15 August 2012
One of the biggest items that the Suns needed to do this offseason was to make sure they have payroll flexibility for the future and they passed that with flying colors. If they don't add on any payroll, Phoenix will have about $15 million to spend next offseason.
The big name in next year's free agent class that every Suns fan on the planet wants is Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard James Harden. Harden attended Arizona State for two years and has voiced being interested in playing in Phoenix, although he has taken those comments back a bit and said he would like to remain with a championship contender in OKC.
Even though will be some very good shooting guards, guys like Monta Ellis, Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin and possibly Andre Iguodala, on the market next offseason, Harden should be the Suns number one priority next offseason.
Harden is everything that the Suns need at the moment. He plays at a position that isn't exactly loaded with talent on the Suns roster. Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley will both be under contract in 2013, but neither are in Harden's class and could be moved to make room for the former Sun Devil. Harden is also a lethal scorer and a go-to player, which is something Phoenix doesn't have at the moment.
Critics of the shooting guard will point to Harden's NBA Finals as an indication that he can't be a #1 option for a team. Yes, he did struggle in three of the five games, but was really good in the other two and played brillantly throughout the rest of the postseason. Going into his fourth season, it is pretty clear that he is becoming one of the best shooting guards in the league and he still has lots of room to grow at 22.
There are a couple of factors though that would make it difficult for the Suns to acquire Harden. First off, he is a restricted free agent, meaning that the Thundeer can match any offer the Suns give him. We all know the term restricted free agent all too well with the Eric Gordon situation during this offseason.
Harden also has a very comfortable situation in Oklahoma City. Even with the Lakers brilliant offseason, the Thunder should remain the favorites to win the Western Conference and make a return trip back to the Finals. That would be difficult for Harden to give up, even if it means earning max money and being "the man" so to speak in Phoenix.
Where Harden ends up could hinge on what the Thunder do with their other players. They already have Kevin Durant on a max deal and need to do the same with Russell Westbrook. Serge Ibaka along with Harden are both going to need new deals after this season. With playing in such a small market, it is hard to see OKC being able to afford all four guys on the same roster.
After acquiring several assets this offseason, the Suns might very well have the pieces to be able to acquire Harden in a sign-and-trade come next offseason. A slew of first round picks plus Markieff Morris and possibly another piece might be enough to entice OKC's interest and get a deal done between the two sides.
Of course, all of this discussion could be for naught and the Thunder could sign Harden to a long-term deal at some point before next offseason, which would send the Suns fan base in a deep depression that we haven't seen since it was announced that Steve Nash was dealt to the Lakers.
Lets hope that doesn't end up being the case and the Suns will at least have the opportunity to add the new face of their franchise for several seasons to come.