Twelve hours after their surprising season ended, the Suns were focused on reaching the next level.
Point guard Stephon Marbury apparently has given considerable thought to what it will take.
"I would like to a get a really solid big man — a guy like (Seattle's soon-to-be free agent) Elden Campbell," said Marbury, who expects to undergo surgery in about two weeks to remove bone spurs from both ankles. "He can score, block shots and I think a guy like that is hungry because he has something to prove. He never really had the opportunity to go out and dominate and I think he can."
A mobile big man who can score and give the Suns a menacing defensive presence may very well be the team's biggest need — especially after San Antonio's big men dominated the Suns in a six-game, first-round, playoff series win. But those decisions will come in due time, Suns president and general manager Bryan Colangelo said.
"With regard to free agency, we're restricted from discussing any particular players and players are restricted from discussing any particular players," Colangelo said in the mildest of admonitions to Marbury.
Players can become free agents on July 1, at which time teams are free to negotiate with them.
The Suns first must decide what to do with their free agents. Forwards Dan Langhi and Alton Ford are restricted free agents but it is unlikely the Suns will re-sign either after Langhi was left off the playoff roster and Ford rarely played this season.
Center Jake Voskuhl, the team's other restricted agent, has likely earned a new contract. Voskuhl was the Suns' most consistent bench player in the playoffs and Colangelo called him the team's most improved player. The team must make him a qualifying offer by the end of June.
Veterans Scott Williams and Randy Brown are unrestricted free agents. Brown will almost certainly be gone. Williams' situation is a bit murkier. He has said in the past that he wants to stay and his presence in the locker room is undeniable.
"We definitely gotta have Scott back just for him to make us laugh," Marbury said.
But the Suns may look to save money while upgrading at that position, either with the 17th pick in a shallow draft or through free agency.
Complicating matters is the Suns' financial situation. The team's payroll was $54.8 million this year, about $2.5 million over the luxury tax threshold. But Colangelo said the payroll will rise to nearly $63 million when Shawn Marion's six-year, $79 million contract extension kicks in next year. That will make it difficult for the team to use it's mid-level exception of about $4.5 million or it's veteran's exception of about $1 million to sign free agents.
The Suns must also wait to see if their coaching staff remains intact. Phil Weber, a holdover from the Scott Skiles era, signed a contract extension at midseason meaning all of the assistants, with the exception of Tim Grgurich, are under contract through next season with an option the following year.
But Marc Iavaroni's name has surfaced as a head coaching candidate in Cleveland and Colangelo expects Iavaroni and Mike D'Antoni to elicit more interest.
In the meantime the Suns will focus on summer activities.
Marbury should be able to resume full activities by mid-summer when he will join rookies Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudemire in Los Angeles for workouts with Weber. Weber has a long to-do list for Johnson and Stoudemire.
The Suns will play in just one summer league this year — the Rocky Mountain Revue, July 18-26 in Salt Lake City. Because the league restricts rosters to just three veterans at a time, the Suns will juggle Stoudemire, Voskuhl, Johnson, Casey Jacobsen and Jake Tsakalidis, who already has a busy summer planned.
If the Suns can iron out a few wrinkles with Greek officials regarding Tsakalidis' military requirement — the Suns and Tsakalidis want it waived — Tsakalidis will play in the European Championships in late August.
"They understand where you usually make your biggest improvement is during the summer," coach Frank Johnson said of his players' plans. "We got a taste of success. For some of the young guys this is the first taste.
"It felt good, but there's another level that we've got to reach."