In an offseason that continues to rumble on and on for the busy Phoenix Suns, they may not be finished adding players to their team just yet. Quite how this could even be possible is remarkable, given that their roster is now full and filled out predominantly with players on minimum deals.
Eric Gordon and Bol Bol the last two names in the door who were added in this way. But with little wiggle room to do anything else, there is still some talk out there that James Harden could make his way to Arizona this summer from the Philadelphia 76ers.
This despite the Suns having only one way of getting him, and Harden having failed to make a superteam work with Kevin Durant before on the Brooklyn Nets.
We have already discussed in great detail on this website why Harden should be avoided at all costs. At this point in his Hall of Fame career he is a known quantity, who at 33-years-old isn’t going to get any better. Harden looks incredible when he is the focal point of what a team is running.
He’s also had bad flameouts in the postseason with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. While he wasn’t solely to blame for what happened with the Nets, and in actual fact had some nice moments, Harden was still incapable of getting that group close to a championship.
Harden also doesn’t make any sense now that the Suns have the altogether better trio of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal. If ever there was an argument to be made for adding Harden, it was back when Chris Paul (another former teammate he couldn’t make it work with…) was on this roster and before Beal got to town.
But Beal has taken the spot Harden would have occupied, and is a younger player who many believe will be an All-Star again one day. Beal also moves much better without the ball, although talk of him morphing into a “Ray Allen on the Boston Celtics” type at this point in his career is premature.
The only conceivable way then that the Suns could hope to still add Harden if they wanted to, would be in a deal that sent center Deandre Ayton to the 76ers. That makes no sense for the other team is this theoretical deal however, because as of this moment their best player is league MVP and dominant big man Joel Embiid. He is going nowhere. For now.
What about getting a little crazier with this one, and sending Ayton to the Portland Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard to the 76ers and Harden to the Suns? Despite Lillard insisting on going to the Miami Heat, he would form a fierce duo with Embiid. Ayton in Portland alongside Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe kickstarts that rebuild too.
Obviously draft compensation can be added to this trade where necessary, although the Suns are severely lacking in that department even after recouping three second round picks recently from the Orlando Magic. De’Anthony Melton was also added to sweeten the deal for the Trail Blazers as a moveable asset, and make the numbers work. What is this really doing for the Suns though?
They get out from under the $102 million they owe Ayton over the next three seasons, but Harden will be an unrestricted free agent next summer having picked up his $35 million player option for this coming year. Any condition for Harden to stay on beyond being a one year rental would involve renegotiating his deal to pay him a lot of money to stick around. But with what cap space?
With the money hard to come by to secure the player long-term, the possibility of Harden being a rental with a clearly defined ceiling and the fit all wrong, the only upside here is moving on from Ayton if the Suns feel that strongly about it. Which seems wrong, given that new head coach Frank Vogel hasn’t even had the chance to work with him yet.
This would also decimate the Suns’ big man rotation, with Durant, Chris Eubanks and the enigmatic Bol the only players left to call upon. Given how shaky the team are going to be defensively next season at times, adding Harden to that mix seems counter-productive.
Better to keep Ayton, who for all his flaws is a physical presence who can defend, and who maybe just needs some love. He’s also nearly a decade younger than Harden, and has helped get a team to the NBA Finals before. Something Harden can’t claim, while he has never expressed much of a desire to go to the Suns either.
This offseason has been nothing short of outrageous for the Suns, and the Beal move especially felt like a magic trick. They don’t need any more stars, and overachieved in adding the role players that they were able to. They don’t need to get involved in the James Harden business. Only desperate organizations do, and even that number dwindles with each passing season.
The only reason you do this is if you believe Ayton is going to actively take away from what the Suns are trying to accomplish. You would also want to be the biggest fan of Harden on top of that, and think that he’s about to turn in another MVP level campaign. Despite being on some nights the fourth offensive option. Who also doesn’t defend. This remains a complete no go for the franchise.