The Phoenix Suns toiled through two mediocre seasons following Amar’e Stoudemire’s departure from the Valley of the Sun and bottomed out to commence the post-Steve Nash era. With the arrival of general manager Ryan McDonough—who orchestrated decisions to acquire head coach Jeff Hornacek and point guard Eric Bledsoe—Phoenix managed to return to relevance with a 48-win campaign.
The Suns appear primed to shuffle the deck as a means of improving the incumbent roster. But that may come at the expense of trading Bledsoe.
That’s a narrative the Suns front office must aim to avoid.
Pundits and fans expected Phoenix to wind up at the bottom of the Western Conference standings for a second straight year. On the contrary, Hornacek got everyone to buy into a team concept, which translated to consistent success. Although Bledsoe missed nearly half the season due to knee injuries, his first stint as a regular starter showed heaps of promise.
The 24-year-old averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals while shooting a career-high 47.7 percent from the floor. He strengthened his reputation as a dedicated defender and even stepped up in crunch time—proving that he has ice water flowing through his veins.
Perhaps most important of all was that the Kentucky product not only coexisted, but thrived with fellow point guard Goran Dragic in the same backcourt.
After McDonough pulled the trigger on the deal to acquire Bledsoe, Dragic was taken aback. Was he going to enter training camp with a position battle on his plate?
“The GM and the coach—they called me the next day,” the Slovenian floor general said, per Grantland’s Zach Lowe. “Coach Jeff explained to me that he wanted us to play together, and be like the old Suns with two point guards like Jeff and KJ (Kevin Johnson).”
The All-NBA Third Team member explained that the new desert-dwelling duo needed time to feel each other out, but added, “Me and Eric—we are really good friends. We talk a lot. And you can see that in how we play,” per Lowe.
Bledsoe and Dragic clearly have a good rapport with one another in terms of team chemistry and ability to win games. However, the dynamic duo is facing uncertainty heading into the 2014 offseason.
The Kentucky product is primed to become a restricted free agent. According to a tweet from Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears, “NBA sources say it will take full max deal to control free agent Bledsoe.”
If another franchise offers the stocky 1-guard a max contract, Phoenix will have the final say by either matching it or letting him walk.
Another possible outcome fans may see from Phoenix, though, is the decision to swap Bledsoe for different pieces. The rumors are already beginning to swirl.
Bledsoe Fit For the Kings?
According to The Boston Globe’s Jake Fischer via Twitter, the Sacramento Kings have tested trade waters surrounding the potential-packed youngster.
Would McDonough legitimately consider moving Bledsoe if it meant adding Isaiah Thomas and another pick in the 2014 draft? Well, unless he has a trick up his sleeve to deflect the selection in a second deal right away, that doesn’t make sense.
The 34-year-old GM already said in April, “I think it’s unlikely we bring in three rookies to the Suns next year,” per Dave Dulberg of ArizonaSports.com.
Phoenix is looking to trade the picks it has already stockpiled to land a star player. The Suns aren’t able to develop first-year players on top of last season’s incoming talents. Heck, Alex Len and Archie Goodwin rarely got playing time as rookies.
Unless McDonough can line up a trade in principal for a star like Kevin Love with a package of four first-rounders, this proposal isn’t worth his time.
Why sacrifice a good thing in Bledsoe and Dragic for the uncertainty of Dragic and Thomas? Adding the 5’9” point guard would make Phoenix’s backcourt even smaller than it already is, and Thomas doesn’t bring the rebounding or defensive prowess that Bledsoe can when healthy. Plus, the Washington product is one year older than Bledsoe.
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive is looking to make a big splash to improve his team. McDonough can’t let Bledsoe get away as Sacramento’s flashy new acquisition.
Package for Love?
Purple and Orange is looking to add another big name to put the team over the top (or at least into playoff contention). On that basis, it’s no surprise they’d be interested in frustrated All-Star K-Love.
Per the tweet from Spears, the Suns are intrigued and have the “best assets” with Dragic, Bledsoe and a multitude of draft choices.
Before we discuss any further, Phoenix will not offer Dragic and Bledsoe for Love. It’s not happening. That’s not based on insider information; it’s merely common sense. Why would the Suns move a backcourt that helped win them 48 games in favor of Love, whose Minnesota Timberwolves teams haven’t made the playoffs in six seasons?
Also: Love would likely have zero incentive to stay in the desert if he didn’t have a viable wingman helping him out.
Moving one of those two chips into the pot, however, is a very real possibility.
The question is whether a package including a sign-and-trade of Bledsoe would be enough to woo Minnesota.
According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Golden State Warriors have decided to relent and offer Klay Thompson as part of trade packages for Love’s services. As a 24-year-old, up-and-coming sharpshooter (who doesn’t have an injury history) Minnesota may covet Thompson more than Bledsoe. That outlook is twofold when accounting for Ricky Rubio, who plays the same position as the Suns’ bargaining chip.
Of course, even if T-Wolves’ management preferred Phoenix’s offer, would it be wise for the Suns to pull the trigger?
Love is a transcendent talent. Nobody can question his uncanny ability to fill up box scores. However, there’s no guarantee that he’d sign on with Phoenix for the long haul.
Without that key piece of information, rolling the dice on Bledsoe’s injury history is, ironically, a safer bet than gambling on Love as a potential one-year rental.
Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal explained the same situation from the Dubs' point of view. "Is one run for a championship worth setting this team back for the future? Maybe. You'll have to decide that for yourself, just as the Golden State front office will in coming days and weeks," he wrote.
Simply put, this is a tough decision for all parties involved.
Keep Putting Faith in Management
Suns fans have no reason not to trust McDonough conducting the train. He already made a plethora of savvy moves to land Bledsoe, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and draft picks.
The future of the franchise is in his hands. He just needs to ensure that promises of the future don’t override encouraging signs in the present.
The Suns are poised to wheel and deal this summer but making the wrong trade would put them right back where they were during Nash's final years—in a vacuum of mediocrity.