New Orleans likes him any more. They could use that money to build around Davis and from what I understand, Gordon’s heart is here in Phoenix. Seems to make too much sense.

  • Sinister

    In response to going after Gordon. I don’t think it makes any sense. First of all who would want a player that hardly ever plays and has a max deal? And Shawn, about his injury being bogus…you’re really going to listen to the hornet’s fans on that? If so, I have a car that’s on blocks but it drives real great once I put the tires back on it

  • sun also rises

    Still confused as to why Hornets matched PHX’s offer on Gordon (aside from spite/making a statement). He obviously doesn’t want to be there and their medical crew can’t seem to keep him upright… between the Suns’ trainers and a change of zip code he would have been a good pickup. Just not at that price tag.

  • Scott

    There’s also the possibility of a trade with Denver for Iguodala, if he doesn’t work out with them.

    ATM, Denver is 0-2, having lost to Philly and Orlando.

  • phxfan88

    @Shawn: I could be totally wrong here but I think I remember hearing the Hornets, because they matched, cannot trade Gordon to the Suns for a year from when he signed his deal. Can anyone else confirm that.

    If the injury truly is bogus he is a stud.

  • KayGee

    Actually getting Bledsoe makes plenty of sense….your not gonna pay him max money, your slimply signing an explosive player for cheap & in case you haven’t noticed the Suns have zero expressiveness from thier players! I live in LaLa land so I know what im talking about, just like I knew James Harden is probably the best or at least 2nd best shooting guard right now (I knew that last yr) & how Kendall Marshall is a bust & how Jeremy Lamb is a future star in the game, which is why OKC made that trade 4 harden! GO AFTER JEREMY LAMB PHOENIX!!! pull those trades I’ve been hearing about already!

  • DanC133

    Josh Smith, Oh hell no. We don’t need a low IQ guy in love with long 2′s. The only thing he has going for him is his energy and athleticism. He is another problem child whining about a trade every other week. No wonder he and Dwight are such buddies.

    Millsap on the other hand would be a solid player that can score, rebound, and is an average defender. I’d wager he can be had for a lot less then Josh the numb skull.

    Neither Evans or Ellis makes us a stronger team and shouldn’t even be in the discussion. I’m still glad we didn’t get Gordon and now just have another reason. Who really knows what his injury is and fact or fiction besides him. Maybe now that he got his max deal he will start whining for a trade somewhere. With the prima donna’s in todays game who knows.

  • Shawn

    Regarding my comment about the Hornets fans, I was being sarcastic. They never liked him in the first place and were simply looking for another way to throw him under the bus. I find it funny they think so little of him.

    Larry Coon (CBA expert) confirmed that after one year, New Orleans can, in fact, trade Gordon to any team (including Phoenix).

  • DBreezy

    At this point they’ve somewhat made their bed, and have to lie in it. Going after restricted free agents has always been risky and largely fruitless business.The best RFA’s tend to stay with their original teams and the others are usually traded to new teams before they hit the rfa market where they typically resign. Just because Sarver prefers to use the market value method on pretty much all free agents, doesn’t mean others do. AFAIK, Joe Johnson to ATL is the only cornerstone-type player to move teams via the rfa process. I’ll have to think about it some more, but he might even be the only multiple all-star appearance player to be acquired that way.

    Free agency in general is an awful way to acquire cornerstone players. Most are acquired via the draft or trades. I think the Heat and the Lakers (Shaq) are the only teams to win chips around free agent cornerstones.

    The team has elected to be extremely cautious in most of its moves. They milked all they could out of their previous stars preferring that and losing them for little to nothing vs moving them earlier. They’ve gone ultra safe in the draft as well-also drafting 100% off position vs. best available. From what we can tell they seem to have taken the same approach to trade talks as well, possibly overvaluing their current assets. We know that they definitely passed up a chance to move up into the top of this draft according to Blanks and that they deemed OKC’s demands for Harden to high for talks to continue.

    As I mentioned the other day, there are a lot of similarities between them and the team that they just played, the Pistons. While the Pistons have always been more accommodating to draft picks/young players than the Suns, both teams have tried to avoid tanking and tried to keep strong veterans around as part of their rebuilds. They’ve both overpaid mediocre or worse free agents as part of the process (Gordon, Villanueva vs Chilly and Hak) They’ve both had a tendency to overvalue the guys presently on their roster (overpaying Stuckey and Prince for example)

    The biggest difference again is that the Pistons have slowly but surely acquired impact young talent (Monroe, Knight, Jerebko, Drummond) that can develop or be used as part of a trade for a cornerstone. I think ultimately the Suns will have to go down that road as well, though I’m not sure they have the patience for it. Seems like they should just make opportunistic moves for draft picks/young players/ cap flexibility hoping that they can get lucky with a Harden type trade, be in good position for the 2014 draft which supposedly has two franchise types, or for that free agent class which has bigger names than this one. I would guess that the draft or trades would be the better options. If they wanted to rebuild without going in the gutter, they should have made a Deron Williams/Melo type trade years ago

  • Rex

    We already have Scola, why would need Milsap? I don’t think he would wanna come off the bench

  • DBreezy


    As others have said previously, I could see Scola getting moved at some point. There has been vigorous debate on many Suns sites about moving Gortat now because of his age/value relative to when the Suns will likely be relevant again. That really goes for the 32 year old Scola as well. He’s on an affordable contract and could be a nice fit for a playoff squad looking for a boost.

    Plus this is probably the last season that Morris will get to prove that he’s future starting material. With Scola being older and valuable in trade and Frye’s issues, if Kieff shows that he’s more of a long term reserve you have to think that the Suns would be looking at a 4 in what is a frontcourt heavy draft. They could also look in free agency, although I think Milsap is a tough sell unless you have a frontcourt that is very long and/or beefy.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

      Actually, the Suns cannot even look at Gordon until he moves on from the Hornets, per Coon. They cannot trade him for one year without his consent and they can’t trade him at all to the team that signed him to the offer sheet. I do wonder what the Suns’ warlocks could have done for him.

      RE Iguodala, perhaps he belonged in this article, but I just feel like he’s such a good fit in Denver they will eventually work out a long-term deal, and he’s not exactly in his early 20s anymore either.

  • bk

    Feasible SG FA is OJ Mayo (player option) and Kevin Martin (UFA)

  • Brian

    Let’s sign Greg Oden, Brandon Roy, and Steve Nash.

  • http://none Mikel

    I would have drafted Terrance Jones instead of Marshall!! Jones has more upside and better trade chip!!!.oh well :(

  • JZ

    The Marshall pick seems like a waste for this season. Kendall isn’t going to get consistent minutes until next year when Bassy is not resigned. Phoenix needs to get a SG that can create his own shot. The only one that I can think of right now is Nick Young.

  • http://Google motormannjay

    I’ve been reading all your comments and I must admit that you people are knowledgable fans. Probably because the Sun’s franchise is the oldest professional sports in Phx.

  • J

    Maybe sign a guy like Kevin Martin to a short des
    , he’d be a good stop gap. Suns should then draft a 2 with their likely mid or late lottery pick..that set the 2 spot. And then possibly entertain a trade with Scola and picks for a star, and possibly go after Millsap?

  • J

    Sorry not “des” but “deal”…

  • http://wigglesandwax.com Mike

    I would love to see Boogie Cousins. I think we have good People People that could treat him professionally and smooth some rough edges. It’d be awesome.