Once again in 2014/15, a handful of very good teams will be competing for those last couple playoff spots. Have the Suns done enough to sneak in this time around?

Note: The following article operates under the assumption that Eric Bledsoe will be a Sun next season, and that no earth-shaking trades will be made before the season tips off. Neither are particularly safe assumptions, but let's talk basketball anyway.

The month of July has nearly expired, and while there are still a few kinks to be worked out it's pretty safe to say that 2014/15 will be another extremely competitive year in the West. The Spurs and Thunder are still the Spurs and Thunder, and there are a handful of teams that look to be gaining ground.

If last season's playoff bracket wasn't brutal enough, there is also that sleeping giant in New Orleans that is bound to awaken at some point.

The 2013/14 season featured a brutal race for the eighth and final playoff spot between Dallas, Memphis and your Phoenix Suns. By virtue of a hobbled Dragon and an unforgiving schedule, the Suns found themselves without a ticket to the dance despite a stellar 48 win season.

Have the Suns done enough this offseason to steal a playoff spot in 2014/15?

The Players

On paper, it's fairly easy to point to Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver as a net improvement over Channing Frye. The problem is, the Suns will need to leap a Western playoff team, and nearly all of them can also make claims to improving their rosters as well.

Here is a quick rundown of the player movement over the past month.

L.A. Clippers

Notable Arrivals: Spencer Hawes, Jordan Farmar

Notable Departures: Darren Collison, Danny Granger

They'll miss Collison, especially if Paul finds himself on the mend again, but Hawes fills their biggest need -- frontcourt depth -- and gives them another shooter as a bonus. They were still giving minutes to Ryan Hollins last season, and any time you go from giving Ryan Hollins minutes to not giving Ryan Hollins minutes, that's a win in my book.

Houston Rockets

Notable Arrivals: Trevor Ariza, Alonzo Gee, Ish Smith, Joey Dorsey??

Notable Departures: Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Omri Casspi

If you're placing bets on who'll suffer the biggest slippage, surely the Rockets would be near the top of your list. Harden and Howard should still keep them competitive, but  replacing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik with Ish Smith and Joey Dorsey sounds like a bad joke. Losing the offensive creativity of Parsons will likely result in plenty of heroball from Harden, and one can never be sure when Dwight will start bitching if/when things turn south. Plus, if either of those two get injured, the paper-thin Rockets are cooked.

Portland Trail Blazers

Notable Arrivals: Chris Kaman, Steve Blake

Notable Departures: Mo Williams

Portlandia might be another candidate for slippage, perhaps only for mostly standing still while others were moving. After years of constant roster turnover, the Blaze took it easy for a change. They signed Chris Kaman in an effort to keep Meyers Leonard and Joel Freeland as far away from the court as possible, and replaced Mo Williams with Steve Blake, who is basically the same player.

If Lillard and Aldridge continue their steady improvement, the Blazers will at least stay in the playoff picture. If either falter, the sharks will be circling. In fact, they may be circling anyway. Apparently they prefer stationary targets.

Golden State Warriors

Notable Arrivals: Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush, Steve Kerr

Notable Departures: Steve Blake, Jordan Crawford

Another team that may have lost ground by standing still, the Warriors will need to keep all of Curry, Bogut and Iguodala relatively healthy if they want to keep up out West. Livingston adds some intriguing options, but there are still depth issues and I won't believe that Steve Kerr is a $25 million mastermind until I see it.

At a glance, it appears that the Rockets, Blazers and Warriors are all within striking distance, which clearly would bode well for any team that finds themselves below them in the standings. Unfortunately, the potential surge from the lower-seeded teams in the West may include more than just our Phoenix Suns.

Memphis Grizzlies

Notable Arrivals: Vince Carter

Notable Departures: Mike Miller, Ed Davis

Ah, everyone's favorite trolls are back and added our old pal Vinsanity to boot. Of course their biggest addition would be a full season of Marc Gasol. The Grizz went 40-19 with the big Spaniard in the lineup, and will need him more than ever as Zach Randolph and Tony Allen both creep into their mid-thirties. Mike Miller and Vince Carter are essentially a wash at this point, so really it's all about Gasol.

Dallas Mavericks

Notable Arrivals: Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, Jameer Nelson

Notable Departures: Jose Calderon, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion (assumed), Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin

The Mavs figure to score a ton of points with Parsons and Ellis complementing the Dirk on the wings, and if Chandler has anything left in the tank he should do wonders for the defense. They also will be starting Raymond Felton. Anyway ... the Mavs always find a way to stay relevant, and don't be surprised if they challenge for more than an eighth seed this time around.

New Orleans Pelicans?

Notable Arrivals: Omer Asik

Notable Departures: Al-Farouq Aminu

The Suns won't be the only team trying to storm the playoff picture from the outside. The Pellies may have scored the steal of the offseason, ripping the Rockets for Asik plus cash for a first-rounder. While Asik and the Brow are a questionable fit on offense, defensively they will be straight up unfair. For the record, Greg Stiemsma and Alexis Ajinca started a combined 50 games for New Orleans last season. If Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson can manage more than 56 games played between them, it won't just be Pierre the Pelican that will be claiming souls next season. The Brow will be hungry too.

Just a reminder -- Anthony Davis netted 20.8 PPG, 10.0 RPG, 2.8 BPG and a sizzling PER of 26.5 last season, and he didn't turn 21 until March.

The Deathrace Is Nigh

Overall, the Suns' addition of Isaiah Thomas compares favorably among the other additions in the West, as the ability to keep two efficient scoring guards on the floor at all times with a third one rotating in from the bench may very well amount to sheer genius.

The frontcourt will be a bit trickier. The only player they added to replace Channing Frye is essentially a poor-man's Channing Frye, so improvement will likely have to occur organically, with one or more of Miles Plumlee, Alex Len and Markieff Morris.

But of course, games aren't played on paper. There will be surprises and disappointments, and the injury bug will inevitably befall one or more teams.

One thing we can count on is that a return to the playoffs will not be easy. It might even be more difficult than last season, when the Suns seemingly gutted themselves nightly to reach 48 wins only to finally run out of steam in Texas.

While some teams from last season's playoff bracket may have lost ground this offseason, on the whole the West seems to have improved yet again. It's more cutthroat than ever out here.

With the possible uprising in New Orleans, will we see a 50-win team miss the playoffs?

A day after a report indicated the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe‘s camp are still involved in free agency negotiations, we hear that could be close to being over with. A source to CSN...

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Have the negotiations between the Suns and Bledsoe reached a breaking point?

A new wrinkle in the Eric Bledsoe free agency saga arose today, when a story by Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet reported that the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe's relationship has begun to sour.

According to the story, a source with knowledge of the situation reported that the contract talks have apparently become strained, and that the "relationship is on the express lane to being ruined."

The source mentioned that the two sides are still "very far apart", in regard to the ongoing contract negotiations that have been taking place since the beginning of free agency.  According to the story, "the effort by the Suns to undermine Bledsoe’s market is what has angered Bledsoe and his reps and led to a standoff in which the relationship is now on the verge of being irreparable, we’re told."

It's unclear of course who the source is, however, and just how close to the negotiations they actually are.  Could this be an authentic reflection of the current state of negotiations that has nearly frustrated Bledsoe to the point of wanting to leave Phoenix?


However, could this also be an intentional leak by Bledsoe's camp to put additional pressure on the Suns to increase their offer?  Or, could this simply be someone's opinion of a recent statement by Eric Bledsoe himself in which he appeared to express frustration over the Suns' using his restricted free agency to their benefit?  Yes on both possibilities.

The point is, we just don't know.

In fact, just yesterday, Kevin Zimmerman from another reputable Suns' blog, Valley of the Suns, reported that Bledsoe and the Suns were still negotiating, and that talks had not broken down to the point of a stalemate.

If this new report is correct, then the situation seems to have suddenly taken a turn for the worse.  However, until we hear from the man himself, or something on the record from either side, they are all still just rumors at this point.

The Phoenix Suns have gone through such a stunning transformation in such a short period of time that they are now trading in good pieces for better ones.

Last summer it was addition by subtraction for the Suns.

The team had just suffered through a season that was a miasma of losing commingled with laziness, frustration and subversive tactics. Lance Blanks, Lindsey Hunter and Michael Beasley epitomized the failure of one of the worst seasons in the team's history.

But it wasn't just them. Shannon "the Cannon" Brown played me first basketball. Kendall Marshall seemed to feel entitled. Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat were visibly vexed by the mounting losses. Even Wesley Johnson's smile didn't sparkle quite as bright. The team chemistry was poisonous.

It was time for cataclysmic changes.

In came new GM Ryan McDonough and head coach Jeff Hornacek.

A scorched earth policy saw the Suns jettison all but four of the 16 players that played for them during the 2012-13 season. Only Goran Dragic, Markieff and Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker remained.

Trades were made that resulted in unexpected contributions from incoming players like Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green. Channing Frye returned from a heart ailment that caused him to miss the previous season. Eric Bledsoe entered the fold in exchange for a bag of magic beans.

Things changed really fast.

In April of 2013 Hoops Habit didn't even have the Suns in the top 10 among non-playoff teams with a bright future. By January of 2014 Dime Magazine ranked the Suns number one among rebuilding teams that could take over in the future.

In the span of two summers the Suns went from a roster teeming with players they didn't want to one completely stocked with players they do. This second offseason has followed the trend of upgrading the roster.

Out went Channing Frye, Ish Smith, Dionte Christmas and Leandro Barbosa (sort of).

In are Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Tolliver, T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis.

The Suns roster gained a lot of talent and depth. If this would have been a trade I'm pretty sure it would be unilaterally considered a pantsing.

While the vivacity and locker room presence Christmas and Smith brought will be missed, the Suns are at a point where they need that chemistry to be elicited from more established veteran rotation players. Contending teams don't typically count on the players at the end of the bench to be glue guys for the team.

These guys weren't poisonous to the winning culture the Suns are fostering, they made a positive impact on the team last season. The Suns have just positioned themselves in the very enviable position of being able to trade good pieces for better ones.

Ish Smith is a peripatetic point guard for a reason. Despite his blinding speed, he has a broken shot that has relegated him to spot duty. Even his increased playing time last season was more of a matter of necessity, with Eric Bledsoe missing so much time. Still, it took Ish all of two days to land with a playoff team, the Houston Rockets, after he was released.

Dionte Christmas was overjoyed to make this team and showed it all year with his infectious enthusiasm. His off court demeanor was infinitely more valuable than anything he did on it. He was a source of endless puns and he played right along with them. Every time he scored in a home game, which wasn't that often, Christmas music blared through the arena.

Fans genuinely liked these guys. When they parted ways people said goodbye instead of good riddance. They were merely victims of circumstance. A team that is becoming more talented and deep at every turn. Unfortunately, Christmas and Smith have about the same value as a ham sandwich when it comes to trades. Unless a pittance somehow becomes critical in terms of salary matching these guys just don't factor into the equation.

Flash forward to T.J. Warren, who may have been the best player in the Vegas Summer League, and Tyler Ennis, who was rumored to be coveted by at least the Toronto Raptors, and the equation changes. These young players are better assets now and have more potential long term.

The Suns now have nine very competent rotation players, including Bledsoe, and their four first round picks from the last two drafts. The only player under contract who would probably be considered a placeholder is Shavlik Randolph. The other contracts are all relative bargains. The Suns have actually spent so wisely that the value of their contracts could potentially make matching salary in trades difficult because nobody really makes that much money. Trades will come, though, as the Suns look to consolidate several of their good pieces into one great one. Trades that I'm confident the Suns will win.

The Suns have come a long way from May 7, 2013 when the team hired Ryan McDonough to clean house. It is no longer a situation of addition by subtraction for the team.

It's addition by addition.

Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic seems to be having quite the summer in his native country of Slovenia. Not only is his Slovenian national team prepping for the World Cup, but Dragic had a few...

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