We've hit that awkward time of the year where there is no live basketball of any kind (until Team USA hits the court), so it is time for predictions. ESPN has an expansive cast of over 210 NBA reporters, bloggers and broadcasters under its wing, and it put that cast to work forecasting the 2014-15 NBA season.

On Monday, ESPN released their predictions for the Eastern Conference, with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the top followed closely by the Chicago Bulls.

On Tuesday, it was the West's turn, with the Oklahoma City Thunder narrowly edging out the reigning champions San Antonio Spurs for the top spot.

Where does ESPN have your Phoenix Suns finishing? The same place they did last year: just outside the playoffs at No.9.

Not only do the ESPN experts not have the Suns taking a step forward, they actually have them taking a half-step backwards, going from 48 wins last season to 45 next year. They don't expect it to come down to the wire either, as the No. 8 seed Houston Rockets finished four games ahead of the Suns with 49 wins.

On the bright side, the Suns' 45 wins would have them tied for fifth in the East with the Charlotte Hornets and firmly in the playoffs.

If you want a frame of reference, the very same Forecast had the Suns pegged as the worst in the West with 22 wins a season ago.

Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, this isn't an unrealistic expectation if you put down the orange-colored sunglasses and really take a look at the situation. Last year, virtually every player on the Suns roster had a career year. It's not crazy to think at least one or two (Gerald Green? Markieff Morris?) are in for some regression. Channing Frye was a big part of the team's success last year and they let him go without signing an upgrade.

And most importantly, Eric Bledsoe is still not on the team as of this voting.

However, there are plenty of reasons to think the Suns could make that jump as well. Foremost among them is the return of the Dragon in a de facto contract year. Goran Dragic elevated himself to All-NBA status last season, and I'm certainly looking forward to the sequel.

Markieff Morris is a candidate for regression, with only one good year under his belt and a shift from taking on reserves to taking on starting big men on tap. However, he's also a young big man, so his big year could easily have just been progression rather than a flash in the pan. He's also heading into a contract year.

The Suns have a pair of young centers who should be in line for improvement. Miles Plumlee was a big surprise last season after barely playing as a rookie. With a full year of experience and coaching from Jeff Hornacek and company under his belt, Plumlee should be able to provide a more consistent impact in the paint. Alex Len basically redshirted last season after being taken with the No. 5 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft due to injuries and inexperience. The hope is that he will not only crack the rotation this year but also show why the Suns drafted him where they did despite his ankle issues.

Finally, the Suns got an absolute steal in Sacramento free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas was one of the best value signings of the NBA offseason, signing for less than $7 million per year after putting up 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game for the Kings. If the Suns are able to retain Eric Bledsoe's services, the three-headed monster that is the Suns' backcourt is easily one of if not the best in the entire NBA and will give them a leg up on any opponent. The Suns were a 50-plus win team with Dragic and Bledsoe both healthy, and with the addition of Thomas they should always have at least two All-Star caliber guards available no matter what.

The Suns are a difficult team to figure out. There are still a lot of moving parts, and the team's range seems to be quite wide. ESPN has the Suns at No. 9. How about you, Bright Siders? Where do you see your team finishing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference?

It’s mid-August. Suns owner Robert Sarver told The Arizona Republic’s Paul Coro that free agent Eric Bledsoe hasn’t spoken with the team in four months, meaning the last time he...

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Two weeks ago, Paul Coro reported that Phoenix Suns small forward P.J. Tucker was arrested in May on a super extreme DUI charge.

A week ago, Coro reported that Tucker had plead guilty and announced his sentencing.

Lawyer: P.J. Tucker plead guilty to super extreme DUI. 3 jail days/11 house arrest days/IID 18 mos/5-yr probation/screening/counseling/fines

— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) August 5, 2014

Now, the NBA has laid down its punishment for Tucker's actions.

NEW YORK, Aug. 12, 2014 - Phoenix Suns' forward P.J. Tucker has been suspended three games without pay for pleading guilty to driving while under the extreme influence of intoxicating liquor, in violation of the law of the State of Arizona, the NBA announced today.

Tucker's suspension will begin with the first game of the 2014-15 NBA regular season.

With Tucker suspended, the starting small forward spot will need to be filled by someone as the season opens.

Depending on how the Eric Bledsoe situation is resolved, Gerald Green could get the first crack at it. He averaged 15.8 points per game and shot 40 percent from 3-point range while splitting his season as a starter in Bledsoe's absence and a super-sub when the Suns were at full strength.

Marcus Morris, who averaged 9.8 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 38.1 percent from deep in 22 minutes per game last year will also get a shot.

Finally, and perhaps the only bright spot in this situation, the Suns 14th overall pick from the 2014 NBA Draft T.J. Warren could very well get some playing time right away. Fans are excited by Warren's Summer League performance, and this might give him a chance to show what he can do when it really counts.

The NBA has suspended Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker for three games without pay after he pleaded guilty to super extreme DUI. He will miss the first three games of the 2014-15 regular season,...

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According to the Phoenix Suns managing partner, Robert Sarver, the Suns and Bledsoe have not talked since the end of the NBA season.

I have no idea what's happening anymore.

Not only is the Phoenix Suns offer of four years, $48 million more than fair to their young combo guard, Paul Coro of azcentral.com/sports is now implying that Bledsoe's camp is not even negotiating with the Suns.

"Maybe that's just posturing and negotiating," Sarver said of the reports. "We haven't heard from the guy in four months, so I couldn't tell you."

--Robert Sarver to Paul Coro, azcentral.com/sports

If that statement is true and the Bledsoe camp is closing the blinds and locking the doors and giving the Suns the silent treatment, they are mismanaging the situation.

It appears, to me, that the grand plan is to secure Bledsoe nothing short of a maximum level contract: five years, $84 million from the Suns, or four years, $63 million from someone else. Anyone else. And not sign for anything less.

Max contract? Nope

Show me a max contract player with Bledsoe's profile before signing it. I'm waiting. Can't find one? Me neither.

You don't get a max contract on half-season of starting in your whole career. You don't get a max contract without ever having made an All-Star team. You don't get a max contract with two knee injuries in the first four years of your career that cost you a half-season of playing time each.

Max offer from another team? Nope

No less than NINE teams had more than $12 million in cap space to begin the summer. NONE of them used it to make an offer to Bledsoe before spending their money somewhere else. Scratch that one off the list.

Trade to another team who will give him the max? Fat chance

If this was the Bledsoe camp's plan, it was a poorly conceived one. You cannot assume your current team will trade you. And, sure enough, the Suns have no interest in doing so. And certainly not for little in return.

A trade of Bledsoe to another team during this summer's free agency was a plan fraught with danger. The Suns could not send Bledsoe to anyone they wanted. It's Bledsoe who must find a team that:

  • he wants to play for
  • is willing to fork over huge money based on a half-season of starts
  • is also willing to give tons of value back to the Suns in trade

Well duh. I could have told you those three things had a smaller chance of happening than an iceberg materializing in Phoenix.

Wait for the max

Apparently, this is the Bledsoe camp's latest tactic. Don't bother negotiating anything less than max. Wait till someone offers it to you and let them figure out how to get you on their team. And quite possibly just leave that team dangling without so much as a "thanks" when the Suns match the offer.

Hey maybe if we hold our breath long enough, the Suns will come back with the max offer we want?

Hey maybe if we try to play the victim enough, some other team will feel bad enough for us that they offer the max contract and talk the Suns into trading Bledsoe?

Hey you know what, Eric. I KNOW you're a max player. If no one gives it to us this fall, let's wait till next summer. Surely then, someone will give us a max offer and the Suns can't stop them!

That last tactic makes me shake my head. I don't get it. There's so much that HAS to go right for that scenario to bear itself out. And even if Bledsoe puts up a season of 18/6/5 with exceptional defense, it's not like Bledsoe is a rare enough commodity in today's NBA to earn a max contract from an intelligent team.

He's a point guard in a league full of productive point guards. Lots of point guards put up similar or better numbers. Two of them are his own teammates, even.

He's not a 7-footer who can protect the rim, rebound like a madman, play pick-and-roll D, and shoot threes on a whim.

He's never even made an All-Star team.

No, Bledsoe is not a max player. And to hinge your entire future on the hope of some team throwing caution and logic to the wind to secure your services is just folly.

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