Will Eric Bledsoe Contract Standoff Derail Phoenix Suns’ Bright Future?

It was supposed to be the easy part of Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough’s offseason.

Attracting premier talent, handling three first-round picks for a roster that doesn’t need to get any younger, that was the hard stuff. But sitting back and letting Eric Bledsoe‘s restricted free agency settle his present and his future? That should have been effortless executive work if there is such a thing.

Yet for all the items marked off McDonough’s summer to-do list—adding four players on draft night, landing Isaiah Thomas and Anthony Tolliver in free agency, keeping P.J. Tucker aroundBledsoe‘s box remains unchecked. With weeks left until the start of training camp, the Suns’ simplest summer task is still not completed.

The story hasn’t changed since the first sign of trouble.

ESPN The Magazine‘s Chris Broussard reported in July that a wide gap existed between the money Bledsoe wanted ($80 million for five years) and what the Suns were willing to offer ($48 million for four). Last month, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst and Ramona Shelburne wrote that Bledsoe was still seeking max money either from the Suns (five years, $85 million) or in a sign-and-trade (four years, $64 million).

Then again, it’s hard for the parties to make any type of progress when they aren’t even on speaking terms:

“Bledsoe has not spoken with Suns staff since the season ended,” wrote Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. “Talks with his representation have been limited and unproductive. He also has not signed another team’s offer sheet, which the Suns were expected to match to keep him if he did.”

Both sides have stubbornly refused to rework their numbers. And both are correct for acting as such.

Professional athletes have a finite earnings window. Bledsoe and his representatives can and should seek as much money as they can possibly get.

The Suns, meanwhile, have their own reasons for steadfastly refusing his requests.

“Taking the long view, Phoenix’s hardball approach to the Bledsoe negotiations makes perfect strategic sense,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Jim Cavan. “From its perspective, Bledsoe‘s stellar season was, at this point, less a bellwether than a promising outlier—a hint rather than a guarantor of things to come.”

Each camp has numbers supporting its view.

On Bledsoe‘s end, the number is nine, as in the amount of players other than Bledsoe to average at least 17 points, five assists and four rebounds last season. There are two notable numbers for the Suns: 78 (career starts) and two (surgeries to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee since 2011).

If the two came together on a surprise last-minute contract agreement, one side would need to risk something. Either Bledsoe would commit to a future where he could easily wind up outperforming his wages, or the Suns would bet the farm on a player with a limited track record and a troubling medical history.

At this stage of the game, reconnecting on his one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer feels like the only logical ending still in play.

Except this wouldn’t be the end of the story. There’s still another chapter to be written, one sure to start on rough terrain given how poorly this process has played out.

The qualifying offer isn’t a one-year commitment so much as an eventual ticket out of town. Bledsoe‘s 2014-15 campaign will suddenly shift to a season-long tryout for the potential suitors with max money to spend next summer, coin that backcourt mate Goran Dragic could also collect once he declines his bargain $7.5 million player option for 2015-16.

Whatever money the Suns saved this summer, they’ll need to part with the next. That or risk watching both backcourt stars bolt and bring back nothing in return.

As ESPN.com’s Marc Stein explained, teams are ready to chase the Suns’ guards on the open market:

If Bledsoe elects to go the rare qualifying offer route, Phoenix would suddenly face the very real possibility of losing both of its two best assets without compensation in 2015 free agency. 

The Lakers, for example, are just one team league sources say would likely make a hard run at both of them, based on the premise that the Suns couldn’t afford the cost of paying both at that point, theoretically making either Bledsoe or Dragic gettable. Sources say that Houston, furthermore, has Dragic on its list of potential targets next summer given how he’s blossomed since leaving the Rockets for Phoenix in the free-agent summer of 2012. 

If Bledsoe signs the qualifier, furthermore, you can pretty much bank on him leaving Phoenix as soon as he gets the chance, because players don’t take that sort of gamble and then bury the bad feelings months later to re-sign with the incumbent team. And that would naturally increase Dragic‘s leverage in the process, because Phoenix simply couldn’t stomach losing its two most valuable players, who both happen to play what is routinely regarded as the most important position on the floor in the modern NBA.

That’s obviously a worst-case scenario, and the stat sheet captures what a crushing blow that would be.

Dragic (20.3 points per game) and Bledsoe (17.7) contributed more than 36 percent of the Suns’ nightly offense (105.2) off their scoring alone. The pair also dished out a combined 11.4 assists per game, nearly 60 percent of the team’s total distributing (19.1).

The Suns can credit the bulk of last season’s 48 wins to their efficient offense, and no players ignited this attack better than these two.

Losing both would be a deathblow in terms of what the Suns are aiming for now and what they’re trying to build down the road.

It’s also probably not going to happen. Dragic seems content to stick around in the desert, provided Phoenix ponies up the appropriate offer.

But that means he has a major contract to earn this season. Ditto for Bledsoe, even if his will likely come from outside. Thomas, now a member of coach Jeff Hornacek’s three-headed point guard monster, has 82 games to prove he can handle a starting role in the future as opposed to serving as a complementary spark plug.

Moving outside of the backcourt doesn’t quiet Phoenix’s free-agency questions.

Gerald Green is working on an expiring deal and could be looking to parlay another career year into a jackpot payday. The Morris twins (Markieff and Morris) are slated for restricted free agency next summer, their first chance to really strike it rich since they will no longer be bound by the rookie-contract scale.

A lot of players on this team have incentive to do well in 2014-15, but the motivation to succeed together will only be as strong as they allow it. There is a ton of money at stake, along with the chance there isn’t enough of it around to keep everyone happy.

The Suns’ chemistry, which looked spandex-tight last season, could be at risk if players let different priorities pull them in opposite directions.

Phoenix sounds confident that won’t happen. Or as confident as it can sound without its full array of talent on hand.

Thomas, the backcourt’s third wheel until proven otherwise, told Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy he’s ready to fit the puzzle however he’s needed:

People always ask me, ‘What’s going to happen with you, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic?’ At the end of the day I’m going to play, we’re going to play together, we’re going to have fun with it and we’re going to figure it out. I mean whatever happens, it’s for the best, and that’s how I’m going about it. We’re going to compete each and every day, we’re going to make each other better and we’re going to do what’s best for the team.

That sentiment sounds nice for now, but is it one shared by all his teammates? Is everyone willing to sacrifice in pursuit of a common goal with the knowledge it could impact their bottom line?

The Suns can only hope they are. Given the incredible depth of the Western Conference, the slightest bit of friction could sink this playoff ship before it ever sets sail.

Phoenix is likely looking at a future without one of its primary building blocks, but it needs that foundation to hold together for one more season.

Collective success may not impact every individual the same way, but a collapsed structure would help no one. Whether that message sticks will determine how bright the Suns’ present and future really are.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com.

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Report: Suns interested in Goran Dragic’s brother Zoran

via ESPN.com
Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic is currently in action for Slovenia in the FIBA World Cup currently being held in Spain  Dragic has been instrumental in guiding the Slovenians to a last-16 berth where they will face the United States on Tuesday.  Dragic has averaged 16.5 points and 4.3 assists.
The second best player on the Slovenian team just so happens to be Zoran Dragic, Gorn’s younger brother.  The 25-year old Zoran has averaged 13.5 points per game and is shooting 45 percent from the field.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, the Phoenix Suns are interested in bringing the younger Dragic to the desert and partnering him with his older brother.  Zoran currently plays for Unicaja Málaga in Spain.
Sources here in Spain told ESPN.com this weekend that the Phoenix Suns are indeed among the three NBA teams expressing the most serious interest in signing Goran Dragic’s younger brother Zoran….
European media reports have pegged the Indiana Pacers as another suitor for Zoran Dragic.
It ma

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LeBron backs Eric Bledsoe, tells Suns to ‘break bread’

The game’s best player, LeBron James, has his good friend Eric Bledsoe‘s back in terms of getting a max deal the explosive guard covets from the Phoenix Suns. While Bledsoe still remains unsigned, it’s likely that he’ll be going into next season playing under a one-year qualifying offer from the Suns. The Suns appear to be standing firm on not giving Bledsoe the max, despite the team saying they would match any deal offered to the former Kentucky Wildcat. One popular reason for the Suns not wanting to give Bledsoe a max deal is that he’s had two major knee surgeries and only played in 43 games last season. LeBron James seems to disagree with this notion as he posted a caption on Instagram after the two worked out. Great work today lil bro @ebled2!! Future All-Star in this league in no time. PHX break bread. #Klutch #Work #GymRats #StriveForGreatness Although the phrase “break bread” could mean a few different things, it seems that LeBron James is advocating for the Suns to give Bledsoe the dea

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LeBron James to Suns: ‘break bread’ for Eric Bledsoe

James thinks that Phoenix should ‘break bread.’

      
 

 

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LeBron James Suggests Phoenix Suns ‘Break Bread’ with Eric Bledsoe

LeBron James isn’t just the best player in the world; he is also one of the most vocal players in the NBA. Now, he might dropping lines to get one of his peers paid.

The Phoenix Suns have yet to come to terms with restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe, which the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar has definitely noticed.

After working out with Bledsoe, James posted a picture with the following caption: ”Great work today lil bro @ebled2!! Future All-Star in this league in no time. PHX break bread. #Klutch #Work #GymRats #StriveForGreatness.”

The King has spoken. Let’s see if that speeds up the process at all.

[LeBron James]

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Phoenix Suns: Why Channing Frye Loss Really Hurts

I’ll be completely honest with you here — I watched every Phoenix Suns game last season and when I heard that Channing Frye was going to be heading out of town, I didn’t feel like it would make a huge difference. Don’t get me wrong — Frye was a good guy, easy to talk to […]
Phoenix Suns: Why Channing Frye Loss Really Hurts – Hoops Habit – Hoops Habit – Analysis, Opinion and Stats All About The NBA

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Phoenix Suns: Trading Eric Bledsoe To Detroit

Phoenix Suns: Trading Eric Bledsoe To Detroit
By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…
Phoenix Gets: Greg Monroe (Sign and Trade)
Detroit Gets: Eric Bledsoe (Sign and Trade)
The Phoenix Suns cannot re-sign their best player, point guard Eric Bledsoe. With 2 more excellent point guards on the roster and with Bledsoe a restricted free agent, it is very difficult for him to get the max contract he deserves, especially since most teams have spent their cap space, thinking that the Suns would match any contract, as they said they were likely too. He’d like a 5 season, 80 million dollar contract and the biggest deal they have publicly given to him was 4 seasons, 48 million. That’s a big difference, but really there are just 3 options; they find a middle ground, he takes the 1 season QO which he said he would or they trade him. What is best for the team is to re-sign him, as he is their best player by a wide margin, but with Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas at point guard, they wouldn…

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Suns’ sign-and-trade talks for Bledsoe gain steam

Phoenix wants to sign Bledsoe to a long-term deal, but is open to a sign-and-trade.

      
 

 

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Report: Suns looking to trade Eric Bledsoe

TweetThe free agency stand off between restricted free agent guard Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns may be nearing an end soon. According to a report from Fox Sports 910 host Jude LaCava, the Suns are very much open to the idea of trading Bledsoe: “I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported,” Jude LaCava said on Tuesday. “I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.” “That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.” Phoenix offered Bledsoe a fair market contract earlier this summer valued at $48 million over 4 years, which Bledsoe rejected. The athletic yet injury-prone guard has been seeking close to a max contract, but hasn’t been able to secure an offer mostly due to his injury history as well as the Suns ability to match any offer he received. The Suns landed Bledsoe in a three-team trade with the Clippers

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How Eric Bledsoe’s Contract Impacts Goran Dragic’s Future with Phoenix Suns

Goran Dragic‘s future with the Phoenix Suns is beyond his control. 

Nearly two months into free agency, the Eric Bledsoe saga soldiers on. He remains unsigned, and while the Suns haven’t waited around twiddling their thumbs—Isaiah Thomas, anyone?—they are in limbo until this sudden soap opera reaches resolution.

The end result, whatever it is, will impact Dragic. Not only will he be either losing or retaining his backcourt partner in crime, but he’s approaching a crossroads of his own.

Dragic can become an unrestricted free agent next summer if he so chooses. He holds a player option worth $7.5 million, and if he follows up 2013-14 with an equally strong 2014-15, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he will explore the open market.

And though Dragic‘s decision to hit free agency may not be rooted in Bledsoe‘s actions, the money Phoenix is offering—or not offering—will be.

 

If Bledsoe Leaves…

Few entertained the idea of Bledsoe leaving before the offseason began. He wouldn’t be going anywhere.

Then the offseason actually happened. 

Phoenix hasn’t moved on its initial four-year, $48 million offer, according to Paul Coro of AZCentral.com; Bledsoe, meanwhile, is believed to be seeking five years and $80 million, per ESPN The Magazine‘s Chris Broussard

Marked difference in opinion has created tension. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today says the relationship between player and team has “soured” amid negotiations. Those findings echoed CSNNW.com’s Chris Haynes, who suggested the bond may have been broken beyond repair.

Worst-case scenario has Bledsoe leaving by way of trade or another offer sheet. The latter is unrealistic, since the Suns would likely match any contract their point guard receives. It doesn’t help that funds have dried up around the league either, making it so there is no offer sheet for Bledsoe to sign.

A sign-and-trade was thought to be equally unlikely, but Jude LaCava of Fox Sports 910 (via Bright Side Of The Sun) says otherwise:

I’ll tell you this, and I think this is the first time it’s reported, I do believe in my NBA sources. You can take this to the bank, so to speak, the Suns are now discussing trade possibilities for Eric Bledsoe.

That’s the new chapter to this and I wouldn’t back off of that information. I think it’s 100% correct.

True, false—it doesn’t matter. If Bledsoe is traded, Dragic has leverage entering next summer.

The free-agent market won’t be awash with talented floor generals. Thomas will also be the lone starting-caliber point man on the roster at that point.

That leaves Dragic to negotiate a lucrative new contract which in theory should pay him way more than the $7.5 million he’s slated to earn for 2015-16. And without Bledsoe or a spectacular contingency plan, the Suns may be forced to pay him the kind of money they won’t give his sidekick.

 

If Bledsoe Bends…

Seeing Bledsoe play for any team other than the Suns remains unlikely. Chances are he stays in Phoenix for at least another year.

Or four.

For all Bledsoe‘s displeasure, he could find himself signing the four-year, $48 million pact the Suns are slinging. That’s a lot of cash, after all—enough financial security to set him up for life.

There’s also the matter of leverage, something Bledsoe isn’t toting.

Restricted free agents are at the mercy of incumbent teams. Their only clout-carrying play is to accept a one-year qualifying offer, play one season at a steep discount and hope they’re valuable and healthy enough to land a bigger contract the following summer.

Most restricted free agents won’t take that risk. Greg Monroe of the Detroit Pistons is an exception. Though Bledsoe can follow his lead, Tom Ziller of SB Nation colors these types of power plays empty threats:

Think of all the weird, tortured restricted free agency cases we’ve had over the years, like Josh Smith, Josh Childress, Gerald Wallace and others. None of them resulted in the player signing the qualifying offer.

Ben Gordon is the closest example of a high-level case. After failing to reach a deal with the Bulls in 2008, Gordon signed the qualifying offer and received an absurd, painful five-year, $55 million deal with Detroit in 2009. But Gordon is a rare case: since 2003, only 13 first-round picks have ever taken the qualifying offer. Of those 13, only Spencer Hawes agreed to a long-term deal with the same team.

History points toward Bledsoe re-upping with the Suns now, not later. And if history repeats itself, it has a mixed bag of repercussions should Dragic reach free agency next summer.

Locking up Bledsoe on a long-term deal ensures the Suns have at least two talented point guards (Thomas) on the docket, bilking Dragic of some bargaining power. 

At the same time, they’ll also have kept Bledsoe on their own terms without bending to his max-contract demands. Housing him at $48 million is far different than lining his pockets with $80 million over the next half-decade. 

The Suns, then, should have enough cap flexibility to keep their backcourt dyad intact. At the very least, re-signing Bledsoe now puts them in the thick of Dragic‘s free-agent fray later, armed with the ability—and hopefully the means—to keep him in town, too.

 

If Bledsoe Accepts Qualifying Offer…

This is where things get really interesting.

Possibly for the worse. 

Accepting the Suns’ $3.7 million qualifying offer isn’t out of the question for Bledsoe. Zillgitt says the point man is “strongly considering” pulling a Monroe with the hopes of landing a more substantial deal next summer. 

Pushing forward on what is basically a one-year contract changes everything. It’s a risky yet smart play for Bledsoe if he truly believes he’s worth more than the Suns are dangling.

Playing through next season while appearing in more than 43 games and producing at a level that rivals the 17.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game he averaged last year puts him in the driver’s seat.

Bledsoe will only be 25 come next summer. Investing max money in him over another five years may not seem as egregious to the Suns if exceptional play precedes negotiations. But then there’s the matter of Dragic to consider.

If he opts for free agency in this scenario, the Suns have two marquee free agents on their hands, both of whom may command contracts that average eight figures annually.

We already know that’s what Bledsoe is demanding; Dragic is unlikely to be any different. 

Six players averaged at least 20 points, three rebounds, 5.5 assists and one steal per game last season: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Dragic. All of them, with the exception of Dragic and Irving, will earn $10-plus million in 2014-15. 

Irving, by the way, isn’t really an exception. He’s merely finishing out the “last year” of his rookie contract before his max extension kicks in for 2015-16, at which point he’ll be earning noticeably more than Curry.

What happens if Dragic—who will be 29 in summer 2015—puts himself in that same company next season? What happens if he ranks in the top 15 of win shares again? What happens if he helps the Suns navigate labyrinths of adversity once more, pushing them near or into the playoffs?

He’ll get paid. Whether it’s by the Suns or someone else, he’ll get paid. And there could be a strong chance it’s by someone else.

Having two talented point men on the open market could force the Suns into an awkward decision: Do they keep Bledsoe or Dragic? If that becomes an actual question, the answer should be the younger, more athletic Bledsoe

Ideally, the Suns won’t have to choose. They would re-sign both and carry on with the dual-point-guard lineups that quarterbacked a top-eight offense

But there’s no guarantee this will be an ideal situation if the Suns end up here. They would either invest in a loaded backcourt or disperse the funds in a way that ensures only one of Bledsoe and Dragic returns. 

“What we ultimately decided is: This is the strength of our team,” Suns Coach Jeff Hornacek told AZCentral.com’s Bob Young of signing Thomas. “Let’s bolster it instead of going in a different direction.”

Maintain that mindset, and the Suns, no matter how Bledsoe‘s immediate future plays out, are on track to keep him and Dragic together.

Move on that philosophy in any way or put a cap on its value, and Bledsoe‘s decision now could be the beginning of an abrupt, backcourt-breaking, duo-disbanding end.

 

*Salary information via ShamSports. Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.


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