Gordon Hayward is one of the best free agents on the market, and had a great relationship with his former coach Jeff Hornacek. Will the Suns make a big offer?

I get this feeling of inevitability with Gordon Hayward and the Phoenix Suns. Sure, the Jazz say they will match any offer made to Hayward to keep him in Utah, but I still get this overwhelming sense of certainty that Hayward and the Suns want to make it work in Phoenix.

Hayward loves the city of Phoenix

[On his favorite place]: "For obvious reasons, Miami and Phoenix; L.A. We go there a bunch. Places where in the wintertime, you kinda just want some warm weather, those places are nice. I mean, you just kinda feel better when you walk off the plane and it's sunny. And you know, you get stuck in this cold weather and snow..."

--JazzFanatical

Hayward misses Jeff Hornacek

"You know, he played my position, kinda went through the same things. Obviously, a really good shooter, and knows usually what was wrong with what I was doing or he would give me a little tip here or there. But a lot of times just working with me, working on the shot, everyday."

--JazzFanatical

Hornacek loved working with Hayward

Derrick Favors, on Jeff Hornacek/Hayward: "Man, he worked with me a lot. I mean, he didn't work with me as much as he did with Gordon [Hayward] and Jeremy [Evans], but you know, I used to always go over there to him when he got done working with Jeremy and Gordon, and you know, just ask him for little techniques or whatever."

--JazzFanatical

Hornacek thinks Hayward can be an All-Star

Before the Jazz/Suns game in November, won by a Bledsoe 3 with no time left, Hornacek was vey complimentary about his former protege.

Hornacek spoke highly of Hayward before the game. He compared Hayward's development with his own, adding that he believes the Jazz swingman is a year ahead of where Hornacek was at the same point in his career.

"I truly believe in a couple years he could be an All-Star in this league," Hornacek said.

Hayward's game fits perfectly in Phoenix

In Phoenix, Hayward would be the perfect small forward complement to the two-point guard system. Much like Thunder Dan Majerle in Hornacek's Suns days, Hayward is big enough to the play the small forward position and make a ton of three-pointers.

Under Hornacek's tutelage, Hayward made 41.5% of his three pointers in 2012-13 - better than any Sun did last year. Imagine the open threes he'd get with the driving Bledsoe and Dragic dishing him the ball. On corner threes, Hayward has consistently made better than 40% in his career.

Hayward can also be a third distributor. He averaged five assists per game last year, his best season ever, and has always produced a small handful of assists and rebounds.

Hayward is also a good team defender, which Hornacek expects out of his players.

But there's obstacles

The first and biggest obstacle is that the Suns would rather have LeBron James and are waiting patiently for LeBron to decide his next move. Until then, the Suns won't sign anyone big.

The next hit-you-in-the-face obstacle is his restricted free agent status. Any reasonable offer the Suns make to Hayward would be matched in a hearbeat by Utah.

So to get Hayward to Phoenix, the Suns would have to offer $2-3 million more per year than he deserves right now just to hope Utah chokes on the number. This doesn't seem like the Suns' style anymore.

Judging by what Kyle Lowry just got in Toronto ($12 million per year) and Marcin Gortat in Washington ($12 million per year), you can expect Hayward to get at least that much.

And if Hayward gets at least that much, then Bledsoe has to get that much too.

And if Hayward and Bledsoe get that much or more, then Goran Dragic will get that much next year.

And if that all happens, Hayward would have started a process that results in the Suns committing $36-40 million per year in their back court and wing positions. Not unheard of, but that's a lot of money in your "little guys".

Still..

Still, I think Hayward will very soon be putting up 20/5/5 on average and be a quality team defender on a quality team. He can be a #3 or a #2 on a playoff team. I firmly believe that.

If the Suns sign Hayward, they will have to make some hard decisions on the other guys. Maybe it's worth it to commit half your salary cap to three guys if they're good enough and have the right chemistry.

Scouting Report

The awesome Mike Schmitz has created a scouting report on Hayward. Watch this thing. Please. Many of you have not seen Hayward play much. This is your chance to really find out what Hayward is all about.

Poll
Is Gordon Hayward worth a big offer sheet for the Suns?

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The Phoenix Suns are longshots to chase after LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in free agency. So let’s say the Suns whiff on James. Which of the many second-tier stars would you want them to...

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What is the value of a penny? One cent? The unnecessary element in a 99c transaction in the state of Oregon? Think again...

There is a certain feeling that is unmistakable and difficult to shake off no matter the circumstances. When you have this feeling of an, unknown, but missing piece to the puzzle it eats at you until you can figure it out.

If you forget that actors name in that one movie you jump on the IMBD App and search until you find out. In a pinch Google searches make us all look and feel smarter than we probably are. This however is an unshakable feeling of loss that, until it is pinpointed to an origin, gnaws away at you like a dog on a bone until you get it back.

For the Phoenix Mercury in 2013 they had that feeling all year trying to figure out just what was missing.

They had their star back in Diana Taurasi, a rookie phenom in Brittney Griner, and a pair overqualified role players in DeWanna Bonner and Candace Dupree. That was good enough to get them to the Conference Finals, but then fell short as they were missing something. Missing someone...

What they were missing was leadership, fearlessness, 13.0 points per game, 3.0 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game, and 5.0 free-throw attempts per game as a starter.

They were missing their (lucky) Penny Taylor.

IT MAKES US HARDER TO GUARD. IT OPENS UP THE FLOOR SO THEY (OPPONENTS) HAVE TO PICK THEIR POISON. -Head Coach Brondello on Penny Taylor

Statistical impact only begins to describe the former robin to Diana Taurasi's batman in this line-up. Over the years her game has regressed because of injuries and age, but Taylor is still the same impact player she was five years ago when the Mercury won their second title in three years. Her demeanor, attitude, and presence have been a major boost for the team in a uniform rather than in a suit.

While Taylor is no longer the robin for this team she has the ability to play that role when necessary, like Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat, doing what is necessary no matter what that means.

Then rising to the occasion when it matters the most.

"For me I'm not concerned about how much I do or how little I do," Penny Taylor on her role with the team. "At this point in my career I'm not concerned about scoring 20 points. It is all about helping in the right ways. I'm just playing a role and I am happy to do that."

Since being inserted into the starting line-up five games ago the Mercury are 5-0 on the season riding a five game winning streak (6-3 overall with her on the bench) and the team has found a gear to play with that suits them.

"She give us size, shooting, another play-maker, and on the flip side we put DB on the ball and she is guarding everyone," Taurasi on Taylor's impact on the entire team. "She is pretty much Scottie Pippen out there."

What happens with Taylor on the floor is more than points, rebounds, assists, and statistical impact on the court. She bonds the team together allowing Bonner to play great defense, Griner to have more one-on-one opportunities, Taurasi to get breaks in play-making, and Erin Phillips to come off the bench to lead the second unit. Her impact has fingerprints on every aspect of the game as Taurasi touched on with the change in Bonner's role.

I'M PLAYING PAIN FREE FOR THE MOST PART. IT IS A BIT OF A ROLLER-COASTER WITH THESE SORT OF THINGS. -Taylor On Her Recovery

After tonight's game barring unforeseen circumstances Taylor will have already doubled her minutes played in only 15 games so far this year from last year. The team made the conference finals with Taylor as a part-time player, part-time spectator and this year, the sky seems to be the limit.

Taylor is crashing at the rim, getting to the free-throw line, and playing like a vintage 2007 version of herself right now.

"I think I have always played that way and I think it kind of helps me with the injuries as well (laughs)..." Taylor assessing herself. "I do what I need to do. I'm better going to the basket and I've never been a mid-range player so this is pretty much what I have always done."

In a unique way Taylor is not allowing her injuries to scare her into a timid approach to the game, but flipping the script on common philosphy using the injuries as a rationale to play harder.

Like, what else can go wrong. I am just going to go play ball.

Penny Taylor is ballin' and the Mercury have found their Lucky Penny.

You either love him or hate him

Lance Stephenson

SG/SF, 6'5, 230 lbs

2013 regular season statistics: 78 GP, 35.3 MPG, 49% FG%, 35% 3P%, 71% FT%, 13.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 4.6 APG

I'm going to get this out of the way right away. I love Lance Stephenson. I love the balance in his game. I love the unique way he plays. I love his heat checks. I love how he is a little too crazy to be trusted. I love all of it. With his free agency starting up on July 1st, could this insane person possibly fit on the Suns? Let's look into it.

Balance

The thing that makes Stephenson special and the first thing you want to look at with Lance is how well rounded of a basketball player he is. He led the NBA in triple-doubles with five last season. He was 1st in the NBA among all guards in rebounds per game with 7.2. He's in a small class in terms of his balance, as only Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, and Kevin Durant beat him in both assists and rebounds per game. He really works his ass off on the floor and he earns those merits with his rebounding numbers and with his defense. The Suns would highly benefit from Stephenson's balance, particularly in the bump he would bring in both rebounding and assist numbers for whatever position he replaced.

Defense

Defensively Stephenson extends that balance. He can guard three positions, and was partially responsible for some of Paul George's explosions against the Heat because Stephenson was able to give George a rest on defense by taking LeBron instead. His tactics are unique, as he likes to wave his hands around, establish contact, and just be a pest. He's long, and although he plays like an immature child at times, he really knows what he's doing and can shut some people down. It's impossible to shut down LeBron James, but I thought that some of the best defensive possessions we saw on LeBron in the entire playoffs came from Stephenson. Overall, I rate Stephenson as a good defender who will keep improving given his age.

Offense

Stephenson has a complete playmaking package when it comes to having the ball in his hands. He's very good at getting to the rim. At 230 pounds he's able to bounce off of defenders very well and is a good enough ball handler to make the moves he needs to get inside or make the pass to the open man. He's a maniac in the open court, as he gets to top speed quickly and can finish so well if he needs to. Stephenson shot 58.4% on drives last season, a number only topped by LeBron James, Manu Ginobili, and Kevin Durant. This complete package he has as an attacker is why there were moments in the playoffs like Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals where head coach Frank Voegl just let him take over, which resulted in Stephenson having 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.

The inconsistencies for Lance scoring are when he's not moving. For players who played at least 70 games and took at least 2 catch and shoot field goals per game, Stephenson was 112th out of 117 players, shooting 33.6% in those situations. On strictly three-pointers, Stephenson was slightly better, shooting 34.4% in those catch and shoots from deep. That's still in the bottom half of the NBA under those parameters though so it's nothing to get excited about. For comparison, P.J. Tucker shot 39.5% in that situation, so it would definitely be a step down in three-point shooting if that was his "spot" in the lineup. His overall number for 3P% on the year was 35.2%, which is a little bit below league average. It's the weakness in his game but he's still got a lot of his career left to improve it.

The Antics

Stephenson was always a crazy man on the court. He does things like this in a 1-on-4 fast break, did this to Tony Allen, has assists like this, and sometimes celebrates like this. It escalated though, as Stephenson's worldwide showcase of his antics this postseason had his profile and disapproval higher than ever.

Look, the fact is that you either love it or I hate it. I find it hilarious and entertaining for the most part (Norris Cole swipe was just moronic), and when he does these things it means he's playing at full confidence and that's when everyone is the most effective. He clearly made it his mission to get into LeBron's head during the ECF's, and even if you hated it you can't deny that it got to LeBron in some ways. Whether it was shoving Lance off of him continuously, getting question after question about it in the media, or feeling a breeze come through his left ear, LeBron knew he was there and was at the very least extremely annoyed by it. That's the way Lance operates.

As far as the effect it has on a basketball team, that's highly debatable. He was doing this while working for Larry Bird for goodness sake, so you can argue about the extent it goes to. The team that winds up signing Stephenson is going to have to know that these little tidbits are always going to be around, and while it's highly wise to knock down on the more serious ones, sometimes you just have to let Lance be Lance.

Fit in Phoenix

This is where it gets interesting. Both P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe are restricted free agents. If one of them gets overpaid drastically, Stephenson could fit into either position. It's much more of a question mark with Bledsoe returning over Tucker, because that would have three starters who need the ball in their hands consistently to be the most effective. The biggest appeal for me outside of Stephenson's balance is that he is only 23 years old. He's already one of the most unique players in the NBA and could still grow in so many ways.

There's no doubt that Stephenson is a mega-risk because nobody knows how he would act outside of the Larry Bird cushion and nobody knows if he could still play this well outside of Frank Vogels' cushion. In my opinion, if you are ready to take that risk, he is easily a good enough basketball player to take that risk and has a lot of potential still given his age.

Now the question becomes are the Suns that team? Even being a Lance fanatic, I don't think so. That answer is under the assumption that the Suns bring back both Tucker and Bledsoe. If Bledsoe leaves, that is a big hole both at shooting guard and in overall talent on the roster. Lance would be the best replacement available in my opinion. If Tucker leaves, it's not a good fit with how much Bledsoe and Dragic already need the ball. Adding in the risk factor makes it seem pretty incomprehensible. Once again though, he's a pretty good basketball player right now and that potential sure is enticing. I just don't think it's enticing enough for a 48 win team on the rise.

I caught up post draft with CBS college basketball writer (and my cousin) Matt Norlander to discuss how the Suns’ 2014 draft went. 1. What was surprising to you in the draft? Two things,...

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