The trade deadline is just two days away, but even if the Phoenix Suns stand pat on Thursday, the roster for the final 28 games will be a different one than head coach Earl Watson was working with on Feb. 10.
While it is easy to forget, both Brandon Knight (sports hernia) and Ronnie Price (toe surgery) are returning to health and nearing a return to action that was predicted to come shortly after the All-Star break. The precise dates have yet to be determined, but their returns should provide some normalcy to the rotations for the injury-riddled Suns.
"Eventually we get 20 points a game back from Brandon Knight," Watson said as he looked ahead to both players' returns after the Suns' most recent loss to Golden State. "We get Ronnie Price, intangibles. Archie (Goodwin) can go to his natural spot. Devin (Booker) will play less minutes but be effective still."
Knight was averaging a career-high 19.7 points for the Suns this season to go along with 5.1 assists until the injury, which had bothered him since late December, became too much for him to play through.
Over the first 32 games of the season, Knight offered the Suns flashes of what he could bring but did so with frustrating irregularity. After backcourt mate Eric Bledsoe tore his meniscus on Dec. 26, Knight's up-and-down season took a nosedive. His numbers were poorer in almost every statistical category despite now being the team's primary weapon. Perhaps those struggles can be attributed to the limitations placed upon him by the injury, but the fact remains the Suns went 1-9 in Knight's 10 games flying solo. Still, the Suns will welcome the owner of Phoenix's two highest-scoring games of the season with open arms, whenever his return comes.
"I hope Brandon is close," Watson said in his pregame press conference Feb. 10. "I think this break is going to be big for him, making sure he gets his treatment as he goes back home to Florida. It's important for him to stay professional and maybe get two treatments a day because he's needed. When you have guys who are starters and play big minutes, I think it's important for them to, not rush, but come back as quickly as possible."
While Watson could use Knight's contributions to the lineup immediately, he has stressed to the player that his return will come when Knight feels physically capable and not a moment sooner.
"I never want to rush a player back because I've been injured, and I understand," Watson said. "I've been rushed back before, and it leads to another injury.
"He wants to play. We're sure of that 100 percent."
Then there is Price, the third-string point guard who averaged only 4.2 points over his 34 games before undergoing mid-January surgery on his right great toe but was shooting a career-high 38.1 percent from 3. Despite unimpressive numbers, he earned 14.8 minutes per game under former coach Jeff Hornacek for being one of the few players who consistently brought maximum effort every game. Unsurprisingly, Price's on-court tenacity has bled into his rehab.
"We have to keep Ronnie Price out of practice," Watson said. "Ronnie Price is the guy who will play with one foot, and he's a warrior. He texts me sometimes after games. He wants to play. He's ready to be a part of the team."
With Knight close to returning and Price apparently champing at the bit to harass ball-handlers once again, the player who stands to be most affected by the freshly healed point guard corps is Archie Goodwin.
Goodwin has started the past 11 games at point guard since the Suns lost the last of their true point guards — Knight — to injury on Jan. 21. In that time, he has averaged 16.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 3.8 turnovers in 35.4 minutes per game. Of his seven career games scoring 20-plus points, six have come over this stretch. However, his effort has been lacking at times over the same period of time, most notably in the Golden State game, that led to P.J. Tucker shouting at Goodwin for not chasing the opening tip that went out of bounds and Markieff Morris resorting to using one of his patented motivational shoves on Goodwin at the bench.
Now, with Knight soon to be stepping back into his starter's spot, Goodwin will be returning to the bench and a role of about 20 minutes per game — if Price doesn't ninja-loot those minutes first. Looked at from a positive perspective, it will provide Goodwin with the opportunity to prove he can produce just as well in a smaller role, which will be key for him in finding consistent minutes on an NBA team. The worst-case scenario would be seeing Goodwin sulk at having his minutes halved after enjoying the first extended burn of his career.
Watson has said time and again that team trumps player, and having Knight and Price back healthy is what is best for the team. From there, the onus falls to Goodwin to prove he, too, is all about the team and give consistent effort when he takes the court, whether it's for five or 35 minutes a night.