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Suns drop in reverse standings, leave fans deflated

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Over the last three days, the Suns have dropped from 3rd to 6th in the reverse standings. Time for trades!

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing like a two-game Phoenix Suns winning streak to set the blog and social media ablaze with fury and fear.

Fury and fear? Over a winning streak?

I apologize to all the Suns players, coaches and employees who read this blog or follow any of us on social media. We are terrible. It can’t be fun to feel the elation of winning a game only to see outrage and snark all over social media about. No wonder they pretend they don’t see it.

There’s a reason P.J. Tucker deleted his twitter account, and why Earl Watson was so engaging over the summer but now won’t touch twitter. Look at it from their point of view and you’ll understand a bit better.

But such is the life of a fan who hasn’t seen their team sniff the playoffs in seven years and still doesn’t see the core of a perennial playoff team on a nightly basis because either (a) the pieces aren’t in purple and orange yet or (b) the coach won’t play them enough.

After a brief stretch where rookies Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis were all seeing the floor more, at the expense of Jared Dudley and - to a lesser extent - Brandon Knight, the last three games have seen yet another regression to the old.

During a glorious 4-game stretch from Christmas to New Years, all three rookies saw quality minutes in each game while Jared Dudley played none and Brandon Knight got only 16.1 per night. Minutes were distributed more evenly, with no one exceeded 31 minutes per game. The future is here!

That lasted a week.

Over the three games this week, in which the Suns have gone 2-1 and dropped from 3rd to 6th in the reverse standings, we are back to Tyson Chandler, P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe getting 28-34 minutes each while Bender, Chriss and Ulis combine for 38 minutes total per game. During the two-game winning streak, even Brandon Knight is back to 26 minutes per game.

If your team is going to be 12-25 without a hope for the playoffs, why play the guys who have already maximized their NBA talents? Why not play the younguns who are still scratching the surface?

One argument is showcasing them for a trade.

Just like the Suns parlayed good two weeks of Markieff Morris (20 points, 7 rebounds in a few February games) into a lottery pick that partially ended up as Marquese Chriss, it’s possible that increased minutes for useful role players could net the Suns better assets back in trade.

Myth #1: Players don’t lose trade value after getting benched

Some of our dear readers would scoff at the idea of GMs being dense enough to like a particular player less after he’s benched. You’d would argue that a player is a player, and a good GM wouldn’t care if he was playing 30 minutes per night or 10 or 0. There’s plenty of video! If you like the player, you like the player.

But all you have to do is think of every July. There’s a lot of interchangeable parts in free agency. Between similar players, it’s the ones coming off high-minute seasons that get the bigger contracts than those who didn’t. There’s a reason you hear that “player X was a bargain because of a bad team situation last year that stunted his minutes” or that “player Y was overpaid because he put up big numbers on a crappy team”.

This happens in the trade market too. A player who is a big part of a rotation is worth more than one who in riding the bench a lot.

This is definitely a what-have-you-done-lately league.

On the Suns, look no further than Markieff Morris. GM McDonough openly said after the trade that he tried and tried to trade Morris all season but no one was offering a quality pick for Morris UNTIL he had that breakout two-week stint in February. Then suddenly offers came in and Morris became a Wizard.

So, if you’re looking at trading Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker and maybe even Tyson Chandler or Eric Bledsoe, cutting back their minutes won’t help that cause.

That’s looking on the Bright Side, no?

Myth #2: Rookies’ growth and future are stunted with less playing time

This one’s a myth, for sure. What you’re doing is mixing up the symptom with the cause. A bad player who doesn’t get playing time eventually fades out of the league. A good player who doesn’t get playing time proves he was good all along when he finally does.

There aren’t really good NBA players who got worse because they played less than 20 minutes per game in their first few months in the league. Even some of the best NBA players started their careers on the end of the bench as rookies.

Devin Booker barely played in November and early December last year. In his short minutes, he was a catch-and-shoot maven but didn’t show a whole lot more game than that. You’d think with him not playing, the coach wouldn’t be too excited about his future, yet even during that period of time coach Hornacek would tell me off the record he thought Booker would be an All-Star some day. And you’d think that Booker’s other skills couldn’t possibly develop on the end of the bench. Yet when he got minutes after all the injuries, he wasn’t stunted after all.

In fact, you could make a case for a young player getting too many minutes in their early stages. Giving a young player too many minutes could help him establish bad habits and me-first stat gathering rather than good team play. One could argue that Booker got a little too much playing time last spring, and even this fall, as he still learns his strengths and weaknesses.

ROSTERBATION

My long-time readers know that I hate rosterbating. I hate it because a fan almost always has a distorted view of their team’s own players and those from other teams. That distorted view is often influenced by “aesthetics” (how a player looks on the court, or how athletic they are) and “feels” (which buttons that player pushes in your nether regions when he makes a good play).

The problem with aesthetics and feels is that, while they seem like absolutes, they are actually quite subjective. That’s why rosterbation is so fun, because no two people think alike. One fan’s good deal is another’s trash.

I dislike rosterbation because the only people in the world who matter are the 30 GMs and their front office staffs. And I know they are prey to aesthetics and feels just like the rest of us, which makes the entire NBA landscape a social experiment over which I have no control.

Imagine a Cavs fan suggesting they acquire former All-Star sharpshooter Kyle Korver for the likes of Mike Dunleavy and a pick? They’d have been laughed off the stage, even by their own fans let alone Hawks fans. Yet that’s was appears to be happening in real life.

Making fan level rosterbation even worse is that the same fan who says “our player won’t lose trade value riding the bench” will manufacture trades with other teams by using stats to assess trade value. A player who scores 18 points per game naturally has a higher value than one scoring 12 per game. (anyone think of Brandon Knight when they read that last sentence?)

LET’S DO IT ANYWAY

Nah, I’m just kidding. I won’t make a fool of myself by proposing a trade that will never work. And I do believe the realgm or espn trade machines are the bane of many fans’ existence.

What I will do is list the players who NEED to be traded in the next six weeks for the sake of my sanity and theirs.

Brandon Knight

Please, please find a taker for Brandon. He’s not going to get another long-term starting shot here, so he might as well try it somewhere else. And, my own personal aesthetics and feels prefer Tyler Ulis and Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench.

I’d love to see him move to Sacramento to help them with their playoff bid (they are currently 8th, while riding a PG duo of Darren Collison and Ty Lawson’s shadow) or some other playoff bubble team.

P.J. Tucker

Earl Watson, just like Jeff Hornacek, Lindsey Hunter and Alvin Gentry before him, loves P.J. Tucker too much. He absolutely loves what Tucker brings to the team with effort, heart and defense and shows that love by playing Tucker among the top three minutes-per-game on the team.

None of Tucker’s coaches have the heart or desire to bench P.J. in the name of youth, but when you’ve got two handfuls of guys 24 and younger, and you’re experiencing your 7th straight non-playoff season, you don’t need P.J. Tucker playing 34 minutes per game.

Save Earl from himself, Ryan! Trade Tucker to New York to reunite him with Hornacek, or to New Orleans with Alvin Gentry.

Eric Bledsoe

This is tough one because I love Bledsoe’s effort and commitment to doing the best he can to win games. He’s great on both ends of the court, and would be even better in a slightly less important role on a better team.

Bledsoe is one of only five NBA players - all the rest are all-stars and even Hall of Famers - putting up 19/5/5 on the season, yet he’s just not the ideal lead dog. He doesn’t talk enough or hold other players accountable enough to be the team’s leader, and he’s not a good enough passer to overcome that with playmaking to make the guys around him better.

So I think the Suns should let Bledsoe go to a contender so he can be that holycraphesawesome guy in the playoffs while the Suns draft a new point guard next summer. There’s 2-4 PG’s who could have a better future than Eric Bledsoe and would align better with the youth squad of Booker, Ulis (backup), Bender and Chriss.

Outcomes

At least two of Bledsoe, Knight and Tucker should be gone by late February, making room for the young guys to play out the string while the Suns solidify a top-5 pick in what looks like a great draft. Anyone in the Top 5 or maybe even Top 7 of next summer’s draft would immediately become the best prospect - if not player - on the team.

What do you get back for those guys?

I dunno. That’s for McDonough to work out. From McD’s history, you can probably expect a some short-term moving parts and future draft picks. It’s the draft where the Suns will acquire their future playoff team, not the trade market or free agency.

How about you? What deals would you like to see for Knight, Bledsoe or Tucker?