Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe is stuck in restricted free agency limbo.
With negotiations clearly stalled and no team coming up with an offer sheet that he finds acceptable, Bledsoe's future is somewhat up in the air. Phoenix will always have the option to retain him, but after signing point guard Isaiah Thomas in free agency, perhaps a sign-and-trade is in the cards.
It's important to note that the Suns, at least publicly, aren't taking that stance. Here's what Lon Babby told Paul Coro of azcentral.com:
"We'll continue to work as hard as we can within that restricted free agency system established by the collective bargaining agreement," Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said Monday. "We continue to hope and expect that he will remain in a Suns uniform."
Would it be a bit unconventional to have a three point guard rotation? Maybe, but Bledsoe and Dragic's ability to play and cover both backcourt positions offers up some unique flexibility. Thomas is an excellent shooter and a real offensive spark plug, so it's not hard to envision him coming off the bench in a prominent sixth man role.
Here's what Jeff Hornacek told Coro at azcentral.com:
"We expect Goran and Eric and Isaiah to be pushing the ball up the court like they did last year," Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. "We'll swing the ball from side to side where Isaiah can come off and create a shot or a play. They're going to have to make decisions. If they double one of those two guys, we're going to move the ball around and that's when Anthony comes into play and drills 3s.
"You hear the three-headed monster about big guys all the time. Well, maybe we've got the three-headed monster in the guards."
If this all seems a little familiar, you'd be correct. Many scoffed at the idea of Bledsoe and Dragic sharing the same backcourt, and the Suns were pegged as one of the worst teams in the league before the start of the season.
Instead, they fought for a playoff spot until the very end of the year, and the combination of Bledsoe and Dragic on the court together was electric.
Point being, don't rule out the possibility that Phoenix is willing to make this work. This is a team that wants to run and gun, and having two point guards on the floor at all times isn't the worst thing in a league starved for quality shooting guards. Production matters more than positional labels, anyway.
Of course, there's still the matter of getting Bledsoe back in a Suns uniform, which might be difficult if the sides are as far apart as reported. Here's Coro at azcentral.com again:
The Suns have been negotiating with Bledsoe but also have the ability to match any offer sheet he might sign with another team. The Suns have offered a four-year, $48 million contract that is the equivalent of what free agency's other top point guard, Kyle Lowry, signed as an unrestricted free agent to remain in Toronto.
Bledsoe's camp was hoping that another team would come forward with a maximum offer, like Charlotte did for Gordon Hayward at four years and $63 million with Utah matching, or that the Suns would use their ability to offer a five-year deal that could be worth more than $80 million.
It might require a sign-and-trade for Bledsoe to go elsewhere but the Suns' intent is to bring him back.
Let's assume for the time being, despite the Suns apparently leaning the other way, that a sign-and-trade is a viable option.
In reality, there are only one or two destinations that make any real sense, and that's assuming that Bledsoe wants out, even at the risk of playing on a less-talented team.
Here's Zach Lowe on Grantland with a few of the options that didn't pan out in restricted free agency:
The Magic and Bucks decided Bledsoe and restricted free agency weren’t for them, and neither seems likely to change course now. The Sixers have more cap room than anyone, but they appear to feel reflex nausea at the sight of any good veteran player on another team.
Even though restricted free agency might not have been a chosen path for the Milwaukee Bucks, engaging Phoenix in a sign-and-trade makes a lot of sense. Brandon Knight is probably better served as a sixth man or even a guard off the ball, as he lacks the court vision and distributing ability to truly run an offense.
Milwaukee could offer up a few different packages that might appeal to Phoenix. Although his stock is at an all-time low, Larry Sanders is still an elite rim protector, and that's something the Suns need desperately in order to take the next step.
His ability to run the floor and be a terror in transition fits in perfectly with what Phoenix wants to do, and Milwaukee wouldn't need to add much additional salary to match with Bledsoe's new deal.
From Phoenix's perspective, this would be a big risk. Could a lineup of Thomas, Dragic, Gerald Green/P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Sanders make some noise in the West? Possibly, but moving Bledsoe for Sanders is certainly an asset downgrade even if it fills a need up front.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, would be sitting pretty with a lineup of Bledsoe, Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and John Henson moving forward. There's a lot of potential there.
Perhaps Milwaukee would need to throw in a future first-round pick in order to make this trade more palatable for Phoenix.
Another option, if Sanders is hands-off due to his issues staying on the floor last year, would be to make a move for Ersan Ilyasova and John Henson. The Suns love their stretch big men, after all, and Henson is still cheap on a rookie deal, can clean the glass and protect the rim. Add in a draft pick and that's a pretty good haul, if Ilyasova is back to his sweet shooting ways.
In both scenarios, Phoenix would probably be better off with Bledsoe. That's usually true in these sorts of situations, which makes dealing a restricted free agent difficult.
The Sacramento Kings could try and get involved since Darren Collison isn't a legitimate starter at point guard. Bledsoe played with DeMarcus Cousins at Kentucky and the two remain friends, so it might not be much of a stretch that he'd agree to a sign-and-trade deal there.
The problem, of course, is that Sacramento lacks the assets to really entice Phoenix to do that deal. Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas (down the line) might have some appeal, but short of that, it's hard to see what else Phoenix would want aside from future draft picks.
The same goes for a team like the Dallas Mavericks, who would surely want Bledsoe but probably lack the means to get him.
It's important to consider these markets, as well. Milwaukee and Sacramento aren't premium destinations by any means, both in terms of location and team.
Even a bigger trade, like an effort to pry Kevin Love away from the Minnesota Timberwolves, would require Bledsoe to agree to play off the ball for a non-contender.
With so few starting point guard jobs available, and with the unlikely result of Bledsoe making much more money in a new location, what's the point for him to agree to a sign-and-trade?
The most logical path here is for Bledsoe to either find an offer sheet somewhere, or negotiate with Phoenix directly and re-sign. It just doesn't seem like there's enough incentive present for either Bledsoe or Phoenix to navigate a sign-and-trade deal at this point.