LeBron James, The Suns, and The Temptation of Hope


At some point, probably in the next two or three days, LeBron James will decide between Miami and Cleveland as his next team.

When NBA free agency opened on July 1st, the usual rumors started making the rounds. Carmelo was interested in a max contract and the Knicks could offer more than anyone. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade were going to opt out in an attempt to give the Heat more flexibility.

But there was a surprise in the mix as well: the Suns decided to make a serious run at LeBron James.

One of the fun things about sports is trying to anticipate what’s next, whether it’s the next snap or the next big signing or the next matchup. Smart Suns fans knew that their team had the cap space to sign LeBron and a team full of young, talented assets that would be a good fit. But it seemed like only that — a pipe dream, something that was fun to imagine.

Once that dream became a reality, the wheels started turning. What chance did Phoenix actually have? Could LeBron sacrifice hometown loyalties and the familiarity of Miami? Would he be willing to play in a smaller market in exchange for a young roster that was the best basketball decision, regardless of the financials?

It seems like the Suns’ slim chance has already faded. But rather than feeling disappointed (as interesting as the idea of James in our uniform might have been), I’m actually relieved. Not that LBJ is headed elsewhere, but that we were in the conversation in the first place.

Two years ago, Phoenix was objectively terrible. We had a bunch of rejects like Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson on the roster, a coach with no experience who was in waaaay over his head, and a general manager who couldn’t evaluate his head from his own ass. To turn things around so quickly was nothing short of a miracle.

Last season’s success was crucial for two reasons. The team nearly made the playoffs and several young players got better along the way. But more importantly, the organization went through a “rebuilding” effort without sacrificing its willingness to win. We’ve seen teams tank intentionally to get better draft picks, a strategy that is demoralizing at best and completely ineffective at worst. The Suns took a season where they were expected to be among the worst in the league and forced teams to acknowledge their presence — and when the season was done, they had three first-round picks and max-level cap space available to improve even further.

LeBron might not be taking his talents to the Valley of the Sun, but it doesn’t matter. Phoenix still has a brighter future than anyone could have expected just 12 months ago.

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