Bad news is bad news... No matter how you sell it. Last week the Phoenix Suns (now 21-16) got probably the worst possible news for the season with the loss of Eric Bledsoe to a right meniscus tear. A similar injury to the one that caused Derrick Rose to miss seasons and Russell Westbrook to miss a collective 20 games and counting. But Bledsoe took the quick-return path that should have him back on the court in 6 weeks but might shorten his career in the end.
This is not good news for the upstart Suns who were the talk of the NBA with their impressive 19-11 before he went down.
Enough doom and gloom (from me), let's get to what matters. The staff takes on this injury news, here we go.
Twenty-Sixth Topic: What is the future of Eric Bledsoe?
1. Breaking the Ice: Reaction to the news of Eric Bledsoe being injured, having surgery, and potentially missing the rest of the season...
Jim Coughenour: Complete and utter despair. I could write a lot on this so I'll try to be succinct. It's his second injury to that knee - is he injury prone? His contract situation is more nebulous - with questions lingering is he worth four years and $58.5 million? What does this tell us about his value and the value of the rest of the team? How much of the positive vibe has dissipated with this injury, compounded by the team's less than stellar play in Bledsoe's absence, and how much more will erode if the team misses the playoffs? That's a lot of questions redirected back at you, Kris, but after this inimical injury I have started questioning everything...
Dave King: At first, I thought the Suns would be able to tread water without Bledsoe, but it seems they completely lost their mojo on that road trip. Sure they played hard every game, but forgot how to shoot the ball. Does Bledsoe make you shoot better? No. But shooting is all about confidence, and the Suns just don't seem to have it. Bledsoe seems to have taken that mojo with him.
Mike Lisboa: It's a heartbreaker for sure and a real test for a young roster that was just starting to hit its stride. If Bledsoe comes back after the All-Star Break, then I think the Suns will definitely be in the hunt for a playoff spot. If not, ugh. They're back in the too good to tank, too bad to matter spot in the lottery.
Sreekar Jasthi: It's a big gut punch for a team that had become the pleasant surprise of the NBA season. This team thrives on Dragic ans Bledsoe's shot creation and to lose one of them is a significant hit. There could be some potential long-term implications as well, with this being the second tear to Bledsoe's right meniscus. However, the injury could have been far worse and Bled's recovery is in the magical hands of the Suns' exceptional medical staff, so it's not all doom and gloom.
Sean Sullivan: It's tough, no two ways about it. I knew it would be a struggle for the Suns without him,but I underestimated just how mediocre at everything they would suddenly become. This isn't to say they can't figure out how to be successful without him for a while. It will also probably take some time once he comes back to re-acclimate him into the offense...it won;t be an instant fix. It's all about chemistry...all the more reason I think the Suns will figure this thing out eventually.
2. What is the immediate impact of Bledsoe's injury to the Suns?
DK: Immediately, the Suns have lost their confidence, which was bred from a steady diet of forced turnover and fast break finishes. Without the 20 points a game on fast breaks, the Suns have to execute in the half court. They clearly are not comfortable in that setting.
ML: Thus far, it's been an inability to push the pace and score in the paint. Ish Smith can do a lot of things, but unfortunately driving and scoring are not among them. Here's hoping Leandro Barbosa can regain his old NBA form and give the Suns a much-needed attacker in the lane.
SJ: I think we've seen what the immediate impact has been on this brutal road trip. Without Bledsoe, this offense relies far too much on Goran Dragic and as brilliant as he's been this year, the Suns need someone else to demand defensive attention and create shots for others. Bledsoe's loss also hurts the defense, as those replacing his minutes are all worse on-ball defenders than him.
SS: Scoring, fast-breaks, defense, steals, and even some rebounding it appears. Nobody on the roster will replace Bledsoe...but they have enough options to mitigate his absence if they figure things out and play as a team. They haven't done that yet. It's been all Goran, all the time.
JC: Fast break scoring has been down and I think they miss his fourth quarter presence. It's a drop off in a lot of ways going from Bledsoe's production to more Ish Smith and Leandro Barbosa (although hopefully he's regaining his form after last night). It's still hard to quantify exactly what his loss means, though. Is it because Bledsoe is gone that Green went 7-33 from the field in the last two games Phoenix lost by a combined four points. How about Markieff Morris averaging 5.6 points while going 13-45 from the field on the road trip. Mix in the facet that the Suns played a couple teams that are bad mismatches and I think we need to see them play a few games at home before we make definitive statements.
3. What is the long-term impact?
DK: If long term is this season, then it could cost the Goran Dragic a chance at the playoffs for only the second time this year. If long-term is next season and beyond, then the impact is very little. An season-long injury clouds the contract picture, but the Suns will sign Bledsoe anyway. And, given the injury, the Suns are even more likely to keep Dragic. Win!
ML: I think it's minimal. The Suns have made it clear that Bledsoe is a part of the long-term plan in Phoenix. If he comes back from the injury this season, I think he gets whatever deal he would have gotten if he had remained healthy. If not, maybe the Suns are wary of giving him something approaching a max deal. Perhaps the Suns spend a little more on a back-up point guard or shooting guard in the off-season than maybe they had planned.
SJ: This remains to be seen, as none of us are really capable of accurately predicting the trajectory of Bledsoe's recovery. However, many players have returned to full form after a meniscus tear - Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, etc - and I would expect Bledsoe to return at some point this season, to receive a max offer sheet from another team in July, and the Suns to most likely match it. As for the team's success this season, holding onto a playoff spot until Bledsoe returns will be a tall task and I really don't know how that will play out, as I haven't been able to accurately gauge this team all year.
SS: This is the question. If it takes us from a fourth seed to a seventh seed when it's all said and done, we may have to play a tougher opponent and without home court advantage in the first round...Or we could potentially be taken out of the playoffs altogether....destined for another late lottery pick. That's the shorter long-term, I guess. Long-long term? Nothing. This doesn't change our plans to retain Bledsoe at any cost after the season, a partially removed meniscus isn't the end of a player's career by any means and shouldn't really have any effect once he's healthy, and he has already shown what a game-changer he can be for the Suns. Oh yeah, and we still have McDonough. The future is still bright!
JC: Does missing the playoffs count as long term? That certainly looks like a possibility at this point. The Suns hold on the eighth spot suddenly appears tenuous and Marc Gasol just went through a full practice yesterday. If he returns ahead of Bledsoe, which appears quite likely, Memphis suddenly becomes a very real adversary for the last couple playoff spots. I don't know what the track record down the line is for players who have two knee surgeries by the age of 24... It worries me. I was already hesitant giving $14 million a year to a player who I felt was borderline worth it (I dont think it would be a bargain contract anymore), but now there are health concerns above that.
4. Who is the most important perimeter player for the Suns now between Gerald Green, Ish Smith, Leandro Barbosa, Archie Goodwin, and Dionte Christmas?
ML: Leandro Barbosa. Assuming the Suns keep him for the rest of the season, which I think is more likely given Bledsoe's injury, he'll need to step up both behind the arc and in the paint. He's a career 39.1% three point shooter and a capable ball handler who fits nicely with the Suns' offense.
SJ: I think it's Gerald Green. Even after his abysmal shooting night against the Knicks, he will be the starter in the back-court alongside Dragic and the team will need him to have good scoring performances more often than not. As great as Barbosa was against New York, we have to keep in mind that he literally JUST returned to the NBA and is best suited to be a sparkplug off the bench in Bledsoe's return. I'm not ready to sell low on Green after the worst performance of his season.
SS: If Barbosa can keep playing the way he did last night. He is, without a doubt. If Gerald Green can eventually find the broad side of the barn he was shooting at last night, he can also be a huge impact player for the Suns as well. I have a feeling our next best guard besides Dragic will change nightly until Bledsoe returns.
JC: The Blur. Green has his minutes regardless. GG might have more overall impact, but that's kind of like a sunk cost. He's already entrenched and he either will or he won't produce. Barbosa suddenly comes in to play (potentially) the lion's share of Bledsoe's minutes. The better Leandro can be the more of Bledsoe's production he can make up for.
DK: Certainly Barbosa. He finally got his scoring touch last night (21 points) and the Suns need that every single night from him. For some reason, he missed the last few minutes and overtime - and it really showed as the Suns just couldn't score while Dragic was being blanketed by Shumpert. Sad that Green and Frye couldn't make them pay for going small.
5. Over/Under 0.5 games played in a Phoenix Suns uniform for Eric Bledsoe.
SJ: Over. This season isn't over.
SS: Over. Book it.
JC: I'll say under just to be a contrarian. After his (most recent) surgery the press release basically said to ask his agent any questions about the procedure. It would be hilarious if people are told to ask his agent about his timeline for returning to action down the road. Something has felt off to me about Eric's body language since he came here - not sure if that means anything except that I possibility have issues with not feeling loved. If for some reason Bledsoe becomes a misfit for McMiracle's puzzle I can easily see him moving him. I think McMiracle sees all the players he brought in as valuable members of the team... and completely movable assets.
DK: If you're talking the rest of the season, then I'll take the over. If nothing else, he shows up in the last week to prove he can still run to the contract-signing table.
ML: For the rest of the season? Over. This is the Bright Side of the Sun after all.
BONUS: If the team starts losing, misses the playoffs, gets back into the Top 10 of the lottery, and lands a quality pick... Is that a worthy ending to this narrative?
SS: I think that ship has sailed. At the worst we might end up with a 10th overall pick, but I don't really see that happening either. I think the Suns will get better without Bledsoe, and when he returns after the All-Star break, we will be ready to resume that playoff push.
JC: Depends. If things start to unravel and the Suns end up 9th or 10th in the lottery (can't imagine them falling any further than that) and move up to the top three it would be great. It illustrates that Ryan was mostly successful in building a solid foundation in the middle of a swamp and things went awry because of injuries and not being quite ready in an ultra competitive Western Conference. But that is a rather improbable scenario. What seems more likely is that the Suns manage to hang around .500 and just miss the playoffs (this is probably worst case) or they shake this off and still make it to the postseason, hopefully/probably with Bledsoe's help. But who knows what kind of conversation McMiracle is having on his smart phone right now...
DK: Uh no. Since tasting the wins, it's hard to imagine a season-long tank job from here on out. Frankly, the Suns will play better and win some games. Going .500 is not crazy talk for the rest of the season. That's pretty close to a playoff spot.
ML: I think it's a pyrrhic victory. This was always a rebuilding season, even with the early success of the Suns. With Bledsoe, this team isn't quite a contender yet. However, there is definitely a lost opportunity for this squad to see what elite competition is all about with a trip to the playoffs to prepare them for their contending years. It's a nice consolation prize, but I would rather see this team reach its potential together to give a better picture of what needs to happen in the off-season.
SJ: I guess? It would hurt to see this team lose that much after all the early success, but I guess it'd be better to lose big than to tread water. However, I don't think there's any way the Suns can lose enough games at this point to get a top ten pick.
Bright Siders, what do you think?