The Phoenix Suns began the preseason with no less than 15 guaranteed contracts plus a walk-on (Earl Barron) playing well enough to make the team as an in-case-of-emergency backup center.

The Suns not only have a solid starting four returning from last season - Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee - they also have nearly two teams worth of backups good enough to play NBA rotation minutes. Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver all signed offseason contracts. Gerald Green, Alex Len, Archie Goodwin and Shavlik Randolph all come back as well. Add in rookies T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Zoran Dragic and you've got a baker's dozen plus two.

But as you saw in the "somewhat like a regular season rotation" game against the Clippers on Wednesday night on ESPN, it's really hard to play more than 10 of the 15 guys on a given night while keeping some semblance of order.

Ten players got between 10 (Tolliver) and 34 (Bledsoe) minutes, yet firestarters Isaiah Thomas and Gerald Green couldn't garner more than 16 apiece despite Dragic getting just 26. Six other minutes were given to the 3rd and 4th centers because of foul trouble, a small-ball trend not likely to change with the current roster.

But injuries are playing their part to cull the herd.

Starting Power Forward

While some, including me, think that Markieff Morris fits better on the second unit as a primary scorer than in the starting lineup, the position is now Morris' to lose as Anthony Tolliver has been struggling with a hand injury.

Against the Lakers and Clippers, Mr. Stretch Four missed all eight of his three point attempts and is not productive in enough other ways to overcome missing everything on offense. To be an effective rotation player, Tolliver has to be a knock-down shooter. His hand injury must still be affecting his shot.

Keef has not played exceptionally well this preseason, but he is a known quantity and - best of all - seems to be healthy. Keef can score in the midrange as well as on the perimeter and offers a toughness the Suns need against the West elite.

Backup Centers

Miles Plumlee is the starter because there's simply no better option. He's a known quantity who always gives you what you expect - clanky hook shots combined with active defense and solid rebounding. It's the backup position that's been less than hotly contested.

Alex Len, the most talented of the bigs, missed the first five preseason games with a hand injury while Shavlik Randolph sustained a knee sprain last week.

Len returned against the Clippers and played 16 minutes, in part because of Miles Plumlee's foul trouble (6 fouls in 16 minutes) but he did not attempt a shot and clearly favored the hand on offense. Len's defense however was a pleasant surprise as he instinctually defended the rim several times on Clipper drives.

Randolph returned from his sprain and played well against the Lakers but only got one minute against the Clippers.

Each injury has given Earl Barron a chance to shine. Jeff Hornacek said the Suns were willing to "eat a contract" if Earl Barron played his way onto the team and the only one you could see being eaten is Shav's. He returned and played well this week against the Lakers but only played 1 minute vs. Barron's six against the Clippers. A lingering knee injury won't help his chances.

Backup Guards

There's been no real injury to the guard core, so it's still a four-man weave with Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin and Zoran Dragic on the outside looking in. Ennis has hardly played this preseason. Goodwin did not play against the Clippers, and Zoran has been out an all-important week with visa issues. Expect these guys to have similar roles to Earl "in case of emergency" Barron.

Bledsoe, the Dragon, Thomas and Green are the four primary guards. Green and Thomas both hobbled at one point during the Clipper game. Green came down hard on a Clipper's foot in the fourth quarter, while Thomas stumbled getting through a tough screen on the perimeter. Both continued playing, so the injuries were likely superficial.

After playing a lot of SG last year, P.J. Tucker has slid to PF a lot more than SG this preseason. Part of that is the lack of front court rebounding prowess that he can bring, and part of that is some extra weight Tucker is carrying this preseason.

Starting Small Forward

Speaking of Tucker, entering the preseason he seemed a lock for the SF position he held down all last season. His tenacity and predicability got him 30 minutes a game on a deep team.

Tucker may still earn that time, but he's butting up against a three-game suspension to start the season so Marcus Morris has gotten a lot of SF time this preseason and looks to be a lock for the starting SF position to begin the season. Morris grabbed 8 rebounds against the Clippers in 29 minutes while scoring 17 points, including two threes.

Rookie T.J. Warren joined the hand-injury brigade on Tuesday night, jamming his thumb against a Laker so hard that he cracked a bone. His injury starts at a 6-8 week recovery and rehab period, but as we've seen from Alex Len it can take months to fully recover from such an injury to such an integral part of the body. Hands cannot be protected without wrapping that renders the person ineffective (unless you're Kobe Bryant, I guess).

All told

Between injuries, via issues and rookie-ness, the Suns are getting closer to a rotation to being the season.

Unfortunately for Randolph, Warren and Tolliver, in particular, it appears that their unfortunate injuries are likely to reduce their role in the early-season rotation.

In the bonus

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The Phoenix Suns announced late Wednesday night that rookie forward T.J. Warren has suffered a fractured thumb. He sustained the small crack in his left thumb during Tuesday’s game against the...

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Eric Bledsoe torched his former team early to lead the Suns with 27 points by the end, but Phoenix fell 108-105 to the Los Angeles Clippers and another performance by Chris Paul that overshadowed...

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Chris Paul wanted the win and he got it by being the penultimate Chris Paul. When you've got Blake Griffin at your side, that's pretty much all it takes.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and the 1-5 Los Angeles Clippers were determined not to lose yet another preseason game, especially one on ESPN.

Eric Bledsoe and the 4-1 Phoenix Suns were just trying to survive a back-to-back after not playing heavy basketball since April.

But this is preseason, still. The Clippers rested DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford after their own back-to-back the previous night. But Blake Griffin played the whole fourth quarter, and he and Chris Paul combined for 41 and 39 minutes respectively.

The Suns had a chance to take the lead with 26 seconds left, but Marcus Morris - who had just hit a three to take the lead a minute before - missed an open three and Chris Paul went down and charged Bledsoe the rim for the score.

The Clippers won by three after Paul scored their last four points to close it out.

Paul and Griffin combined for 69 of the Clippers 108 points in 80 minutes of playing time.

For the Suns, Eric Bledsoe scored 27 points in 34 minutes, along with 2 assists, 2 steals and a rebound. Gerald Green had 23 points in only 16 minutes of play. Marcus Morris had 17 points and 8 rebounds in 29 minutes.

None of the other Suns played nearly as well. Dragic had 4 points and 4 assists in 25 minutes. Isaiah Thomas, after scoring a ton the night before, had just 4 points and 4 assists in 16 minutes of his own.


The game started with Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe going mano-a-mano, though Blake Griffin and Gerald Green were pretty flashy in their own right.

The Suns defensive scheme in this game was to go under the screen at the top of the key to prevent Chris Paul's drives into the teeth of the defense. Paul just stepped back and went 3-for-3 from three, scoring 14 points overall, in the first quarter alone.

Bledsoe matched Paul on the other end. The Clippers, too, went under the screen and Bled went 3-for-3 on threes, with 14 points overall.

Paul was matched up on Goran Dragic in the first quarter defensively and managed to keep Dragic quiet while Bledsoe and five other Suns scored 33 to lead by 5 at the end of the first (33-28).

The second unit stretched the lead to 8 before the Clippers brought back Paul and Griffin after 7 minutes. Green, Tucker and Thomas combined to go 7-for-9 in the second quarter, but the Clippers outscored the Suns 30-28 to cut the halftime lead to 3 (61-58).

Gerald Green finished the first half with 14 big points, and Eric Bledsoe had 16.

Alex Len made his first cameo of the year, providing good mobility on defense and two rebounds but otherwise favoring his injured hand on catches, and did not take a shot.

This second unit is going to be killer all season. Just when you think you survived the Suns first unit, the combo of Thomas, Green and Tucker will kill you on the second unit.

The Suns did not come out as sharp in the second half while Chris Paul continued carving up. He had a clean steal and breakaway on Dragic that set the tone and gave the Clippers their first lead since the first quarter.

Chris Paul then went all Chris Paul, hounding Markieff Morris all the way down the court till he got a steal, then hounding the Suns into another near-turnover on the nest possession.

The Suns played some defense of their own, but could not make many shots and fell behind. Goran Dragic just could not get untracked and Chris Paul kept getting "Paul calls".

For the record, the third quarter was really ugly. Neither team was sharp. Turnovers abounded.

Alex Len came back out in the second half with the starters when Plumlee picked up his fifth foul and gave some good minutes. He forced the Clippers to change their shot several times, but really isn't totally sure what the heck he's doing out there. Scratch that: he had no clue what he was doing, was going just on instinct.

The Suns offense was dead, though. They scored just 14 points (two field goals) against 10 turnovers until Gerald Green made a couple of shots to close out the third.

The Suns ended the third with a 1-point lead (80-79) because they played improved defense and made free throws (10) in between their miscues.

The fourth quarter got even uglier than the third. When P.J. Tucker clipped J.J. Redick 25 feet from the rim with .01 left no the shot clock, you knew it wasn't the Suns night. When Hedo followed that up with a 20-foot bank shot, the nail was in the coffin.

The Clippers kept Blake Griffin for the start of the 4th and brought Chris Paul back early. Probably to ensure they don't go 1-6 in preseason. The Clippers pulled out to a 5-point lead on the back of a few Griffin jumpers that make him really tough to guard. The two had combined for 21-of-36 from the field in 65 minutes by the 6 minute mark of the 4th. In a preseason game.

But then Dragic and Bledsoe rejoined the fray and the Suns began to score again.

Questions abound for the Phoenix Suns as they play a preseason back-to-back Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers. Jeff Hornacek‘s crew came off a 114-108 overtime win against Kobe...

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