Finishing second in a free-agent sweepstakes is worse than doing the same in a pageant, where they at least gussy up the term as “first runner-up” and the penultimate person at least has a shot at ascending to the crown or tiara, pending a felony or a scandal.
You miss out on a premium free agent – the way Phoenix did in hoping to land LaMarcus Aldridge – and you’re stuck sifting through rubble and licking your own wounds. Whatever good comes of it from that point on, it’s on you. No one’s going to award Aldridge to the Suns, for instance, even if Gregg Popovich or Tim Duncan gets abducted by aliens a week from Thursday.
The Suns — on the preferred short list for NBA free agents 10 or 15 years ago — did reach an agreement with center Tyson Chandler, a solid acquisition, but that would have meant even more had it enticed Aldridge to suit up next to him. Now, as laid out by Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, it’s on Phoenix to get busy sifting and licking, while hoping some secondary moves or near-moves in pursuit of Aldridge don’t produce unpleasant ripple effects:
There is not a remaining free agent who could come close to the talent or fit that Aldridge would have given the Suns and their quest to end a five-year playoff absence. The best free agents – LeBron James, Marc Gasol and Tristan Thompson – are staying with their teams. Others like Reggie Jackson, Lou Williams and Rodney Stuckey do not appear to be fits. Kosta Koufos was possible until the Suns stocked center with Tyson Chandler alongside Alex Len. David West has been Suns small forward T.J. Warren’s mentor, but he is a veteran seeking a last shot with a top team. Josh Smith? There is a better chance of Aldridge changing his mind to Phoenix than the Suns pursuing him.
The Suns do have roster balance now with the 11 players soon to be under contract – Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight at point guard, Archie Goodwin and Devin Booker at shooting guard with Jerel McNeal (non-guaranteed), P.J. Tucker and T.J. Warren at small forward, Markieff Morris and Jon Leuer at power forward and Chandler and Len at center. It is not a mix that would have many predicting much of a rise in the West after last season’s 10th-place finish and expected improvement from the teams around them (San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Utah).
The Suns still will look to add shooting, experience, frontline help and a third point guard in free agency. They will remain open to using their cache of draft picks and young talent in a trade that lands an elite player, which they acknowledge needing to reach the next tier. Until that type of deal becomes available, it appears they will tweak the roster in free agency with role players and count on maturation from their young standouts.
That could mean pursuit of a free agent power forward like Brandon Bass, Jordan Hill, Darrell Arthur or Andrea Bargnani, a wing shooter like Rasual Butler or Dorell Wright, a defensive wing like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and a backup point guard like Ish Smith or a Euroleague player. There also are sentimental free agency options, like a Suns return for Amar’e Stoudemire, who is interested in doing so, or a hometown career finish for Richard Jefferson.
The Suns also now have an interesting situation with four-year power forward Markieff Morris. They clearly were trying to replace him with Aldridge. They traded away his twin and best friend, Marcus, to Detroit for next to nothing to clear the cap room for a possible Aldridge deal.
Markieff also knows he might have been the player the Suns would have dealt in a sign-and-trade with Dallas for Chandler.