Phoenix Suns

How Eric Bledsoe's Free-Agency Market Can Recover Next Year

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday, March 30, 2014, in Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)
Gus Ruelas/Associated Press
Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2014

Eric Bledsoe is in the throes of a free-agency dilemma he has little control over.  

It's not of disturbing difficulty, to be sure. Bledsoe has champagne problems at the moment as he tries to figure out how rich he intends to make himself. 

But in the context of NBA restricted free agency, it's a problem nonetheless—one that can only be resolved by delaying his free-agent exploits until next summer when his market might be more alive. 

 

The Dilemma

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 14:  Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns walks off the court following the NBA game against the Memphis Grizzlies at US Airways Center on April 14, 2014 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Grizzlies defeated the Suns 97-91. NOTE TO USER: User ex
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

This shall forever be known as the Greg Monroe Move. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today has him accepting the Detroit Pistons' qualifying offer, playing through 2014-15 and hitting unrestricted free agency next summer. 

As a restricted free agent himself, Bledsoe can—and, per Zillgitt, just might—do the same. The Phoenix Suns extended him a qualifying over worth slightly over $3.7 million. He can agree to take that, remain in Phoenix and go unrestricted-free-agent frolicking in one year's time without having to worry about the Suns deliberately—and deftly—diminishing his market value.

That's what the Suns are doing, after all. They haven't budged from their initial four-year, $48 million offer, which has led to rumors of distrust between them and Bledsoe, who is seeking a max contract worth approximately $80 million, according to CSNNW.com's Chris Haynes

Things are now so bad that Bledsoe is apparently giving Suns brass the silent treatment.

"We haven't heard from the guy in four months, so I couldn't tell you. I do know that when he played here, he felt good about the organization, his coaching staff and his teammates at the end of the season," Suns owner Robert Sarver said, per Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic. "We had the same feelings toward him."

Once-strong bonds have slowly, surely been breaking as Bledsoe's free-agent market crumbles. The Suns aren't giving him what he wants or even close to what he wants, and no one else has come calling with an offer sheet worth signing.

And why? Because there is no one else outside Phoenix with that power. 

Bledsoe may have to follow in Monroe's footsteps.
Bledsoe may have to follow in Monroe's footsteps.USA TODAY Sports

Cap space has dried up around the league. Funds have been spent. Other contracts have been signed. Bledsoe cannot follow the money because there is none. The Philadelphia 76ers are the only team with enough flexibility to make a legitimate offer and, well, they're still Sam Hinkie's Sixers: planning for wins sometime this millennia, but not right now.

Trying to force a sign-and-trade is an option, but not really, as SB Nation's Jason Patt takes the time to explain:

Bledsoe has some options, but he's almost certainly not getting the max money he wants. A sign-and-trade seems unlikely because the Suns want to keep him and they'd demand a massive return if they decided to put him on the block. And even in this scenario, there are no guarantees another team would want to pay him the max.

Signing that qualifying offer is the only way Bledose can create a genuine bidding war if he's not inclined to take the Suns' $48 million, and neither they nor someone else is prepared to give him the max.

 

Benefits of Waiting

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 18:  Goran Dragic #1 and Eric Bledsoe #2 of the Phoenix Suns await a free throw shot during the NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs at US Airways Center on December 18, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Spurs defeated the 108-101.  N
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Taking this route comes with obvious risk, like anything else.

Bledsoe—who appeared in just 43 games last season—could injure himself or regress statistically. Both setbacks would gut his market value further and make him wish he accepted Phoenix's offer. 

At the same time, if this is all about the money, next summer promises Bledsoe more if he remains healthy and productive.

The Suns will still be able to offer him more money and years than any other team, but that's not a bad thing. It's money. And if there's still any doubt as to how valuable Bledsoe is, he holds additional leverage as an unrestricted free agent.

Especially if Goran Dragic is feeling flighty.

Dragic has a player option worth $7.5 million for 2015-16 and could decide to enter the free-agent fray as well. Faced with the prospect of losing both, the Suns could finally dangle what Bledose seeks. 

In the event it becomes an issue of wanting only one—Isaiah Thomas is in town now, remember—who will the Suns choose: A then 25-year-old, presumably healthy Bledsoe, or The Dragon, who, while talented, will be less than one year from turning 30?

Ideally, and probably, the Suns would elect to keep both. But if they're posed with such a problem it's because they can't, and also because the younger Bledsoe performed well enough to make it an issue. 

By waiting and playing another season in Phoenix, Bledsoe has the opportunity to drum up his internal value and snag the money he wants from the team many thought he was fated to stay with. If it doesn't work out, or the Suns need some more motivation to pony up cash, that's what outside interest is for.

Teams like the Lakers and Mavericks could have cap space next year.
Teams like the Lakers and Mavericks could have cap space next year.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Point guard is a deep position, and while Bledsoe could be competing against potential free agents, such as Dragic and Rajon Rondo, teams are always in the market for floor generals.

The Dallas Mavericks will still be in need of a long-term solution at point guard and are projected to have ample cap space (Dirk Nowitzki says, "You're welcome"). The Pistons will have some wiggle room with Monroe not signing a new contract and Brandon Jennings entering the last year of his deal.

The New York Knicks should be able to clear max room, too. As should the Los Angeles Lakers. And possibly the Houston Rockets. And others. 

Waiting will give Bledsoe options—far more options than he ever could have as a restricted free agent. He could leverage potential interest from NBA mother ships like the Knicks and Lakers into a fat contract from the Suns or another team. Or he could sign with one of those NBA flagships. 

It would be his decision. That's the beauty of having choices.

 

Bledsoe Betting On Bledsoe

Apr 14, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) dribbles against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

Assuming health and production, there is only one downside: having to assume health and production.

Bledsoe cannot guarantee that he emerges from next season unscathed. Or that he rivals last year's numbers, which left him alongside Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, James Harden and LeBron James as the only five players to average at least 17 points, four rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 45-plus percent from the floor.

To assume such dominance is to bet on himself.

If he performs up to snuff, he'll have suitors galore, and he'll be entering free agency at a time when bigger markets are flush with cap space, unfazed by then-nonexistent restricted free agency nuances that have left Bledsoe in contractual limbo now.

"We value Eric as a player," Sarver said, via Coro.

Phoenix, along with vast arrays of additional suitors, could value him even more one year down the line.

For Bledsoe, waiting may compel the Suns and so many others to show him the money.

For Bledsoe, next summer could hold the victory this one clearly doesn't.

 

*Salary and contract information courtesy of ShamSports


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