The NBA world this time of year is a lot different than that of the fantasy worlds that can be created in NBA2K with a controller and no pressure.

It is pretty infrequent when a reactionary move benefits anyone long-term or, at times, even in the moment. That is one of the fears of every team, player, coach, and fan alike in February and June when transactions are at their apex, giving every NBA General Manager ammunition to crush a franchise. Or rise above his peers...

Welcome to Trade Season.

General Managers are famously infamous for mortgaging a team's future for the hope that their idea is the right idea.

Right now the Phoenix Suns (29-20) are in a unique position that every contender, or frankly any other team, wishes they were in. They are the envy of other general managers, coaches and players alike. Not because they have the best record in the NBA or stars aplenty ready to carry the team to a title, but because they have the ability to absorb nearly a max contract for next to nothing. Also, they have no pressure to do anything at all. They have assets and leverage, two things that do not come together very often. Like lamb and tuna fish.

General Manager Ryan McDonough has potentially six first round picks (this and next year) and has acquired just over 19 million dollars in expiring contracts with the prize being the medically insured contract of Emeka Okafor.

Moving Okafor does not hurt team chemistry or break up the dynamic that they have created under Head Coach Jeff Hornacek through the first half of the season, which is always a risk with a trade no matter the talent. Chemistry is organic; not created in a lab meaning the addition or subtraction of an element could shift the parodim in chemistry dramatically. Moving other "assets" like Channing Frye or P.J. Tucker, who have high value on a contending team, could potentially crush the dynamic that has this team. Today they are nine games over .500 when they were supposed to be debating between the options of Wiggins, Parker or Randle.

Instead they are deciding between Pau Gasol, Danny Granger and other potential options that could secure their position ahead of the Dallas Mavericks (29-21) and Memphis Grizzlies (26-22), who are both aggressively chasing.

They are also trying to catch the Golden State Warriors (29-20), Houston Rockets (33-17) and Los Angeles Clippers (34-18).

So what trade or move keeps the Suns securely ahead of the Mavericks and Grizzlies while allowing them to keep pace with the Warriors, Rockets, and Clippers?

Is there a trade that works?

How will the new player (or players) react to Coach Hornacek's style? His coaching demeanor.

Sometimes the right answer is nothing at all. Odds are that Eric Bledsoe is going to play again this season. Often, general managers over think these decisions and make bold moves that end up backfiring on them. Backfiring on the team.

Adding Gasol would give the team a go-to scorer in the paint, something that they have not had in years.  As currently constructed the Suns do not have one player that demand a double-team in any scenario.  Goran Dragic is having a career year, but he is not the type of player that demands a double-team. Neither is Miles Plumlee, Frye nor anyone else on the roster.

Statistically, Gasol was having one his worst season in years, but would still be a positive return for the Suns in the paint which is where they are lacking the most. According to data from 82games.com the four position has been playing even with their competition and the five has been at -0.6 looking at the PER numbers.

During the first 28 games of the year, when the Los Angeles Lakers (13-15) were roughly a .500 team, Gasol was putting up very poor numbers. He has picked that up since then at the expense of team success (3-13) averaging 21.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game on 50% shooting from the field. Just about the right time of year to become a 20-10 player as the trade deadline approaches.

Gasol adds a lot to this team, this year.  The versatility he brings with the option of playing either the four or the five is intriguing next to Plumlee or any of the stretch-fours on the roster, but also moves either Frye, Alex Len, Markieff Morris or Marcus Morris to a very secluded role on the bench. He is also to be had for next to nothing.

Moves for players like Josh Smith (Detroit) would hurt the team long-term and not benefit them in the short-term, either. Adding Zach Randolph (Memphis) would give the team a post scorer, but is unlikely as the Suns and Grizzlies are competing against each other. The Pacers want a piece for Granger, not financial relief. Granger is financial relief for them this summer, regardless.

The Okafor Card is a once in a who knows how long golden goose, but only if used wisely.

Using that Okafor Card for a rental like Gasol gives the Suns a potential trio of Gasol-Bledsoe-Dragic to make some noise in the playoffs. Once the team got past the point of knowing they were not a lottery contender and more of a playoff contender the vision and focus shifted more to adding a piece that would make them more viable contenders in the Western Conference.

One thing the NBA has learned about McDonough is that he is a maverick, but he gets what he wants. He is patient and aggressive. Sometimes the best move is not to make a move at all unless it is the right move.

Time will tell whether there is a right move out there.

The Suns dropped the second game of a back-to-back in Houston, losing 122-108.

Summing it up

The Suns fell behind 12-2 right out of the gates, and despite their best efforts they just couldn't make it over the hump and come all the way back. Goran Dragic kept pace with Houston's James Harden, but the Suns didn't have anyone to slow down or cancel out Dwight Howard's production.

Telling the Story

The Rockets came away with points from each of their first five possessions and the Suns fell behind early on. The Suns hung with the Rockets for the rest of the game, but the hole they dug themselves was too deep to climb out of. Phoenix cut the lead to 35-30 after the first and 66-63 at half after forcing three ties in the second.

Yet every time the Suns made a run, the Rockets answered with a big shot. Houston scored the first six points of the half while Channing Frye missed three straight shots, and the lead was back to nine at 72-63. Gerald Green scored six of the next seven shots to cut it back down to four and keep the Suns within striking distance, but once again the Rockets answered with a three by Chandler Parsons. The Suns stretched the lead out to as many as 12, but the Suns came storming back again to make it 95-90 after three.

Phoenix needed a big push to start the half to make it a new game, but that didn't happen. Phoenix got the first bucket, but Houston scored the next six and the game was more or less over. The Suns just couldn't string together enough stops and buckets. They even resorted to the Hack-a-Howard with just over three minutes remaining, but Howard hit five of his six attempts to ice the game. The Rockets continued to score, while the Suns didn't, and the final score makes it look much worse than it really was for most of the game.

Top Performers

  • Dwight Howard: 34 points, 11-17 field goals, 12-18 free throws, 13 rebounds. Howard was unstoppable all night. He bullied every player the Suns through at him down on the block, and scored with a variety of moves. He even knocked down his free throws. Howard was the difference tonight.
  • Goran Dragic: 23 points, 6-13 field goals, 9-9 free throws, eight assists, six rebounds. Dragic was Dragic and canceled out James Harden's 23 points. Unfortunately, he didn't have a teammate go for 30+ like Harden did.

Final Thoughts

  • Houston made a lot of great shots, but the Suns simply made it way too easy on them. P.J. Tucker gave everything he had defending Harden, but nobody else put up enough of a fight. The Suns' defense has been awful the last two games, and that needs to change very soon or the Suns will hit the All-Star break on a four-game losing streak.
  • The Suns' bench did their job offensively tonight. Phoenix won bench points 46-19, and all five regular rotation bench players made their mark.
  • Leandro Barbosa tied with two other Suns for second on the team in scoring with 13. LB promised to Scott Howard on Twitter that he would start knocking down jumpers eventually, and he made good on that promise tonight. LB was 5-7 from the field and 2-4 from deep. Beep beep.
  • Alex Len's first two minutes of action tonight: three altered shots and a beautiful up-and-under post move for a bucket. I can't wait to see what this kid becomes.
  • Dwight was the difference, but the Suns also let Houston's tertiary guys go off as well. Parsons and Terrence Jones each had 19 points on 12 shots. Tucker held Harden in check as well as you could have expected, but those two and Howard killed the Suns.
  • Channing Frye and Gerald Green have both been struggling lately, on both sides of the ball. That's 40 percent of your starting lineup right there. They need to get going again.
The Phoenix Suns came into Houston on short rest after a hard fought game against Chicago Bulls the night before, a 101-92 loss, while the Rockets have been resting up the past three days. The tired...

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Time: 6:00 pm TV: FSAZ Some nights the shots just don’t fall. That was the story for the Phoenix Suns in last night’s home loss to the Bulls. Now the Suns hit the road to take on the Houston Rockets,...

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What: Phoenix Suns (29-19, 2nd Pacific) vs. Houston Rockets (32-17, 2nd Southwest)

Where: Toyota Center - Houston, TX

When: 6:00PM AZ Time

Watch: FoxSports AZ, NBA League Pass

Read: Check out The Dream Shake for the Houston point of view

No time to mope for the Phoenix Suns after a rough 101-92 loss to the Chicago Bulls. They're hopping on the team plane and looking to gain ground on the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference standings. Houston currently sits 2.5 games ahead of the Suns for the fifth seed. The Suns will look to bounce back hard after getting completely bogged down by Chicago's tar pit of a defense. This game should be a lot more to the Suns' liking as the Rockets play at a similar speed (7th in pace in the NBA to the Suns' 6th) and are similar to the Suns defensively as well (16th in defensive rating to the Suns' 14th).

Previous Meeting

The Suns bested the Rockets in Houston way back on December 4th to kick off their first 5-game winning streak of the season. Maybe this game will prove to be the start of another one! Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragi? led the Suns victory march with 20 and 19 points respectively. You may remember P.J. Tucker's fine defensive performance, limiting James Harden to 14 points on horrendous 3-17 shooting. And in a rare offensive outburst, P.J. dropped 18 points of his own. Aaron Brooks (remember that guy?) was the leading scorer for Houston with 17 points. Defense was the name of the game as the Suns limited the Rockets to 35.2% field goal shooting on the way to a 97-88 victory. The only black mark for the Suns' was a 14-rebound deficit, losing the battle of the glass 54-40.

Of course, the Suns had Eric Bledsoe and Houston was missing Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons for that match-up. The line-ups are a little different this time around.

Injury Report

As per usual, Eric Bledsoe (Knee) and Emeka Okafor (Neck) are out for the Suns. For Houston, walking trade rumor and malcontent Omer Asik is out with a right thigh/knee injury. Francisco Garcia (knee) and Greg Smith (knee) are listed as day-to-day and James Harden (thumb) is listed a probable. It's a safe bet Harden will be out there at tip-off.

Suns' Stats

Offensive Rating - 108.9 (8th, NBA), Defensive Rating - 105.4 (13th, NBA)


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Goran Dragic 45 34.3 7.2 14.1 50.7 1.4 3.6 39.4 4.4 5.6 77.2 1.0 2.5 3.5 6.0 2.9 1.3 0.2 2.5 20.1
Eric Bledsoe 24 33.5 6.3 13.0 48.6 1.2 3.3 35.0 4.2 5.3 78.9 0.4 3.8 4.3 5.8 3.3 1.5 0.3 2.5 18.0
Gerald Green 48 27.9 4.9 11.2 43.2 2.3 6.2 37.7 1.7 2.0 85.3 0.4 2.7 3.1 1.7 1.6 0.9 0.6 2.8 13.7
Markieff Morris 47 25.0 4.7 9.9 47.1 0.4 1.3 33.9 3.0 3.9 79.0 1.9 4.0 5.8 1.7 1.7 0.9 0.6 2.7 12.8
Channing Frye 48 28.5 4.5 10.0 45.2 2.3 5.5 40.6 1.0 1.3 80.3 1.0 4.4 5.3 1.1 1.1 0.8 0.8 3.0 12.3
Marcus Morris 48 22.3 3.5 8.1 43.6 1.3 3.3 38.1 1.6 2.1 79.0 1.1 3.1 4.2 1.1 1.1 1.0 0.2 2.0 10.0
Miles Plumlee 48 27.4 4.2 8.2 51.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.1 2.1 52.0 2.6 6.0 8.6 0.6 1.5 0.7 1.5 2.6 9.4
P.J. Tucker 48 29.9 3.2 7.6 41.6 0.9 2.2 40.2 1.9 2.4 78.4 2.0 4.1 6.1 1.8 1.3 1.1 0.3 2.3 9.1
Leandro Barbosa 13 20.1 3.2 7.5 41.8 0.2 1.2 20.0 2.0 2.5 81.3 0.4 1.8 2.2 1.9 1.0 0.4 0.2 1.6 8.5
Ish Smith 36 13.4 1.6 4.4 36.7 0.0 0.5 5.3 0.3 0.5 52.9 0.4 1.1 1.5 2.4 0.9 0.8 0.2 0.9 3.5
Archie Goodwin 37 10.5 1.2 3.2 38.1 0.1 0.8 10.7 0.5 0.8 69.0 0.4 1.3 1.7 0.4 0.9 0.4 0.2 0.7 3.1
Dionte Christmas 23 6.8 0.7 2.0 37.8 0.3 1.0 25.0 0.6 0.7 87.5 0.3 0.9 1.2 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.7 2.3
Alex Len 19 8.9 0.9 2.0 44.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5 0.7 76.9 1.3 1.5 2.8 0.1 0.5 0.2 0.4 1.8 2.3
Viacheslav Kravtsov 18 3.1 0.4 0.8 57.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.4 50.0 0.5 0.4 0.9 0.1 0.3 0.0 0.1 0.4 1.1

Rockets' Stats

Offensive Rating - 109.3 (7th, NBA) Defensive Rating - 105.6 (16th, NBA)


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
James Harden 41 38.5 7.2 16.2 44.8 2.0 6.2 32.3 7.3 8.6 84.7 1.0 3.9 4.8 5.5 3.7 1.3 0.5 2.4 23.8
Dwight Howard 49 34.1 6.6 11.4 57.7 0.0 0.1 40.0 5.1 9.5 53.3 3.4 8.9 12.3 1.7 3.2 0.9 1.8 3.6 18.3
Chandler Parsons 44 37.9 6.5 13.0 49.7 1.9 4.8 39.2 2.3 3.2 72.5 0.9 4.7 5.5 3.5 2.0 1.1 0.5 2.3 17.1
Jeremy Lin 39 31.0 4.4 9.6 46.3 1.1 3.3 33.1 3.5 4.4 80.0 0.3 2.3 2.6 4.5 2.7 1.0 0.5 2.3 13.4
Terrence Jones 44 28.2 5.0 9.5 52.4 0.4 1.5 29.2 1.6 2.7 58.0 2.1 5.4 7.5 1.2 1.0 0.6 1.4 1.8 11.9
Patrick Beverley 32 31.9 3.3 8.4 38.9 1.5 4.5 32.6 1.3 1.6 80.4 1.6 2.6 4.1 2.6 1.2 1.3 0.4 2.9 9.3
Omri Casspi 48 19.8 2.9 6.6 44.0 1.0 2.8 35.6 1.2 1.8 67.8 0.9 3.0 3.9 1.3 1.1 0.7 0.2 1.7 8.0
Aaron Brooks 41 17.1 2.5 6.3 40.0 1.3 3.2 41.2 0.9 1.1 84.1 0.6 1.0 1.5 2.0 1.2 0.6 0.1 1.8 7.3
Francisco Garcia 40 20.3 2.1 5.5 38.5 1.3 3.8 34.2 0.3 0.4 58.8 0.4 1.9 2.4 1.1 0.6 0.6 0.7 2.1 5.8
Omer Asik 17 18.2 1.5 3.1 47.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.5 2.3 64.1 1.6 5.1 6.8 0.4 1.2 0.2 0.4 2.0 4.4
Donatas Motiejunas 29 12.9 1.7 4.0 41.9 0.2 1.3 18.4 0.7 1.3 55.3 0.9 2.5 3.4 0.4 0.6 0.2 0.4 2.0 4.3
Greg Smith 11 9.1 1.6 2.5 64.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2 0.5 40.0 1.0 1.5 2.5 0.0 0.5 0.1 0.2 1.5 3.5
Robert Covington 4 4.5 1.0 2.3 44.4 0.8 2.0 37.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.0 0.5 2.8
Isaiah Canaan 5 3.8 0.2 0.8 25.0 0.0 0.6 0.0 0.8 0.8 100.0 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 1.2
Ronnie Brewer 23 6.9 0.1 0.7 20.0 0.0 0.3 12.5 0.0 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.5 0.6 0.4 0.1 0.3 0.0 0.2 0.3


Numbers in a Nutshell

In terms of overall offense and defense, it's a virtual dead heat between a pair of high scoring and average defending squads. If you think the Suns are in love with the longball... well, meet the Rockets who average 26.1 attempts per game (1st in the league) despite shooting a scant 34.3% from downtown (26th in the league). The Suns for their part are 2nd in 3 point attempts (25.3 per game), but are 10th in the league in 3PT% (36.9%). Given the way the Suns' defense has dropped off since December, this could turn out to be a high-scoring, long-bombing affair. Of course, both teams defend the 3-point line well (Suns are 2nd in opponent 3PT % at 33.2, Rockets are 7th at 34.5) so it could just as easily be long-bricking affair.

The one number the Suns will need to watch is fouls. Houston leads the league in fouls drawn, averaging 24.8 per game (vs. 21.8 for the Suns). If any of the Suns' starters goes the bench early, it will be up to the Bench Mob to pick up the slack.

Projected Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

F - P.J. Tucker

F - Channing Frye

C - Miles Plumlee

G - Gerald Green

G - Goran Dragi?

Houston Rockets

F - Chandler Parsons

F - Terrence Jones

C - Dwight Howard

G - James Harden

G - Patrick Beverly

Keys to the Game

Padlock it Up - It seems unlikely that James Harden and Dwight Howard (15 points, 4-11 shooting) will have a similarly awful stinkers in this contest. However if the Suns can be even somewhat successful in slowing down the Rockets' leading scorers, it will go a long way towards a needed conference victory.

Rebound - Double meaning here. First the Suns need to demonstrate their league-leading resiliency (source: me) and find their mojo after getting mugged by the Bulls. Second, they got away with one in Houston last time, giving up a staggering 21 offensive rebounds. Phoenix has been better about protecting the glass (they actually out-rebounded Chicago last night) and will need to make sure they get a body on Howard who torched them for 18 boards in their first match-up.

Score Early and Often - We saw last night what happens when the Suns come out sluggish. During their winning streak, they owned the first quarter out scoring opponents by an average margin of 31.6-24. Hot starts beget a hot team and the Suns would like to carry some momentum into the All-Star break 10 days from now.

Key Match-Up

Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, and Alex Len vs. Dwight Howard - I think the Suns' backcourt is capable of hanging with or even out-playing the Rockets' guards. But this game will be won or lost in the paint. Houston scores 50.5 points per game in the paint (3rd in the NBA) and the Suns allow the 4th most at 45.7. In addition to keeping D12 in check, rim defense against easy buckets is a priority.

Prediction

I'm feeling optimistic. Even though the Rockets are coming off of 3 days rest and Phoenix is playing the 2nd game of a back-to-back, I think the Suns show up with something to prove. Lots of shots, some but not a lot of defense. Suns win 113-108.

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