Feb 11, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) against Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic (1) at the US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns' realistic view of LeBron James and free agency

It’s theoretically possible — the Phoenix Suns have some of the best flexibility in the NBA this offseason, and in free agency LeBron James is a prize they can land.

Nothing to this point hints that James would be interested in the Suns — first he must decide to leave Miami of course — and the only stretch that can be made to say otherwise is the MVP’s friendship, agent connection and well-timed free agency with Eric Bledsoe.

The Suns reportedly have a pitch ready for LeBron James, and they hope to at least share it with the best player in the free agent market. According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski and the Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro, the Suns will tell James that he not only will be able to partner with another max player of his choice, but can team with a young group of players on the current roster.

Wojnarowski points to Carmelo Anthony as a likely partner for James, as the two are privately intrigued by the opportunity of playing with one another. It sounds as if Phoenix will hedge toward giving James a say in any other signing, be it Chris Bosh instead of Anthony or Kevin Love.

But that Phoenix has ridiculous amounts of cap space, enough for two max players that aren’t Bledsoe, is a major leap.

In realistic terms and without making trades, Phoenix is closer to having $28 million — not the $30-35 million being reported — to spend at the start of free agency, assuming the salary cap is set at $63.2, as projected (all these salary projections, by the way, are making that assumption). That’s enough to where the Suns could comfortably re-sign one of Frye or Tucker, re-sign Bledsoe and add James to a max deal while slipping under the cap.

But to sign James and Anthony to max deals, the Suns would need close to $44 million in cap space, or around 70 percent of the total cap.

Phoenix would have to gut the roster of around $16 million in contracts, making the likelihood extremely difficult. On top of allowing Frye to walk, the Suns would need to completely shed the salaries of, say, Alex Len ($3.6 million), Gerald Green ($3.5 million), the Morris twins (just less than $3 million each) just to get within sniffing the room for another max deal. Trading those players doesn’t account for the $507,336 in roster charges that would be added to the cap for the difference between 12 roster spots and whatever players are left.

That’s forgetting that making deals without taking salary in return would be difficult. And future picks might need to be included just to entice teams to take on players without giving up salary themselves. Perhaps a more likely scenario would be trading contracts for Kevin Love, but that is quite obviously a long-shot itself.

The guess as to the Suns’ actual guaranteed salaries and cap holds heading into free agency — as it stands with qualifying offers out to Tucker and Bledsoe — puts their salary total around the $35 million mark (subtract $35 million from $63.2 and you get the $28 million in space) this offseason, if the Suns renounce the Frye’s rights. That is assuming Phoenix doesn’t pick up the options to Ish Smith, Shavlik Randolph and Dionte Christmas.

Bird rights give the Suns the ability to re-sign a player regardless of the cap space if a player is on the squad for at least three seasons (or in Bledsoe’s case, the rights were traded over from the Clippers).

Frye turned down $6.8 million but by doing so put the Suns in worse financial shape. His cap hold of $9.6 million, or 150 percent of his prior salary, is weighing down the books and would have to be renounced for Phoenix to have approximately $28 million in space rather than around $18 million.

Technically, Frye returning for a deal (for a longer period) at the original $6.8 million annual rate he could have taken next season could give the Suns the possibility to sign James to the contract of approximately $22 million minimum he’ll see if he leaves South Beach, and that would make the Suns able to slip under the salary cap.

Adding James and James only to the roster is financially possible without making major moves, though James would still have to be willing to give up a lot of money in such a deal. Because of annual escalators and the extra year he’d have in staying with the Heat for a fifth year, James would be giving up more than $33 million by leaving Miami.

To add both James and Anthony, perhaps the more obvious possibility is that they each take reasonable pay cuts. As crazy as this all sounds, it’s fair to say Phoenix could get this pipe dream done with the least amount of sacrifice on the part of James and Anthony. But it still includes a lot of sacrifice, on the part of the players and the Suns.

The news that is good enough for a cynic to agree upon circles us back to Bledsoe.

Phoenix retains his Bird rights and thus can sign him to an expected $15 million max deal for players in their first six seasons in the league. Perhaps that makes this summer, and not next, the perfect time to spend on another max player, because the Suns could overshoot the $63.2 million cap thanks to those Bird rights, which were acquired when the Suns brought in Bledsoe from Los Angeles.

With a more broad perspective, the interesting storyline in these rumors has been Phoenix’s repeated insistence that it stacks up with big-market cities as a free agent landing spot. The Suns, whose media market value doesn’t rank in the NBA’s top-10, believe they’re among the big boys of the NBA. Their franchise winning percentage would say that is true, and perhaps with power moves like this will help suggest to other free agents that the Suns have a lot more league-wide clout, even if James doesn’t bite.

At the end of the day, the cap space doesn’t sell the free agents. The fit does, and in that regard James obviously measures well with any future Suns roster (or any roster period).

Add in the lack of cold — yes, that’s a real thing — the training staff that could prolong James’ career, and the city as a whole, and perhaps it’s not farfetched for the Suns to at least try.

Wojnarowski confirmed the only connection between James and the Suns to this point — the friendship with Bledsoe and, even more importantly, the two players’ agent, Rich Paul. The Suns believe Paul knows how flexible the roster is, and according to Wojnarowski, the team would have to bank on selling James on a situation that in theory makes sense. Phoenix’s past season shows there can be viable, long-term success. That and the freedom in making changes to the roster, the Suns hope, would help them woo James over Houston, Cleveland or a return to Miami.

Enough teams have the space to woo James, who reportedly could be asking for an extension with the Miami Heat that pays him a full, five-year max extension worth around $127 million. The issue for the Suns will be getting a meeting with James, who is already going head-first into discussions with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that could keep the Heat in the lead for his services.

For the Suns to bring in James and another max player? It’s hard to see it working out.

Tags: Free Agency Lebron James

  • LawrenceTalbot

    Yes and no.

    *We don’t need Frye’s bird rights. Even if we renounce him, and get 2 max salary players (or whatever) and go over the cap, we can still give Frye the “room” exception for 2.5 mil (about what he’s expecting this year anyways so long as it’s on a longer term deal).

    *Moving the Morris Twins and Green, at least, will be easy without taking back salary or needing to include picks, as all of them are currently great value for the money and considered assets. Len may be trickier, but a rebuilding team would probably be willing to roll the dice on an under 21 top 5 pick that’s 7 feet tall.

    *Lebron, by all accounts, cares a lot more about comfort/winning than he does about straight money; while it’s true he’d like the max, he just made 30 million in one day off his Beats by Dre stocks… then made another deal with them. He brings in more money per year on endorsements/investing/outside interests than any team can actually pay him. Taking a 3-5 million per year pay cut is arbitrary for him. If money was his game, he’d just go play in Europe for 68 million a year or whatever that Greek team wanted to pay him in 2010.

    *Melo, the most likely second component of this trade, has explicitly stated he’s willing to take a pay cut to play for a winner. So has Bosh.

    * In the event of a Kevin Love trade (unlikely, but more likely the longer Golden State insists on keeping Thompson), Love only makes about 14 million this year, and even part of that would be compensated for in the outgoing salary to get him (which, sadly, would likely involve Dragic, though I suppose anything is possible).

    *The Suns’ relative youth is also a huge selling point. Realistic or not, Lebron wants to be contending for titles for the next ten years, not the next five. Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and other big names on teams he’s courting are not going to be themselves in five years. Phoenix’s oldest “major” player at that point will be Dragic, who’ll be hitting his mid-30s… where the two players his game is most often compared to (Nash and Ginobili) both hit their primes. Everyone else (Bledsoe, Plumlee, Goodwin, any remaining Morrii) will still be below 30, I think.

    * The value of Phoenix’s medical staff cannot be underestimated; forget adding years to Lebron’s career (which is also a huge deal as he wants to be remembered as the greatest ever and will need lots of rings to do it), just look at how exhausted, banged up, and worn down the Heat were this year; with a better medical staff, the Heat might have stood a chance in the Finals. Don’t think Lebron doesn’t know this.

    * Minutes. In Miami, he’d be asked to carry the team again; in Phoenix, Dragic and Bledsoe have already shown they can get the team within sniffing distance of the playoffs, never mind the alleged second star. Lebron could play 35ish minutes per gam instead of 40. Don’t think this isn’t a huge deal to him, either.

    *He’s not going to Chicago, as Rose doesn’t really want him and the Jordan comparisons will only hurt his brand. He’s not going to LA and letting Kobe eat cap room for two years. He’s not going to Houston to watch James Harden blow defensive rotations or Dwight Howard pretend to have a post-up game, or to play for a crummy coach. He’d love to go the the Clippers, but the math for them to get it done is a lot harder than it is for Phoenix, and he’s not going anywhere near that franchise until and unless the Sterling thing is resolved. He’s definitely not going back to Cleveland.

    He’s almost definitely going to back to Miami, but if he doesn’t, he’s coming to Phoenix. And he’s bringing someone (Bosh/Melo/Love/whoever) with him.

  • Robb

    Let Frye go and bring in James and Bosh to accompany a resigning of Bledsoe? James at max or near max, Bosh less than max … what’s left for Bledsoe? Since Miami’s roster starts and ends with Shabazz and Norris Cole, swapping the plethora of young talent on the Suns for those two and replacing Wade with Bledsoe has to have some appeal?

    Cap/salary wizards … what can Suns offer Bosh & Bledsoe if Lebron gets Max money?

    AZ residents, what’s your state income tax?

    • LawrenceTalbot

      * We can offer Bledsoe the max, as we have his Bird rights. So long as we don’t renounce him, it doesn’t matter what else we do, we can still max him out.

      * If we give Lebron the max and don’t move any other players out, we could offer Bosh something in the 10-13 range, I believe. If we move stuff around enough, we could also offer him the max.

      *We can also get Frye back afterwards as long as he’s willing to play for 2.5 million using the “room” exception.

  • DJsuns

    Great article that gives fans like me some realistic idea of what it would take to land James. I’d rather have Kevin love and James than Carmelo and James imo. I’m with you it seems highly unlikely to land 2 superstars. However; Miami did prove that a few years ago that it can be done

    • LawrenceTalbot

      Love would be a much better fit at both a salary and basketball level, but it will likely take gutting the roster, up to and including Goran Dragic, to get him. Frankly, while Love is obviously great and puts up more statistics, I’d rather have Dragic, who’s less injury prone, a much better contract, and actually plays some defense.

      Love is probably better than Dragic, but his contract is double Dragic’s; he’s not THAT much better than Dragic.

      • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Kevin Zimmerman

        Love does fit a lot better, just because it would kill two birds with one stone in directly trading contracts for one of the new max deals. Plus, then Suns get his Bird rights. He might be a better fit.

        • DBreezy

          All true, but practically speaking if they are able to get Lebron to seriously consider coming here doesn’t it seem most likely that it’ll be either Melo or Bosh that joins him? I say this from Lebron’s perspective.

          • LawrenceTalbot

            Eh, Love was on that same Olympic team where they all fell in love with each other, and if Lebron’s biggest concern is winning he’d be better off with Love spacing the floor and rebounding for him (nevermind doing the post banging Lebron would prefer to avoid). If Lebron wants his next team to be his last team (and he should), Love’s youth and lower miles (no playoffs) also make him more attractive than Anthony.

            Plus, if Melo wants a full max deal PHX is really going to have to contort to accommodate him, but Love’s deal this year is about 7 Mil cheaper.

            Having said all that, I read today that PHX is positioned to be the frontrunner for Love if the GSW deal goes through as it’s one of the only places that both Minny (assets) and Love (allegedly would re-sign) like; apparently in that event, Minny would be chiefly interested in getting picks and expirings (and probably making PHX eat the Kevin Martin deal), so this is less improbable than it was yesterday… though still wildly improbable. But more importantly, Goran Dragic is neither a pick nor an expiring, and therefore would presumably no be included. Something like the Morris Twins, Gerald Green (2 years left, but you could always stretch the third year), Alex Len, one of our rookies, and 3 future first rounders (2 next year, one in 2017) could probably get it done. But that’s all dependent on GSW standing firm on Thompson’s exclusion.

            In that lucky, lucky world you could do a lot worse than a core of Bledsoe/Dragic/James/Love/Plumlee for the next 7-10 years. Fill in the bench with youth (Goodwin, Warren/Ennis, etc.) and low-cost vets (Frye at the 2.5 “mini midlevel” for 3-4 years), and you’re contending every season, basically.

          • DBreezy

            Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see the Suns getting past Lebron’s agent without a plan to bring in two max free agents(actual #’s to be worked out later) along with keeping Bledsoe and Goran. Getting a Love deal done with Minny is going to be complicated timing and logistic wise for any team. The Suns plan to give this Lebron deal a 24-48 period to see if there’s interest and then move on. Smart, but I wouldn’t build any such plan on getting a Love deal done in that time frame. So practically to me that means that Lebron can have his choice of Melo or Bosh to join him in whatever the Suns present to him. I understand why other ways would be preferable, getting Lebron in the door would be big enough so they would just have to work around what he prefers for a running mate. Btw there’s word he might not want a 4 or 5 year deal so I wouldn’t bank on his desire for this next stop to be his last. He and his team probably understand the realities of modern sports cba’s better than any superstar. You could say the Spurs but I give more of the credit for planning there to Pop and Buford.

  • Meirsch.

    And in some horrific alternate reality–governed by panic signings and the FO waffling to the chants of “DOWN WITH BARON VON $ARVER”–Amar’e and Steve Nash are readying themselves to limp through a combined forty-two games for the Suns’ 2014-2015 season, while being paid thirty-some million dollars to do so.

    These are fine times to be a fan of this team.

  • DBreezy

    My hair trigger reaction is to say Lebron plus a 4 like Love or Bosh, but if you think about it it’s not hard to buy off on Melo instead if that’s what it would take. Unless you think that the Hornets will be a contender, not just a playoff team, in the next 4 seasons who out West really stops a James/Anthony front court?

    That front court would be a nightmare matchup for the Thunder because Ibaka isn’t a post player who could punish the Suns equally for the mismatch. The Spurs would find a way to adjust, they always do but they should still be fine. The Rockets would struggle. The Clips took a minute to punish a severely weakened GS front court and POR would struggle as well.

    • LawrenceTalbot

      Memphis would be the one team that would abuse that front court. But they abuse every front court.

      • DBreezy

        They could hurt it at the 4 possibly. I’m still asuming Plumlee or Len is at the 5 so while Gasol would still be a load it wouldn’t be because of Bron or Melo. Z-Bo would be tough for Lebron or Melo to handle, but on the other end he would probably be in foul trouble quickly trying to keep up with either of those two on the perimeter. Tony Allen can only guard one person so somebody out of Bron, Melo, Goran or Bled is getting loose. That team would have more productive bodies than the Thunder do so it would be harder to slow them down for 7 games.

        • LawrenceTalbot

          I’m not totally disagreeing, but there’s more to it than just scoring; even with Lebron and Melo going bonkers, the Grizz would be killing us on rebounds (like they already do). There’s a reason Memphis was the only team that beat us 4 times last year, and getting smaller up front wouldn’t help that. Obviously adding Lebron WOULD, but Melo and Lebron are both, ultimately, big 3s, not 4s.

          I’d rather have Bosh or Love, but obviously adding Melo wouldn’t be a *bad* thing. I do worry about the defense, is all. He’s already an iffy defender, and playing him out of position at the 4 (we know from the last 4 years Lebron hates guarding 4s and won’t really do it for more than a few minutes here or there), he’s gonna get killed (and in foul trouble).

          • DBreezy

            I hear you and I would prefer a guy like Love or Bosh too, but if it’s between taking Melo or not getting Lebron, you have to make soup. Both have to know that they’ll be spending a lot of time at the 4 if they truly wish to play together no matter where it is. As for that Grizz matchup, they would get killed on the glass at the 4 but they’d probably beat most teams in rebounds at the 3 balancing it a bit. The Heat showed that their team D was more important in getting to 4 finals than their rebounding. Not ideal or preferred but true.

          • LawrenceTalbot

            Don’t get me wrong, it’s an unguardable offense. But Memphis is monstrous on the boards and an above-average defensive team all the way around. James is obviously a much better player than Tucker, but Tucker’s a comparable rebounder (per minute), and we still got abused on the glass by Memphis this year.

            That said, all other things being equal, every GM in the league would be fine with the proposition of “you can beat everyone except maybe Memphis”. Odds of being seeded against Memphis in the playoffs are fairly low.

            But Love is still the better fit, in my opinion.

          • DBreezy

            Love is the better fit, but it’s likely too hard to pull off along with Lebron. That Memphis matchup would be tough and might look bad at times in the regular season, but I don’t think they could beat that a Suns team 4 out of 7. They’re a great defensive squad, but the Suns would have more weapons to bottle up then the Thunder did, a mismatch that goes both ways, probably better overall D than the Thunder by playoff time, and a big unfair superstar advantage. I’d put money on Z-Bo being in more foul trouble than Lebron or Melo guarding him in a 7 game series. Also Z-Bo being forced to guard on the perimeter would hurt the Grizz on the glass. I also don’t see how you slow a team down consistently with that many ballhandlers. Issues for sure, but it would be a great problem to have!

  • Adam

    If Sarver has a chance to get both Lebron and Melo….he would be stupid not to go over the cap and pay whatever it costs. We would sell out every game. The Suns would get more national media attention than they have since 93, and we would sell more jerseys than they could keep in stock.

    It’s a LONG shot to get even one of them here….but if they say yes…money should not be the reason we say no. Trade Green, let Frye go…keep the rest and pay them.

    • LawrenceTalbot

      Sarver claims he’s willing to go way into the tax now, so green light there.

      Frye is keepable even if we get them both (or one + Bosh/Love); the “room” exception starts at 2.5 mil, and Frye’s agenda is to get more years as opposed to money; something 4 years, 12 mil (with raises) is probably in the ballpark he wants, and he’s been very vocal about wanting to stay in PHX.

  • Ryan Cahill

    “irregardless”? Seriously?

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Kevin Zimmerman

      You’re right. Incorrect but sometimes typing what we speak leads to these things. Sorry I avoided using Oxford commas as well.

  • Rebel

    Unlike all of you “Longshot” callers, I believe LeBron is 90% a Sun. Rumors about him asking for a max contract offer just confirmed it. The future is burning hot.

  • 4everis2long

    If LBJ is married to Carmelo at the hip, I say let’s pass. I am just not e Melo fan and I think he is a selfish player who is not concerned with defending. I think he is what is known as a coach killer.We need a power forward. Bosh and LBJ would do just fine.

  • coachj

    First of all, I agree with with everything you are saying. However, I think some of the numbers are a little off, but the real numbers only back up what you are saying even better.

    On the James front, I am not sure where all of these “news” organizations are getting the number for a Lebron max starting point. Everyone is reporting $22.2 M, but he opted out of his final two years, so the last year in his contract was $19,067,500 and he is eligible for a raise of 5% [or 105% of that amount]. That only equates to $20,020,875 first year salary with either 4.5% or 7.5% raises [depending upon who signs him]. Cap-wise, that is the only number that really matters right now.

    For Melo, his first year max salary is $22,458,201.

    That means if we assume the $63.2 million is the cap number, to sign both requires $42,479,076 in first year cap space, leaving $20,720,924 left for the remainder of the team. Currently, without calculating cap holds for RFA or FA or rookie deals, we have 23.85 M committed and we would then need to sign 3 players to get to 12 minimum roster charges [league min times 3 = $1,522,008], which when you add it all up, puts us at about $67,872,000 [rounded], or $4,672,000 over the cap. So in reality, we would not actually be able to sign both guys, because they are both free agents and signing the 2nd guy puts us way over the cap.

    You suggest we would have to clear cap space, which is true. So what amount would we have to clear? Well, not only do we have cap holds for certain players, but also for our rookies and for Bledsoe. Adding those cap holds into our salary numbers, and including Melo and James Max deals:

    Melo & James = 37.88
    Signed players = $23.85
    Rookie Holds = $3.89
    Frye = Renounce
    Tucker =Renounce
    Bledsoe = traded for Love
    Ish = Renounce
    Kravstov = Renounce
    Barbosa = Renounce
    Randolph = Renounce
    Okafor = Renounce
    MInimum Roster Charge = 1.01 [2 spots at min salary]

    Cap # = 77.82 M

    This means we would need to clear $14.62 M in salaries to sign both guys. So you would have to let Bledsoe walk and clear $9.6 M [$8.05 + adding roster charges for 3 players at $1.52].

    So you would have a team of James, Melo, Dragic and a bunch of rookie league min players, and your exceptions. Why would that be attractive to them?

    If you changed Melo with Love, the formula is a bit different, because Love’s first year cap number is $17.859M, so you would look like this:

    LOVE & James =42.5
    Signed players = $23.85
    Rookie Holds = $3.89
    Frye = Renounce
    Tucker =Renounce
    Bledsoe = 6.57
    Ish = Renounce
    Kravstov = Renounce
    Barbosa = Renounce
    Randolph = Renounce
    Okafor = Renounce
    MInimum Roster Charge = 1.52 [3 spots at min salary]

    Cap # = 67.14 M

    We would be over the cap for the Love Trade, but we would be able to make the trade if we signed Bledsoe and traded him.

    The James/Love scenario has way more credibility than Melo/James.

    In the end, I believe we will not only not sign any of those guys, but we will not sign anyone, and we may make a trade midseason… Bledsoe will get signed.

    BTW, Bledsoe’s MAX deal is a 5 year deal [he does not qualify as a designated MAX player]:
    YR 1 = 14,882,500 [this season]
    YR 2 = 15,998,687
    YR 3 = 17,198,588
    YR 4 = 18,488,482
    YR 5 = 19,875,118
    TOT = $86,443,375

  • Cece

    He left the Cavs to go to Miami right ??? If the Suns are willing to
    sign Both him and Bosh , Why wouldn’t he SERIOUSLY consider that ?? The
    Suns have a MUCH deeper bench than Miami does , AND YOUNGER . Suns have
    the cap room , great talent , and 3 potential 1st round draft picks next
    year . Hell they won 48 games last year ( With starter Eric Bledsoe out
    for about a third of the season )

    The Suns record last year
    tied the Raptors and Bulls record at 48-34

    That would of seeded the
    Suns as the 3rd seed in the Eastern ConferenceRight
    behind the second ranking MIAMI HEAT !!!

    Heck , The Heat only won
    6 more games than the Suns did last year,,,,,,,,,,and
    remember,,,,,,,Eric Bledsoe was out for 39 games,,,,,,,,,,,,39 games
    !!! And the Suns missed the playoffs by ONE GAME .,,,,,,,,,,,,So keep
    talking about ” Best chance is in Miami “,,,,,,,,,,Thats hogwash !!! And
    the Lakers ?? Cmon now,,,,,,,!!!