A Phoenix Suns team projected to win the fewest games in the West now has claimed two of the 12 POW honors given out by the NBA this season, including All-Star snub Goran Dragic.

In twelve weeks of play, the Phoenix Suns can now boast of having the best players in the entire Western Conference during two of them. No wonder the Suns are 29-18 and sitting strongly in playoff position.

Markieff Morris won the POW Award in early November by putting up 22 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals over three games off the bench. Markieff has followed up that honor with a career best season - 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, including 10 20-point outings and 6 double-doubles in 46 games without a single start.

In December, it was coach Jeff Hornacek winning Coach of the Month in the West, for the Suns 10-3 record against tough competition.

Now, teammate Goran Dragic is the conference's best player during the last week of January.

Dragic helped Phoenix to a 4-0 week, which included three road wins to complete a sweep of a four-game road trip as the Suns have tied a season-long with their current five-game winning streak. The sixth-year guard averaged 26.8 points on 63.9 percent shooting from the field and 69.2 percent shooting from three-point territory, in addition to posting 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds while playing just 29.2 minutes for the week.

Dragic tied a career-long streak with four straight games with 20-plus points, matching his streak from the previous time he won Player of the Week with Houston in 2012.

Unbelievable numbers from Dragic, really. He has stepped up his game in a way never done before.

"It's very difficult to be that guy that scores every single night," coach Hornacek said of Dragic. "Teams scout you, teams focus on you. You have to get in that mindset. The only way to be that guy that scores 20 points every single night is to feel like a guy who score on anybody. That's confidence, and obviously you have to have the ability. He's got that."

That's two Players of the Week and a Coach of the Month for the upstart Suns.

Let's keep this train rolling!

The NBA named Goran Dragic the Western Conference Player of the Week after the Phoenix Suns guard led his team to a 4-0 record from Jan. 27 through Feb. 2. Dragic averaged 26.8 points and 6.0 assists...

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One of the best assets in the NBA is Emeka Okafor's expiring, insured contract, and one of the league's most innovative GMs has it in his back pocket for trade.

Phoenix Suns fans have wanted to get some value out of Emeka Okafor since he was acquired, along with a first round pick, from Washington in the Marcin Gortat trade.

As it turns out, the Wizards pick may end of up being the best draft pick the Suns own this year (2014). The pick is only top-12 protected (meaning the Wizards keep it if they lose a lot of games), but in the terrible Eastern Conference the Wizards are a 90% lock to make the postseason before being trounced by one of the top teams in the East.

Even so, if the Wizards fall completely apart and end up keeping the 2014 pick, the Suns will eventually get their first round pick in a subsequent season no later than 2018. There is continued protection (top-12 in 2014/15, top 10 in 2016/17) until 2018, but that's it.

Still, it may turn out that Emeka Okafor is the best asset in that trade.

Just like the Suns turned Luis Scola into two starters and another #1 pick (likely #30 in 2014), the Suns hope to turn Emeka Okafor into something more than a contract.

Okafor has been injured all season, leaving many to wonder if the Suns would just let his contract expire this summer leaving max cap space to sign someone else.

But as of last Wednesday, the Suns started getting 80% of Okafor's remaining 2013-14 salary covered by insurance. That means the Suns are only on the hook for 20% of his salary for the rest of the season.

That also means that any team to which the Suns trade Okafor would basically be getting him for the cost of minimum salary player.

In return, the Suns could absorb a large contract (up to about $19.5 million full season value) in a simple 1:1 trade if need be. That kind of cap space allows an underachieving, big-spending team to save themselves some huge money this season. Some examples of huge expiring contracts on teams that could want to save money this season are Pau Gasol ($19.2 million, Lakers) and Kris Humphries ($12 million, Celtics).

There are a lot of other players on expiring deals, but it's not readily apparent who will want to trade off their assets in the East given how easy it is to make the playoffs.

I personally don't see Pau Gasol fitting into this system right, but I could see Humphries being a good rebounder off the bench in supporting minutes.

Neither of those players whets my whistle though.

I am not a trade machine guru, but for those of you who are, there are a few tenets I believe will be important to consider in any machinations:

  • the incoming player must be on an expiring contract OR be 25 or younger. There's no way the Suns invest big, long-term money into middle-aged supporting player (I see you, 27 year old Jeff Green who makes $9+ million a year) who is overpaid for their efforts.
  • The Suns will only sacrifice 2014-15 cap space for a young player on the upside.
  • the incoming player must be appreciably better than anything on the Suns roster at their position. It's only "fortifying the roster" if the incoming player is a lot better than what the Suns already have. There's no point forcing the issue, and upsetting chemistry, if it's a level swap of talent.
  • the incoming player must clearly fill a gaping need

Please don't make trade suggestions that don't really help the now AND the future. The Suns won't do anything to shackle them this offseason unless they get a star, not a role player. No way the Suns make it harder to acquire a max-salary player like Kevin Love or an upcoming restricted free agent.

And remember: McDonough and Babby got two starters and a future #1 for a one-year rental on Luis Scola. Don't buy low.

The trade deadline is February 20. That's four days after the All-Star game. Likely, the Suns will hold out until after the ASG to acquire a star who may already be an All-Star (ie. Love) before jumping at any lesser offers beforehand.

The Lakers would not trade Gasol to Cleveland for just Bynum. They wanted a draft pick too. But the Suns won't give anything up but Okafor, so it's up to the Lakers to lower their demands and the Suns to fail to find anything better.

The Phoenix Suns own a trade chip large enough to save a struggling team from paying oodles and oodles of luxury taxes this season.

Emeka Okafor is out for the season, but his $14.5 million expiring contract is 80% paid by insurance for the remainder of the season. Couple that with another $5 million in open cap space, and the Suns have the ability to save someone millions of dollars of salary expenses AND reduce their cap number below the luxury tax threshold.

That's why you heard about a possible Pau Gasol trade yesterday, for nothing more than Okafor's contract and the Suns' cap space.

Gasol makes $19.285 million this season in the last season of his deal. The Lakers have sunk to the third worst team in the West and project to drop all the way to the bottom of the West WITH Gasol.

So why trade him for nothing? Two reasons:

  • A trade for Okafor would save the Lakers $6-7 million in real salary dollars plus the luxury tax multiplier
  • Another small trade to dump salary (about $3 million) would drop the Lakers below the lux tax threshold entirely, freeing them from the spectre of the 'repeater tax' in future seasons and saving even more money this season
  • Being worst in the West still only gets you the 4th or 5th pick in the draft. The Lakers would be better served going worse than 13-22 the rest of the way (which is their current projection)

But that doesn't mean the Suns really want Gasol. It means the Lakers really want the Suns to want Gasol.

According to John Gambodoro of ArizonaSports.com and KTAR (620 AM and 98.7 FM) who's been clued in to the Suns for years, Gasol is one of a number of options the Suns are considering.

Screen_shot_2014-02-03_at_6

Lots of teams want to save money and get under that tax threshold. The Lakers are just one of them.

Screen_shot_2014-02-03_at_6

Gambo's not a mathematician and never purported to be, but he hit on the reason for the trade: money. Between the savings they are currently getting on Okafor (80% paid by insurance) that would go away, plus the extra $5 million in cap space used up, I'd guess Gasol would be at least a $10 million half-season rental difference from Okafor.

Sounds like Suns owner Robert Sarver is willing to spend money to make a good playoff run.

But the Suns would rather get something better than a half-season rental that might not get them further in the playoffs than they currently can get.

Screen_shot_2014-02-03_at_6

They'd rather get a young star who they could lock up for years. Someone like Kevin Love. But Love probably won't be available until after the season. Minnesota still projects to finish strong, though they keep finding ways to lose too many games.

In the meantime, expect a lot more rumors out there over the next 2.5 weeks as teams want to use up the Suns' $20 million in cap space (Okafor + $5 million in free space) and get a first rounder or two back in the process.

if the trade is lopsided toward the other team, it was likely leaked by that team or the player's agent. Don't assume everything you read is actually being hotly considered by the Suns as reported.

But they DO want to do something. If you want to be the oracle, start looking at struggling teams' expiring contracts or really good players on fairly short deals. I'm still a fan of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, for example, in case Chicago wants to clear the books.

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Should the Suns acquire Gasol for Okafor's contract?

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Welcome to the Madhouse! Bright Side of the Sun is an amazing and diverse community and it deserves a place where the tyranny of topicality does not rule. And that's what The Madhouse is. It's Bright Side of the Sun's place to talk about whatever you want, whenever you want: trade ideas, new from around the league or how the Seahawks destroyed the Broncos. It's all fair game here. Get crazy, y'all.

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