Phoenix Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough has hinted at being very active in trades and free agency this summer. With the pending salary cap increase in the summer of 2016, it's going to be a unique free agency period to say the least. Players might roll the dice on shorter contracts now to cash in big later, which could end up benefiting some teams while leaving others out to dry. For a much more cogent take than I can offer on the Suns' salary cap situation, check out Dave King's article here.
The Suns will definitely be in the market for help on the frontline, where Alex Len is the closest thing to a certainty (a sentence I never would have expected to type this time last year).
At center, Len will be entering his third season in the NBA and is, deservedly, the starting center for the foreseeable future. When healthy, he showed a tantalizing combination of rim protection, rebounding, and finishing ability. Unless a star center shakes loose, he shouldn't have any roadblocks in the rotation.
Backup center Brandan Wright played well as a Sun, but will be entering unrestricted free agency and McDonough's professed desire for the team to get bigger up front might not bode well for the lithe Wright. He is great at what he does, which is finishing everything he touches in the paint, but is at his best when paired with a floor-stretching big, which the Suns currently lack. All this will be a factor when negotiations commence in July.
Power forward continues to be an area of need for the Suns, as it has been since Amar'e Stoudemire bolted in the summer of 2010. Markieff Morris is a fine player, but might be best as a sixth man. As a full-time starter in 2014/15, he produced some memorable moments in the clutch, but he also used a lot of possessions (23.3 USG%) on his inefficient brand of scoring (.523 TS%). Combined with his underwhelming defense and rebounding (7.1 boards per 36), there is a clear need for an upgrade at power forward, or at least a change-of-pace player off the bench that can lighten Markieff's load.
Marcus Morris carried the bulk of the backup duties at power forward when he wasn't at the 3, and is still very much a tweener defensively. Aside from the occasional scoring burst, it's difficult to identify many contributions from Marcus in 2014/15 at either forward position.
Both Morris brothers will be entering the first year of their four-year contract extensions, and at a combined $52 million they'll be a bargain after the cap increase, which is important because they very well might be on the move as soon as their pending legal troubles are concluded.
With that in mind, let's have a gander at the free agent market for big men, with a keen focus on backup centers and power forwards of any kind.
Gasol's defensive impact would be obvious, and his passing ability from the high post would be an interesting addition to Hornacek's offense. He also wouldn't carry the scoring burden that he has in Memphis, which is probably better for everyone involved. There would be obvious questions about his fit in an up-tempo system, but he would instantly turn the Suns into a playoff challenger. All of this is moot, however; Gasol has given no indication of leaving Memphis and doesn't strike anyone as the type to jump ship.
Aldridge, on the other hand, might be eyeing the exit in Portland after twice being greatly overmatched in the playoffs against rugged Western Conference teams. Look for him to head East if he leaves the Blazers at all, which might be just as well since we've seen how far an Aldridge-led team can get in the West.
Kevin Love (Player Option)
The darling of NBA trade rumors, Love will once again find himself the subject of much speculation in the coming days/weeks. However, there would be little sense in opting out of his contract with a Finals contender only to enter unrestricted free agency a year before the cap increases. The only hope potential suitors have is that the persistent narrative about how marginalized he was in his lone season as a Cavalier is more than just conjecture, and he bolts for a LeBron-esque contract elsewhere. Yes he would be a great fit in Phoenix, but don't torture yourself.
Jordan will probably snag a max deal somewhere, but it wouldn't make much sense for Phoenix to be that 'somewhere'. Len has the potential to grow into a Jordan-type player on defense, and will probably develop the ability to score outside of three feet from the rim at some point. Plus, Hack-A-Jordan is not something I want to subject myself to, ever, while watching a Suns game.
Millsap would be an almost ideal fit next to Len. His floor-spacing (.356 3FG%), rebounding (8.6 rebounds per 36) and veteran status would immediately improve the Suns' weaknesses in these areas. At the age of 30, he might come reasonably priced as well. The only question is why would he leave the 60-win Hawks for the 39-win Suns? Phoenix would probably need to overpay him to have a chance, but no one is exactly sure what would even consist of an overpay anymore.
Brook Lopez (Player option)
Brooklyn's big man will be leaving $17 million on the table if he opts out, and he wouldn't make much sense in Phoenix anyway. Moving on.
Monroe's lack of range would make him an awkward pairing with Len offensively, and his inability to protect the rim makes him a tough sell for a starting center. He is a talented scorer around the paint that, contrary to popular belief, can run the floor well enough to play in an up-tempo system, but there aren't many frontline players in the NBA that he can fit well alongside of. Let the Lakers overpay him and figure it out.
Chandler bounced back in 2014/15 with Dallas and proved that he is still a capable starting center when properly motivated. At 32 years old, however, it remains to be seen if any team will pay him accordingly. If he is willing to share the center position with Len, he would be a great addition for the Suns -- if they are winning. Chandler is known to go through the motions when things aren't going well, and there is probably a playoff team somewhere that would be happy to plug a hole at center with the veteran big man.
Fringe Starters and Sixth Men
It's anyone's guess what the enigmatic J-Smoove will command on the open market. He went from a national punchline in Detroit to a key reserve in Houston, and now he is hitting unrestricted free agency despite the fact that the Pistons are still paying him. So who's the punchline now?
Smith's days as a starter might be gone, but he would be an intriguing backup to Morris in Phoenix. At the right price, he's a no-brainer (depending on your definition).
Tristan Thompson (restricted)
Ready for another adventure into restricted free agency with a Rich Paul client? Neither am I.
Enes Kanter (restricted)
In a logical world, Kanter would be a sixth man. He might be the worst defensive center in the NBA. But even if Oklahoma City doesn't see him as their starting center, some other team will. It's a shame, because he'd provide a great scoring punch off the bench in Phoenix.
Lopez has carved out a nice niche in Portland, but given their unstable future, might he be on the outs? A Len/Lopez tandem would be kind of a wonderful thing (provided that Robin doesn't send Alex crashing to the floor in practice) and would turn Seth Pollack into the happiest Suns fan on Earth.
Asik's defense and rebounding (13.6 per 36) are stellar, but his offense is so bad that he might not even find a starting gig this summer. He shot only 54.4% at the rim in 2014/15, and 10/46 outside of three feet. He made exactly one jumper outside of ten feet all year, and his below-the-rim style of play means he's not a threat to finish lobs like some other centers that can't shoot. He'd be a sound pickup at a discounted rate, but his shortcomings on offense lend to him being overexposed at anything more than 25 minutes per game. It's also very difficult to envision him in an up-tempo system like that of the Suns, even as a backup.
The Raptors were traumatized by their embarrassing sweep at the hands of Washington in the playoffs and are looking to massively shake things up this summer, according to reports. This might signal the end of Johnson's six-year run in Toronto, where he has been an everyday starter for the last two seasons. Another unspectacular big man that plays within his means, Johnson might make sense in Phoenix to either push Morris for the starting job or back him up. Johnson's numbers are average across the board, but he's an unselfish team player and has decent range on his jumper (30/71 outside of 16 feet, 19/47 from 3), although he doesn't shoot much.
The Suns currently have a better and younger version of Bass in Markieff Morris, so as long as Kieff is around consider their quota of midrange jumper-shooting power forwards filled.
What's the going rate for nostalgia these days? STAT can still fill it (19.7 points per 36, .595 TS%) but his severe lack of defense and rebounding have rendered him almost unplayable outside of condensed appearances. He'll bring some points and warm fuzzies for the fans, but would make little sense otherwise for a Suns team that needs long-term impact players.
He yells a lot and can hit a midrange jumper and grab a few boards. Might be a worse defender than Stoudemire at this point.
Now here's a signing that would make sense. Koufos is a plus rebounder (11.4 per 36) that plays hard and within his means. He doesn't do anything flashy, but has an excellent nose for the ball and would bring some of that Grizzlies grit to Phoenix. While not a prolific scorer by any means (11.2 points per 36), he does enough of the little things to be capable enough to start as an injury replacement.
Another Raptor that is likely on the outs, Hansbrough suffered career lows in minutes per game (14.3) and points per 36 (9.2) in 2014/15. He'll give you some that good ol' Midwestern white-guy hustle, but not much else.
The forgotten Frenchman quietly had a breakout year for the Pelicans, putting up per 36 numbers of 16.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks with a PER of 19.9. He would be a seamless replacement for Brandan Wright,. and at the least is more of a true center at 7'0. The best part is, most of the NBA apparently hasn't taken notice -- possibly because people still remember how awful he was in his first NBA stint -- so he might come dirt cheap. A great possibility for a low risk/high reward signing.
Jordan Hill (Team option)
Yahoo! has reported that the Lakers are opting for cap space in lieu of exercising their team option on Hill, whose production dipped in nearly every measurable category in 2014/15. He might be good enough to start 57 games for the Lake Show, but will probably have to settle for a reserve role elsewhere. If the Suns can coax appropriate levels of effort from the big man, he could be an excellent backup.
End of the Bench
The strange odyssey of Robinson's NBA career took him most recently to Hinkieland in Philadelphia, which is a pretty strong affirmation of a player being on his last NBA legs. T-Rob still hasn't added an NBA skill beyond rebounding (13.7 per 36) and the Suns aren't a likely candidate to be the next stop on his tour of the NBA, given their spotty history with #TeamFOE.
The Swedish forward (or tweener, whatever) fell out of favor in Detroit but put up some nice numbers in his 29-game stint as a Celtic (9.6 rebounds per 36 and a .406 3P%). Could be worth a look as a bargain-basement stretch-4 candidate.
Luc Mbah a Moute
Was a true pro during his tenure in Hinkieland and would be a nice veteran presence as an end-of-the-bench signing.
Bismack Biyombo (restricted)
Biyombo has elite shotblocking skills, but offers little else. Perhaps he could develop other areas of his game in a different environment if the transitioning Hornets aren't interested in keeping him around.
Still in the NBA, apparently
Kendrick Perkins, Drew Gooden, JaVale McGee, Reggie Evans
All of these guys have at least one NBA skill still available to them, and are possibilities if the Suns want to use their last roster spots on veterans. If they're willing to play for a one-year minimum deal there could be some value there. Anything more than that would be a stretch.