The Suns want to move into elite status soon, and they want to use this summer to do it. While trades are the most likely way to accomplish this ascendence, let's review the free agents available in July.

Phoenix Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough stated the obvious in Friday's season-ending press conference: that the Suns want to win even more than the 48 games they won this season.

"We are not going to sit here as a team that didn't make the playoffs and say we're all set," Suns GM Ryan McDonough said. "There are some roster upgrades you can make."

He specifically mentioned that the team is set at the guard positions, saying that the combination of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe are among the league's best.

To keep those two among the league's best, you need to continue playing the offense that was designed this season which is predicated on spacing so they can drive to the hoop to create havoc. No more than one big guy can be in the paint on offense at any one time. The Suns accomplished this with front-line combinations of Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, P.J. Tucker, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee this season - somehow playing a stretch offense while being passable on rebounding and defense as a team.

Somehow, the team finished in the top half of the league in defense (points per possession) and rebounding, while also being 8th on offense (points per possession).

However, each of those stretch-shooting players has limitations and a murky contract future.

"We would like to retain as much of our core as possible," he said, "but if you look at our cap sheet, we have a lot of flexibility coming up. But we also have big decisions to make. How can you upgrade the talent? Or, how can you retain the talent you already have?"

Both the Morris twins will be restricted free agents in a year. Channing Frye will either sign an extension this summer or become unrestricted next year. P.J. Tucker is restricted this summer, and might earn more money than the Suns want to pay.

McDonough specifically mentioned that the team would like to upgrade their talent, and that the small forward, power forward and center positions would be areas of focus.

"We could bring back all the guys," McDonough said. "But I think we'll make some tweaks and try to get better."

Free agency

As we've seen with McDonough, the Suns are not all about signing free agents to improve the team's talent level. Last summer, they signed zero big-name free agents but executed four trades to bring in young, unproven talent that outperformed their contract.

Generally, free agents are already at the peak of their skills and are being paid commensurate with that production. In this age of salary caps, the more cheap rookie contracts you the better.

However, the Suns do have about $20 million in free agent money* to spend on day one of free agency. If they sign Bledsoe to his mini-max ($13.8 million vs. his cap hold of $6.5), that drops to $13 million. If they sign Tucker to anything more than his cap hold of $2.8 million, it drops further.

*After factoring in the new projected cap of $63.2 million, and adjusting the cap sheet from Lon's feedback to me, the Suns will have $19.7 million available on day one, including Frye's contract and RFA cap holds.

Will the Suns spend their $13-20 million in cap space on a free agent or two? Not likely. Most likely the Suns will save their room to use in a trade for a star that's not a free agent.

However, let's have fun anyway.

Restricted Free Agency

This summer, many of the "class of 2010" is up for RFA offers. This means that their current team can match any offer made by another team.

This helps the Suns keep Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker, or at least have final say over what happens with them.

But it hurts the Suns because the RFAs this summer are the best available free agents, as a combination of youth and productivity allows the Suns to spend money on their prime years rather than their sunset years.

Focusing solely on the RFAs that play the SF, PF and C positions, ESPN's Amin Elhassan ranks them thusly:

5. Greg Monroe | C | RFA | 2013-14 Team: Detroit Pistons
2013-14 Salary: $4.1 million | Suggested AAV: $12.5 million/year, four years

Monroe's season hasn't been the resounding statement he'd probably hoped it would be after failing to reach an agreement for an extension last October, but it bears mentioning that he's been able to maintain relatively even production despite playing in a pretty questionable situation. At 23 years old, he's got a world of potential, although his defense lags far behind his offense. This deal is framed against the comparable extensions signed by DeMarcus Cousins and Derrick Favors.

Monroe is ranked fifth overall in this summer's free agency, behind Wade, Bosh, James and Nowitzki. He is the top available RFA, according to Amin.

Monroe is offensively talented near the basket but has no stretch game at all. When you need buckets as the game and/or clock wind down, Monroe can get you that. However, he's a sieve on defense. The Suns would likely improve their offense but worsen their defense by signing Monroe.

I would take a pass on this one.

10. Gordon Hayward | SF | RFA | 2013-14 Team: Utah Jazz

2013-14 Salary: $3.5 million | Suggested AAV: $9 million/year, four years

Hayward has struggled with his shooting touch this season (3P% below 30 percent), but there will be no shortage of suitors willing to take a chance on him, particularly if he doesn't have to be a main offensive option. His size, age and skill level all make him a worthwhile investment, although his valuation gets knocked down to reflect the precipitous drop in shooting efficiency.

The Suns and Gordon Hayward have seemed like a good match for years, until Hayward completely tanked it this past season that is. Everything fell apart for him.

But you could say that his shooting declined when Hornacek left, and he's still just 23 years old. A reunion with Hornacek could be just what Hayward needs. As a small forward in the Suns' offense, Hayward could be that third playmaker and stretch the floor with shooting, while also rebounding at a good rate.

Hayward still put up 16 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game in a bad year on a really bad Utah team. He draws 5 free throws a game (making 82% of them) and until this season made 40% of his threes. Hayward still appears to be a perfect fit in Hornacek's offense and though he's not defensive dynamo he moves better than Marcus Morris.

The hesitance with Hayward is a 30% three-point shooting this season, and the looming contract. It's hard to imagine Utah giving him away for a normal contract amount ($8-10 million per year), so the Suns would either have to entice them with a trade of good assets and/or offer bigger money.

I'd really explore this one hard, and try to get it done.

19. Ed Davis | PF | RFA | 2013-14 Team: Memphis Grizzlies

2013-14 Salary: $3.2 million | Suggested AAV: $5.5 million/year, three years

Davis' production has been encouraging: an efficient scorer around the rim (almost 68 FG% at the rim), an above-average shooter in midrange and an excellent rebounder. He hasn't had the minutes to post the type of gaudy numbers that can drive up his market value, so there might be an opportunity to lock him into a value deal.

Amin has Ed Davis ranked 19th overall this summer, and the #2 big man RFA available. He's been playing behind Zach Randolph for the past two years, so he really hasn't put up any numbers worth crowing about.

He's thin as a rail, and never been a full-time starter in the NBA. If the Suns pass on Monroe, they could offer a mid-sized deal to Davis but is he a real upgrade from Morris or Miles Plumlee? Davis doesn't shoot threes, so he's more of a Plumlee/Morris replacement than Frye replacement.

I'd say pass on this one. He's not a real upgrade.

Unrestricted Free Agents

Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade all could become free agents if they want (early termination options) but all make $20+ million per year. To get them, the Suns would have to work out a sign-and-trade with their current teams.

James and Bosh would fit very well on the Suns, while Wade would not (frail, plays SG) and Anthony would not. Anthony is a super-Marcus (like, Marcus x 1000) but that's not really the Suns scheme to shoot a ton of mid-range jumpers.

Let's cross these guys off the list for now.

Zach Randolph has an option to become a free agent too. He would be great in those big moments the Suns need scoring at the rim or a big rebound or both, but he would slow the team down and he doesn't play good D. At this point, I'd take Greg Monroe over Zach. Pau Gasol is another over-the-hill player who can score and rebound in big moments but otherwise is a bad fit on the Suns team.

Lance Stephenson has been coveted for a long time in the Valley, but his part in the Pacers' swoon cannot be discounted. I just don't see him being a good fit on the team in terms of chemistry. Gordon Hayward would provide much of the same production with a much better attitude.

And then there's Luol Deng.

16. Luol Deng | SF | UFA | 2013-14 Team: Cleveland Cavaliers

2013-14 Salary: $14.2 million | Suggested AAV: $7.5 million/year, three years, team option on third year

There will be a bidding war for Deng among several teams vying for his services, including his former team, Chicago. I still maintain my skeptical assessment of Deng's long-term effectiveness, and his performance in Cleveland thus far hasn't inspired confidence that he can provide All-Star level production going forward.

Deng is on the decline lately, and the Bulls were better after he was traded. However, Deng is still a very good SF who could play stretch-four a lot in the Suns scheme and can help improve the Suns defensively.

I would love to have Deng on the Suns, especially at the price Amin suggests.

20. Trevor Ariza | SF | UFA | 2013-14 Team: Washington Wizards

2013-14 Salary: $7.7 million | Suggested AAV: $5.5 million/year, three years

Ariza went from being an invaluable piece in a championship team as an early 3-and-D player, to an overpaid player with an inflated self-opinion, to back to fulfilling the role he should have never left behind. One of the best corner 3-point shooters in the league (44 percent corners 3's), Ariza should be in demand for contending teams looking to upgrade their perimeter defense without sacrificing spacing. A three-year deal worth $16.5 million represents full midlevel exception.

Ariza certainly fits the bill for the Suns and would be a nice addition. I've just never liked him as a player, so I'm cold on this possible addition. He seems to me to be a bad investment as a mid-level deal you wish you hadn't made.

I'd rather keep Tucker than add Ariza.


In summary, the Suns are more likely to trade for their next big-ticket player but if they want a free-market solution I would lean toward SFs Hayward or Deng. Both are big enough to play stretch-four on occasion while spending most of their time as big SFs in the Suns scheme, and both would be clear upgrades at their position.

Deng is the easier addition because he won't require as much money and/or assets as Hayward, but he is 6 years older so his long-term future is one of steady decline.

As far as free agent big men go, none are a perfect fit for the Suns scheme.

PHOENIX — From Day 1, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has been open about his plan. Draft picks will help promote growth from within, yet he’ll pull the trigger on bringing in a...

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Armed with three first round picks from 14-27 in the 2014 NBA Draft, the Phoenix Suns plan to use them in trades rather than on rookies to join Archie Goodwin and Alex Len next year.

With 48 wins under their belts this season, the Phoenix Suns have already moved beyond the 'get as young as possible' phase of the rebuilding process. From now on, it is about acquiring top-end talent rather than stockpiling rookies.

No one in the Suns front office feels like this past season was a fluke, or that the youth they already possess is likely to regress next season.

"We are not going to sit here as a team that didn't make the playoffs and say we're all set," Suns GM Ryan McDonough said. "There are some roster upgrades you can make. But I don't think there are any glaring holes that aren't filled if you factor in some internal improvement."

Rather, President Lon Babby, GM Ryan McDonough and coach Jeff Hornacek foresee bright futures for this year's rookies, 19-year old Archie Goodwin and 20-year old Alex Len.

Add in the almost-certain return of 24-year old Eric Bledsoe and the continued maturity of mid-20s Miles Plumlee, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris and you are already looking at six young rotation players on the rise in the coming seasons. And of those six, only Bledsoe will be on an expensive contract next season.

So would you really add three more rookies to that mix?

"I think it's unlikely that we'll bring in three rookies to the Suns," McDonough said. "With the success we had this year, and it's a good problem to have, it's tough to develop rookies and win a lot of games. If you look at the Rookie of the Year candidates, most of them are on teams at the bottom of the league. It's hard to do both."

Archie Goodwin, 19, showed a great deal of promise, but most of that was in the Summer League and during practices. He did not play much in the second half. Alex Len, 20, was injured for much of the first half of the season but played a bit in the second half as the backup center. Neither got more than 15 minutes per game.

McDonough discussed the options for those six picks in the next two years, and one of them was a new twist.

"I think if we do go in with the 14th, 18th and 27th pick," he said. "It's not likely we draft three guys and bring them to the Suns."

"Our preference would be to trade for a star," he said, just as he always has. In an ideal situation, the Suns would trade some of those picks for a top-10 NBA talent and start planning for deep playoff runs.

The second best option, short of acquiring a star, would be to package picks to move up in the draft for a better talent than is available outside the lottery.

"We could also draft a European player or two and leave them overseas," he said, as option #3.

If all those fail and the Suns can't move up, there's another way of moving out that just pushes the can down the road a bit.

"We could also trade our pick for future picks," he said. "And kind of spread the picks out."

There's something we hadn't considered before. Why bring in six rookies in the next 15 months to this team? No one really wants to do that. But there are other teams who want youth today, and they might be willing to trade today's mid-teens pick for tomorrow's potentially higher pick.

"You know we have three this year and potentially three next year." McDonough continued. "So we might spread them out a little. Lon did a great job of stockpiling picks and we added to that last summer. It gives us a great deal of flexibility going forward."

But the preference, of course, is to convert those picks into a star. That's always been the plan and will remain the plan going forward. Trading picks into future years only extends the Suns' flexibility if all else fails. You don't trade a 2014 pick for a 2016 pick unless all other options are off the table.

"We would like to retain as much of our core as possible," he said, "but if you look at our cap sheet, we have a lot of flexibility coming up. But we also have big decisions to make. How can you upgrade the talent? Or, how can you retain the talent you already have?"

Rather than six picks in two years, the Suns could benefit from having two picks per year for the next four years. That would allow them to always be able to trade a pick, and even picks in consecutive years. The NBA's CBA does not allow a team to go pick-less in consecutive years, so teams cannot trade consecutive picks unless they have more than one coming to them.

Still, the #1 priority is to acquire a star. The Rockets did it by getting James Harden two years ago, and then Dwight Howard last summer. The Warriors did it by acquiring Andre Iguodala last summer after having their own resurgent season in 2012-13.

"If we can use our draft picks in a package to get better, to get a veteran," McDonough said, "to get us from the upper 40s to the 50s and even the 60s, you know we'll do that."

McDonough concluded with a telling comment that the Suns are not just going to bring back the same exact team next year. They won't trust that everyone will come back with the same attitude and that making the playoffs is only about internal improvement. The Suns have 13 players under their control for next season.

But they are unlikely to bring back the whole team while just kicking a couple of draft picks down the road a bit.

"We could bring back all the guys," McDonough said. "But I think we'll make some tweaks and try to get better."

PHOENIX — In their first full season with the Phoenix Suns, GM Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek took the team from bad to good. As miraculous as that task seems when considering...

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Eric Bledsoe's exit interview followed a pattern that has made me feel uneasy since his arrival in the desert and makes me question his desire to be a Phoenix Sun long term.

Let's play word association. Try to answer this before reading on to see how your answer compares to mine.

What's the first word that comes to mind when I say Eric Bledsoe?

What was your answer (feel free to share in the comments)? Was it something relative to his electric, exciting style of play? Perhaps his ridiculous athleticism?

My word is aloof.

Just to clarify what I mean by that let me offer the definition of that word. Aloof - at a distance, especially in feeling or interest; apart; reserved or reticent; indifferent; disinterested.

That about sums it up.

My stance on this hasn't changed, either.  After Bledsoe's knee surgery this past season I referenced this dynamic in one of the Round Table articles on this site.

After his (most recent) surgery the press release basically said to ask his agent any questions about the procedure. It would be hilarious if people are told to ask his agent about his timeline for returning to action down the road. Something has felt off to me about Eric's body language since he came here - not sure if that means anything except that I possibly have issues with not feeling loved. If for some reason Bledsoe becomes a misfit for McMiracle's puzzle I can easily see him moving him. I think McMiracle sees all the players he brought in as valuable members of the team... and completely movable assets.

Ideally, it's great to have players that fans can have love affairs with. In this day that is becoming rarer with the turnstile rosters of professional sports teams. The Suns are one of the teams that has maintained great relationships with their players, current and former, over the years and many of them are very sincere in their fondness of this city and organization. Just look at former player/current head coach Jeff Hornacek. The Suns build those types of long lasting relationships.

When Eric was asked at his exit interview yesterday whether he would like to come back and play for the Suns he replied, "I'm just going into the summer trying to get 100% healthy and enjoy my family."

Rather benign, right? Well, he was asked variations of that question six times and responded the same way six times. He didn't stray from that response or expound upon it. He didn't go into greater depth. For me, though, it wasn't necessarily what he said, but what he didn't say.

He could have easily responded with something to the effect of...

I had a great time this season being a part of this team. The players, coaches and everyone in the organization made me feel really welcome. Phoenix is a great city and the fans here are awesome. Ultimately, though, this is a business and we'll just have to see how things play out this summer. I'm just going to be focusing on working hard to improve my game and spending time with my family.

But he didn't.

He had a chance to be complimentary of any of those things that I mentioned above. To give the impression that he enjoyed playing here, but instead he was, well, aloof.

Puzzlingly so to me. It seems pretty obvious to me he's being coached. The answer that he kept reiterating felt very rehearsed. So why are his handlers giving him this advice? This goes back to the embargo on media interaction during his rehabilitation process. Like it mentioned in my quote above, the official press release after Eric's surgery actually directed people to address inquiries to his agent rather than the team. Doesn't that seem a little off?

Even before that I always felt that Bledsoe's feelings towards being in Phoenix were lukewarm. I'm sure many of you have been in work environments where some people are really engaged and just love their job. They just seem to exude this aura of passion and and effervescence. Others just seem to be there to collect a paycheck. They are there more out of necessity than desire. It's a means to an end and they perform their duties in a perfunctory (at best) manner. They would have no problem leaving at the first instant a better opportunity presented itself.

Which of those descriptions do you think fits Bledsoe better?

People have different personalities, so maybe Eric's is just of a more stoic nature. It's entirely possible that I'm reading way too much into this. But if I'm reading too much into this I would be surprised if I'm the only one who is somewhat perturbed about his indifference.

This current incarnation of Suns basketball holds fast to the team's tradition of bringing in players that the fans can really connect with. High characters guys who give off the impression that they genuinely want to be here. Unfortunately, I got more of that vibe out of every single other player on the roster this season than I did from Bledsoe.

I think that a lot of fans here in Phoenix would like Bledsoe to be a Sun, I'm just not sure that he strongly shares that sentiment. So maybe I should hold off on becoming too enamored with the idea of him being here... since he doesn't appear to share that sentiment.

Or maybe it's just a case of my skin not being as thick as Lon Babby's. That I'm just upset because, like I previously mentioned, I have issues with not feeling loved.

But I don't.

Do you?

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