Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/5/11
As the NBA lurches into its speed-dating version of free agency, fans of the Phoenix Suns can relax for almost seven months. Are we suggesting there'll be nothing to see here over the next couple of weeks? Not exactly. The Suns, with very little wiggle room in the budget, are looking for backcourt help leading into the post-lockout season. The real free-agent plan -- as has been discussed here and other forums around town -- is to attack a more substantial class next summer. And the Suns might clear enough cap space to afford two players in whatever qualifies as the max neighborhood. Based on continuity of commitment to Steve Nash, one of those offers could be bestowed upon the soon-to-be 38-year-old point guard. Too much loot for someone that long in the tooth? Perhaps, but Nash also qualifies as a player who another elite player might actually want to play with. Or, considering his age, maybe not. But we're pretty sure very few 2012 free agents will be lining up just to play alongside Marcin Gortat, Channing Frye or Jared Dudley. With star players joining forces as the prevailing FA trend, what can the Suns offer as incentive? Well, we're not beach or movie-industry adjacent around here, but the winter months in Phoenix are terrific. The arena is about 20 years old, but the people working in the organization are pretty classy and the trainingmedical staff often is discussed with reverence. The style of play gives players considerable freedom (at least for now) and -- even in Paradise Valley or Scottsdale -- your housing dollar can fetch a lot more than the sweet spots of New York, Southern California and South Florida. The greatest incentive, of course, will be money. After the 2012 prizes (Dwight Howard and Chris Paul) set the FA agenda by either staying put or landing in a more glamorous work location, players will be looking for money wherever than can find it. Just who would be worth a big-money deal from the Suns? Well, the unrestricted list will yield ... nobody else of major consequence. Sure, there are a lot of pretty good players who would be considerable upgrades from what we now see on the Phoenix roster. But superstars? Not so much. The restricted list includes Kevin Love (he has superstar rebounding numbers and is young), Derrick Rose (yeah, like that would happen), Russell "Probably A Lock To Stay In OKC" Westbrook, Eric Gordon, JaVale McGee ... OK, we're really running out of steam here. It also should be noted that generous offers to restricted free agents can be exceeded by that player's current team. If Love or Rose leave their current situations, it won't be for money. So whatever cap space the Suns can muster could end up burning a hole in the franchise's pocket. As the 2010 scramble to replace Amar'e Stoudemire reminds us, bringing in several ordinary players does not compensate for the loss of an elite scorer. So, unless Howard decides he loves the night life around Old Town Scottsdale or the desert jet stream, the Suns will have to be careful in their spending. That doesn't mean you need an ocean to become a destination NBA city. It helps if you're fortunate enough to draft Kevin Durant and he loves his situation enough to re-enlist without taking the free-agent self-gratification tour. But he's the exception to what smells like a rule. How do the Suns secure their next franchise player? Based on league history, the best shot is great fortune in the draft. If the new CBA doesn't include a two-and-through provision for draft eligibility this year, the 2012 class could be (relatively) loaded. Unless Nash and the coaching staff generate a remarkable dose of what Steve often refers to as cohesion, the current Phoenix roster might not be able to avoid a high pick. The organization, of course, is hoping for the best this season and looking at free agency to fix the future (at least they understand that you need more assets than a 38-year-old point guard to land a superstar in a trade). But have the Suns ever made big moves in free agency? Uh, not recently, and not of the superstar-on-every-team's-wish-list variety. The most successful was Nash -- originally drafted by Phoenix -- who returned to the Suns as a FA when Mark Cuban thought he was not worth what he was being offered elsewhere. Among Ring of Honor employees, Tom Chambers arrived from Seattle in 1988 as (according to league scrolls) the first unrestricted FA in NBA history. Kevin Johnson was acquired (via trade with Cleveland for Larry Nance) with two others about a month earlier. Dan Majerle (whose rights were secured in that trade with the Cavs) was taken with the 14th pick in the '88 draft, Walter Davis was the Rookie of the Year in '78, Alvan Adams hit town as a draft prize, Paul Westphal was picked up from Boston for Dennis Johnson, and the Suns traded three players for Charles Barkley in '92. Any way you slice it, there's a decided lack of championship rings in the Ring of Honor. SHOOTING FOR GUARDS According to reports, the Suns' current FA two-guard interest list includes Jamal Crawford, a volume shooter who provided some fourth-quarter heroics for the Atlanta Hawks in recent years. But Crawford's price tag might be worth more than the Suns can scrape together this season or are willing to cut from the aforementioned drive to keep their cap number down going into next summer. Crawford probably would feel pretty comfy in the Suns' system and spent a lot of his Atlanta time working as the Hawks' point guard. His interpretation of the position is quite a bit different than what the Suns -- who need a back-up at that spot -- require of their point guards. Another alleged option is NBA journeyman Von Wafer, whose deep range has led to a 19 points-per-game average for Vanoli Cremona in Italy. ONE NEW SIGNEE The Suns staff now includes Bubba Burrage, a long-time advance scout for the Sacramento Kings. Burrage, who played forward at Indiana State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, started with the Kings as assistant video coordinator 18 years ago. Now 39, he'll scout college players for the Suns, who probably are hoping they won't have to draft a lesser-rated twin (at least according to most sources) for the third time in four years.
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