Kent Somers and Jay Dieffenbach discuss the Suns’ decision to shut down Eric Bledsoe for the season and the possibility of them getting UCLA’s Lonzo Ball? Video: azcentral sports
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Hosted by head coach Earl Watson, who says the Suns “embrace and celebrate our youth.” Video: Phoenix Suns
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Shot Clock: Eric Bledsoe is out, maybe UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is in?
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The decision to shut down Eric Bledsoe for the season had to do not only with the point guard’s health, but also the Suns’ position in the Western Conference, General Manager Ryan McDonough said Thursday.
“We’re not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet, but we’re getting close to that point and we have enough young players that we wanted to get them enough opportunity to play and also save some wear and tear on Eric as best we can,” McDonough told azcentral sports. “We do a lot of the sports science measurements and looking at those readings, Eric has some of the higher load numbers in the league. … We just didn’t want him to get worn down during a season where we’re not going to end up in the playoffs.”
Since the All-Star break, the Suns (22-46) have spent most of the past month evaluating their younger players. Center Tyson Chandler and guard Brandon Knight – who played significant roles the first half of the season – haven’t played in 11 games. With 15 contests to go, Phoenix management added Bledsoe to the list.
The seventh-year point guard this season had played his best basketball. In 66 games, Bledsoe averaged career highs of 21.1 points and 6.3 assists, attempting a team-high 458 free throws. During an impressive six-game stretch, he scored 40-plus points three times. In a Feb. 15 win over the Lakers, Bledsoe recorded the team’s first triple-double in more than a year.
McDonough said management informed Bledsoe of its decision before Wednesday’s contest.
“He was a little disappointed,” McDonough said. “He wants to play. He’s a competitive guy. He’s having a terrific year and he expressed a desire to be out there with his teammates, which we understand, and that’s the reaction he should have. That’s what makes him a really good player. At the same time, we have to look beyond the next 14 games and do what’s best for the franchise not only in the short-term, but also the long-term.”
Bledsoe, 27, has a history of knee issues. Last season, he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, an injury that limited him to 31 games. Recently, Bledsoe struggled with what the team called a hyperextended left knee. After last Saturday’s win in Dallas, Bledsoe said he had a “little pain” but suggested it wasn’t enough to keep him out. Indeed, until Wednesday, Bledsoe had missed only one game. On Feb. 11, the team left him home as it traveled to Houston for the second game of a back-to-back set, giving the point guard needed rest.
“He did have a little knee soreness,” McDonough said, “but I don’t think that’s anything significant or anything to be concerned about long-term.”
Bledsoe did not talk to reporters after Wednesday’s loss, and the Suns did not practice Thursday. After Wednesday’s contest, coach Earl Watson said sitting out Bledsoe was a management decision, pointing out that no coaching staff would hold out a player so talented. McDonough said he understood Watson’s reaction. The staff wants to win. The players want to win.
“That’s always the push-pull in the NBA for all of us – balancing the short-term needs versus what’s best for the team long-term,” McDonough said.
In Bledsoe’s absence, the Suns will continue to lean on rookie point guard Tyler Ulis, who performed well in his first career start, posting 13 points and 13 assists (with one turnover) against Sacramento. Ulis’ backup, however, remains a question. Knight is a possibility. Last week he told azcental sports that he would control only what he could during this difficult stretch, which was his work ethic. Knight, however, removed himself from consideration before Wednesday’s contest because of back spasms.
“He said before the game that his back was tightening up and he was feeling some pain,” McDonough said. “He wasn’t able to move as well as he would’ve hoped, so if he says he feels that way, we have to take his word for it.”
The Suns enter Friday’s home contest against Orlando with the NBA’s third-worst overall record, forcing many inside the industry to conclude that this is nothing more than draft positioning. If so, the Suns aren’t alone. This week, the Lakers shut down regulars Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Sacramento also has been sitting players.
One thing McDonough doesn’t want overlooked: Bledsoe’s season.
“Eric had an outstanding year,” he said. “He was one of only a handful of guys in the entire league to average the numbers he did in terms of points, rebounds and assists. His decision-making has gotten so much better in terms of running pick-and-rolls and making reads in traffic. It seems like every year he gets better and he took another big step this year. We don’t want any of that to get lost along the way.”
Magic at Suns
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena.
TV/radio: FSAZ/KTAR FM 98.7.
Orlando update: Entering Thursday’s contest at Golden State, the Magic (24-44) had lost five of six to fall a season-high 20 games under .500. Since Jan. 1, they were 9-25. PG Elfrid Payton (12.4 ppg, 6.0 apg) had posted three triple-doubles over his last five games. Former Arizona standout Aaron Gordon (11.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) had averaged 16.1 points in March.