What Should the L.A. Clippers Do with Eric Bledsoe?

Jeff NisiusContributor IIJanuary 18, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 04:  Eric Bledsoe #12 of the Los Angeles Clippers smiles during a 107-102 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on January 4, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

This season, Eric Bledsoe has emerged from a backup point guard into a legitimate weapon off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers.  While he is still stuck behind the best point guard in the league in Chris Paul, Bledsoe has found ways to make an impact and force Vinny Del Negro to find him more minutes.

There are plenty of statistics to prove Bledsoe’s worth, such as his 19.55 player efficiency rating, ranking second in the league in steals per 40 minutes and his true-shooting percentage nearing the league average.  However, his ability to lock down opposing point guards and cause havoc in transition make him unique in a league now dominated by guards.

Furthermore, Bledsoe’s efficiency on offense and defensive prowess are coming at a bargain, as he is only being paid $1.7 million and will not hit restricted free agency until after next season.  This makes Bledsoe one of the most coveted assets who may hit the trade market over the next 18 months.

The real question is: Will the Clippers trade Bledsoe, or keep him?  If the front office decides to trade him, when should they do so?  Here are three options.


Trade Bledsoe This Season

 A trade this season seems unlikely, considering how well the Clippers are playing and their elite chemistry.  Grant Hill described the team’s chemistry as being, “like it was in college”, on January 17 in an interview with TNT.

It seems hard to believe that management would disrupt the best start in franchise history by trading one of their most electrifying and important pieces.  Yet the Clippers do have a few flaws that could be fixed by dealing Bledsoe.

The Clippers are currently tied for 16th in total rebounds and rank 17th in defensive rebounding.  Controlling the glass is one way to limit possessions for other teams, and becomes extremely important during the playoffs. 

Also, the Clippers could benefit from an upgrade at small forward.  The next major question surrounding the Clippers is: What happens when the games slow down in the playoffs, and they need to execute in halfcourt sets?  Blake Griffin has definitely improved his shooting and is better in the post, and of course the team has Chris Paul.  But it is still a valid concern.

A likely target, should the Clippers trade Bledsoe, would be a wing who can attack off the dribble and make an impact on the glass.

However, it makes much more sense for the team to stand pat.  They must force opponents to defend their efficient first unit and outlast their bench, one of the best bench units in the league. 

Not to mention, Chauncey Billups should be around for the postseason this year.


Trade Bledsoe This Summer/Next Season

This seems the most likely if Bledsoe is to be shipped out of Clipperland.  It would allow the team to compete this season and see how far they can go with the current roster.  Additionally, it would allow the team to re-form chemistry in the offseason, unless Bledsoe is dealt next season at the deadline.

When considering a Bledsoe trade, there are many factors that enter the equation.  Does Chris Paul re-sign this summer?  What or whom should be targeted in a potential Bledsoe trade?  Who is available in free agency, and at what price? 

Chris Paul re-signing is the top priority for the organization.  Since Bledsoe is the Clippers’ insurance policy, it is hard to believe he would be dealt before the team knows Paul’s decision.  Still, it seems likely that Paul will re-up with the Clippers.

Surely, multiple teams will be willing to give up a lottery pick (if not multiple picks) for Bledsoe this summer.  However, this draft is expected to be less heralded than the 2014 class.  According to Chad Ford, “Next year, there are four incoming freshmen who NBA scouts feel could be franchise-changers.”

Should the Clipper deal Bledsoe, they need to be looking for 2014 picks, thanks to a class that is loaded with talent.  This would allow maximum opportunity for the Clippers to land another impact player after dealing Bledsoe. 

What are the teams that might consider trading a 2014 pick for Bledsoe?

Orlando will have two picks in the draft and need a point guard.  Atlanta did not extend Jeff Teague and could lose him in restricted free agency after next season.  New Orleans wanted Bledsoe in the Paul trade, but the Clippers would not give him up. Sacramento and Toronto could also have interest.


Refuse to Trade Bledsoe

While somewhat of a long shot, the Clippers could choose to extend or match an offer to Bledsoe. The main component that would prevent the team from doing so would be the new luxury tax penalties.

According to ESPN:

“Starting in 2012-13, teams pay an incremental tax that increases with every $5 million above the tax threshold ($1.50, $1.75, $2.50, $3.25, etc.). Teams that are repeat offenders (paying tax at least four out of the past five seasons) have a tax that is higher still -- $1 more at each increment ($2.50, $2.75, $3.50, $4.25, etc.).”

This would certainly impact the Clippers, depending on Chris Paul’s decision.  Should Paul stay in Los Angeles, he will likely receive a maximum contract offer.  Figure around $18 million, then add in nearly $19 million for Blake Griffin’s new deal along with the $14 million owed to DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers are nearly at the salary cap level already. 

They could attempt to squeeze in Bledsoe based on how much his deal is for, but it would make filling out the rest of the roster extremely difficult for the foreseeable future, especially with Jamal Crawford still under contract for a shade over $5 million.  It would also require Donald Sterling to pay a hefty luxury tax bill, something the Clippers have historically avoided.

The most likely scenario would be for Bledsoe to stay the rest of this season but be moved over the course of the next two summers.  Ideally, the Clippers would receive a first round pick in 2014, but could also target one or two in this draft class.  They could also attempt to package Caron Butler in order to clear more room below the luxury tax line and look to acquire more pieces in free agency, the draft and via trade.

Either way, Bledsoe’s value is sky high right now, but the Clippers are in no need to trade the electric guard.  Factor in their chances of making a deep postseason run this spring, and Bledsoe seems nearly untouchable.

Whatever happens, Eric Bledsoe has transformed himself into a valuable player in the NBA and is someone many teams wish they had on their roster.  The Clippers are fortunate to have him.  They need to take advantage of his play in the short-term, and his value in the long-term.