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SunBlast - A Phoenix Suns mailbag on Bledsoe, Randolph, Goodwin, and summer free agent money

You've got tons of questions about the Phoenix Suns and we are here to answer them! Today's mailbag covers questions on the Suns defense, Eric Bledsoe's return, Archie Goodwin's potential, Shavlik Randolph's disappearing act, and the summer cap situation.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of the SunBlast, where Bright Side answers YOUR questions on the Phoenix Suns. As of this morning, the Suns sit just a half-game out of the playoff picture but face a difficult test of 9 road games versus only 4 home games to finish out the season.

Let's get to the wide-ranging questions posed via email and this post earlier this week.

MJFerguson: Why are the Suns so terrible defensively since the All-Star break??

Statistically, opponents are getting to the rim at higher frequency now than before the break and they are converting better than before when they get to the rim. Shots at the rim are the highest % in the game, so the more you allow the worse it gets for you defensively. However, the stats today show that the Suns are 15th in the league on defense since the All Star Break (up from 20th three days ago), which is basically on par with pre-break results. The down side is that only three current playoff seeds are playing worse defense than the Suns.

However, the Suns are also only 15th in offense since the break despite having nearly identical efficiency to the first half. This means that other offenses have stepped up, making it tougher on middling and worse defensive teams as the playoff hunt heats up.

The biggest reason for the Suns' struggles on defense, in my opinion, is that they have been largely unable to practice for a long time now. The further the Suns get from training camp, where they came out as a top-10 defense for a month, the more they lose their timing on rotation. The Suns have the second-least experience in the entire league, and by far the least among playoff teams.

dshock88: Do you think the return of Eric Bledsoe has slowed us down offensively..? defensively..? If yes, why, and will we bring it back to normal?

Certainly, Eric Bledsoe looked like his old self in the Detroit game, scoring 15 points in the 4th quarter to help the cold-shooting Suns win a game they really, really needed to win. His 23 points were his best numbers since before injury, while Dragic still had 20 of his own points, and the two combined for 10 assists.

I think the team did have a "Bledsoe effect", though no one would corroborate that with me. As soon as Bledsoe started practicing with the team, their on-court performance suffered. The Suns don't practice often, but for 2 or 3 practices there was Bledsoe working alongside them - or staying after to scrimmage - which could have had an effect on their game performance without him.

Once Bledsoe returned to the starting lineup, the Suns have won 4 of 5 games. Overall, the Suns are 16-7 when Bledsoe and Dragic start together with a front line of Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee and P.J. Tucker. Ever better, they are 16-5 when both finish (Dragic left two games with injury and the Suns lost both).

It sure appears to me that Miles Plumlee's resurgence has coincided with Bledsoe's return. They have a connection on the court, offensively, and Plumlee has posted consecutive double-digit scoring nights for the first time in two months. Dragic and Frye are the league's best pick-and-roll combo (really, the stats show this), but Bledsoe and Plumlee are fun to watch as well.

Pece: Why Shavlik’s minutes shrink in last 4 or 5 games?

Keep in mind that Shavlik Randolph has not played more than 16 games in an NBA season since he was a rookie, and he's already approaching his 30s.

He was signed because Miles Plumlee was struggling with low energy and an ankle issue, and Alex Len was struggling with being 20. Plumlee feels better than he has most of the year and is playing great with Bledsoe back in the lineup. Len is playing with a lot more confidence. He had 9 points and 5 rebounds against Orlando, and 3 rebounds and 4 blocks against the Pistons. There's no need to play a guy who's smaller than both of them and has less of a future in Phoenix.

Be happy that Randolph isn't playing. When he plays, it means Plumlee and Len are not.

Javier Pastore: Archie Goodwin has the youth, the tools, the work ethic and the willingness to be the best. I personally think he will be one of the next great things, how much do you agree with me?

I agree that Archie Goodwin has a very high NBA ceiling, but there's a long way between seeing it and reaching it. Goodwin has to develop a solid jumper, at least on three pointers, to force the defense to play him honest and open up driving lanes.

His bread and butter in the league will be a great ability to get to the rim, draw fouls and finish through contact. We see with Dragic and Bledsoe that the ability to finish through contact is highly effective - it puts the other team's bigs in a tough situation with foul trouble, making life easier on the rest of the offense.

Archie also has very good defensive instincts, though he was ever been a guy who gets the flashy steals. If he can become a very good on-ball and help defender by using his quickness, he can be a better defender than most NBA shooting guards.

Archie has the tools. Now he needs to build up his body to NBA levels and get that jumper in shape. I imagine that a 21-year old Archie Goodwin - two years from now - can be a great young NBA player.

LeandroBarbosa10: What is the Suns summer cap situation?

No matter what happens this year, the Suns are set up nicely this summer to get even younger and more talented. The Suns have three first-round picks for sure, and then probably three more coming in 2015 (guessing that Minnesota's will roll over to 2015 as top-13 protected).

Before free agency starts, assuming the Suns make no trades, the team will have 5 players under 23 on the team (Len, Goodwin and 3 draft picks) to go along with guaranteed 2014-15 contracts for Dragic, Gerald Green, Bledsoe, Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris and Miles Plumlee. Channing Frye's contract is guaranteed as well, though it's a player option he may not pick up.

With Bledsoe's cap hold factored in and Beasley's dead money, the Suns will have that core of players (including Frye) and draft picks locked into $42 million for 14 players on July 1.

The cap is expected to be about $62 million, giving the Suns $20 million to play with.

Bledsoe, who's cap hold is $6.57 million, will be a restricted free agent likely to command a max extension of nearly $14 million for next season. That eats up about $7 million (the difference from his cap hold), leaving $13 million for someone(s) else.

The big question is who would the Suns spend that money on? It's not enough for one of Miami's big three can opt out this summer.

Possibly, you fork out a restricted free agent offer to a Greg Monroe or Gordon Hayward to raise the talent level.

But Monroe, a center, would take nearly all of Plumlee's minutes and many of Len's. Is Monroe worth two or three times the money of Len and Plumlee put together next year?

It's possible the Suns could play Monroe at PF, but you've seen the results in Detroit when they play Monroe out of position. He doesn't have an offensive game outside of ten feet, and his defense is terrible despite the rebounding numbers.

The same quandry is true of Hayward vs. Tucker. P.J. Tucker will be a restricted free agent likely to command 2-4 million per year, while Hayward would require at least $11 million (maybe 12-13) to pry away from Utah. Is Hayward worth three or more times the money of Tucker for what he brings? Hayward is a much better passer and playmaker, but he doesn't make as many shots and doesn't rebound as well as Tucker. And we saw in the Cleveland game last week how important Tucker is to the Suns' effort level.

Another quality option is Lance Stephenson from Indiana. He could get a contract anywhere from $10-13 million a year this summer, but signing him would mean you're giving up one of Dragic or Bledsoe or Goodwin. Stephenson is a very good player, for sure, but is he worth the investment along with the sacrifice of one of those three?

Having said all this, though, expect nearly half the roster to be turned over this summer. A couple of new rookies will take the places guys like Ish or Christmas or Randolph at the bottom of the roster. The Suns likely don't want five players under 23 next season, so they will want to package one or more draft picks for something better. McDonough and Babby will have to make tough calls on bringing back Tucker for more money, and whether to keep Frye in the starting lineup.

But one of the biggest decisions might just be what to do with the Morrii. Both will want extensions on their rookie contracts. What happens when/if they don't get them until summer of 2015, when they become restricted free agents? Will they pout? Or will they improve even more, to prove their worth on the market?

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