The Curious Free-Agency Cases of Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe

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The Curious Free-Agency Cases of Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe
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Young, productive and loaded with potential, restricted free agents Greg Monroe and Eric Bledsoe entered this summer looking poised to pull in beaucoup bucks.

Yet, nearly one month into free agency, nothing has really happened on either front. The "dog days" of the NBA offseason arrived, a time typically reserved for fifth-tier signings and non-tier training camp invites.

But Bledsoe and Monroe, no worse than second-tier talents in this class, are still waiting for that Brink's truck to start backing into their driveway. Based on what has transpired already, these delays could last awhile.

 

No Moose Hunting

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Greg "Moose" Monroe could not have picked a worse time to hit the open market. Unfortunately for him, that really has nothing to do with anything he's done or hasn't done.

"Monroe’s free agency was earmarked for melodrama when Joe Dumars signed Josh Smith to a big-money contract last summer," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote.

The early returns on Monroe's career were promising, but he needed a monster 2013-14 campaign to guarantee a big-ticket contract. Over his second and third NBA seasons, he averaged 15.7 points and 9.6 rebounds. Those are good numbers but definitely not great ones.

If he could have gotten into the 18-9 or better yet 20-10 range, the paperwork would have been already complete on the max deal he's been eyeing for some time. At those numbers, Monroe's weaknessesno shooting range, limited defensive mobility, not a shot-blockerwould have been easier to stomach.

But Smith landed in Motown on a four-year, $54 million deal, costing Monroe valuable real estate on the low post. The Detroit Pistons shot 32.1 percent from three (29th in the league), while Smith launched 548 shots from at least 16 feet and connected on only 172 of them (31.4 percent), via Basketball-Reference.com.

Monroe's breakthrough never materialized.

His stat sheet suffered in almost every category. His points (15.2), rebounds (9.3) and assists (2.1) were all down from the previous year (16.0, 9.6 and 3.5, respectively). His field-goal shooting dipped below 50 percent for the second straight season, which is troubling given how infrequently he strays farther than 10 feet from the basket.

Courtesy of NBA.com.

At 6'11", 250 pounds, Monroe has plenty to offer as a skilled offensive weapon and rugged rebounder. However, there are also some obvious holes in his game.

"He's a talented offensive weapon in the low post who can put it on the floor from the elbow area and attack, but he leaves something to be desired on the defensive end and really isn't a spacer," wrote ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan (subscription required).

The lack of floor spacing really hurts Monroe's stock. With teams embracing the deep ball like never before, the market is shrinking for a lumbering post player—particularly one who doesn't provide many positives at the opposite end.

Monroe's 1.4 block percentage ranked 36th out of the 40 players 6'11" or taller who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season, via Basketball-Reference.com. He allowed opponents to shoot 51.2 percent at the basket, 19th out of the 30 players that faced at least seven such shots per game, via NBA.com's player tracking data.

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He is a good player, and at 24 years old, it might be too early to say that he cannot become a great one. However, he is not a max-contract talent in today's market.

"In numerous conversations with league executives, scouts and agents over the past two years, not one considered Monroe a max player," wrote Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.

Most teams that had cap space have spent it already. The Philadelphia 76ers have plenty to burn, but they're avoiding proven commodities like the plague as part of their long-term rebuilding project.

The Pistons could give Monroe the max, but if they are the only team bidding, there's no reason to go above their comfort level. Wherever that is, it cannot be high. Not with Smith still on board for the next three years.

Monroe's situation is unfortunate, but Bledsoe's has been more unpredictable.

 

What's Wrong with Mini-LeBron?

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If you caught any of Bledsoe's action last season, you felt like you were watching a max-contract player. It's OK, you weren't the only one.

ESPN Insider Chris Broussard (subscription required) reported in January that the Los Angeles Lakers "might be willing to overpay" Bledsoe to get him out of the desert. That report came after Suns owner Robert Sarver had vowed to "match any offer" Bledsoe received, via Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic.

The talk was big, but Bledsoe's stat lines were actually bigger.

He shattered his previous career highs in points (17.7), assists (5.5), rebounds (4.7) and field-goal percentage (47.7). Only three other players posted at least 17 points, five assists, four assists and 47 percent shooting, all three of them All-Star starters: Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Bledsoe played for a team that was expected to compete for draft lottery balls and wound up winning 48 games. He was obviously going to break the bank whenever he decided to put pen to paper for his new deal.

But there was a question on just how much he would collect. And that still hasn't been answered.

As good he was last season, his value is still hard to calculate.

That was his first campaign as a full-time starter, and he only made it through 43 games. He missed more than two months in the middle of the season with a torn meniscus in his right knee, the second time he suffered the injury in the last three years.

He looked really good while he was healthy, but knee problems raise obvious caution flags for a player who relies so heavily on elite-level athleticism. The contract Phoenix offered was nearly identical to the four-year, $44 million pact Curry signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2012, a contract that paid him below his production but accounted for his ongoing ankle problems.

It was also the same length and money of the deal the Toronto Raptors gave point guard Kyle Lowry to return this summer.

It was not, however, the deal Bledsoe's camp was looking for. Sources told Broussard that Bledsoe wants a five-year maximum contract worth $80 million.

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"Nothing wrong with fighting rigorously for a client's wages. But nothing supports the notion that Bledsoe is worth that kind of money," Bickley wrote. "Not the marketplace. Not his knees. Not his recent history."

However, as Lowe noted, Bledsoe's representatives can present a pretty compelling case for their client:

You can hear the rejoinder from Rich Paul, Bledsoe’s agent: Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons just signed for $15 million per season apiece! One of those guys barely cracked 40 percent from the floor last season, and the other is two years older than Bledsoe, fresh off three seasons of playing minimal defense as a third option.

Just like Monroe, though, Bledsoe is running short on suitors that have the money he wants. A chunk of the teams with money to spend entered the races for Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, then proceeded with their Plan B or Plan C options.

Bledsoe was left behind, and there is no way to reverse that fate. If the demand is low, then economics dictate that the price does not rise.

So, that's why the dynamic point guard finds himself in this predicament. And that's why the Suns have no reason to budge on their current offer.

They can wait to see how Bledsoe decides to proceed. He can accept what Phoenix has put on the table, sign his $3.7 million qualifying offer for next season and try his luck as an unrestricted free agent next summer or try to find a different deal elsewhere.

If Bledsoe does sign an offer sheet with another team, the Suns would have three days to match it. As a restricted free agent, Bledsoe is short on leverage.

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He can and should ask for all the money he can get, but he cannot force anyone to pay him that amount.

Taking the qualifying offer would give him control over his future, but there are risks involved with that route. Not only would he play next season at below-market value, he would also have to hope that his 2014-15 campaign is both injury-free and productive enough that the offers he'll receive next summer are more lucrative than the one he would have to leave behind now.

Bledsoe's offseason could still produce a major payday, but it might not be the one he originally had in mind. He, like Monroe, is stuck playing the waiting game and hoping that the dog days of summer won't drag on too much longer—or drag his bottom line any lower.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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