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Best Potential Landing Spots for Restricted Free Agent Eric Bledsoe

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

Best Potential Landing Spots for Restricted Free Agent Eric Bledsoe

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Chances are Eric Bledsoe isn't going anywhere. By this point, it's a virtual certainty he'll remain with the Phoenix Suns—at least for now.

    But that doesn't mean he should.

    His team is now overflowing with very good point guards after the team acquired Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings. Thomas joins Goran Dragic in what the organization envisions as a three-guard rotation (including Bledsoe, of course). With the wealth of talent at the position—and Gerald Green on the wing—it wouldn't be unreasonable for the Suns to desire a more traditional shooting guard.

    The small backcourt has certainly shown potential, but there may be better fits for the Suns and Bledsoe alike.

    The problem is that Phoenix doesn't seem particularly eager to part ways.

    As Arizona Sports Doug Franz put it:

    The only way Bledsoe gets his big pay day is if another team wants to show their fans they're trying. The Suns not only have the right to match any offer, no other team can outbid Phoenix.

    Another franchise knows the Suns will match so the only reason another team signs is to get attention. Bledsoe will be playing 2014-15 for the Suns no matter what.

    Team president Lon Babby suggested as much in February, via Arizona Sports' Adam Green. When asked if the club would match any offer for Bledsoe, Babby said:

    I think our answer to that is yes, that we know enough about Eric as a player. Even more importantly, we've lived with him now for almost a year as a person. We like everything about him. Like him as a teammate, like him as a representative of our franchise and everything that he stands for.

    General manager Ryan McDonough expressed a similar sentiment as far back as December.

    Could another team pry Bledsoe away? Here are five that should try.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    The O.J. Mayo experiment hasn't worked out so far in Milwaukee. The 26-year-old has proven that he's much better as a starter, and he predictably looked out of sorts as a frequent sixth man for the Bucks.

    So it should come as no surprise that Milwaukee is actually one of the very few teams that's been linked to Bledsoe.

    Earlier in July, ESPN.com's Marc Stein tweeted that he was, "told Bucks are pitching offer sheet to RFA Eric Bledsoe..."

    As CBSSports.com's James Herbert subsequently pointed out, "Bledsoe might command a maximum salary, and Phoenix Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has expressed numerous times that he plans to match any offer sheet."

    In other words, Milwaukee's chances of snagging Bledsoe are about the same as any other club's. If the Bucks are indeed interested in making an offer, it may simply be to show fans they're trying. Otherwise, they may believe the Suns will ultimately relent when they confront the high price they'd have to pay to keep Bledsoe.

    With Brandon Knight currently running the show in Milwaukee, Bledsoe would give the team its second versatile combo-guard. Paired together, Bledsoe and Knight would give the Bucks a quick backcourt capable of scoring and making plays for others.

    It sounds like a great plan. Whether it happens is another story altogether.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    The Philadelphia 76ers have more than enough money to throw at Bledsoe. They also have more than enough reasons to do so.

    Bledsoe would fit alongside Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams nicely, providing a scoring punch and some defensive tenacity against opposing point guards. On the offensive end, Carter-Williams could continue to initiate offense and take care of most of the ball-handling.

    The Sixers desperately need another impact player, particularly a young one who could grow alongside a promising up-and-coming core that includes Nerlens Noel and the injured Joel Embiid. 

    Again, the Suns are likely to match any other offers. And it's hard to see Bledsoe forcing his way to Philadelphia given how bad things were for the club last season.

    But in terms of fits—especially with teams that have the requisite cap space to afford Bledsoe—it's hard to think of many better options. Unattractive as these Sixers may look at the moment, things may be dramatically different in a couple of years' time.

3. Miami Heat

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    The Miami Heat and Mario Chalmers agreed to terms earlier this week, but that doesn't change the fact that Pat Riley desperately needs to upgrade the point guard spot. Chalmers was an epic disappointment during the NBA Finals in 2014 after being one of its unlikely heroes a season earlier.

    When the real Chalmers stands up, Miami invariably finds that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The 28-year-old isn't a hero, but he hasn't been a total bust either. 

    If the Heat have any chance of returning to title glory, the team can't rely on an unremarkable floor general. Miami was able to make up the difference on account of LeBron James' top-shelf playmaking ability, but now that's gone.

    And Dwyane Wade can only carry so much of that backcourt load.

    Bledsoe would immediately give Miami a difference-maker at the position. The problem is getting ahold of him.

    Miami would probably have to acquire Bledsoe via sign-and-trade after spending big on Wade, Chris Bosh and Luol Deng. The big question becomes whether the organization has the kind of assets to land Bledsoe, and on face that seems unlikely.

    The Heat don't have enough young prospects to intrigue the Phoenix Suns, so Riley would have to get extremely creative to make a deal like this work.

    And in turn, Bledsoe would have to apply a lot of pressure to the Suns.

    Unlikely though it seems, teams like the Heat always seem to find a way. Riley will get his hands on another star sooner or later, and someone such as Bledsoe would be an exceptional fit.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    There just might be a way Steve Nash could retire in Phoenix.

    It wouldn't quite be LeBron James returning home, but it would make for a great story. It's not a likely outcome, but sometimes you don't want to let facts get in the way of such a story.

    The fact is it would be very difficult to pry away Eric Bledsoe with Nash alone. But if there were some way for Los Angeles to sweeten an offer built around Nash, the Los Angeles Lakers could theoretically acquire Bledsoe via sign-and-trade.

    For what it's worth, having Nash around would be great for the young Suns. He could mentor Isaiah Thomas and Goran Dragic, provide infinite veteran leadership and help build a legitimate playoff culture for a team that's on the cusp of doing some good things.

    Nash is obviously in the twilight of his career and doesn't offer the long-term allure you have with Bledsoe, but his return would be one of those things that goes beyond basketball.

    Meanwhile, the Lakers would solidify a position where Nash and Lin are presently scheduled to platoon at the moment. He'd bring his star power and give the franchise a much-desired building block for the future.

    Los Angeles whiffed in its pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and never quite got on LeBron's radar. Bledsoe may not stand out as an especially exciting plan C, but he's the kind of addition that makes a lot of sense from a long-term perspective.

    Should our hypothetical talks ever get very far, Phoenix would almost certainly demand Julius Randle as part of the deal. If you're Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, it would be hard to say no. Getting ahold of Bledsoe would turn a relatively uneventful summer into an instant success for the franchise.

1. Houston Rockets

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Having cleared plenty of cap space to pursue Bosh and after declining to match the Dallas Mavericks' offer for Chandler Parsons, the Houston Rockets should be left with some flexibility even in the wake of signing Trevor Ariza to a four-year deal starting at $8.6 million in his first season.

    Though the 26-year-old Patrick Beverley is an outstanding defender and poised to adopt a larger role with the club, Houston could certainly use an upgrade at the point guard spot. Bledsoe is the better scorer and has genuine star potential. 

    Houston's chances of acquiring Bledsoe aren't great.

    In addition to the Suns vowing to match any offer, even the Rockets would struggle to cobble together max-money.

    For this to happen, Bledsoe would probably have to demand that he go to Houston. Fortunately, the Rockets are one of the few teams that can challenge the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder in the West. That could be attractive to Bledsoe, especially if he's less than confident in his young Suns' chances of making serious noise anytime soon.

    The Rockets could potentially work out a sign-and-trade in that event to secure Bledsoe some extra dollars, but it's unclear what a package might look like, and nothing along those lines has been reported. 

    Indeed, Bledsoe and the Rockets haven't been linked at all, but much of Houston's early plans revolved around Bosh. If the organization is looking to make title-worthy upgrades, a new point guard reasons to be at the top of the list (along with very long-shot odds of acquiring Kevin Love).

    Should something like this come to fruition, it may be down the road a little bit. Phoenix may be eager to keep Bledsoe now, but it could eventually decide that he's too expensive. The Rockets seem to be playing things patiently at the moment, but it's no secret that general manager Daryl Morey is fond of making splashes. And he still has plenty of work to do before this team can chase a title.

    Bledsoe would be a significant step in that direction.

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