The 2013 offseason will be an interesting one for the Phoenix Suns. We have already seen an interesting draft, as well as multiple front office changes. Free agency is the next step towards bettering our team and creating a system and culture that fits our personnel. With the selections Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, and Alex Oriakhi in the draft, we solidified our frontcourt rotation and gained some backcourt depth. The logical free agency stance for the Suns to take is one of high risk and high reward. There is no reason to sign proven veterans or All- NBA talent. It makes the most sense to acquire young, athletic players, filling both the need to have depth in the backcourt and to maintain a youthful roster. With this mindset being used, here are a few examples of players I think the Suns should consider targeting in the upcoming free agency season.
Henderson is a solid all- around guard who has seen steady improvement in each of his four professional seasons. He is a fairly efficient scorer, needing only 12 shots per game for the 15.5 points he averaged. He has improved his 3- point range significantly over his career, culminating in a solid 33% on two attempts per game last season. He can rebound well, and provides decent ballhandling and passing skills.
What makes him an interesting prospect is that, with the Bobcats rebuilding, even though they did give him a qualifying offer, they are less likely to match a deal that is given to him. Henderson is almost 26 years old, and on one of the youngest rosters in the League, that is a high number. He has still yet to fulfill his potential, but has still maintained steady improvement throughout his career. He is a proven starter as well as a great bench scorer, so could be used in any capacity and still be effective.
On a young team like ours, Henderson would almost be considered a veteran leader. But the Suns are deep into the rebuilding process and could use a player such as him to attempt to achieve his great potential while assets are turned into success. He is a good young player who fits well with the pieces we already have in place.
Brewer is even more of a project than Henderson, but it could be argue that his skill is exponentially greater and even more untapped than that of Henderson. He has been in the league longer, but in his age 27 season last year with Denver, seems to have solidified his niche in this league. When put on a roster that allows him to expand upon the talent he has shown, he should wreak havoc defensively and be a great scorer in transition and from behind the line.
Denver has a plethora of guards and seems to be prioritizing Andre Iguodala over all else this offseason, making Brewer a potentially forgotten and expendable piece of their roster. But on ours, he could be a great fit off the bench. Although he has started at various points throughout his career, I believe he is best served as a role player off the bench who gets 20- 25 minutes a game when paired with a bigger, scoring- type small forward. He is known around the league for his intelligence on fast break leak outs, as well as his tenacious defense.
These skills translate well into the fast- paced scheme the Suns are known for. With intelligent, athletic passers at every position, a hyperactive wing player who understands his role is a piece that every team in the league would love to have. Brewer is my first- ranked target for the Suns this offseason, based on talent and fit.
No, I'm not a homer. Earl Clark, who, in recent seasons, has proven himself as a legitimate rotation player in this league, is a good player for Phoenix to try to bring back this offseason. He is a three, but can play power forward in smaller lineups. He can defend three positions, and is a good three point shooter. What is forgotten about Clark often times, though, is his great basketball IQ and tremendous hustle. He is a great piece to have on any team, and could carve out 15 minutes per game for himself on most teams in this league.
The Lakers have very little money to try to woo Clark back to the D'Antoni system in which he thrived, but the Suns have the money to potentially make the sacrifice to overpay in order to acquire an exceptional player, as well as the pedigree of having a system similar to the one the Lakers ran last season. While his offensive skill set is similar to that of the Morris twins, he has proven himself as a better passer and defender, and they should be seen as tradeable assets at this point anyway.
If the 2013 NBA playoffs proved anything, it was that smart, athletic forwards who can defend and shoot are becoming some of the most coveted players in the game. As Kawhi Leonard and Paul George showed, being able to defend great scorers like Melo and LeBron is equally as important as the spacing created by one's ability to consistently make a corner three- pointer. Earl Clark is second- tier compared to these players, but on a young, developing team like the Suns, having a 25 year old player who could eventually become like these successful counterparts is a risk that is definitely worth taking.
The Suns need shooting from somewhere other than their power forwards, and Neal provides just that. His stats have been fairly static across his three seasons as a backup on a very competitive Spurs team. He has been their combo backup guard, and has filled the role excellently. He can handle the ball well, makes open passes at a high level, runs through screens well, and is an elite shooter with a career 40% mark. Pop has trusted him in tight, high- pressure games, most notably in Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals and Game 5 of Western Conference quarterfinals in 2011.
He hasn't been given a qualifying offer from San Antonio, and their desire for him is probably connected to Ginobili's decision to return or not. He is a player that is seen as replaceable around the league, and that is not an unfair description. He has the least upside of any of the free agents outlined here, but he should be viewed by Suns fans as Shannon Brown with better passing and defense. Brown earned a great deal of minutes with the Suns the past two years, and there's no reason to think that the team shouldn't be willing to give Neal a short deal and hope he flourishes.
He would fit well next to Dragic as a spot up shooter, and could handle point guard duties when Dragic is on the bench. Drafting Archie Goodwin only enlarged the need for backcourt shooting in Phoenix and Neal is the best young shooter in this free agent class. Coming from a revered system in which he played consistent minutes, Neal is a very attractive option for the rebuilding Suns.
Johnson is not a wing player, but he is still someone the Suns should take a heavy look at. He fluctuated in and out of Larry Drew's rotation in Atlanta, but displayed solid strength and hustle in the minutes he was given. His defensive rebound percentage is 20.1, and he has averaged nearly two steals per 36 minutes as a big man. These are impressive numbers, and they make it puzzling as to why Atlanta never seemed to be interested in his development.
This, along with the continued assurance from Hawks' GM Danny Ferry that he has no attachment to any player on the roster, give the League hope that he will be available this offseason, even though he has been given a qualifying offer. His rookie season was much- hyped, and he appears to be a player with potential to be a starter one day. But the most intriguing part of his game from the Suns' perspective is the vast difference between his style and the style of the forwards already employed by the franchise. The Morris twins and Channing Frye are "stretch fours" that are excellent in the pick and pop and are below average rebounders and defenders. Ivan Johnson brings a gritty style that would bring a great balance to our frontcourt.
Johnson brings to mind a younger Kendrick Perkins, whom the Suns appeared to be interested in in talks with the Thunder. At a much less steep price, Johnson could be a very viable defensive and rebounding- minded big man with lots of potential and numerous physical gifts. He is another of my favorite potential Suns from this year's free agency class.
The Phoenix Suns are at a much different point than most teams this offseason. Most teams are fine- tuning their rosters by filling holes and making trades that they hope will bring them closer to a playoff berth or championship. The Suns have little to no chance at either of these goals, and therefore are filling out a roster that hopes to compete multiple years in the future. The acquisitions made by the franchise this summer should keep this in mind and not be based on fear of risk, but on excitement about potential.