PHOENIX – Their former employer has won five in a row — the longest current winning streak in the NBA — and owns the best record in the league.
Still, Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee refuse look back and think, “what if?” What if they hadn’t been traded by the Indiana Pacers, a team that is 33-7 and considered one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference?
Well, if they hadn’t been dealt along with a lottery-protected first-round pick for Luis Scola, then they would be the visitors and not the hosts when the Suns and Pacers meet Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in a nationally televised contest.
No, they both prefer to look straight ahead to the opportunity their new employer has given them and thank the Pacers.
“Obviously when you get traded it’s a little disappointing as a player because you build relationships with people … but I’m having the time of my life here,” Green said. “I can’t thank (the Pacers) enough for them trading me to an organization like this. They could’ve traded me to anywhere else, but they traded me to the Phoenix Suns.”
Added Plumlee, “Just from a personal standpoint there’s nothing like playing time and getting to learn from your mistakes, so it’s hard to trade that for anything. I’m a young player. I want to expand my game and play in this league a long time.”
Neither Green nor Plumlee received much playing time last season. Green averaged 18 minutes in 60 games, while Plumlee played a total of 55 minutes over 14 games.
Playing time hasn’t been an issue for either with the Suns.
Green is averaging a career-high 13.4 points in 40 games, including 22 starts. Plumlee, meanwhile, has started all 40 games, averaging nearly a double-double (9.6 points and 8.7 rebounds) in only his second year in the league.
“What he’s doing right now is what I thought he would do if Ian Mahinmi got hurt last year and he had to play 15-20 minutes a game for us, we believed he would do what he’s doing right now. There’s no doubt,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday following his team’s practice at US Airways Center.
“We’re not surprised at all with what Miles is doing. Didn’t want to have to give him up, but that’s what (the Suns) needed (for us) to get Scola.”
While he may not have seen much court time, Plumlee spent a considerable amount of time — on and off the court — watching, listening and learning from six-year veteran Roy Hibbert.
“Just his whole presence in the post,” Plumlee said. “The way he looks at the game and lets things come to him. I mean I could go down a list of a lot of things. I learned a lot from him. I think I’ve incorporated some of those things in my game. Now I get a chance to go against him in real competition and try to stop him.”
Like Vogel, Hibbert is not surprised by his young protégé.
“Some people doubted him, but I was always in his ear, telling him that ‘you could be good’. He put the work in and he did everything that he needed to do,” he said. “He deserves to be a starter in this league. He should be in the rookie-sophomore game, I believe; pretty damn good player.”
Plumlee called the matchup exciting, and it may just be what he needs to break out of the mini-slump he’s in, having grabbed only 12 rebounds in the past three games.
“I know the season is a roller coaster. You’re not going to play on a high note the entire time,” he said. “I came out early and set the bar pretty high; kind of just have to bounce back a little bit.”
The Suns, thanks to Green and Plumlee, have bounced back quite a bit.
At 23-17, the Suns are two victories away from matching their win total from all of last season, which was the second-worst in franchise history.
Said Vogel, “We had depth at those two positions: backup wing and backup center position. We needed a power forward. (The Suns) needed those two positions. I think (the trade) definitely helped out both teams.”