Free agency has been a staple of sports for decades and serves as a pathway for teams to go from bottom of the barrel to decent, decent to championship contender and championship contender to one of the greatest teams of all time. NBA free agency is coming up again this summer, and there’s a lot of rumors floating around with some of the league’s best players looking to move around.
One team that’s getting no attention in these rumors as a destination are the Phoenix Suns who’ve swung and missed on free agents for years. Their last franchise-altering signing was Steve Nash in 2004, but take him away and the Suns have never landed a true star in the game.
Now I could just say it’s because the Suns are bad and spend the rest of my day thinking of new Game of Thrones theories, but there has to be more to it. Phoenix is one of the biggest cities in the country with a massive market and when you’re not dying of heatstroke, the weather here is quite lovely. The Suns have a rabid fanbase and winning a title here would make you a bigger sports star in the state than Larry Fitzgerald. So why is it players like Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and more chose to go elsewhere than Phoenix.
Well, the first and most obvious answer to that question has already been stated: the Suns aren’t good. I don’t think I’ve surprised anyone with that statement but the team hasn’t had a winning record since 2014, the team also hasn’t made the playoffs since 2010. Why would a top free agent want to come to this franchise? A lot of money can change someone’s mind but when the team has consistently been irrelevant and failed to turn any of their lottery picks into superstars (Devin Booker is close but still hasn’t taken that final step), why waste prime years here? Just because you have a massive market and young talent doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have the culture, branding and structure to attract free agents to Phoenix.
Location may not play as much of a role for these players as it once did but when comparing cities, Phoenix most likely isn’t high up that list. We all know about Los Angeles or New York having the lure for big time free agents and with some of the smaller market teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio riding off their recent success, it’s tough for Phoenix to make the argument for a free agent to come here.
Listen to all the rumors swirling around New York picking up Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The team has been just as bad as Phoenix but the thought of saving the New York Knicks is apparently enticing enough for these two to leave the Warriors and Celtics, two teams with perhaps the most talent in the league. Paul George looked at the situation he had in Oklahoma and signed long term there without even taking a meeting with another team. Suns can’t compete with that as long as they’re are viewed the way they are now.
Just recently, ESPN ran a story talking about the dysfunction of the Suns front office and how owner Robert Sarver’s hands-on method has caused strain on people coming out of Phoenix and around the league. Last year, Eric Bledsoe tweeted out “I don wanna be here” and was traded within days from Phoenix to Milwaukee. Isaiah Thomas once said being traded out of Phoenix was “Christmas gift” (four months after saying it was a dream to sign here).
Sarver wants to see his team succeed but in his attempt to run this team, the Suns’ brand is being a chronic mess, underperforming every season. In the last five years, the team has had three head coaches and they fired general manager Ryan McDonough just before the season started this year. How could this fanbase and honestly this team expect someone like Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard to think about signing with this team? Owners being hands on isn’t a bad thing or unique but it’s a problem for Phoenix since under his leadership, the team has become a toxic mess and it’s been weighing them down.
The Suns have what many teams dream of: young talent, a decent market size, cap space and more.
The Suns also have been terrible and a mess from top to bottom.
Phoenix faces stiff competition from teams that have more attractive offers for these elite players, whether that’s the team and culture they have or the city they’re in. Perhaps in the future, we’ll see the script flip for the Suns and the team starts to turn it around.
What could the Suns do between now and July 1 to flip the script and make the Suns legitimately attractive this summer to Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant or another big-name free agent?