After losing out on the first wave of free agent point guards and finishing second in a sign-and-trade derby with John Salmons, the Suns have zeroed in on a new target as a backup to Steve Nash.
NBA sources say free agent Marcus Banks, who averaged 10 points and 3.8 assists with Boston and Minnesota last season and was the 13th overall pick in the 2003 draft, is now No. 1 on the Suns’ radar.
Phoenix general manager and coach Mike D’Antoni is back in Las Vegas, preparing for the opening Team USA workouts. That’s where Banks went to school (UNLV) and lives in the offseason, and a meeting between the two wouldn’t be difficult to arrange.
Houston and Miami are among the other teams interested in Banks, who at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds doesn’t offer the size and versatility of Salmons but whose up-tempo talents might be a more comfortable fit in Phoenix. The Rockets are also hoping to sign John Lucas Jr., who led their team at the recent Vegas Summer League. That might make Houston less attractive to Banks — who is entering his fourth NBA season and started 28 games in Minnesota after arriving in January in the Wally Szczerbiak trade with Boston.
The Suns would likely use a portion of their mid-level exception — probably at numbers similar to the fiveyear, $22 million deal waved at Salmons — to bring in Banks and still have enough left over to sign another backup big man at more than the league minimum.
Minnesota had initially planned to keep Banks, one of seven players moved during the Szczerbiak trade. But because Boston failed to exercise the fourth year option on Banks’ rookie contract, the most the T-Wolves could offer him was $2.46 million this season. Minnesota petitioned the league for the right to offer Banks more, but they also signed free agent Mike James last week, and with Troy Hudson also coming back, appear ready to move on without Banks.
Regarded as a strong defender, Banks struggled in his first two-plus seasons with Boston but showed more after joining the T-Wolves — averaging 12 points, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals a game while playing 30 minutes a night as a starter.
Banks, who will turn 25 in November, is a career 42.7 percent shooter from the field (33.7 percent from 3-point range) and has averaged 18.3 minutes a game — exactly the kind of minutes a backup for Nash will be asked to carry.