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.


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.


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.


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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We've covered most of the big name free agents, but sometimes the success of a team's off-season isn't determined by the sexy signings but the value signings. Who might some of those values be this year?

While most of us are hoping for a big splash in free agency this season (CarBron?  LeBrelo?  K-Lo?  K-Bron?), the historical odds are in many ways stacked against us in those endeavors.  While we have or will cover those big name free agents, it is also important to look for diamonds-in-the-rough.  Good off-seasons are as often defined by the value free agent signings a team makes as the big name signings.

The Suns find themselves with a relatively full roster, particularly at the guard positions after the Draft.  This story will focus on the three positions that seem most likely to have open roster positions: SF, PF and C.  This article is not connected to any actual rumors, but is just a brief mention of guys the team might be targeting or considering outside of the big names.

These bottom of the barrel players come in all shapes and sizes.  In particular, I focused on guys that fit 3 criteria:

1) Under 30

2) Likely to sign a less than MLE level contract

3) Considered underachievers but flashed signs of talent beyond their performance

With those considerations out of the way, lets get to the players.

Al-Farouq Aminu, SF

Photo Credit: Chris Humphreys, USAToday


Measurements: 6'9 (7'3 wingspan), 216 lbs.

2013-14 Summary: Potentially the most well known player on this list, Aminu spent last season on the Hornets, where he saw his minutes decline slightly with the signing of Tyreke Evans.  Despite slightly less playing time, Aminu put up a practically identical season to the year before, with Per-36 Averages of 10.1 pts, 8.7 rbds, 2 assts and 1.5 stls on 47.4% shooting.  He graded out at .182 in the WP48 metric from boxscoregeeks, which puts him at 51st in that metric rating, just a few spots behind our own PJ Tucker.

Player Profile: Aminu has been something of a disappointment since coming into the league in 2010 out of Wake Forest.  He has never developed a consistent offensive game, and his shot from outside 15 feet is broken, though perhaps not irredeemable.  He works best cutting off the ball to the basket, but realistically he isn't a strong offensive option.  Aminu's real calling card comes defensively and on the boards.  At 6'9 with a huge 7'3 wingspan, Aminu has been a fairly dominant rebounding presence as a SF, and his length allows him to really impact opposing players' shots.  In 2013, he was the 6th best defender of the pick and roll in the NBA, surrendering only .55 points per possession in pick and roll scenarios.

Suns Fit: Aminu is something like a middle class man's PJ Tucker, but significantly younger at only 23.  A comparison might be useful on this point.

In many ways, Aminu resembles last season's PJ Tucker, with an even more underdeveloped 3 point shot.  While this is potentially troubling, there is reason to believe that Aminu might be able to salvage that shot, as he shot almost 32% in his first season in the league on a higher volume of shots per game.  Considering Aminu is likely to not command quite as high a salary as PJ and is 5 years younger, he may be a realistic alternative to the Suns' free agent fan favorite.

Adonis Thomas, SF

Photo Credit: Justin Ford, USAToday


Measurements: 6'6 (7'1 wingspan), 232 lbs.

2013-14 Summary: After going undrafted, Thomas spent the majority of the season in the D-League, with short stints on the Magic and the Sixers that produced 37 minutes of game time.  In the D-League, Thomas put up very respectable numbers, but the D-League is always something of a crapshoot.

Player Profile: Thomas is a potential guy.  He came into college a highly recruited freshmen, and after underperforming his freshman year he returned, only to even farther underperform.  Thomas has the size and athleticism to play at this level for the most part, but the biggest questions about him from scouts were outside shooting and ball handling.  His shooting numbers in the D-League suggest he may have dealt with the shooting problems, but his ball handling still looks shaky, and his rebounding needs to improve.  He is still only 21, however.

Suns Fit: Thomas would potentially fill a Dionte Christmas like role for this team - he's a guy who could be brought onto the team, play in garbage time minutes and benefit from being on an actual NBA roster.  While he mostly dominated at the D-League level and might not benefit from another full season at that level, he is a guy who could go to the D-League on rotation with some of the other young roster guys when he is not active.

Jeff Adrien, PF

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch, USAToday


Measurements: 6'7 (7'2 wingspan), 236 lbs

2013-14 Summary: Adrien emerged onto the NBA scene this season with a bang after 3 seasons of ho-hum level play.  What was different?  While Adrien had always provided defense, hustle and grittiness, he never really put anything together offensively, and as an undersized 4 without an outside shot, this proved difficult for him.  Last season, however, the offensive game came around: Per-36, Adrien averaged 13.5 pts and 11.5 rbds, as well as a block and a steal.  He also put up the 13th highest WP48 number of the last season, which speaks to his defensive chops and rebounding skills.

Player Profile: Adrien is an old school PF in a modern day SF's body.  At just a hair under 6'7, he relies on his athleticism, rebounding and grit to keep him in the league.  He's never going to wow with his offensive play, but he is legitimately impactful on the defensive end, particularly on the perimeter, and his rebounding far outstrips most other players at his position.

Suns Fit: If Channing Frye leaves, the Suns are going to need a backup at PF (unless they intend to play TJ Warren at that position).  While Adrien doesn't project as a replacement for Channing's offensive production, he might prove a good complement to a second unit featuring TJ Warren at SF - while the roster would be small, Adrien's defense focus and rebounding would counter Warren's deficiencies in that area.

Grant Jerrett/Ryan Kelly, PF (Stretch 4)

Measurements: Jerrett - 6'10 (7'2 wingspan), 232 lbs ; Kelly - 7'0 (7'0 wingspan), 228 lbs

2013-14 Summary: Jerrett spent 2013-14 in the D-League, where he put up respectable numbers, shooting 36.4% from deep and averaged 15 pts and 6 rbds per game.  Kelly, in contrast, spent most of his injury-limited season on the devastated Lakers, where he saw good playing time.  Kelly put in a decent performance, shooting 33.8% from 3 and contributing 8 pts and 3.7 rbds per game.

Player Profile: Both of these guys are young, prototypical stretch 4s.  Jerrett is the younger of the two (he just turned 20), while Kelly is more seasoned (23) and played in the pressure cooker at Duke for a full 4 years.  Both players have a legitimate outside shot, though the mechanics of Jerrett's shot are...unconventional.  Of the two, Kelly is the better all around player right now - he has a higher basketball IQ, and seems to better understand how to use his body to convert.  Jerrett, however, is likely a better long term prospect - he's a better athlete, younger, and possesses a little bit stronger of a frame (if a bit smaller).

Suns Fit: These two project as direct replacements for Channing Frye's skill set, but neither is likely to be able to step right in and fill in for Channing.  Both would provide an outside shooting touch and an ability to stretch the defense, something that is often necessary with the Suns' two-point guard style.  Of the two, Kelly would be the most likely to have an immediate impact.

Jan Vesely (PF)

Measurements: 6'11 (7'0 wingspan)

2013-14 Summary: It was another developmental year for Vesely, who was traded midway through the season to the Denver Nuggets.  He played decently, showing improvement on the defensive end and as a rebounding presence.  His Per-36 stat-line of 9 pts, 9 rbds, 2.5 stls and 1.5 blks isn't flashy, but it does show signs of improvement

Player Profile: Widely considered one of the biggest busts in recent memory, I think Vesely was put in a position to fail in Washington.  When you compare the way he was used in Europe to in Washington, the mismanagement becomes more apparent: gone were his three point attempts (just gone; it isn't that he wasn't making them, he never took them) which, though they were inconsistent, forced European defenders to respect his shooting ability and cheat up, allowing him the chance to get past them.  Also gone were his cuts to the basket - in his last season in Europe, he was drawing between 5-7 FT per 40, while in Washington that number was down to 2.  I don't see Vesely developing as a great offensive power, but I think with proper management to help build up his offensive confidence, he provides a defensive presence (he had 1.4 DWS despite playing only 776 minutes) and a rebounding ability, in conjunction with a good amount of athleticism, that should allow him to find his way.

Suns Fit: This is a swing for the fences on a pitch-out type situation.  Vesely likely isn't on the radar for really anyone - the belief is he'll be heading back to Europe to rebuild his shattered psyche.  But there is a reason Vesely was a lottery selection - at just under 7 feet tall but with athleticism more comparable to a SF, he offers a unique set of physical skills.  Coached properly and managed correctly, Vesely could provide a rebounding presence off the bench that the second unit might need.

Gustavo Ayon, C

Measurements: 6'10, 240 lbs

2013-14 Summary: Ayon put in another quiet but solid season with Atlanta.

He suffered an injury that limited him to just 26 games (in tandem with an unwillingness by the team to use him), and is considering returning to play in Europe.

Player Profile: Ayon is not a flashy player - he is the epitome of a bench player.  He doesn't have a dominant skillset, but is a fairly efficient scorer, a more than passable rebounder, a decent man to man defender and a willing and capable passer out of the high post.  At 28, Ayon is what he is - a reserve big man.  But he brings a unique amount of experience as the driving force behind the Mexican national team and a player who has played in Europe and bounced around the NBA for a few years.

Suns Fit: The Suns have a hole at the center position (SLAVA!!!!) that will likely be filled and should be filled.  The two guys currently on the roster have 3 NBA seasons between them.  Ayon would provide a veteran presence for the bench that might be lacking if we lose Tucker and/or Frye.

Cole Aldrich, C

Photo Credit: Casey Sapio, USAToday Sports


Measurements: 6'11 (7'5 wingspan), 236 lbs.

2013-14 Summary: Aldrich played for the Knicks last season, but only appeared in 46 games for a total of 333 minutes.  What stands out about Aldrich is that he performed significantly better towards the end of the season.  In fact, Aldrich produced back to back double-doubles in his last two games, and produced a double-double in every game he appeared in over 20 minutes.

Player Profile: Aldrich is, again, an underachiever.  A lottery pick, he's never played more than 400 minutes in a season.  This is particularly interesting because Aldrich has flashed signs of solid potential before.  A big body, Aldrich is a very solid rebounder, a low usage but decent efficiency finisher, and a respectable shot blocker.  At 25 and after 4 years in the league, he may have reached his potential, but he can offer a team a useful, and playable, third big off of the bench.

Suns Fit: This free agent gets the Bryan Gibberman seal of approval.  The team needs a third big, and Aldrich is going to be had on the cheap.  The Suns could do much worse than Aldrich off the bench - an undrafted free agent might not be ready to handle real playing time in worst case scenarios, but a more established player might chafe at being played behind Alex Len, who is likely going to struggle this season.  Aldrich is likely going to be glad to have a roster spot.

While middling players get big pay days, the Phoenix Suns are in a holding pattern.

A year ago, the Phoenix Suns had money to spend but could not get representatives for free agents to even return their calls. GM Ryan McDonough said as much this spring in an interview, highlighting the difference between the Suns this year and a year ago.

The Suns were not looking for more rotation veterans last year, but they still put in the requisite calls to the best free agents and were ignored because of what many perceived to be the onset of a 3-4 year rebuilding plan. When McDonough was hired, he vowed to go after the best players in the NBA.

This year, coming off a 48-34 record with a roster of talented youth, the Suns have a much easier selling job. But still, getting the very best free agents is proving to be a challenge.

The market be cray cray

While the Suns wait for LeBron James to make his decision to stay in Miami or leave for younger pastures, other teams in the NBA are spending their money like it's got an expiration date of 72 hours.

Avery Bradley just got $8 million per year, an agreement first reported (as far as I can tell) by Steve Bulpett out of Boston. Jodi Meeks got $7 mill per year from Detroit. Shaun Livingston got $5.3 mill (the MLE) from Golden State. None of those guys is a lifelong NBA starter.

Marcin Gortat is a long time starter and just got $12 million per year for five years, all guaranteed. That's $12 million when the guy is 36 and he was already wearing down in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Lance Stephenson just turned down $9 million per year from Indiana. It was first reported, from what I can tell, by Chris Broussard and later confirmed by a bunch of other media dudes.

How does this happen? The salary cap is projected to go up by $5 million per year, and a huge TV contract has promised gobs of money for owners.

But mainly, it's because the new CBA has created shorter contracts and has a huge penalty tax structure for those who spend too much. So, many teams are positioning themselves to have roster turnover on a bi-annual basis. Basically, there's lots of money to spend.

The storm before the calm

It happens every year. Crazy dollars are spent on a handful of second-level players in the first days of free agency before cooler heads prevail and the money dries up. This year, it might take a little longer to calm down though considering so many teams have money to spend.

The Suns are wise to stay out of the fray for now.

What does that mean for Suns bids?

Per Paul Coro, the Suns are linked to a dozen guys right now

The Suns also have made contact with or been contacted by at least 12 other free agents. That includes unrestricted free agents Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes, Danny Granger, Ed Davis, Marvin Williams and Josh McRoberts and restricted free agents Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Isaiah Thomas and Patrick Patterson. That does not necessarily mean the Suns are interested in all of them.

If the Phoenix Suns want to bid on players like Chandler Parsons or Gordon Hayward (rumors abound) right now, the starting price looks to be in the $12 million per year range. And that might not be enough to make Houston (Parsons) or Utah (Hayward) blink before matching the offer anyway.

As mentioned already, the Suns should just wait this out until the prices drop a bit.

How about the Suns own free agents?

It's been all quiet on the Suns home front.

The only Eric Bledsoe rumor so far has the Lakers wanting a meeting with him. Since the Lakers have nothing to offer the Suns in trade, their only play is to make an RFA offer the Suns will almost certainly match. Otherwise, the only news on Bledsoe was that the Suns planned to make him a starter offer this week.

Bledsoe did apparently post a picture of him in a Suns uniform on instagram and twitter yesterday before deleting it minutes later. Is that a sign? Who knows.

The market for P.J. Tucker is non-existent at this time, but it's only July 2. When Jodi Meeks got $7 million per year though, that had to perk up Tucker's camp. But I don't see Tucker dying that much for money that he goes to a team in worse position than the Suns. If Tucker leaves, I expect it will be to a contender that uses their MLE on him. Most likely, Tucker stays and hopefully for a reasonable amount.

Channing Frye is getting some interest, but not enough to make him jump ship quite yet. The two teams most reported are Golden State and Cleveland. GS just signed Livingston, so they don't have any more money to spend on free agents. All they can do now is make trades. It's possible the Suns and GS will negotiate a sign-and-trade for Frye, but unlikely. Cleveland is still out there as well. The Suns would just rather re-sign Frye now, to a lower number than his cap hit (a $9.6 mill cap hold).

While it's in the Suns best interests, financially, to wait to re-sign Tucker and Bledsoe because their cap holds are smaller than their projected salaries, the opposite is true of Frye. If the Suns want Frye to stay, they should just sign him as soon as they can to the lowest number they can. That's not today, for sure, with the free agent prices so high. but as soon as the prices drop, the Suns should strike.

And there's that LeBron guy

Suns owner Robert Sarver said yesterday, in the section, that the Suns were willing to wait LeBron out.

"I think this is going to be on his timeline more than any one else's," [Sarver] said to Bob Young. "We've had conversations with his agent and we'll work within their time frame."

LeBron and friend Bosh and Wade are waiting for Pat Riley to supplement their team with some undisclosed amount of money before they re-sign. Reports had the HEAT with $12 million to spend on other players, but that would force Wade and Bosh to sign up for only $23 million between them (a 50% pay cut). Later, that number was called B.S. by their agent.

The money around the HEAT is getting murkier by the day, and the longer it takes the HEAT to sign anyone they want in free agency, the more iffy LeBron's return becomes. The HEAT have not signed anyone yet. The latest scuttlebutt has them going after more late-stage players who will take a thimble full of money to play for them - like Shawn Marion or Vince Carter. An early target, Marcin Gortat, just re-signed with Washington for more money than the HEAT can spend.

Will LeBron be happy with 92 year old Shawn Marion, for example, replacing the retired Shane Battier? Or 86 year old Vince Carter replacing the (probably) retiring Ray Allen? Those don't seem like upgrades to me. At least not the kind of upgrades the HEAT will need to continue to win championships.

Quiet before the storm

Despite getting ignored by the best free agents last year, McDonough made a splash on day two of free agency one year ago today.

On July 2, 2013, McDonough jump-started the Suns resurgence by shipping off Jared Dudley and a second round pick for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe was considered the league's best trade asset, and the Suns snagged him for pocket lint.

Will the Suns make hay today?

Stay tuned.

Markieff and Marcus Morris have been inseparable. They grew up together, played high school and college together, got drafted with back-to-back picks in 2011 and now play at the highest level of...

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