NBA

NBA Sunday: LeBron to Phoenix Makes Sense

LeBron James is exploring his free agency options, and the Phoenix Suns may have the most appealing case of them all.

Jesse Blancarte profile picture
Updated 1 year ago on

9 min read

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Why LeBron in Phoenix Makes Sense

As of today, LeBron James is still undecided on where he will take his talents next season. The rumored favorites are the incumbent Miami HEAT, with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks– to varying degrees– in the hunt as well.

There does not seem to be a perfect fit for LeBron. HEAT president Pat Riley is struggling to find upper-tier free agents who are willing to take less to supplement the Big Three in Miami. In addition, the health of Dwyane Wade is a serious concern. At age 32, and with a history of injuries, Wade is not the same player that he was in 2010 when the Big Three first teamed up together.

Cleveland is home for LeBron and would make for a great story if he did return to the Cavaliers. However, Dan Gilbert burnt some major bridges when LeBron left in 2010, and there have been some bumbled roster moves in the last few years. While there is talent in Cleveland, like Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins, LeBron is in his prime and looking to compete for championships next year, and doesn’t want to wait for younger players to develop. The Rockets have considerable talent, but need to make some roster moves and may still need LeBron to take a pay cut, which he seems less open to this time around. Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki committed for three more years at a favorable annual rate of $10 million, but he is now 36 years old. Recently acquired Tyson Chandler is 31 and has been on a slow decline lately, and the Mavericks can only offer LeBron a contract in the range of $16.8 million per year. The Los Angeles Lakers have similar limitations considering Kobe Bryant’s age and contract, Steve Nash’s health, Julius Randle’s inexperience and the question of whether Pau Gasol will re-sign. They can offer him the max right now, but Carmelo Anthony has the same standing offer and is expected to choose anytime now.

So what about the Suns? In Phoenix, the Suns already have Eric Bledsoe (restricted free agent), Goran Dragic, Marcus and Markieff Morris, Miles Plumlee, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, can potentially re-sign Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker, and they recently drafted T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. This is a very deep cast of young talent, headed by one of the brightest young coaches in the league in Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek ran an exciting brand of up-tempo basketball headed by his two point guard back-court of Dragic and Bledsoe. According to NBA.com, the Suns were the eighth most efficient offensive team in the league (107.1 points per 100 possessions), and that was with Bledsoe missing significant time because of a knee injury.

With LeBron, Phoenix would be a nightmare for opposing teams in transition and in the halfcourt. In addition, the Suns can afford a second max free agent, so James could potentially bring his current teammate Chris Bosh with him. As difficult as it may seem, Wade is a lifelong member of the HEAT and should retire there. Bosh, on the other hand, moved to Miami to team up with James and win championships. He is still a top power forward, and is only age 30, without Wade’s injury history. A starting line-up of Dragic, Bledsoe, James, Bosh and Plumlee would be a contender in the West and a threat to win the championship as early as next season.

If the Suns want to pass on Bosh, they could target several non-max players with their remaining post-LeBron-signing cap room (such Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng) or swing a trade for Kevin Love with their stockpile of assets. This is the benefit of the Suns, as they have the flexibility to do whatever LeBron wants in terms of adding additional talent.

Not to mention, Phoenix’s training staff is widely regarded as one of the best in all of professional sports, so they’ll ensure that James is in peak condition and could potentially extend his career.

The fact is, the Suns have the best mix of talent and flexibility to woo James, and they have a solid, up-and-coming front office and coaching staff with general manager Ryan McDonough and Hornacek, though owner Robert Sarver has a reputation for not investing in his roster, which is something that may discourage LeBron from taking a chance on the Suns. Phoenix, like every other team in the hunt for him, is not a perfect fit, but in comparison to the other potential destinations, from a pure basketball standpoint, it’s hard to argue that it shouldn’t be at the top of his list.

Want every free agency rumor for every player and every team? Check out our 2014 Free Agency Diary!

Reasons For and Against Carmelo Choosing Los Angeles

Yesterday, Bill Simmons of Grantland reported that the Los Angeles Lakers made a major impression on free agent Carmelo Anthony, and were now in a three-way race to sign the star forward, along with the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls. So what are the pros and cons for ‘Melo in Los Angeles?

The first thing people tend to think of when they think of the Lakers is championships. The Lakers have won 16 championships, the second most in league history. In addition, the Buss family has always been willing to invest in its team, especially its star players.

Next, people tend to forget just how good Kobe Bryant is. Yes, he tore his Achilles tendon, and missed almost all of last year because of a knee injury. But how many times have people bet against Bryant and lost at this point? He may not be the same player he was a few years ago, but he may still be one of the best players in the league next season. A duo of Kobe and Carmelo may not be a favorite to win a championship in the next year or two, but to dismiss Kobe before seeing him play at 100 percent would be a mistake.

If Carmelo does agree to terms with the Lakers, Gasol will likely re-sign with the team as well. Gasol received a lot of criticism over the last few years from Laker fans, but he is still one of the most productive and skilled big men in the NBA and has been loyal to the Lakers and its fans despite being placed in trade discussions numerous times. Last season, he averaged 17.4 points. 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He may not be the same Gasol from 2007-08, a trio of him, Carmelo and Kobe would be dangerous. Add in rookie Julius Randle, who many believe to be the most NBA-ready rookie in this year’s draft, and the appeal to Carmelo starts to become clearer.

Also, the opportunity to play with and learn from Kobe would be invaluable to Carmelo. He is already 30, and doesn’t need much advice on how to dominate on the court. But Kobe can show Carmelo how to take care of himself physically and extend his career as long as possible. Kobe has been playing in the NBA for 18 years and it was only at age 34 that he started missing any significant time due to do injuries. Bryant also knows a thing or two about becoming a global brand and maximizing one’s worth, and Anthony could take notes.

For all the reasons for Carmelo to sign with the Lakers, there are some downsides as well. First, despite what Kobe or the Lakers say, he really should have taken a smaller contract like Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki did. Kobe is worth every dollar he will receive, and had earned it throughout his career, but if winning a championship is the main goal, then maintaining financial flexibility should have been a higher priority for Kobe. Instead of being able to add Carmelo, re-sign Gasol and add another good free agent, the Lakers are limited to bringing back value players on small contracts, like Wesley Johnson, Kent Bazemore and Nick Young. However, some believe that this helps the Lakers’ chances of landing Carmelo, as it shows him the team takes care of its star players, even past their primes.

Also, point guard is a problem for the Lakers. Steve Nash is simply not the player he once was. He has fought through back and leg issues since arriving in Los Angeles, and there are no signs that he will ever be able to capture his old form, especially at his age. He’s probably either going to be traded or stretched in order to free up more cap space.

In addition, the Lakers have not picked a coach yet. It seems as though the job will eventually go to Byron Scott, but until that is official, it adds another layer of uncertainty to the situation in Los Angeles. If Anthony signs in L.A. he will be involved in the coaching search, which may be something that intrigues him.

Most importantly, at age 30, Carmelo is in his prime and needs to contend for championships now. While Kobe and Gasol were once star players, they are either well past their prime or fighting through significant injuries at this point in their careers. Each player could come back healthy and the Lakers could have a formidable team next season, but even then, there is not a foundation to build around for the future.

These are some of the things that Carmelo needs to consider as he makes his final decision, which could come as early as today. One thing is certain, however, it is a mistake to ever count the Lakers out when it comes to acquiring star players.

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Jesse Blancarte is a Deputy Editor for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney and a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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