Could Real Madrid star fill a need for the Suns next season?

The Phoenix Suns are going to have to get creative to improve their roster next season, and looking overseas may not be a bad route to take.
Real Madrid v Panathinaikos - Turkish Airlines Euroleague
Real Madrid v Panathinaikos - Turkish Airlines Euroleague / Anadolu/GettyImages

There is no doubt that the Phoenix Suns are going to have to get creative with how they fill out their roster for next season. Already they have added some former NBA talent to their G League affiliate - the Valley Suns - ahead of their inaugural campaign in 2024-25.

On the other end of the spectrum, and backup center Drew Eubanks has surprisingly already declined his player option for next season, despite a less than stellar outing backing up Jusuf Nurkic. Not that Suns fans will mind Eubanks walking, but it does mean they have another hole to fill and no way to do so outside of the NBA Draft and using the veteran's minimum.

But what if they were to look abroad and bring in a player who has rebuilt their reputation some overseas, such as Mario Hezonja of Real Madrid?

On the surface this looks like a hard sell. After all Hezonja - the former fifth overall pick by the Orlando Magic back in 2015 - was out of the league at 25-years-old. He hasn't been seen since 2020, and this is without doubt his most famous moment in the NBA. A video that you wouldn't believe if you didn't see it with your own eyes.

The staredown from Hezonja on LeBron James was too much, and really this just serves to show us how long LeBron has been in the league and with the Los Angeles Lakers. Defending was not what Hezonja was known for back then, and 9.6 points on just over 33 percent from deep in his third season in the league was as good as it got for him in the NBA.

Now 29, Hezonja has found a real home with Real Madrid in Spain, one of the premiere teams in Europe. They took him in when it was unclear what direction his career was going, and only a few days ago Hezonja himself came out and proclaimed that - despite being a free agent - he had every intention of returning to Madrid next season and beyond.

It would be nice to see the Suns test that loyalty. Surely Hezonja feels like he has unfinished business in the league, and the Suns are one of the few organizations that could actually give him some room to show what he can do. There's even a recent example that they can look to as proof that players can go away and come back and contribute down the road.

That's exactly what Dante Exum of the Dallas Mavericks did, and he was a help on the defensive end on their run all the way to the NBA Finals. He was at best their seventh or eighth best player - but with the Mavericks never asking him to be anything more than that - he was able to excel in small bursts for that group.

Like Hezonja, Exum was the fifth pick the year prior and landed with a Utah Jazz team that had high expectations for him. Just like when Hezonja was selected by a Magic organization that was going nowhere fast and was just taking players and hoping one could be their cornerstone. Remember, at one point Aaron Gordon was looked at as the guy for the Magic.

Exum also washed out of the league in 2021 having hung around with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a while, and subsequently rebuilt his reputation with FC Barcelona. He worked away over there, and the Mavericks gave him his chance this season. One that he took with both hands, and which ensures if he wants to remain in the NBA, he will get another run with the Mavericks or another franchise.

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Being a selfless defender and nothing else is humbling experience, and it is one that some lottery picks never accept. It is perhaps easier - and also financially much the same - to be a bigger fish in Europe than it is to sacrifice touches and minutes to try and shut down star players. Exum was always an above average defender, and Hezonja is not, but the Suns would still have other uses for him.

Playing in Europe clearly suits the Croatian, but the time to give the NBA one more crack is surely now. If he doesn't explore that opportunity now when his play has warranted a look from a team like the Suns, he may regret it down the road. Why not pick up the phone and see if he'll leave Madrid for a little bit, and potentially help the Suns to the promised land in the process?