The previous two offseasons, the Suns took an extremely aggressive approach to free agency.
No name was off limits, and they chased players such as LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge. Nothing came to fruition, but Phoenix felt it was truly in the running, especially in the Aldridge sweepstakes.
This summer, the situation was a little bit different. The Suns didn’t live up to their expectations last season and quickly realized swinging for the fences wasn’t going to be the right way to go.
“If you look at this free agent class as a whole, there wasn’t a whole lot of star power,” said general manager Ryan McDonough after Jared Dudley’s introductory press conference on Friday. “Kevin Durant obviously went to Golden State. We reached out to him and his representatives and after that we said, ‘let’s do what’s best for our team. Let’s be realistic about what we can do coming off a 23-win season and let’s go aggressively after the best guy we can get.’ ”
That ended up being Jared Dudley, who Phoenix signed to a three-year, $30-million deal that after the first season deescalates in amount by 4.5-percent the two following seasons.
And while this was McDonough’s approach in the present, he hopes that the Suns show improvement this year and can set their targets higher again in 2017.
“Luckily, we were able to strike a fair deal that hopefully is good for Jared and potentially could benefit us as well going forward, especially next year and the year after when the salary cap jumps up,” the general manager said. “We’re projected to have more money than other teams to hopefully get back into the mix with elite free agents next summer.”
According to Basketball Insiders, the Suns have a little more than $63.6 million guaranteed on the books for 2017 free agency with a projected salary cap of $102 million.
The big name unrestricted free agents on the market are expected to be Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holliday, Jeff Teague, George Hill, Kyle Lowry (player option), J.J. Redick, Gordon Hayward (player option), Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari (player option), Rudy Gay (player option), Blake Griffin (player option), Serge Ibaka and Paul Millsap (player option).
That’s a significantly better crop of talent available compared to this summer’s free agent class comprised mainly of role players.
In a way, you can look at this upcoming Suns’ season as a win-win no matter what — they can either struggle, add another lottery pick in a highly regarded draft or overachieve getting themselves in the mix for some of the bigger names in the next free agent class.
Building a successful NBA team is about keeping options open and having flexibility. McDonough has done that during his time with the Suns.
In addition to smart planning, finding success also takes quite a bit of luck. Maybe that finally turns in the Suns favor in the near future.