Report: Suns looking to trade Eric Bledsoe

TweetThe free agency stand off between restricted free agent guard Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns may be nearing an end soon. According to a report from Fox Sports 910 host Jude LaCava, the Suns are very much open to the idea of trading Bledsoe: “I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported,” Jude LaCava said on Tuesday. “I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.” “That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.” Phoenix offered Bledsoe a fair market contract earlier this summer valued at $48 million over 4 years, which Bledsoe rejected. The athletic yet injury-prone guard has been seeking close to a max contract, but hasn’t been able to secure an offer mostly due to his injury history as well as the Suns ability to match any offer he received. The Suns landed Bledsoe in a three-team trade with the Clippers

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How Eric Bledsoe’s Contract Impacts Goran Dragic’s Future with Phoenix Suns

Goran Dragic‘s future with the Phoenix Suns is beyond his control. 

Nearly two months into free agency, the Eric Bledsoe saga soldiers on. He remains unsigned, and while the Suns haven’t waited around twiddling their thumbs—Isaiah Thomas, anyone?—they are in limbo until this sudden soap opera reaches resolution.

The end result, whatever it is, will impact Dragic. Not only will he be either losing or retaining his backcourt partner in crime, but he’s approaching a crossroads of his own.

Dragic can become an unrestricted free agent next summer if he so chooses. He holds a player option worth $7.5 million, and if he follows up 2013-14 with an equally strong 2014-15, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he will explore the open market.

And though Dragic‘s decision to hit free agency may not be rooted in Bledsoe‘s actions, the money Phoenix is offering—or not offering—will be.

 

If Bledsoe Leaves…

Few entertained the idea of Bledsoe leaving before the offseason began. He wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Then the offseason actually happened. 

Phoenix hasn’t moved on its initial four-year, $48 million offer, according to Paul Coro of AZCentral.com; Bledsoe, meanwhile, is believed to be seeking five years and $80 million, per ESPN The Magazine‘s Chris Broussard

Marked difference in opinion has created tension. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today says the relationship between player and team has “soured” amid negotiations. Those findings echoed CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes, who suggested the bond may have been broken beyond repair.

Worst-case scenario has Bledsoe leaving by way of trade or another offer sheet. The latter is unrealistic, since the Suns would likely match any contract their point guard receives. It doesn’t help that funds have dried up around the league either, making it so there is no offer sheet for Bledsoe to sign.

A sign-and-trade was thought to be equally unlikely, but Jude LaCava of Fox Sports 910 (via Bright Side Of The Sun) says otherwise:

I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported, I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.

That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.

True, false—it doesn’t matter. If Bledsoe is traded, Dragic has leverage entering next summer.

The free-agent market won’t be awash with talented floor generals. Thomas will also be the lone starting-caliber point man on the roster at that point.

That leaves Dragic to negotiate a lucrative new contract which in theory should pay him way more than the $7.5 million he’s slated to earn for 2015-16. And without Bledsoe or a spectacular contingency plan, the Suns may be forced to pay him the kind of money they won’t give his sidekick.

 

If Bledsoe Bends…

Seeing Bledsoe play for any team other than the Suns remains unlikely. Chances are he stays in Phoenix for at least another year.

Or four.

For all Bledsoe‘s displeasure, he could find himself signing the four-year, $48 million pact the Suns are slinging. That’s a lot of cash, after all—enough financial security to set him up for life.

There’s also the matter of leverage, something Bledsoe isn’t toting.

Restricted free agents are at the mercy of incumbent teams. Their only clout-carrying play is to accept a one-year qualifying offer, play one season at a steep discount and hope they’re valuable and healthy enough to land a bigger contract the following summer.

Most restricted free agents won’t take that risk. Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons is an exception. Though Bledsoe can follow his lead, Tom Ziller of SB Nation colors these types of power plays empty threats:

Think of all the weird, tortured restricted free agency cases we’ve had over the years, like Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Gerald Wallace and others. None of them resulted in the player signing the qualifying offer.

Ben Gordon is the closest example of a high-level case. After failing to reach a deal with the Bulls in 2008, Gordon signed the qualifying offer and received an absurd, painful five-year, $55 million deal with Detroit in 2009. But Gordon is a rare case: since 2003, only 13 first-round picks have ever taken the qualifying offer. Of those 13, only Spencer Hawes agreed to a long-term deal with the same team.

History points toward Bledsoe re-upping with the Suns now, not later. And if history repeats itself, it has a mixed bag of repercussions should Dragic reach free agency next summer.

Locking up Bledsoe on a long-term deal ensures the Suns have at least two talented point guards (Thomas) on the docket, bilking Dragic of some bargaining power. 

At the same time, they’ll also have kept Bledsoe on their own terms without bending to his max-contract demands. Housing him at $48 million is far different than lining his pockets with $80 million over the next half-decade. 

The Suns, then, should have enough cap flexibility to keep their backcourt dyad intact. At the very least, re-signing Bledsoe now puts them in the thick of Dragic‘s free-agent fray later, armed with the ability—and hopefully the means—to keep him in town, too.

 

If Bledsoe Accepts Qualifying Offer…

This is where things get really interesting.

Possibly for the worse. 

Accepting the Suns’ $3.7 million qualifying offer isn’t out of the question for Bledsoe. Zillgitt says the point man is “strongly considering” pulling a Monroe with the hopes of landing a more substantial deal next summer. 

Pushing forward on what is basically a one-year contract changes everything. It’s a risky yet smart play for Bledsoe if he truly believes he’s worth more than the Suns are dangling.

Playing through next season while appearing in more than 43 games and producing at a level that rivals the 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game he averaged last year puts him in the driver’s seat.

Bledsoe will only be 25 come next summer. Investing max money in him over another five years may not seem as egregious to the Suns if exceptional play precedes negotiations. But then there’s the matter of Dragic to consider.

If he opts for free agency in this scenario, the Suns have two marquee free agents on their hands, both of whom may command contracts that average eight figures annually.

We already know that’s what Bledsoe is demanding; Dragic is unlikely to be any different. 

Six players averaged at least 20 points, three rebounds, 5.5 assists and one steal per game last season: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Dragic. All of them, with the exception of Dragic and Irving, will earn $10-plus million in 2014-15. 

Irving, by the way, isn’t really an exception. He’s merely finishing out the “last year” of his rookie contract before his max extension kicks in for 2015-16, at which point he’ll be earning noticeably more than Curry.

What happens if Dragic—who will be 29 in summer 2015—puts himself in that same company next season? What happens if he ranks in the top 15 of win shares again? What happens if he helps the Suns navigate labyrinths of adversity once more, pushing them near or into the playoffs?

He’ll get paid. Whether it’s by the Suns or someone else, he’ll get paid. And there could be a strong chance it’s by someone else.

Having two talented point men on the open market could force the Suns into an awkward decision: Do they keep Bledsoe or Dragic? If that becomes an actual question, the answer should be the younger, more athletic Bledsoe

Ideally, the Suns won’t have to choose. They would re-sign both and carry on with the dual-point-guard lineups that quarterbacked a top-eight offense

But there’s no guarantee this will be an ideal situation if the Suns end up here. They would either invest in a loaded backcourt or disperse the funds in a way that ensures only one of Bledsoe and Dragic returns. 

“What we ultimately decided is: This is the strength of our team,” Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek told AZCentral.com’s Bob Young of signing Thomas. “Let’s bolster it instead of going in a different direction.”

Maintain that mindset, and the Suns, no matter how Bledsoe‘s immediate future plays out, are on track to keep him and Dragic together.

Move on that philosophy in any way or put a cap on its value, and Bledsoe‘s decision now could be the beginning of an abrupt, backcourt-breaking, duo-disbanding end.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports. Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.


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Can Phoenix Suns Build Upon Breakout 2013-14 Campaign?

The Phoenix Suns haven’t made the playoffs since 2009-10, when Steve Nash led the team all the way to the conference finals—the third and last time the franchise made it that far during the iconic point guard’s reign.

Despite the post-Nash era’s uneven results, last season’s 48-34 record was nearly good enough for a postseason berth. 

Now Phoenix hopes modest offseason action and internal growth will make the difference between another close call and a successful foray into the first round. Unfortunately, the Western Conference with which those Suns contend hasn’t gotten any more forgiving.

Even as the Houston Rockets took a step back with the losses of Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, the Dallas Mavericks have positioned themselves to vie for a title by taking Parsons from those Rockets and acquiring old friend Tyson Chandler. The Los Angeles Lakers will be healthier and desperate to shed nightmarish memories of the 2013-14 campaign.

The young New Orleans Pelicans also appear poised to take a step forward, perhaps engaging Phoenix in a battle for the bottom of the playoff bracket.

If the Suns are to keep pace, a few things have to go right for them.

First and foremost, the organization has to reach agreement with 24-year-old guard Eric Bledsoe—preferably a long-term arrangement that prevents his future from later emerging as a distraction. Bledsoe played in only 43 games last season due to injury, but he made the most of his time and averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds in just 32.9 minutes per game.

It was the kind of performance that suggested he was all but indispensable for the up-and-coming Suns.

But it was also the kind of performance that falls just short of guaranteeing a maximum contract.

In turn, the two sides have reached an impasse.

In July, CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes reported that, “According to league sources, an ‘ominous development’ has arisen with sides still ‘very far apart’ in contract negotiations. It has even escalated to the point where the ‘relationship is on the express lane to being ruined,’ a source with knowledge of the situation informed CSNNW.com.”

Haynes adds that, “The Suns offered Bledsoe a four-year, $48 million deal with declining salaries each year, two sources said. That proposal was quickly turned down.”

In the subsequent weeks, little has apparently changed.

“We haven’t heard from the guy in four months, so I couldn’t tell you,” Suns managing partner Robert Sarver said earlier this month, per AZCentral’s Paul Coro. “I do know that when he played here, he felt good about the organization, his coaching staff and his teammates at the end of the season. We had the same feelings toward him.” 

Sarver also said, “We value Eric as a player. I hope at some point we’ll be able to sit down and meet with those guys and make a deal.”

By some accounts, the Suns aren’t to blame in this particular instance.

Coro separately reported earlier that “four current NBA executives and two prominent agents were anonymously unanimous in their belief that the Suns made a fair offer to Bledsoe and that he does not merit a maximum-salary contract now.”

“I’m surprised that they would offer him that much,” one executive said to Coro of the $48 million offer. “They don’t need to. It is really fair and, in fact, generous. He is talented, but he has never put it together very long, and he hasn’t been healthy. It’s hard to turn your team over to him.”

Bledsoe may be banking that Phoenix’s desperation will result in an even sweeter offer, but it probably behooves both sides to arrive at a reasonably fair middle ground. 

Phoenix’s long-term prosperity (and short-term playoff odds) likely depend on Bledsoe returning and playing at top form. There’s now a risk that he could sign the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent next season, forcing the two sides to revisit the issue next summer—and all but ensuring a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the team in the meantime.

The Suns now have some backcourt insurance after acquiring point guard Isaiah Thomas via a sign-and-trade with the Sacramento Kings

The 25-year-old—who will make an affordable $28 million over the next four seasons—averaged an impressive 20.3 points and 6.3 assists with the Kings last season. Assuming Bledsoe returns (for at least next season), Thomas figures to serve as a very capable sixth man. If Bledsoe takes his talents elsewhere through either free agency or trade, Thomas does have the starting experience needed to fill in.

Still, Phoenix would prefer the added depth, and that probably entails striking an agreement with Bledsoe—or at least getting something in return for him via trade.

Pending resolution of the Bledsoe situation and bracketing the addition of Thomas, the Suns have had a relatively quiet summer.

The draft yielded No. 14 overall pick T.J. Warren and No. 18 overall selection Tyler Ennis. Warren could immediately find minutes on a wing featuring Gerald Green and recently re-signed P.J. Tucker, but Ennis’ opportunities may be limited early on as he fights for minutes in a crowded backcourt.

So long as Bledsoe remains in the picture, Phoenix is probably better than it was a season ago. 

That said, there are some unanswered questions. 

After starting all 82 games and averaging 11.1 points last season, stretch 4 Channing Frye signed a four-year, $32 million pact with the Orlando Magic. That means Phoenix will need more from the Morris brothers, especially Markieff. The 24-year-old made a case for sixth-man honors a season ago after tallying 13.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.

Now the Suns may lean on him to start and increase his production even further.

The organization also inked Anthony Tolliver to replace Frye, but he hasn’t averaged double-figure points since 2009-10.

Even more pressing is the club’s ability to do battle in the paint. Alex Len was selected with the No. 5 overall pick in 2013, but early injury derailed his debut, and he was limited to just 42 games last season. His continued development may be as important as any move the organization makes going forward.

Without some steady rim protection, the Suns risk relying too heavily on a breakneck pace that can cut both ways. While the team ranked seventh leaguewide with 105.2 points per contest, it also gave up an average of 102.6 points to the opposition—good for just 21st in the NBA. Opponents also made 45.6 percent of their field-goal attempts, which put the Suns in average company.

Odds are the Suns remain an entertaining and overachieving enterprise, but contending in the crowded West will require more.

More from proven commodities like Markieff Morris and 2014 Most Improved Player Goran Dragic; even more from the less proven Alex Len.

And a fully invested Eric Bledsoe is no less essential.

The Suns are an ambitious team, and they have a right to be. But without a superstar to carry their load, 2014-15′s success necessitates collective in-house growth—the kind of evolution that will put head coach Jeff Hornacek to the test.

This team didn’t make huge strides overnight, but it still has the time to make up for it.

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Phoenix Suns: An Eric Bledsoe Trade To LA

Phoenix Suns: An Eric Bledsoe Trade To LA
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
Phoenix Gets: Jeremy Lin, Julius Randle and 2016 1st Round Pick
Lakers Get: Gerald Green and Eric Bledsoe
The Phoenix Suns are having difficulty re-signing Eric Bledsoe, that is no secret. They tried to give him a 4 season, 48 million dollar contract, however he declined and he apparently covets a 5 season, 80 million dollar contract. There is now talk that he might accept his 1 season QO for 6.57 million dollars and become an UFA next offseason, so he can sign with any team he chooses. Things aren’t looking well for the Suns and their franchise player, but they have a 2nd excellent starting point guard in Goran Dragic and they can afford trade Bledsoe if they cannot come to an agreement. The Lakers happen to have an excellent trade package for Eric Bledsoe and if a trade has to be made, they are the best trade partners.
Yes, losing Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green, who also just had his best seas…

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Phoenix Suns: Trading For Kosta Koufas

Phoenix Suns: Trading For Kosta Koufas
By Troy Tauscher: Staff Writer/Hoopstuff…
Suns get: Kosta Koufas
Grizzlies get: Marcus Morris
The Suns’ biggest weakness last season was their difficulty protecting the rim. They ranked 26th in opponent PPG in the paint, allowing 45.5 points per contest. The 2014 market wasn’t exactly overflowing with help in that department, and the Suns didn’t acquire any of those available. The next logical step would be this trade.
In Koufos, Phoenix gets a player with the exact skill set they need. Koufos ranked in the top 25 in the league in rebound percentage and block percentage. His seven foot, 265 pound build is made to patrol the paint and ward off opposing scorers of all sizes.  He’s no machine on offense, but the Suns have enough scorers that defenses will feel more pressured to help on someone else than they will to stick on Koufos. This is similar to how he is used in Memphis. Now that Markieff Morris will likely be starting, Phoenix needs a reli…

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Suns’ Isaiah Thomas has arthroscopic wrist surgery (Yahoo Sports)

PHOENIX (AP) — Phoenix Suns guard Isaiah Thomas has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist.

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Are Eric Bledsoe and Phoenix Suns Better off Without One Another?

Don’t tell Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Their time apart during a testy summer hasn’t done much to bring either side closer on a contract for the restricted-free-agent guard, and the chances of Bledsoe sticking around on a one-year qualifying offer (and then bolting as an unrestricted free agent) have gone from unthinkable to probable.

Suns owner Robert Sarver commented on Bledsoe‘s potential willingness to sign the equivalent of a one-and-done deal to Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:

Maybe that’s just posturing and negotiating. We haven’t heard from the guy in four months, so I couldn’t tell you. I do know that when he played here, he felt good about the organization, his coaching staff and his teammates at the end of the season. We had the same feelings toward him.

Four months? So there’s been no communication since the final week of the regular season?

We’ll forgive Sarver for his exaggeration. A lack of progress in negotiations can make a person forget that Bledsoe and his camp must have at least communicated a firm “no, thanks” to the team’s four-year $48 million offer in July.

Restricted free agency does this. The Suns have no incentive to make a big offer because they can just wait to match somebody else’s, assuring they won’t ever have to bid against themselves. With no other offers coming in, Phoenix’s worst-case scenario—Bledsoe playing out another year while it watches to make sure he’s fully healthy and capable of improving—is a pretty darn good one.

From Bledsoe‘s perspective, this all probably feels a little unfair. He said as much to Kyle Burger of EVTM-TV: “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me.”

Things aren’t looking good between the Suns and Bledsoe, and it’s becoming increasingly likely that we’re only a year away from a split. Would that be good for anyone?

 

Bledsoe Better Off?

Saying Bledsoe would benefit from leaving Phoenix presumes he’d perform better with another team.

He might get paid more, but even that’s not a certainty. After all, if another club valued him above four years and $48 million, maybe he would have fielded an offer by now.

We can’t assume he’ll play better either. The surprising secret of the Suns last year was that Bledsoe bombed as a lead dog. When he was on the floor without Dragic, the Suns scored 100.7 points per 100 possessions and allowed 105.6, per NBA.com.

That’s a net rating of minus-4.9 points per 100 possessions, which meant a Bledsoe-led Suns club performed somewhere between the levels of the Boston Celtics (minus-5.5) and the Detroit Pistons (minus-4.4) last year.

That doesn’t say much for Bledsoe‘s quality as a top option.

When Bledsoe paired with Dragic, though, the Suns crushed opponents. They posted a net rating of plus-11 that would have topped the league-best San Antonio Spurs by nearly three points per 100 possessions. Toss in those small-sample-size caveats if you like (Bledsoe and Dragic shared the floor for just 38 games last year), but acknowledge the fact that together, those two were beasts.

Bledsoe‘s stats as a starter, though accumulated in just over half a season, were stellar. It’s hard to find excellent backcourt defenders who can also score (17.7 points per game). Bledsoe is one of those guys.

Unfortunately, without having seen him prove his skills as a go-to guy, it’s not safe to say he’ll be better off someplace else. In fact, he might be significantly worse.

 

Brighter Suns

Talent like Bledsoe‘s doesn’t come along often. There’s a reason he’s earned the nickname “mini-LeBron,” as his blend of raw physical strength and speed make him a real handful on both ends.

Not only that, but he fits nicely into the two-point guard system the Suns favor.

Those on- and off-court splits with Dragic indicate something important, though. It might simply be the case that for all of Bledsoe‘s obvious physical gifts, just about anyone could thrive alongside a star like the Dragon.

We could get clarity on that point soon, as Phoenix signed Isaiah Thomas over the summer. Though the undersized point guard lacks the bulk of Bledsoe, his skills as a scorer and distributor are somewhat similar. Even more interestingly, Thomas actually posted a higher player efficiency rating than Bledsoe last season (20.5 to 19.6), per Basketball-Reference.

If Thomas shines alongside Dragic, we’ll know Bledsoe‘s success was attributable to situation and teammates as much as his individual talent.

Plus, if Bledsoe were to walk away after the 2014-15 season, the Suns could use the money saved to splurge on improvements throughout the roster. A better scoring wing or a more accomplished low-block big would certainly help. And if Thomas gives Phoenix most of what Bledsoe provided, the overall exchange could be a real win for the Suns.

Good as Bledsoe is, it sure feels like the Suns would survive the breakup better than he would.

 

More Than the Sum of Their Parts

If we pare away all the details, there’s an underlying truth that weighs in favor of keeping Bledsoe and the Suns together: They bring out the best in each other.

Bledsoe made a career-altering leap last season, proving he could perform in a starter’s role without losing any of his tenacity or effectiveness. And Phoenix benefited from having a second two-way point guard to run its offensive system.

Those facts make it a real shame that the current negotiations are seemingly deadlocked, souring what was clearly a mutually beneficial relationship.

It’s hard to see it now, as two sides sense the mounting tension and dig in for the possibility that the fatal damage has already been done. But the Suns and Bledsoe are better off together than they are apart.

Barring a complete collapse in relations that leads to a stunning sign-and-trade, the two parties will get one more season to realize how good they’ve got it together. Hopefully, Phoenix will make its push into the playoffs, and Bledsoe will lead the charge.

Maybe then they’ll see a way to make things work.

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NBA suspends Suns’ P.J. Tucker for 3 games (Yahoo Sports)

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 16: P.J Tucker #17 of the Phoenix Suns in a game against the Sacramento Kings on April16, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

PHOENIX (AP) — The NBA has suspended Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker for three games following his guilty plea to ”super extreme” driving while intoxicated.


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Suns sign first-round picks Warren, Ennis (Yahoo Sports)

PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns signed first-round draft picks T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis on Friday.

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Could Phoenix Suns Be LeBron James’ Best Choice for More Rings?

By exercising the early termination option in his contract, four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion LeBron James is free to opt for a destination of his choosing once again. Re-upping with the Miami Heat—where LBJ won both of his titles with Pat Riley calling the shots—appears to be the most logical outcome.

But is it the best choice LeBron can make in terms of winning more rings?

Not surprisingly, the best player in basketball wants to sign a max deal, according to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst. Few teams can offer James a max contract while simultaneously keeping the flexibility to put winning pieces around him.

Miami is an obvious suitor, since the only player on its roster right now is point guard Norris Cole. The Heat have money to spend, but they also face plenty of uncertainty by having to build a new roster from scratch.

The Phoenix Suns, meanwhile, have established themselves as a legitimate dark-horse landing spot for his services.

“We are in good position,” Suns owner Robert Sarver said, per AZCentral Sports’ Bob Young. “We have a lot to offer, too, with the depth of our roster compared to some of the other teams. We think we have a favorable opportunity, but obviously he’ll make his decision when he wants to make it.”

James is sure to weigh any and all options available, but is Phoenix the best choice he can make from a basketball perspective?

 

The Pitch

After finishing dead last in the Western Conference during 2012-13, Phoenix flipped the script less than a year later.

General manager Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek built and managed a young, upstart roster that wound up winning 48 games—more than 2010-11 when two-time MVP Steve Nash was still running the show.

Hornacek established a winning culture that started with the play of his two point guards—Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Those All-Star-caliber talents led the way, and they’re just a part of the equation that could woo James to the desert.

“The Suns are positioned with the cap space and maneuverability to chase James and the co-star of his liking without yielding Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, James’ close friend, in the process,” AZ Central’s Paul Coro wrote. “That second star pursuit could be USA Basketball buddy [Carmelo] Anthony or fellow Miami free agent Chris Bosh in free agency.”

James and Bledsoe are both represented by the same agent, Rich Paul. LeBron has referred to the 24-year-old Kentucky product as his “lil bro,” per his Instagram account.

The situation in Miami would entail re-signing the Big Three and surrounding them with a new crop of role players and veterans. Whereas Phoenix allows James to join the Bledsoe/Dragic tandem as well as choose another star teammate.

As Bleacher Report’s Adam Fromal told me, “Dragic, re-signing Bledsoe, keeping Plum (center Miles Plumlee) and giving him any teammate he desires who’s a free agent? That’s unbeatable.”

Again, the Suns won 48 games despite the fact that Bledsoe missed 39 contests due to injury. Add James to the fold—as well as another star: Melo, Bosh or even a different vet like Pau Gasol—and there’s zero reason the Suns couldn’t be serious title contenders. That’d be true even while playing in the loaded Western Conference.

The Suns’ pitch to James is simple. If he lands with Planet Orange, a supporting cast will be there to help build his legacy. The Larry O’Brien Trophy would be far less elusive.

 

Longevity

Assuming that Bledsoe, James and another co-star sign long-term, financially lucrative deals, that core will be the organization’s focus for years to come.

In the short term, that includes Dragic, Gerald Green and the Morris twins, Markieff and Marcus.

Down the line, the Suns have a plethora of youngsters on rookie deals: Plumlee, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis.

At the very least, management won’t have to scramble to find worthy role players because youth and upside is already on board creating a buffer.

Of course, that fails to mention the mystique of Phoenix’s incredible training staff.

Head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson kept Nash healthy well into his 30s. A perfect storm of circumstances—a small fracture of his left leg and nerve root irritation in his back leading to hamstring issues—have since derailed his career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Other guys like Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill and Michael Redd experienced career resurgences in the Purple Palace, so the Santa Clara product isn‘t an isolated case study.

LeBron will turn 30 years old later this year (on December 30). The appeal of playing for an organization with a history of keeping veterans in playing shape is an underrated factor working in Phoenix’s favor.

Aging gracefully isn’t the norm for NBA players. Nevertheless, after years of suffering through a slew of injuries, Hill had a very successful five-year stint with the Suns. His tenure included three seasons playing at least 80 regular-season games beyond age 35.

James has always been a durable player. The Suns can all but guarantee he stays that way.

 

Depth

Sarver noted the depth of the Suns’ roster as a net positive. Unlike the 2013-14 Heat—a team that couldn’t even attempt to rely upon guys like Michael Beasley and Greg Oden—the Suns can go deep into their bench.

Markieff Morris established himself as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate last season.

His twin brother, Marcus, scored in double digits 42 times despite only starting one game.

Green was stellar as a starter filling in for Bledsoe and as a bench player providing an offensive spark.

Goodwin capped his rookie campaign with a career-high, 29-point outburst during Game 82; even Ish Smith raised some eyebrows for his hustle in limited minutes.

LeBron doesn’t want to end his career having won two titles. If he makes the tough decision to change locales for the second time during his illustrious career, Phoenix would offer him plenty of assistance getting back to the Association’s zenith.

 

Best Option?

A factor that is often ignored when discussing the future of free agents is family. Because these stars are in a business built to entertain the masses, humanizing them can be difficult.

Take, for instance, the decision made by former free-agent guard Darren Collison. He had a solid year with the Los Angeles Clippers—and head coach Doc Rivers wanted him back, according to the Los Angeles Times‘ Broderick Turner—but he opted for a lucrative three-year deal with the Sacramento Kings.

James lives in a South Beach mansion with his wife and two sons. He still owns a home in Ohio. You may recall his wife, Savannah, caused a stir with an Akron-related Instagram post not long ago.

The question is: Would LBJ consider moving yet again?

Regardless of whether the answer is “yes” or “no,” Phoenix still provides James the best title shot.

Joining a solid supporting cast, a close friend in Bledsoe and having the opportunity to court another piece to the puzzle is, as Fromal said, “unbeatable.”

Suns fans should still temper their expectations and consider this a long shot, but a James-Phoenix pairing makes a lot of sense.

LeBron’s legacy is tied—fairly or unfairly—to the amount of rings he acquires before calling it quits. As far as the 2014-15 season is concerned, Phoenix offers his best shot at adding trophy No. 3.

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