DAN BICKLEY

LeBron James could be last grand slam for this version of Suns

May 29, 2024, 4:47 PM

Not here. Not ever. Not in my backyard.

That’s the typical reaction from LeBron haters in Phoenix, a large contingent of Suns fans who do not want him on our basketball team because we don’t want to be the soundtrack for some paternal fantasy; because we have long-held deeply entrenched views of LeBron as a hated villain; because we have waited 56 years for their first NBA championship, and do not want the moment co-opted and controlled by a towering interloper; because we are more than just a sunny and convenient playground for a Hall of Famer looking to cement his legacy.

So, how long will it take for us to change our minds? One week? One press conference? One big smile on Devin Booker’s face?

Prediction: It won’t take long.

If the Suns draft Bronny James with the 22nd pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, followed by a LeBron signing shortly thereafter, how soon do we rush the bandwagon?

I’d like to think I’m immune. I eagerly see the worst in LeBron, and how he is most to blame for the player empowerment era that has become an existential crisis for the NBA. Besides, I’m a Jordan guy.

But I’m also a pragmatist.

The Suns need a point guard. They need an alpha leader. They need a strong vocal presence on the court, someone who distributes and empowers and sets the tone. Even approaching 40, James is all those things and more. He didn’t become the second-greatest player in history by accident.

The Suns appear to be clearing the decks. They will be the only team besides the Lakers to gain an audience with young Bronny before the draft. They just retained David Fizdale as a prominent assistant under Mike Budenholzer, a coach who has strong ties to LeBron.

The Suns have also made an explicit bargain that the Lakers might not be willing to match. The Suns are clearly willing to draft Bronny in the first round, which is more than just a status symbol. It comes with much better pay and a two-year guarantee, conditions that would be of great significance to any caring father, especially if LeBron’s days are dwindling and Bronny’s are very limited.

The Suns also offer a blank slate for LeBron to import his culture. That is something he can’t do in Los Angeles, where he’s not even the second most popular player in franchise history. And it’s something he couldn’t do in Miami. In fact, Fizdale once told the story of how a younger LeBron was clearly miffed when the Heat wouldn’t allow his friends into the locker room because it was a violation of Heat culture.

In Phoenix, James could effectively set the controls to his preferred room temperature, especially with former teammate James Jones at the helm. And who knows? Maybe LeBron accepts a minimum salary when Suns owner Mat Ishbia agrees to sell a chunk of the team upon retirement.

For a desperate team with very little wiggle room, LeBron might be the last grand slam available. The Valley has also grown to fully appreciate Chris Paul and Kevin Durant, a pair of former enemies. And let’s be real. While Budenholzer might be brilliant, authentic and local, is he really going to electrify a low-wattage team with little connectivity? Will the 2024-25 Suns be dramatically different without a dramatic acquisition?

After all, no one puts the drama in dramatic better than LeBron.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6–10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

Dan Bickley

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