Is Eric Bledsoe a Critical Piece for LA Clippers or Offseason Trade Bait?

Ehran KhanContributor IIIMarch 4, 2013

Are Eric Bledsoe's days with the Clippers numbered?
Are Eric Bledsoe's days with the Clippers numbered?Harry How/Getty Images

Coming into this season, Eric Bledsoe was one of the best kept secrets in basketball.

If you didn't watch the Los Angeles Clippers on a nightly basis, you probably didn't get a chance to see all the potential oozing within the young point guard.

The first extended look the national audience got of Bledsoe was several weeks ago when he started 12 games in Chris Paul's absence. And it was right around that time that his name began to pop up in trade rumors.

It appeared that Bledsoe was destined to be dealt by the trade deadline so that the Clippers could add a more vital piece for their championship run, but in the end, the team decided they didn't want to mess with their chemistry and hung onto Bledsoe for at least the remainder of this season.

At least, that's the reason the Clippers stated publicly concerning their hesitation to pull the trigger on any trades at the deadline.

But the real reason LA held on to Bledsoe is that they're waiting to deal him in the offseason.

Is he a critical piece for the Clips? Without question. He proved his worth when he filled in admirably for Paul as the Clippers' only true point guard.

That's the biggest reason Bledsoe is still on the team. He's Chris Paul insurance (Ask Cliff, he'll tell you.). If Paul goes down again, LA needs someone who can step in and handle the lead guard duties.

And don't forget, Paul is a free-agent this summer. It's likely CP3 will re-sign with the Clips, but on the off chance he doesn't, the Clippers need Bledsoe as their backup plan.

Once the Paul issue is settled—and assuming he re-ups with the team—Bledsoe becomes more valuable to the Clippers as a tradeable asset than as a member of their rotation.

Don't get me wrong, Bledsoe is awesome. He's an athletic wonder and only beginning to tap into his tremendous upside. He's already eighth among all NBA point guards in PER, ahead of guys like Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Deron Williams and way ahead of his old college teammate John Wall.

He's putting up career bests across all rate statistics, which suggests that although his raw numbers aren't eye-popping, they would be if he played typical starter's minutes.

Unfortunately, he'll never get those kinds of minutes with the Clippers as long as the guy who has led all NBA point guards in PER every season since 2008 is still around.

When Paul is in the lineup, Bledsoe only averages 18 minutes per game because he's generally used as a pure backup to CP3.

Vinny Del Negro hasn't thrown the two of them out there together a ton, and with good reason. When Paul and Bledsoe share the floor, the Clippers outscore their opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions.

While that's a healthy margin, it's lower than the team's overall mark of 7.0 points per 100 possessions. And when Paul is in the game without Bledsoe, the figure jumps to 9.6 points per 100 possessions.

It's smarter for the Clippers to move Bledsoe in the offseason for someone who will play a bigger role for them next year.

When you consider the fact that Bledsoe is a restricted free agent in the summer of 2014, it's practically a no-brainer.

To give Bledsoe the raise he deserves and only play him 18-20 minutes a game is just dumb. They can find a competent backup for CP3 at a fraction of the cost and instead flip Bledsoe for a significant piece this summer to make a run at the 2014 title.