Amid rumors, Suns can't deal with Bulls' defense

Despite loss, Phoenix will keep trading on team chemistry

Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek talks with his team during a timeout Tuesday against the Bulls U.S. Airways Center. The Bulls won 101-92.

Jennifer Stewart / USA TODAY Sports

PHOENIX -- While the Suns continue to climb out of the expectation tank and into the bright light cast by playoff contention, they also are required to navigate a tricky plane known as the trade deadline.

In the two days preceding Tuesday night's 101-92 loss to the Chicago Bulls, Suns followers were obliged to invest greater interest in recent transaction-related gossip.

And although coach Jeff Hornacek wasn't compelled to chat about specific characters co-starring in these rumors, he did say the chitchat can be an issue.

"Yeah, that's always a concern," Hornacek said before the loss at at U.S. Airways Center. "When you have a team that wasn't expected to do much and then with the record we have right now, it's obviously because they (Suns players) have great chemistry.

"These guys love to play with each other, they care about each other, they have something going there."

Unfortunately, they were unable to get much going in a one-night interlude with the Bulls that ended Phoenix's five-game winning streak. The Suns' recent salvo of offense was bullied into 38-percent shooting and 21 turnovers by the league's second-ranked defense.

It was a game you might expect in the midst of potential distraction.

With Los Angeles Lakers big man Pau Gasol in the middle of this week's Suns-related rumors, we're all wondering how the Suns -- now 29-19 and having slipped to the Western Conference's seventh seed -- would behave with a gifted, battle-tested post player on their side. Then again, we may never find out.

A Tuesday night report out of Los Angeles said the Lakers want more in return  -- a draft pick or two -- for Gasol than the Suns' rumored offer of Emeka Okafor's expiring contract. Expect more revelations on both sides of this issue as the Feb. 20 deadline approaches.

Beyond the skills of Gasol or any other addition Suns general manager Ryan McDonough might make, how would the league's most improbably entertaining team respond?

"If there is a trade," Hornacek said, "whoever comes in would have to try to fit in to that chemistry. So it's always a concern on that. Until things happen ... I was a player, our coaches were players ... you can't ever worry about it. You just go out there and you play. As coaches, we just coach the guys we have and if something ends up happening with some sort of trade, we just roll with it and try to fit the guy in the best we can."

If that guy happened to be Gasol, for example, he would have come in handy Tuesday night. Against the lane-crowding defense of the Bulls, Phoenix mustered only 30 points in the paint. The Suns also weren't very stellar from distance, knocking in a chilly 28 percent of their 3-pointers. A double-team-demanding post presence might create more for shooters.

But what the Suns and their fans witnessed is a one-game blip (leading into Wednesday night's date with the Rockets in Houston) that probably won't provoke management into a panic-inspired deal.

Based on what we've always heard from within the organization, the Suns aren't planning to compromise their rebuilding strategy by chasing a playoff seed. Playing the right way with what they have will be good enough (for now) to keep everyone pleased.

"Probably the way we started the season," Hornacek said, "I think expectations were 'ah, they're going to tail off, they're going to come back to earth a little bit.' And it hasn't happened, so why not?

"These guys have proved they go out there and play hard every night. We got a good mix of guys."

And here's how Suns guys in particular categories performed Tuesday.

 

 

Hornacek: "We got guys that can put the ball in the hole."

That continued for Western Conference Player of the Week Goran Dragic, who made 9-of-15 shots from the field and finished with 24 points.

But Gerald Green missed 11-of-13 shots, Markieff Morris bricked 9-of-13 and Channing Frye was off on 10-of-16 attempts. That trio combined to miss 16-of-20 shots from behind the arc.

Hornacek: "We got guys that can defend."

The Suns did force 18 turnovers from the offensively-challenged Bulls, who were beaten badly by the Kings in Sacramento one night earlier. Chicago's 45-percent shooting isn't exactly scorching, but the Phoenix defense was unable to make stops when needed.

Hornacek: "We got young guys that use their energy all the time."

Second-year center Miles Plumlee bounced around for eight points and 10 rebounds, but rookies Archie Goodwin and Alex Len (both DNP-coach's decision) will be seeing less time as the team remains in the playoff chase.

So with a bit more than two weeks separating us from the end of the trade deadline, the speculation probably will be truly nutty before it subsides. And if McDonough doesn't find anything to his liking in a potential swap for that glorious, expiring contract of Okafor, Hornacek is prepared to keep taking big swings at the rest of the league.

"I don't have any problem moving forward with these guys," he said, "continuing to grow and trying to get better every night."

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