With the 2023 FIBA World Cup now entering the crucial stages, there have been several players who have starred at the tournament. Unfortunately for the Phoenix Suns, they don’t have any players left competing at the games, although some former players are trying to help Team USA win gold.
Yuta Watanabe was a fun story for host country Japan, and he is going to bring a lot of good to the Suns this season once he returns to The Valley. Deandre Ayton and Eric Gordon also looked great in international competition with The Bahamas, although that was at an Olympic pre-qualifying tournament in Argentina last month.
Really then what the Suns should be doing right now is keeping tabs on the “FIBA Kobe”, with a view to adding him at some point in the future.
We are talking of course about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whose performances for Jordan at the FIBA World Cup were superb. In what was at times quite eerie, Hollis-Jefferson also looked like the late Kobe Bryant out there, because of how he played and with the shorter hair he now possesses.
Hollis-Jefferson spent six seasons in the league, with the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers. Somehow still only 28-years-old, he will play this coming season in the Philippines, for the Tropang Giga team.
This is where it gets interesting for the Suns, because his contract runs out with that team next February, but he also has a get-out clause if an NBA team approaches him. It may be that another franchise enquires about Hollis-Jefferson before then, but there are several reasons the Suns should be keeping a close eye on this situation.
The first is that they have eight players on minimum contracts this coming season. Nice as it would be for all of them to work out — they simply won’t. Bol Bol for example sounds like a great story, a young and raw center who in 15 minutes of action could be exactly what this franchise needs during the regular season.
Or else he could be the defensive disaster that forced the Orlando Magic to cut ties with him. Similarly Keita Bates-Diop, Chimezie Metu and Drew Eubanks all sound great in theory. But it’s unlikely all three of these, plus Bol, and Gordon and Watanabe work out exactly as they’re supposed to.
Hollis-Jefferson then could come in as somebody who was always a good defender, and who has clearly become more well rounded on the offensive end. On paper he already looks like a better fit than some players the Suns have, because he can be a high level defender who uses his rangy body to make life difficult for opponents.
Sliding in as a fifth starter, or even playing alongside two of the Suns’ stars for stretches, would allow him to be overqualified offensively for how the Suns would use him. This leads us to the next reason why the Suns should be keeping an eye here, and it is because of the redemptive arc it would represent for Hollis-Jefferson.
With the greatest of respect to teams like the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets, if Hollis-Jefferson signed a minimum deal to play out the rest of the 2023-24 season there, nobody would really care. Those organizations don’t have a big following nationally right now, and are never going to be on national television.
But imagine if he could join the Suns, who will be on TV often, and then go on and help them win a first ever championship. Much like the other role players on the roster, that would give Hollis-Jefferson a better chance of getting paid down the road as well, while he is still in his prime.
It is likely he could play for one of the rebuilding teams in the league — and put up some numbers in the process — if given the opportunity. But becoming a glue guy for a contender, after being told he didn’t belong in the NBA anymore, would be such a sweet redemption arc for a player who has played 319 games in the league.
Best of all, they don’t even need to make a move on Hollis-Jefferson now. They could make some enquires, and let him know that if another player fails to live up to expectations, or if injuries decimate their depth, that he will get his chance.
That would then likely mean if another franchise came knocking, Hollis-Jefferson would let the Suns know and they would have first option on his services. That is not to say the Suns are the only team he would want to play for, but for the reasons already listed, he’d be crazy to go elsewhere if this opportunity presented itself.
This Suns roster is one with superstar level talent and enigmatic youngsters like Bol. If there is one place where “FIBA Kobe” is going to land back in the NBA, it makes the most sense that it would be The Valley, where he could steal the show in the spot minutes he would be given. To top it off, head coach Frank Vogel would even buy into his defensive intensity as well.