As recently detailed by Dave King, the Suns are going to lean in heavy on the free agent market this summer. Whether this will prove to be a formidable pursuit or another Charlie Brown-like fall is remained to be seen. But with so many teams flowing with cap space, the returns on exploring the realms of free agency could prove to be dangerous. Strike out on the big fish and you could be relegated to overpaying for a fringe player just to hit the salary floor.
Due to this reality, teams are expected to hit the trade market hard in July, creating a frenzy in which the smart front offices will flourish while the dysfunctional are left behind. Forward thinking teams will target players with seemingly generous contracts (think SVG and Tobias Harris), or take short-term gambles on expensive veterans (Derrick Rose comes to mind here).
In order for the Suns to make the most of their summer, perhaps diving into a steadfast competition for top free agents with more viable candidates present is not the best course of action. Instead, they should look to the trade market with a focus on one player in particular: Serge Ibaka.
Oklahoma City suddenly sports a deep front court with the growth of Steven Adams, Enes Kanter's admirable attempt to rid himself of the label as a terrible defender and the emergence of Kevin Durant playing more minutes at the four. Kanter is expensive, and Adams will likely be expensive in the near future, leaving an opening for Ibaka to be had by other teams. After all, it doesn't make sense to pay four front court players near max money unless your name is Dan Gilbert.
Ibaka gave way to Kanter and Adams during crunch time of the San Antonio series, and he looks like less of the athletic force of nature on defense than in the recent past. Maybe this is due in part to not having a primary role on the offensive end, but it is hard to combat the notion that Ibaka's progression as a player has stalled.
Per NBA.com, opponents shot fifty-five percent at the rim against Ibaka this season, a ten percent jump from the 2014-15 campaign and his 1.9 blocks per game average was his worst since his rookie season. That dip in production is certainly a cause for concern, but evaluators citing Ibaka's demise are overreacting to what appears to be an off year. He is still young (26) and will be entering the prime of his career next season. (Thus making it a perfect time for another team to pounce.)
Despite his athletic gifts, Ibaka has never really proven to be an above average rebounder by the numbers. Again, this may just be a byproduct of playing alongside a cyborg for a point guard and a litany of other hungry rebounders in Oklahoma City. Given a change of scenery, I would bet on Ibaka eclipsing double digit rebounds per game if asked to do so.
From the Suns perspective, power forward is the most obvious source of need and unless the draft lottery Gods smile fondly upon Devin Booker on Tuesday night, a pick outside of the top two slots but within the top five is conceivably expendable. Enter Ibaka, who fits within the age bracket of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, while providing a versatile skill set capable of playing alongside Tyson Chandler, Alex Len or a smaller four man.
Obviously the Thunder are a bit busy with other basketball business currently, but it is never too early to begin the process of kicking the tires on potential scenarios for the hellacious summer ahead.
There are hundreds of directions Ryan McDonough can go with the roster as currently construed. Bask in the glory of securing a top two pick and a youth movement is likely to be in store. Somehow reel in a top free agent target (unlikely), and suddenly a playoff pipe dream is not far off. For whatever it is worth, we can take solace in the fact that McDonough is going to seek out all possible options to improve the roster.
Netting Ibaka -- and his $12.25 million contract that expires after next season -- would be a warranted use of cap space and a better bet on striking steeper returns than relying on a top five pick in what is being regarded as a two player draft.
Constructing a malleable roster is all the rage in today's NBA, and pursuing a player of Ibaka's stature is a step in the right direction on that front.