The Memphis Grizzlies spent the All-Star break trying to figure out how they can brush off a four-game losing streak and get back in the crowded Western Conference playoff picture.
Already in the top eight, the Phoenix Suns’ focus might instead be on a franchise-altering change.
With Thursday’s trade deadline looming and rumors of an Amare Stoudemire deal lingering, it’s unclear what direction the Suns will take in a second half that begins Tuesday night in Memphis.
Memphis (26-25) was in seventh place in the West, 1 1/2 games ahead of ninth-place Phoenix, on Jan. 27 after an impressive 15-4 stretch, but the teams went into the All-Star break on far different notes.
Yet while the Grizzlies lost six of seven and the Suns (31-22) won five of six, Phoenix’s postseason chances could take a major hit before the final two months of the season resume. The subject of plenty of trade chatter last season, more rumors of a move involving Stoudemire have surfaced ahead of this week’s deadline, with a potential deal to Cleveland ranking as the most prominent.
The cash-conscious Suns already traded Shaquille O’Neal(notes) to the Cavaliers over the summer to rid themselves of his $20 million contract. Dealing Stoudemire, who’s making $16.4 million this season and is owed $17.7 million in 2010-11, would leave Phoenix without its top scorer (21.2 points per game) and rebounder (8.6).
“Right now, I’m a Phoenix Sun,” Stoudemire said after scoring 12 points with 10 rebounds as the West fell 141-139 in Sunday’s All-Star game. “If anything changes, I’ll play and act the same way.
“I haven’t heard nothing solid. I plan on traveling to Memphis with the Suns and playing the Grizzlies.”
Stoudemire has averaged 23.0 points on 71.4 percent shooting against Memphis this season, but the Grizzlies have taken two of the three meetings.
Zach Randolph(notes) (23.0 points per game), Rudy Gay(notes) (21.0) and O.J. Mayo(notes) (20.3) have all thrived offensively against Phoenix, and they combined for 86 points in a 125-118 win at FedEx Forum on Jan. 18.
Randolph was the biggest reason for Memphis’ first-half success, averaging 20.5 points, a career-high 11.6 rebounds and shooting 49.8 percent en route to his first All-Star selection.
He hasn’t been at his best in February, though, and neither have the Grizzlies. Randolph shot 40.0 percent and averaged 14.0 points during the team’s skid heading into the break, including a 108-94 loss to visiting Atlanta last Tuesday.
He had eight points backing up Stoudemire in the All-Star game.
“Everybody coming into the season had no expectations of the Grizzlies,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “(But) we’re set at 26-25. Could we have won more games? Yes. Should we have won more games? I don’t know. But I’m excited where we are at versus where we were when I took over this team last year.”
The Suns went into the break after a 108-101 home loss to Portland on Wednesday, but won four straight road games before that largely thanks to Stoudemire’s 27.8 points per game.
A trade of Stoudemire would certainly figure to hurt Steve Nash’s(notes) assist totals - he averages 11.1 to rank second in the league - but Robin Lopez(notes) has started to show some promise since he was inserted into the starting lineup for good during Phoenix’s last trip to Memphis.
The second-year forward scored 19 points in 28 minutes in that game, and has averaged 12.4 points on 64.4 percent shooting over the Suns’ last 12 games.