20130429-135523.jpgIf the Phoenix Suns are trying to tank the season, they’re going about it all wrong.

When Phoenix sent Luis Scola to the Pacers in July for Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and a first-round pick, the general consensus was this: great move for Indiana, acquiring a player that could prove to be the final piece to the championship puzzle; typical move for the rebuilding Suns, stockpiling inexpensive young players and draft picks with an eye toward the future.

Here’s how Bleacher Report’s Dan Favale characterized the deal from Phoenix’s perspective:

“Name five teams in the league on course to finish with a worse record than the Suns next season. I dare you. You’ll struggle to come up with five, because there aren’t that many. By ridding themselves of Scola in favor of Green and Plumlee, the Suns are in a great position to tank the season away, toward a potential Andrew Wiggins selection. … Phoenix has no plans to contend for anything other than the top pick in next year’s draft and has no delusions to the contrary.”

This is not to single out Favale for retrospective yucks. Quite the contrary; he best encapsulated the opinion of the majority – including me – at the time. The Suns were discarding veterans right and left, landing five first-round picks in the next two drafts. What else would anyone conclude?

While Scola certainly has filled his expected role with the Pacers, averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 18 minutes per game while serving as a steady, stabilizing presence off the bench, the Suns have gotten much more than anyone expected, and that was on full display Wednesday night in Phoenix. Green scored 23 points and pulled six rebounds while Plumlee had 11 points and seven rebounds as the Suns flattened the Pacers 124-100.

Green is the team’s third-leading scorer at 13.7, adding 3.1 rebounds in 48 games, including 23 starts. He’s shooting .434 overall and .371 from the 3-point line.

Those numbers are solid, but not necessarily mind-boggling. Green put up similar stats with the Nets late over the second half of the 2011-12 season, which prompted the Pacers to sign him as a free agent.

No, the stats that jump out at you are those of Plumlee: 41 games, all starts, 27.9 minutes, 9.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.61 blocked shots, .511 shooting.

With Green and Plumlee playing major roles, the Suns are perhaps the biggest surprise story in the league with a 24-17 record, which stands eighth in the Western Conference (and would be third in the East).

Miles Plumlee has started all 41 games at center for the Suns. (Photo: Icon SMI)

Miles Plumlee has started all 41 games at center for the Suns. (Photo: Icon SMI)

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough thought he was acquiring the team’s center of the future when he used the No. 5 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft on Alex Len of Maryland.

While Len has made just eight appearances, Plumlee has emerged as the man in the middle of everything, particularly as a rim-protector.

“You would never know if someone is good if they don’t play. … Miles has been absolutely fantastic for us,” Green told Dave Dulberg of the ESPN TrueHoop blog network. “He does the little things for us as far as protecting the basket. He’s always here working out. He’s dedicated to his body and to his team. He’s so focused right now.

“He wants to be the premiere big in the league, and he’s on his way. Right now, he’s learning every day. Every practice he’s dominating. Every game he’s dominating. Even when he’s not scoring, he’s still dominating. He’s a true center in this league, and I’m just glad to be playing alongside of him.”

Don’t even begin to entertain the notion the Pacers erred in making this deal.

Plumlee made 14 appearances during his rookie season with the Pacers, totaling 13 points and 22 rebounds. With Roy Hibbert and Ian Mahinmi on the roster, he had little hope for playing time and has welcomed the opportunity in Phoenix.

The same is true for Green, who never was able to grasp the Pacers’ defensive principles last season, a big reason he wound up on the bench. Danny Granger’s return, coupled with the emergence of Lance Stephenson, would’ve further mitigated his opportunity in Indiana.

And the draft pick likely will be at the very bottom of the first round.

While Scola’s numbers have been relatively modest, he has played a major role in the team’s surge to the top of the Eastern Conference. His experience and consistent productivity will be even more critical when the playoffs roll around.

No, this was one of those rare win-win trades.

Even if the Suns, in the process, are winning a little more than planned.


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