Tonight, the Phoenix Suns introduce their new acquisitions at their first home game since the blockbuster trade deadline that saw the team ship out five players within the last 10 minutes of the trading season.
"We knew Goran was leaving," point guard Isaiah Thomas said of those crazy last 15 minutes. "The deal was getting finalized. He gathered everybody up, said his goodbyes. Then 1 o'clock hit and no one else was leaving. Then Brandan Wright said 'You just got traded.' I said, you're lying."
Coming in are two new players - Brandon Knight and Marcus Thornton - and a 10-day signee Earl Barron. In the coming days, the Suns might add another big man, but at the moment Earl is the Suns third center behind Alex Len and Brandan Wright.
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Isaiah Thomas steps onto a new team with a familiar problem: they already have two starting quality combo guards on the roster that might play in the same lineups with him.
Yet sharing the ball has never been a problem for Isaiah. He just takes it and becomes the solo point guard when he's on the floor and lets everyone else fight to get theirs.
At least this time, he is the best of them and won't have to fight for minutes or a starting role. He's known Avery Bradley his whole life, even growing up in the same neighborhood and playing on the same AAU team. And Marcus Smart is a rookie. In addition to those two, they have Evan Turner who led them in assists last night with 12, so that's now four playmakers on the team.
Thomas will start soon, and for the rest of the season, if not tonight. He came off the bench against the Lakers and scored 21 points in short minutes before being ejected for... wait for it... arguing with the refs over a call in the fourth quarter.
If Thomas thought his team in Phoenix was small, the Celtics play even smaller. Jae Crowder, Turner, Bradley and Smart play the most minutes, while Tyler Zeller and Brandon Bass (6'8") make up the front line. The Celtics have lost Jared Sullinger for the season, and without Thomas they lost to the Lakers in overtime just last night.
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For one of the only times this season, the Suns might look "big" out there. And that will be a nice change of pace.
One thing the trade deadline has created is some culling of the herd. In the two games since the trade, Archie Goodwin has finally gotten some court time and has produced quite well, making 9 of 14 shots for 24 points, plus 5 assists and 4 rebounds in 38 minutes. The Suns were a +5 in his first time but -11 in his second.
Archie is getting a chance now to earn minutes as the fourth guard going forward, behind Bledsoe, Knight and Gerald Green. It might only be 10 minutes per contest once Knight gets adjusted, but that's better than DNPs.
Alex Len has played 24+ minutes each of the last two games, pulling down 10+ rebounds in each, with 7 blocks in the two games. He's still learning, and still getting scored on a little too often but at 21 years old he is progressing very nicely.
The biggest continuing problem for the Suns appears to be a sense of doom when the game is close. The Suns are on a roll down the back side of a hill and cannot seem to find their footing when the game is within a possession in the closing minutes. The problem, it seems, is that they allow themselves to always be the one clawing back. Rarely have we seen the Suns being the ones holding the late lead, at least lately. They get down and have to fight back just to make it a game.
The Suns need to stop feeling sorry for themselves long enough to realize that the season isn't quite over yet, with New Orleans losing Anthony Davis for a week+ and Oklahoma City losing Kevin Durant to another foot issue for a few weeks.
Get off the carpet, Suns, and play with abandon. You're back to being the underdog. Now play like it.
Who knows who the starters are for either team, but this is my best guess. The Suns might start Gerald Green at the two, but want Knight in the lineup as quickly as possible since he's "the best player coming or going" from the trade deadline.
The Celtics will most certainly start Thomas very soon and for the rest of the season, but it's possible he will still come off the bench in only his second game.
While I think the Suns will play well tonight, I do think Isaiah Thomas will so everything he can to make it a game. He will likely score 25+ points in a highly efficient manner, including potentially a third of those at the free throw line. And up to half of them in furious fourth quarter run.
Hopefully for the Suns, he gives up more than he scores.
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Suns finally stop looking awful, and pick up a necessary win over an overmatched Celtics team.
Suns by 8.