Word is that Blazers GM Neil Oshley is intent on matching offers for Batum.  What will the price tag end up being?

The last installment in this series covered the teams the Suns will struggle against for Pacific Division dominance this fall. This next episode will take a look at 3 Western Conference playoff teams from this past season as well as two more with aspirations of taking a step up next year.

Extensive BSotS draft coverage continues to provide a look at players the Suns may select with their 13th pick, but this preview series will take a brief glance division by division (6 total) to offer insight on the machinations of the Suns' opponents in preparation of the impending free agency period. In our continuing effort to be your primary provenance for all that is NBA, and especially Phoenix Suns, the subject of this offering will be a look at the Northwest Division with a slant at how the actions of these teams may affect the maneuverability of the Phoenix Suns.

The precocious Oklahoma City Thunder fell just short of the ultimate prize, the Nuggets, Jazz, and Timberwolves all have talented cores they intend to build around, and Portland looks to completely reshape their roster this offseason. Propel yourself forward to peer into their possible plans.

Special thanks to contributors from SB Nation sister sites that were gracious enough to provide input.

***Updated to include answers from Minnesota***

**Only guaranteed contracts and player options are being computed into cap numbers for the purpose of this analysis. Cap holds, exceptions, etc. haven't been figured into this number to determine an exact value. This is just to get a general idea of where each teams stands relative to the salary cap, which is expected to be in the neighborhood of $61 million. Salary information courtesy of Shamsports.

Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19)

Draft Picks: 1st round 28th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$62.2 million for 12 players (Durant, Perkins, Westbrook, Harden, Cook, Sefolosha, Collison, Aldrich, Maynor, Ibaka, Jackson, and Hayward).

Options: None.

Free Agents: Mohammed, Fisher, and Ivey (Unrestricted).

J.A. Sherman from Welcome to Loud City answered the following questions:

Where is the interest level with Fisher from both parties, is it likely that he's back next year?

I do not think Derek Fisher will be back next year. Fisher was added to the team primarily because OKC's backup PG Eric Maynor tore his ACL and was lost for the season, and rookie PG Reggie Jackson showed promise but did not reach a reliable level where the team felt it could trust him for a deep playoff run. Fisher filled the role competently but not in a way where he makes you go, "wow, we need Fisher on this team next season." Eric Maynor appears by all reports to be on schedule for a return next season. On top of that, I believe Reggie Jackson showed enough talent that he should be able to help lead the 2nd unit for a few months if Maynor needs some additional time for recovery. It makes little sense to keep Fisher on the team when the Thunder will be three PG's deep and looking to carve out cap space for contract extensions.

Besides Fisher, all the major components are under contract for next season. Is the idea to bring the team back intact, thinking that another year under their belt will give them a very good chance at taking the last step towards a championship, or can you see minor tweaks to the roster?

I think that the team will continue to add by subtraction. What I mean is, I think we'll see Fisher move on so that Maynor and Jackson can play substantive roles as stated above. I also think that veteran backup center Nazr Mohammed will probably move on as well, making way for 3rd year player Cole Aldrich to provide some better defense and bench energy. The Thunder team concept has always been about removing barriers the young players face so that they can learn on the fly, and I think that concept will continue into the 2012-13 season. Barring some major injury, I do not see OKC adding any additional players over the off-season or the course of the next season.

A large part of the improvement for the Thunder will be from the maturation of their fledgling roster. Another year to grow together can probably only help, and let's face it, they're already pretty good. I also get the sense that Fisher may be expendable because the Thunder would like to give the playing time to Eric Maynor. My takeaway from this is that the Thunder, who were just in the NBA Finals, already have young players on the roster ready to fill the spots that will soon be created by their expiring veterans. A strategy that develops continuity without disrupting chemistry is probably wise for this team.

Denver Nuggets (38-28)

Draft Picks: 1st round 20th overall, 2nd round 38th overall, 2nd round 50th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$49.5 million for 12 players (Afflalo, Harrington, Chandler, Andersen, Gallinari, Mozgov, Brewer, Koufos, Lawson, Faried, Hamilton, and Stone).

Options: Mozgov (Partially Guaranteed) and Stone (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Miller (Unrestricted). McGee and Fernandez (Restricted).

Nate Timmons and CombatChuk from Denver Stiffs answered the following questions:

Is Andre Miller expected to test free agency in search of a starting role elsewhere? What is the Nuggets plan at back up point guard if Miller decides to leave (or Denver lets him go)?

Nate - For some people, the answer as to what the Nuggets will do for a backup point guard will be answered on Thursday. If the Nuggets pass on an available point guard, like Marquis Teague, in favor of a big-man or wing player - then some will think Andre Miller is still in Denver's plans. However, if Miller leaves, I believe Denver will sign or trade for a veteran point guard to backup Ty Lawson. Second year player Julyan Stone is expected to be back and could see a larger role with the team, as well.

As for my thoughts - I think Miller will definitely be back with the Nuggets. George Karl values Miller and it would be crazy if Miller decided to leave a coach that will put him in a bigger role than most. Sure, he could leave for a starting job and might test the market, but I think he'll be back with the Nuggets.

What is the Nuggets interest level in retaining rfa McGee, and what kind of contract (dollars and years) do you expect him to receive? What is the pecking order for McGee, Koufos, and Mozgov?

CombatChuk - Masai Ujiri (Nuggets' GM) has stated that he will match any RFA tender offer made on JaVale McGee. Now if some team foolishly offers him a max contract, Masai may balk. But after his performance against the Lakers in the postseason and his steady upward trend since acquiring him in the Nene trade; I'm 99% sure he's going to stay as a Nugget. I'm bracing for a DeAndre Jordan type deal 4yr/40 million dollars.

Kosta Koufos was awarded a 3-year 9 million dollar contract extension last season, so the Nuggets do like him (plays excellent pick and roll defense). But he was completely ineffective against the Lakers in this past postseason (and against bigger Centers). Timofey Mozgov was the starting Center at the beginning of last year. He had a promising start, but was derailed by injuries. He never really got back into that groove from the beginning of the season. He showed flashes again against the Lakers in the postseason, but nothing to get excited about. So I expect McGee to start, followed by Koufos or Mozgov (I could see one of them get traded this offseason, Mozgov is an expiring contract).

Denver has a deep roster pullulating with talent, and appears poised to bring it back basically intact. It seems to me that they might still be missing a piece to legitimately contend, but with 8 rotation players 26 years old or younger, there is still plenty of room for improvement. If the team isn't able to make the progression this season, they will still have plenty of tradable assets.

Utah Jazz (36-30)

Draft Picks: 2nd round 47th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$53.7 million for 11 players (Jefferson, Harris, Millsap, Favors, Kanter, Bell, Hayward, Burks, Watson, Tinsley, and Carroll).

Options: Tinsley (Team Option) and Carroll (Unguaranteed).

Free Agents: Miles and Howard (Unrestricted). Evans and Ahearn (Restricted).

AllThatJazzBasketball and clarkpojo from SLC Dunk answered the following questions:

The Jazz have a good mix of young talent and players in their prime, but the roster still seems a little unbalanced and as it stands now they currently have zero guaranteed contracts (4 team options for 2103-14) after the 2012-13 season. What exactly does the plan seem to be moving forward?

AllThatJazzBasketball - Utah Jazz General Manager Kevin O'Connor seems to be leading the Jazz towards fiscal responsibility, which may or may not lead towards on-court wins. The last Jazz core was anchored down by the overpriced contracts of Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Matt Harpring. Yes, even Harpring made way more money than he should. By having no big albatross contracts in the near future the Jazz retain the flexibility that they did not during the last prolonged era.

This time around the Jazz are rebuilding by the draft, and have four lottery picks on their rookie deals still. The Jazz will need that flexibility if a) more than two of the four become as good as Jazz fans hope, and b) the Jazz attempt to keep them in Utah. Of course, you can't just pay/play four players. The Jazz need everything else in the long term. Let's just hope that the Jazz do not ditch the slow growth plan to over-pay another group of free agents in 2013-14. This slow growth plan seems to be the only thing moving forward, bringing the youth along slowly, and being able to pay them the money we hope they demand when their rookie contracts end. In a way, learning from Oklahoma City's examples/challenges.

Is Utah looking to get more playing time for their young bigs? Is Millsap the most expendable piece and what would the Jazz hope to garner in return for him?

Clarkpojo - I think the Jazz would like to get more playing time for both Favors and Kanter. I would imagine that they would like both of them to combine for 45-60 minutes of playing time. Obviously there are 96 minutes at the power forward and Center position, so a remaining 36-50 minutes probably isn't enough time for both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, unless the Jazz think Millsap can play 15+ minutes at the small forward position. But the Jazz aren't the type of team that ever feel pressured to deal a guy just to give another guy playing time.

They have shown this time and time again, even just a couple years ago when Carlos Boozer was obviously on his way out and Millsap was there to step in and the Jazz turned down all trade offers for Boozer and expected him to honor his contract and play hard. They let Boozer walk for nothing but a trade exception even though they had several options to trade him for lesser talent and cash savings.

I think most Jazz fans would prefer that the front office does trade away Millsap or Jefferson to make more time for Favors and Kanter. Every fan has their different idea of that scenario. I would prefer to trade away Jefferson, even though Paul Millsap will bring more value back in a trade, with his equal production and 40% cheaper paycheck. So to answer your question, I actually think Jefferson is more expendable, as far as replaceable, but Millsap is easier to trade and probably more likely to be traded. A lot of this will depend on the discussion that the Jazz have with Millsap and his agent this July to see if what type of money it would cost to extend Millsap.

If the Jazz do end up moving Millsap, I personally hope it will be sooner than later, before the draft, because I think the Jazz could get a decent lottery pick and/or some increased cap space with a Millsap deal. For instance Millsap to New Orleans for the 10th pick makes some sense, or to the Trailblazers for the 11th pick. I even wonder if the Jazz could trade Millsap to the Sacramento Kings for John Salmon's crappy contract and the 5th pick, if Michael Kidd Gilchrist doesn't fall to 5. I don't know who the Jazz would covet at the 5th spot though. I think if they moved Millsap for a pick, they would target a point guard. This is all just my opinion. I don't have inside knowledge of the team's thinking.

What two words best describe Utah Jazz basketball if not "fiscal responsibility". Actually, that seems to be a leitmotif for teams across the league. I can see more teams practicing sound financial judgment under the new CBA, then again the free agency period tends to procreate absurdity. The upcoming period may be a good gauge.

From this account, it appears that Millsap may still be available for the right price. Any of the trades mentioned above have the capacity to adversely affect the Suns in a bifurcated manner. I could see both teams improving in any of those moves, which would be doubly detrimental to the Suns. Should the Suns look into forestalling this possibility through their own interest?

Portland Trail Blazers (28-38)

Draft Picks: 1st round 6th overall, 1st round 11th overall, 2nd round 40th overall, 2nd round 41st overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$34.9 million for 8 players (Aldridge, Matthews, Crawford, Shawne Williams, Babbitt, Thomas, Elliot Williams, and Smith).

Options: Crawford and Shawne Williams (Player Option).

Free Agents: Felton, Thabeet, Flynn, and Oden (Unrestricted). Hickson and Batum (Restricted).

Dave from Blazers Edge answered the following questions:

What are the Blazers intentions regarding their rfa's Batum and Hickson? Assuming they intend to keep them, what kind of money can you envision Portland spending (dollars and years)?

The Blazers will be insistent on keeping Batum, interested in keeping Hickson. The actual dollar amount is complicated by the market, as both are restricted free agents. Hickson has a $6 million cap hold. If the Blazers keep him they will not offer that much, so they'd be interested in doing that deal early to reduce their cap burden. Batum's cap hold is similar but his contract will be more, meaning they'll want to sign him after other free agents. Best guess is that they'd like Hickson at $4.5-$5 million and Batum at $8-9, but those numbers could vary. They could also renounce Hickson to save cap room.

Portland is positioned to be one of the most active teams in the league the next few weeks. Are the Blazers poised to make an offer to Nash? Will they be drafting a point guard next Thursday regardless? Who else might they be targeting in free agency?

The Blazers could be active in going after Goran Dragic, bidding up the price for Houston to match. Failing that, they could well draft Damian Lillard. They'd love Nash at the right price but the chances of the Hall-of-Famer taking a discount offer to play for a team he wouldn't push to a title seems small. Why not just stay in Phoenix? The Blazers also need centers and scoring. Chris Kaman is a possibility, though not an attractive one. Restricted free agents like Roy Hibbert and JaVale McGee would look tempting, but chances are their teams would match offers and the Blazers can't afford to mess around.

They could look for amnestied big men too, Brendan Haywood or even Elton Brand. Eric Gordon or another scoring guard would merit a look if the Blazers don't draft a point-producer. It seems more likely they'd fulfill their needs using their cap space to facilitate imbalanced trades than on free agents straight up though.

It almost sounds to me like the Suns and Blazers could buy groceries off of each other's shopping lists - lots of similar interests there. Batum seems like a promising young player, I wouldn't be surprised if he ascends into double digit millions. Hickson is a player the Suns showed interest in at one time, but it seems unlikely they will pursue him at this point based on their current power forward logjam.

Brand has been discussed on BSotS recently, but priority for waiver claims starts from the bottom up, so the Suns might ultimately be too good (hahaha) to exploit this tactic.

Minnesota Timberwolves (26-40)

Draft Picks: 1st round 18th overall, 2nd round 58th overall

Cap Number with Options: ~$58.0 million for 12 players (Webster, Milicic, Miller, Love, Williams, Pekovic, Barea, Johnson, Ridnour, Rubio, Ellington, and Lee).

Options: Webster and Miller (Partially Guaranteed).

Free Agents: Tolliver (Unrestricted). Beasley and Randolph (Restricted).

Jon Marthaler from Canis Hoopus answered the following questions:

Where do the Wolves stand with respect their rfa's Beasley and Randolph?

I don't think either Beasley or Randolph will be a Timberwolf next season. There have been a ton of rumors about the Wolves pulling a sign-and-trade with Beasley - the Lakers are involved in almost every one of these rumors, mostly because they almost traded for Beasley at the deadline last year. Getting Chase Budinger today probably seals Beasley's fate (and, if we're lucky, relegates Wes Johnson to practice-time duty.) As for Randolph, I get the sense the team feels that he's incredibly talented but inconsistent and therefore maybe not worth making a qualifying offer. Sign-and-trade for Beasley, unrestricted free agency for Randolph seems the most likely scenario.

Does Minnesota plan on shedding their minimally guaranteed contracts and using that cap space to address the team's deficiencies at the 2/3 spots (which seems to be a frequent problem across the league)?

As for the cap space and the 2/3 situation - they traded the 18th pick for Budinger, and they're rumored to be interested in signing Brandon Roy and his no-longer-cushioned-in-any-way knees to a multi-year deal. Safe to say they're interested in getting a 2/3, whatever the price.

I think that the Wolves would probably be best served to sever ties with their options and free agents (except possibly Randolph if he comes cheap). Beasley's inability to pull it together in a contract year further illustrates that he just doesn't get it, and it probably isn't worth risking good money on the gamble that he one day will.

They have a good core of Love, Williams, Pekovic, Johnson, Rubio, and Barea (and now Budinger) to build around. The team appeared to be ready to compete for one of the final playoff spots last season before Rubio's injury. I think they may still be a scoring wing from contending.


Kendall Marshall was, not surprisingly, mentioned during the question and answer session.

The final moments before the NBA draft are quickly slipping away and teams across the NBA are frantically making last minute preparations for the big event. Lance Blanks took time out of his busy schedule to meet with the press and answer questions in anticipation of the upcoming tempest.

It was a considerable concession of time given the circumstances, since Blanks and the rest of the Suns' staff still have their work cut out for them this week. According to Blanks, "Right now it's a really ugly board because it doesn't have a ton of clarity." Not to fret, though, because the board may still be convoluted now, but the Suns' team of scouts will help set an unequivocal order by Thursday afternoon.

Although Blanks seemed pretty confident the Suns will keep the #13 pick, he did reflect that nothing is set in stone. There is always a (remote) possibility they could trade up or down.

The Suns' eventual board may have up to 16/17 players on it that they would be interested in. If the Suns do end up with a player/s on their board past their pick, that brings up another question - will the Suns add another pick on draft day? The answer... maybe. Blanks offered that if it makes sense, they will look into it. Adding youth is extremely important.

Jump it for more notes from the media session along with comments on Marshall and Moultrie and quotes from Blanks.

***Additional Quotes and Editorial Content Have Been Added.***

On Kendall Marshall:

One is an obviously well accomplished, winning point guard. Quite frankly, that's the thing I like the most about him. He's a winner. That's something that we aspire to do, obviously, in this business. More specifically that's a position of need.

On Arnett Moultrie:

The other kid offers a level of athleticism. He's still trending up, getting better as a player, so that's someone that could potentially grow with an organization.

In reference to the revisits for these two players:

As far as the revisit - it never hurts to get another look.

Visits by players do impact opinion (not just the workout, but how the player acts and reacts during the visit), but that doesn't mean the Suns wouldn't select a player that hasn't visited.

I think of it like a pie chart. There is a percentage of your evaluation - every team is different - that is based on the season and how a guy might have played. Some teams may not need the other data. A percentage may go into Chicago (Combine), the post season, the interview, and the actual workout in your city. Seeing a guy in your gym in your environment, silly things like does he fit your city, your fans, and your organization. If he is not here I don't think you won't take him, but it might impact it especially if you are looking at two people and one of them has been in here.

It appears that the Suns will look at a PG in free agency (regardless of whether they draft Marshall) - rookies are long term situations, most won't contribute right away. Yes, Nash qualifies as a free agent point guard.

There's a lot more information available today about the draft because of technology and media.

Blanks believes that there are good players available at every position in this draft. Looking at wings is more a function of the roster. The player they draft will likely be based on the order on their board.

No philosophy change. The perimeter scorers is mostly a function of our roster than it is the draft class because we think there are good players at every position. Incidentally, we have had players in here from every position. It's not a situation where because we think guys are going to be gone at that position and definitely draft a five or a one. It is a sliding scale maybe you take the best player for whatever reason; maybe you go away from the point guard spot and go to the three. There really is no philosophy shift. We'll put on the final nuts and bolts over the next two or three days and we'll have a board. We will stay pretty loyal to that in the process of making a decision.

Continuity in the staff is increasing. Blanks believes that the staff and support team is excellent and has been working very hard to successfully navigate the draft and free agency in the brief upcoming window. There was another mention about Sarver providing great resources (The staff doth protest too much, methinks).

I am wildly excited about this group and the biggest difference is continuity. The continuity, camaraderie, and trust built amongst each other I am certain at some level will show up in our selection.

This last quote from Blanks reverberated for me:

Right now we're overly focused on this draft because we want to hit it right. If that means a duplication at a spot, so be it, because at the end of the day you want to have talented players and guys that can make it in this league and contribute to your roster. That's better than going away from a position where you already have depth or have an opportunity through free agency and you end up with a player that can't play in the league or he's just not good enough.

Here's the way I interpreted the Suns draft strategy based on Blanks' comments. I believe that by Thursday the Suns will have a draft board with between 13-17 players they like as potential picks. I think the players will be slotted by number (not in tiers) and that if the teams ahead of the Suns take the first 12 players on the Suns' board, the Suns will select the player they have slotted 13th. If only 10 players on the Suns' board are taken in the top 12, the Suns will select the 11th player on their board, etc.

I don't know that the Suns don't have players ranked as 13A and 13B, and if both are on the board they won't select the player who fits a need best between the two, but I don't get the impression they are using a tiered system. It appears to me to be a straightforward "best on board" approach, but this is just my take, nothing incontrovertible.

Whether the Suns add a pick largely depends on how many players they end up putting on their board (which they haven't determined yet) and whether any of those players fall to spots where the Suns can acquire picks. E.g. If they Suns have 15 players on their board and they are gone by 28, they won't try to acquire the Thunder's pick to take a player they don't like. If they have 17 on their board and one is left at 28, they will try to acquire the pick. It just depends on whether players are still available at spots where the Suns can trade for extra picks.

So what do you think Brightsiders? Are you more confident, less confident, or indifferent? Anything here that catches your eye?


PHOENIX — There’s no set formula and no special front office potion to the 2012 NBA Draft. It’ll all come down to preference, fit and, ultimately, research to determine what player...

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Looks a little like Rashard Lewis

Mississippi State big man Arnett Moultrie visited the Phoenix Suns on Sunday for the second time in a week. Clearly, he impressed the Phoenix brass with his skills amongst last Saturday's big man group that included lottery talents John Henson, Tyler Zeller, Meyers Leonard and Perry Jones.

So who the heck is Arnett Moultrie?

Let's hear it from Mike Schmitz, who writes for valleyofthesuns.com and does pre-draft scouting videos for Draftexpress.com:

"Moultrie has the skills of a guard yet the size of a big man. He's one of the most unique players in the draft in that he's a freak athlete with good skills and has yet to scratch the surface of his potential even after transferring from UTEP and making the rounds in the collegiate circuit.

"The difference between Moultrie and (Perry) Jones is that he has a good motor and crashes the glass hard. He can also stretch it to three-point range where he's steadily improving. He's been slotted in the mid-teens and the Suns could get a steal if Moultrie's skills translate as planned to the NBA."

Kris Habbas, who writes for SBNation AZ and nbadraftinsider.com, adds this about Moultrie: "Moultrie is the steal of the draft at this point to me."

At the moment, Moultrie is under heavy consideration in Detroit at #9, so he may be gone by the time the Suns pick. He has visited several other teams in the top 10 as well and just like with the Suns, he has impressed in workouts thanks to his unique physical skills and unbridled self-confidence.

Moultrie can rebound the heck out of the ball, on both the offensive end and the defensive end. Let's hear it from Moultrie's coach in Schmitz's scouting video, referring to the big man who led the SEC in rebounding this past year: "One thing you can hang your hat on is that he's an NBA rebounder today. You don't lead this league in rebounding (at 10.5, beating out Anthony Davis among others) if that's something you can't do."

What does Moultrie himself think he can provide as a rookie? "Right away, just being a big man, running the floor, rebounding the basketball and bringing the energy I have every night."

Great, so he's a freak athlete who can rebound. But can he score? The Suns need a scorer down on the blocks.

Offensively, Moultrie is very versatile but not great in any one area. Can score on isolations (post ups, face up and drive or shoot) and shoot mid to long range. The biggest percentage of his scoring comes on cuts to the basket at more than 20% of shots - which he makes more than 81% of the time. Very good scoring at the rim; can score with either hand and in traffic. "He's the whole package," says his coach.

Defensively, aside from rebounding? For his part, Moultrie has great confidence in himself on the defensive end: "I'm a good defender. I'm a smart defender. I can guard three positions, three through five."

On film, he is a very good on-the-ball defender - allowing only 16% shooting in those situations. But his help defense is nonexistent - which won't show up in workouts. There are also some questions on his consistency (on/off switch) and general basketball IQ. And for some reason, he has never averaged more than one block per game despite his length and agility.

But the biggest potential concern? Character. He is already on his second NBA agent, on his second college team, and his body language is really bad when he's ignored on the court (walking around, head hung, stops fighting for ball). Even threw his last team under the bus during 5-game losing streak, admitting he hadn't said anything to them before unloading on them in the media. Immaturity? Sure. But certain to go away when making millions a year? Not likely.

Kris Habbas has a more forgiving take on Moultrie's character questions, based on facts more than conjecture: "He was not highly recruited so started at Texas El-Paso. He had to try and co-exist with Renardo Sidney and an incompetent head coach. I agree he has some maturity to go through as does any 21 year old. He will be 22 in the first month or so of the season and the team he lands on will determine his development. If he lands on an incompetent team he will struggle.

"Falling in the draft will be a blessing in disguise for Moultrie's career."

Moultrie has as much talent as any big man after Anthony Davis in this draft, yet he's rated only in the teens by guys who talk to GMs on a daily basis. He is a boom (Jermaine O'Neal, Kris Humphries) or bust (Jason Thompson) player in the true sense of the word.

"I'm definitely the sleeper of the draft," Moultrie said in a recent interview. "But that's fine, they can sleep on me. I've been a sleeper all my life."

Take some time to watch this incredible scouting report on Moultrie, which contributed to much of this story today:

And then watch his draft combine interview, explaining how he did not throw his teammates under any buses:

Boom or bust, with this guy. Boom or bust.

Poll
Should the Suns draft Moultrie at 13?

  373 votes | Results


Will Ersan Ilyasova (7) don the orange and purple next season?

We are one week from free agency. At midnight June 30, all player contracts for the 2011-12 season expire and those players not under contract for the 2012-13 season become free agents. At that moment, and not a moment before, teams can officially begin courting those free agents to sign with their team.

The lucky ones get a call that night, and the truly fortunate get more than one. Often those calls are simply "hey, we love you and want you here. Give us a chance to top any competitor", rather than a solid contract offer, because you never want to outbid yourself. And you might want to call all of your Plan A, B and C candidates just to lodge interest.

Certainly, Deron Williams and Steve Nash's agents will get calls. Lots of them, even from teams unwilling or unable to offer competitive salaries.

The Suns are reportedly interested in four of the top 5 unrestricted free agents this summer, per this recent ranking of the Top 20 unrestricted free agents: PGs Deron Williams, Goran Dragic and Steve Nash, as well as PF Ersan Ilyasova. Of course, another 10-20 teams are interested in those same players to varying degrees, so their agents will be busy on the night of July 1.

Certainly, they don't want to sign all four of those players, who will likely be paid $45 million in 2012-13 between them. But the Suns will want all of them to know of their interest. Reportedly, Deron Williams' agent will say "thanks but no thanks", while the others will say "thanks, and we'll get back to you soon".

Interest in Ilyasova likely depends on the draft (picks and/or trades), while interest in the three point guards is hierarchical. But they will still make all of these players aware of their interest.

Most likely, the order of these players' commitments to new teams will be: Williams first, Nash second, Dragic third. And all three players know this, whether they like it or not. If the Mavericks lose out on Williams, they will likely turn to Nash. If the Suns lose out on Nash, they will likely turn to Dragic. (and then, if all else fails, reportedly to Raymond Felton via multiple outlets...ugh...).

Interest in shooting guards, like the Ilyasova situation, likely depends on the draft as well. If the Suns come away from the draft without a new SG, then Paul Coro mentions Nick Young and the possibility of interest in Eric Gordon, while John Gambodoro mentioned Randy Foye and OJ Mayo (restricted) as potential Suns targets. Shannon Brown is out there as well, loves the Suns and would love to come back. Signing any of these guys in the first week of July would be a mistake because the first week is seller's market (high salaries). Agreeing later in July could mean a significant savings.

Free agents NOT mentioned yet, that I'd hoped the Suns would be reportedly interested in: Nicolas Batum (restricted), Brandon Rush, George Hill.

Free agents NOT mentioned yet, and I'm really glad: Jamal Crawford (too old and one-dimensional), Ryan Andersen (no better than Frye), Michael Beasley (headcase), Jason Terry (old, but small), and Lou Williams (young, but small)

Reading Babby's comments leads me to the following conclusions:

  1. Suns will register their interest in a lot of free agents on July 1
  2. Suns will resolve the Nash situation first
  3. If the Suns want Ilyasova, they will have to commit right away. He will get lots of offers. I only see the Suns doing this if Lopez and/or Frye are no longer in the team's plans.
  4. All other free agents will come in a trickle. None are worth a bunch of money, no matter how the draft goes.

The draft starts it all off on Thursday, then whatever the Suns don't get on June 28 they will try to fill on July 1 and later.

As Babby says to Coro for the azcentral.com: "The overall goal is to begin the process of returning to elite status and add talent and add people to infuse youth into the team," Babby said. "There is no limitation in resources available to us to improve the team. There are no artificial restraints other than the rules and good judgment.

"We are prepared to be very active with the players who are our targets. I have complete confidence that we'll be an attractive destination for them."

Git er done!




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