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The Suns must get Miles ahead

The Suns did the right thing: nothing.

They didn’t give up their envious cap space, so now they can match any deal another team offers Eric Bledsoe. They didn’t give up any future draft picks from their huge plethora. They didn’t acquire an aging veteran that would take away minutes and lessons desperately needed by the Suns’ current young players. There were no deals that would make Phoenix an instant contender, so they did nothing and liked it.

Now, we need to see Miles of improvement.

Miles Plumlee set the world on fire to begin the season. He earned every accolade he received. National media were openly questioning Indiana for giving up on him. Pacers Coach Frank Vogel kept defending the trade by saying the Pacers knew how good he was. Plumlee played with a fire and energy like Jared Dudley, but also mixed in athleticism that Dudley didn’t have. Plumlee made the trade a steal.

For most of February, Plumlee went from a top five story in the league to not even a top five player for the Suns. He’s a step slow, now. He doesn’t shoot with confidence. He fouls more. He isn’t playing with less intensity, but he’s just the nice guy you root for instead of the player that showed great promise.

There are three reasons why Plumlee could be suffering a downturn: fatigue, scouting, rumors.

Plumlee played more games in November than he did as a rookie. Although this is his second season, he could have hit the rookie wall. If this is all it is, Plumlee will be fine and so will the Suns. An offseason of rest followed by heavy conditioning will fix everything.

If the problem is scouting by other teams, the Suns have a problem. Plumlee instantly goes from “special” to “energy guy off the bench.” As the season has progressed, defenses are getting back much faster to take away the Phoenix fast break. This is eliminating around four shots a game where Plumlee was seeing either no defense or a scrambling one early in a possession. Opposing teams started to attack his off-shoulder so he can’t go to his favorite back-to-the-basket move, forcing Plumlee into secondary skills and unfamiliar decision-making.

Friday night, we may see the return of Miles Plumlee. Young players often struggle at the trade deadline. He’s already been traded once. You can imagine his fear of being traded again. He’s seen his game thrive in Phoenix. It’s impossible to imagine a scenario that would make him want to leave the head coach that got the most out of him early in his career. Plumlee gave a straight face, but the potential of being moved had to weigh heavy on him.

His fears could have manifested in the opposite direction. Maybe he wasn’t nervous that he’d be shipped out, but concerned he had to show more to management to keep them from trading for a big man. It appeared his struggles completely coincided with the reports from Los Angeles of a Phoenix/Lakers conversation regarding Pau Gasol.

Plumlee has had two days off and no travel. The trade deadline has come and gone. Miles is a Sun and no one else was brought in to take his minutes. Yes, he’s going up against a legendary center, but it’s one that Plumlee could score some easy baskets against if he beats Tim Duncan down the floor.

For the Suns to win Friday night, Plumlee needs to reward the Suns for doing nothing. The Suns will not make the playoff if Plumlee continues to be a non-factor. It’s time for Plumlee to step up or be left Miles behind.