The 2014 version of free agency in the NBA started off slowly, with just a scrap of Jodie Meeks here and there to satiate us junkies who just couldn’t live off LeBron and Carmelo rumors. However, LeBron’s shocking (to some, inevitable to others) homecoming kicked off a frenzy of moves that delighted the hardcore fans. Chris Bosh surprised by sticking in Miami, leaving Houston holding its collective dick after shipping off useful players to carve out cap space. Carmelo followed the money, the Bulls brought in Pau Gasol and Lance Stephenson presciently jumped a sinking ship in Indiana to join MJ and the
Bobcats Hornets. However, as things have died down, two talented young players are still left without contracts: Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe. We’re gonna focus on the latter, as Bledsoe and the Suns are much more fun to discuss than the Pistons.
You probably watched Eric Bledsoe play in college and don’t even remember. He was John Wall’s backup at point guard at Kentucky in 2009-10, a team that included DRaT legend DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins and Patrick Patterson. Bledsoe didn’t play a ton, but his potential was obvious as the Clippers drafted him 18th overall in the 2010 draft. After two years of backing up Chris Paul and showing off his freakish athleticism and jack-of-all-trades skill set, the Clippers recognized the value of the asset outweighed the minutes they had available to him. They traded Bledsoe to Phoenix in a three-way deal that brought J.J. Redick to LA before last season.
While keen observers understood that the Suns had a potential star on their hands, many fans had little prior exposure to Bledsoe’s exciting game. Bledsoe promptly welcomed himself to the spotlight with 22 points, six rebounds and seven assists in his first game, a victory over Portland. He followed that up by hitting a game winner the next game, and continued playing like an All-Star for the first half of the 2013-14 season. Unfortunately, Bledsoe sustained a meniscus injury that forced him to miss nearly three months of the season. While he was out, Goran Dragic continued to excel and the Suns maintained their spot in the playoffs hunt. Although Bledsoe returned and also returned to form, the Suns off-season acquisition of point guard Isaiah Thomas was a clear sign that they don’t have a 100% need for Eric Bledsoe. His final 2013-14 stat line was 17.7 PPG-4.7 RPG-5.5 APG on .457/.357/.772 shooting, excellent numbers.
Here is where things have gotten interesting. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent, meaning the Suns have the opportunity to match any offer sheet he signs with another team within three days. However, no one signed Bledsoe to an offer sheet when that three day clock would’ve mattered, and it’s extremely unlikely another team does at this point because of the cap space necessary. This is not uncommon for a restricted free agent, but the impasse between Bledsoe and the Suns in contract talks is big enough that the two have been at a stalemate all summer. Bledsoe wants a five year, $84 million max deal, while the Suns have offered him four years for $48 million.
As neither side appears willing to budge, the Suns are now forced to consider trade options, which is exactly what they’re doing. While very few teams have the cap space available to give Bledsoe the deal he wants, a trade would open up a contender to the bidding. Perhaps Houston would like to make a buzzer beater on their summer report card? Phoenix would undoubtedly receive less than they want for an asset like Bledsoe, but at this point both sides are running out of options. Bledsoe could sign a one year qualifying offer for $3.7 million and hit fully unrestricted free agency next year. However, the risk of injury is far too high to justify a move that bold–even robustly healthy players like Paul George can fall victim to freak circumstances.
The wild card in all of this is, in my opinion, the role of Bledsoe’s agent, Rich Paul. Does that name sound familiar? It’s because Paul, not one of the “power agents” in the NBA, also represents LeBron James. While the entire league was waiting on James’ decision, other free agents were preparing all their own contingency plans for the different scenarios. However, because Paul was focused on the first domino, James, it seems entirely possible he neglected what turned out to be the last one: Bledsoe. If Bledsoe and Phoenix are this far off on negotiations, it should not be a surprise this late in the game. Bledsoe’s agent should’ve been focused on finding the biggest deal possible that would force Phoenix to make a decision and ensure Bledsoe’s payday. While I can’t blame Rich Paul for possibly focusing more on LeBron, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Bledsoe change agents in the upcoming season. Regardless of that, this is definitely a story to watch.