What's Phoenix Suns' Next Move After Eric Bledsoe Knee Injury?

Joe Flynn@@ChinaJoeFlynnContributor IJanuary 10, 2014

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 30: Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns handles the basketball against Jared Dudley #9 of the Los Angeles Clippers at STAPLES Center on December 30, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns' Cinderella season suffered a blow with news of guard Eric Bledsoe's injury. According to ESPN's Marc Stein, Bledsoe needs surgery on his knee and will be out indefinitely:

Sources told ESPN.com that the scope and severity of the injury will not be known until Bledsoe is in a surgeon's care, but he is suspected to have suffered meniscus damage during his Dec. 30 return to Los Angeles to face the Clippers.

UPDATE: 4:42 p.m. ET, Friday, January 10

A sliver of hope has appeared, as Eric Bledsoe's surgery was reported "successful" and his return probable for the season's second half, per the Phoenix Suns.

---End of update---

The original news came as a crushing blow to the Suns, who are 16-8 with Bledsoe this season but only 5-5 without him. Bledsoe has made a name for himself in his first season in Phoenix, both for his scoring prowess and his clutch shooting, like this buzzer-beater against the Utah Jazz.

Phoenix does not know how long Bledsoe will be out, but meniscus injuries can be tricky. The last big-name point guard with a similar injury was Chicago's Derrick Rose. In Rose's case, doctors discovered a complete tear in the meniscus, and he is now expected to miss the entire season.

Kevin Zimmerman of SB Nation did a comprehensive study of recent meniscus injuries suffered by NBA players, and recovery times have varied considerably:

  • Thunder guard Russell Westbrook missed six months after surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered in the 2013 playoffs.
  • In 2012, former Sun Grant Hill needed only 13 days to recover from meniscus surgery at age 39.
  • Last season, Lakers forward Metta World Peace returned from meniscus surgery after 12 days.

If Bledsoe's injury is of the Hill/World Peace variety, then the Suns probably won't miss a beat. But if this turns out to be another Rose/Westbrook incident, then Phoenix must plan for the future, both short- and long-term.

Can the Suns Still Make the Playoffs Without Bledsoe?

Few organizations have been as shrewd (or lucky) this season as the Phoenix Suns. They swindled both the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks in a three-team trade, acquiring Bledsoe for Jared Dudley and a second-round pick.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 8: Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 8, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
David Sherman/Getty Images

The Suns certainly lucked out in ditching Dudley before the season. According to Basketball Reference, Dudley has the fourth-lowest Player Efficiency Rating of any player averaging more than 25 minutes per game in 2013-14.

For the mess that has become of Dudley, Phoenix acquired a 24-year-old point guard who has averaged 18.0 points, 5.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds per contest.

Certainly, Bledsoe would be difficult to replace. But the Suns are more than just Eric Bledsoe. In fact, he hasn't even been the best point guard on the Suns' roster. That honor goes to Goran Dragic, who leads the team in both points (19.1) and assists (5.9) per game.

Though the loss of Bledsoe would put an end to the Bledsoe/Dragic two-PG lineups the Suns enjoy, Phoenix still has a decent stable of players in its backcourt. Gerald Green will fill in for Bledsoe in the starting lineup, while third-year man Ish Smith will assume backup point guard duties. Rookie shooting guard Archie Goodwin rounds out the group.

Individually, neither Smith nor Goodwin has played particularly well this season. But as long as one of them is paired with either Dragic or Green, the Suns have remained effective.

2013-14 Suns Backcourt Pairings

Even with Bledsoe gone, the Suns still have a decent roster. They might not make the playoffs, but they were not guaranteed to make the playoffs even with Bledsoe. The Western Conference is historically great this season, and the Suns are a young, inexperienced team. Their best days lie ahead.

Free Agency

Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent after the season after not reaching an extension with the Suns before the season, but Phoenix still covets him. As Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby told Paul Coro of AZCentral.com:

There is no rookie extension with Eric but that doesn’t in any way suggest that we are not excited that Eric is a Sun and we look forward to Eric being a Sun for a long time. ... It’s a hard thing to do. We had numerous conversations over the past few weeks. We had a good, professional exchange of ideas.

This could be the second of his four NBA seasons to be cut short by a knee injury. He also missed the first half of the 2011-12 season after undergoing knee surgery, per AZCentral.com.

That is a serious injury history, particularly for a player about to hit the open market. What should the Suns do? Even in restricted free agency, it only takes one desperate team to jack up the price far beyond all expectations. If that happens, will the Suns match?

This Phoenix organization has a peculiar history of free agents—supporters would call them savvy, while critics would accuse them of being cheap. But one thing is certain: The Suns always know the medical condition of their players.

Dec 30, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Phoenix Suns point guard Eric Bledsoe (2) makes a basket as he is fouled by Los Angeles Clippers small forward Matt Barnes (22) in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TO
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

The Suns' training staff is legendary for keeping players healthy. They nursed Amar'e Stoudemire through his microfracture surgery and then let him go to New York, where he soon fell to pieces. They resurrected the careers of players like Grant Hill and Jermaine O'Neal, aged players with notorious injury histories.

The fans in Phoenix may feel heartbroken at the thought of losing Bledsoe, but they know enough to trust in their team's medical staff. If the Suns look at Bledsoe's knee and let him go in the offseason, then there could be a very serious problem. If they elect to keep Bledsoe, then he is likely to have an excellent career in the desert.


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