Sun spots: All-Star break edition
FEB 12, 2014 5:18p ET
PHOENIX -- With Tuesday night's getaway loss the Miami Heat in the rearview mirror, let's downshift into our All-Star break edition of Suns Spots.
What will be the biggest story moving forward?
We'll give you a two-name hint: Eric Bledsoe.
With the Suns battling just to maintain their status among potential Western Conference playoff seeds, Bledsoe's return could provide enough juice for a slight climb up the standings ladder.
With the Oklahoma City Thunder sitting at the top of the conference, anything above the eighth seed would seem to be a relief.
Anyway, for the next few weeks, we'll be wondering just when the point guard's repaired knee will allow him to play â¦ and if his agent concurs with the Suns' medical staff on this timeline.
"We just always hope sometime before the end of the season," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said when asked about a Bledsoe return. "We'll probably be on the cautious side of when he comes back."
As a soon-to-be restricted free agent, the league will be watching how Bledsoe performs when and if he returns this season. His performance -- coupled with medical advisement -- will determine his market value and how much the Suns might have to pony up to match an offer sheet from another team.
But if the Suns and Bledsoe are as compatible as it seems thus far, his free-agent spin may never get that far.
While the big thinkers juggle the notions of Bledsoe's health and value, Suns coaches and players again will make the spatial adjustment in trying to thrive with another crucial player back on the floor.
What will be the second-biggest story?
The expiring contract of injured post player Emeka Okafor should have its own website or Twitter account.
Thanks to the cap-clearing thrill of watching more than $14 million evaporating from your payroll, Okafor's deal has enabled the Suns to be in the rumor pool for just about every above-average player currently stuck in below-average team production.
The idea of Pau Gasol coming over the Los Angeles Lakers must be reconciled by the trade deadline (Feb. 20), even though knowledge of the two teams actually discussing such a maneuver hasn't been properly sourced.
Within the last few days, the Suns have been associated with a familiar and pesky trade rumor involving Rudy Gay. Gay, who first hit the Suns-gossip radar while working in Memphis, has gone from Toronto to Sacramento with Phoenix still attached to his hip.
Speaking of Memphis, almost-33-year-old Zach Randolph (who has a $16.5 million player option for next season) has also been mentioned as a Suns possibility.
We also have entertained reports of the Suns coughing up a first-round pick to GM Ryan McDonough's old buddies in Boston. But this deal would not co-star pretty decent forward Jeff Green. No, the Suns' alleged target would be Brandon Bass, a back-up four man who's not as good as their current back-up four man. Bass also is on the books for almost $7 million next season, which makes such a report seem a mite curious.
How must the Suns improve?
Defensive rebounding remains a big issue, but -- in general terms -- the Suns' ability to rise in the standings and survive in the postseason should correspond to an upgrade on defense.
Checking in at 16th among NBA teams for defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions), Phoenix -- under the tactical guidance of assistant coach Mike Longabardi -- certainly has considerable room for improvement.
"We need to keep focusing on our rotations," Hornacek said. "(It's) fighting over screens, not allowing ourselves to get hit with one, knowing the personnel. If the guy's a shooter, we can't give him space or be a step behind when he curls off those down screens.
"Just that little stuff that makes the difference between you being a good defensive team and a great defensive team."
Playing in the Western Conference doesn't make climbing the efficiency ladder very easy. But the attention to detail on a consistent basis is one way for the Suns to survive when they're not converting a high percentage of their frequent 3-point attempts.
And having Bledsoe back wouldn't hurt in the prevention of dribble penetration. Although third-tier point guard Ish Smith is very good on the ball (especially getting over screens), he doesn't receive enough minutes to make a significant impact on the defensive numbers.
At least having P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee on the floor to begin games is a nice way to build a defense.
What is the toughest part of the remaining schedule?
Even though the Suns begin the month with three consecutive home games (Atlanta, L.A. Clippers and Oklahoma City), March could be some hayride.
The main reason for this is travel.
After the aforementioned home stand, the Suns will have a back-to-back at Golden State and L.A. (Clippers again) before taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Phoenix.
Two nights later, they'll be in Boston for the launch of a three-games-in-four-nights road trip. The last two will happen on successive nights in Toronto and Brooklyn.
After a two-game home stand co-starring the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, the Suns again go east for dates in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Washington.
For the entire month, the Suns have only four games against teams currently among the top eight in the Western Conference. But regardless of the opponent, the NBA road can be tricky.
A shot at the Dragon?
OK, so last Saturday's comments regarding Goran Dragic by Golden State Warriors All-Star point guard Steph Curry did include some kind words.
But after Goran ripped the Warriors for 34 points on 13 field-goal attempts (including 6 of 7 from 3-point range), Curry sort of indicated that the pre-game analytics were on Golden State's side.
"He was shooting like 30-something from the 3-point line," Curry said of Dragic, "and he made 6 of 7 and I'd say all but 2 were contested, so it's tough."
Please note that while Curry was chatting with reporters, Dragic's 3-point percentage had risen to an even 41, while Steph's 3-for-10 effort had escorted him down to 40.6.
For the record, we'll still take Curry in a 3-point contest. He did nail 6 of 9 against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
As for his kind words bestowed upon Dragic, Curry said:
"They were dagger shots. A big-time player made big-time shots, so we'll tip our cap to him."
If we had a cap, we'd do the same.
Entering Tuesday's home date with the Miami Heat, Dragic had climbed to fourth among NBA point guards in overall statistically based efficiency.