Don’t count out Phoenix as a major player in the free agent sweepstakes. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, the Suns are planning an aggressive pursuit of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
The Suns have $33.5 million in salary-cap space and could shed the next $10 million needed to sign James and Anthony to maximum contracts without unloading the young core of guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic and center Miles Plumlee that pushed the franchise to 48 victories in the Western Conference last season.
Jeff Hornacek’s squad has a lot to offer LeBron and Anthony.
Let’s start with the Suns big man, Miles Plumlee. The former Duke star was active on the glass, grabbing 7.8 total rebounds per game, 3.3 of which were contested by an opponent within 3.5 feet. You’d like to see him develop more of a post-up game (he shot just 63 for 166 on his hook shot) but at just 25 years old Plumlee is still a few years away from his prime.
The back court of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic could develop into one of the best in the league. When they shared court time last season the Suns scored 20.8 fast-break points and 18.9 points off turnovers per game while holding opponents to 12.4 and 12.9, respectively. Dragic was also very successful from beyond the arc, converting on 40.8 of those shots. He was especially prolific in the corners (31 for 60).
And Beldsoe could give James something he has never had before: A legit, top-flight point guard. In Miami last season, the point guards generated a Player Efficiency Rating of 12.5, well below the league average for guards at 14.6 . Bledsoe’s PER was 19.6 in limited action (43 games in 2013-14).
Bledsoe also created 13.2 points per game off assists, Dragic 14.9. Only James created more on Miami (15.3). Taking some of the playmaking pressure off James (41.6 percent of field goals assisted by a teammate) and Carmelo (38.6 percent) could make a Suns offense, which scored the seventh most points last season, even more dynamic. Imagine Phoenix being able to find James more often as he is driving to the net (six points per game off drives, 7.1 drives per game) or creating more 10-foot jumpers for Anthony off the pass (6.8 points per game, fifth most in league).
Here is one benefit the Suns can offer that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet: Their training staff has earned a reputation as the league’s best:
In a nutshell, the Suns aim to ensure that a weakness in one area does not compromise other parts of the body. For example, if a player injures his right ankle he will start compensating by putting more stress on his healthy side, so the training staff treats the entire athlete and not just the injured part to ensure “there is no movement dysfunction,” as [head athletic trainer Aaron] Nelson put it.
One 11-year study in 2011 showed that the Suns had been the most injury-free team after the Spurs, with just 48 games lost because of injuries per year. That has to be intriguing to a player like James who is not only entering his 30s, but has had issues with cramping up during the most inopportune times.
The Suns won 48 games last season, have three first-round draft picks in 2015 and a young core that, with the right max-contract players, could become the dominating force in the Western Conference for years to come.