Potential Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Suns Star Guard Eric Bledsoe
Allow us to present a story in two quotations.
"I Dont wanna be here," Eric Bledsoe tweeted Sunday afternoon in ambiguous fashion, perhaps referring to some unknown location...but maybe probably hinting at his growing discontent with the Phoenix Suns.
Then came the response from general manager Ryan McDonough, per ABC15 Sports:
"I gave him a call last night and asked him about that tweet just to clarify what he meant by it. He said he was at a hair salon. It wasn't about the Suns or anything related to the Suns. He said he was at a hair salon with his girl and he didn't want to be there anymore. I don't believe that to be true. We thought about it, talked about it with (Suns owner Robert Sarver) and my staff, and Coach Triano and his staff, and decided it's what's best for the organization, so he won't be with us going forward."
And with that, it's time to fire up the trade machines.
The Suns are spiraling toward disaster on and off the court. They've already fired Earl Watson and inserted Jay Triano as interim head coach. Rookie forward Josh Jackson may have pretended to fire a gun at a fan. The team is 0-3 with—gulp—a remarkably poor minus-30.57 net rating. Now the best player has been dismissed from the organization and is firmly on the trade block.
Let's get him off it.
The valuation of Reggie Jackson makes this just about impossible.
No one knows what the former All-Star contender will do now that he's healthy. No one knows if his knee tendinitis will flare up again. The Detroit Pistons don't fully know what to expect. The Phoenix Suns certainly don't. Jackson himself probably doesn't.
If a Jackson-for-Bledsoe swap is a possibility, both sides could accept without batting an eye. The Suns could also reasonably turn their nose up at the offer and insist on a first-round pick the Pistons would be hesitant to include.
All this uncertainty is problematic, and that's not changing anytime soon.
The Orlando Magic can put together a compelling package centered around Elfrid Payton, but that's too risky a move for a franchise embroiled in an endless rebuild. It can't guarantee Bledsoe would lead the incumbent troops into the promised land (even the Eastern Conference promised land), and giving up key assets for a two-year rental would be highly problematic.
Bledsoe, who presumably wants to avoid leaving the Suns for another long-term project, will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019. That may seem like it's well off in the future, but how many core pieces does Orlando currently have in place?
Though Nikola Vucevic is off to a torrid start in 2017-18, he's about to start moving away from his athletic prime. Aaron Gordon still hasn't proved he can consistently provide positive value and seems insistent upon handling the rock rather than playing to his strengths. Jonathan Isaac seems promising, but his future isn't exactly guaranteed.
This simply isn't a situation conducive to trading for a 27-year-old star like Bledsoe.
New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are basically in the same situation, though the enduring presence of Kristaps Porzingis makes everything slightly more palatable. They've already reached out to the Suns about the point guard's availability, per ESPN.com's Ian Begley, and one more factor works to their advantage.
"[Jeff Hornacek] meant a lot," Bledsoe said when the ex-head coach of the Suns came back to Phoenix with the visiting Knicks early in the 2016-17 campaign, per AZCentral.com's Paul Coro. "He let me come out and play my game within the team. He taught us how to play the game the right way."
That relationship might help satisfy the floor general if New York put together a package for his services centered around first-year guard Frank Ntilikina, but the Knicks are still rebuilding. That fact is unavoidable, and Bledsoe still may not be an ideal fit with their timetable.
San Antonio Spurs
Even though Dejounte Murray has excelled early in the season and the San Antonio Spurs have plenty of options at the point (Murray, Patty Mills, Derrick White and, when healthy, Tony Parker), Bledsoe presents an ideal fit. He could thrive both on and off the ball alongside Kawhi Leonard, even using his length and athleticism to spearhead the defensive charge by aggressively picking up opposing ball-handlers at half court.
So why are they relegated to the realm of dark horses?
Unfortunately for the Spurs, salaries still have to match in deals. The timing of this situation is woeful for them since they don't have the pieces necessary to move for Bledsoe without bringing in another team to help facilitate the trade.
Including Mills in a swap isn't a possibility until mid-January, when restrictions expire on those who signed new deals this past offseason, and that leaves San Antonio cobbling together a package that would basically deplete its depth. That ain't happening under head coach Gregg Popovich's supervision.
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Eric Bledsoe
Phoenix Suns Get: Channing Frye, Cedi Osman, Iman Shumpert, 2021 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
"If that deal for [Kyrie] Irving was there, it'd be done by now," an anonymous league source told Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon before the talented point guard was dealt to the Boston Celtics. That deal, of course, was a first-round pick, Bledsoe and Jackson for Irving.
Jackson was the sticking point, but that's no longer an issue. He's not leaving town alongside Bledsoe, and the Cavaliers have no one they can realistically offer for his services.
Now, this trade is simpler: engorged salaries to fulfill the collective bargaining agreement's requirements (Shumpert and Frye, who is expiring next summer), a bit of potential in the form of Osman and a future first-round pick as soon as Cleveland can offer one. Maybe that's not quite as competitive as potential offers from different organizations, but the Suns could try to appease Bledsoe by sending him to a legitimate contender or fall in love with Osman's upside after his strong play during exhibition season.
The Cavaliers are interested. We know that much already, courtesy of DYST Now's Mike Ortiz Jr. But unless they're willing to include the coveted Brooklyn Nets' unprotected 2018 first-round pick—and there's no reason they should be—this is just about the best they can offer.
I've already written extensively about Bledsoe's fit alongside LeBron James, and much of that article still rings true even though he'd now be coming aboard in different fashion. He remains an ideal running mate for the four-time MVP, and he'd work nicely with a healthy Isaiah Thomas in a dual-point guard lineup. Especially given his off-ball prowess, the adjustments should come in seamless fashion.
This should just about go without saying, but the Cavs' situation has changed rather dramatically since Bledsoe-to-Cleveland first became a possibility. Now that the potential move has resurfaced with a different spin, though, the fit stays ideal.
Denver Nuggets Get: Eric Bledsoe
Phoenix Suns Get: Kenneth Faried, Emmanuel Mudiay, 2018 first-round pick (lottery protected)
The Denver Nuggets need more guards who can contain dribble penetration and make life on Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic easier. They need a floor general who's comfortable running the show and looking for open teammates when the unorthodox distributors are either struggling or on the pine. They need a 1-guard who excels playing off the ball, whether spotting up or cutting.
Bledsoe is all of those things.
Sit back and imagine the starting five that could emerge in the Mile High City. Bledsoe, Gary Harris, Wilson Chandler, Millsap and Jokic would be one of the league's most devastating quintets, as well as one of the most versatile. Three different players are capable of routinely initiating on offense, and Bledsoe's physicality and wingspan make defensive switching even easier.
Parting with Mudiay shouldn't be a tough sell to Denver these days, as the young guard has frustratingly failed to develop on either side of the court. A fresh start could do him wonders, but he still needs to get his bearings defensively and either learn how to finish or revamp his jump-shooting form before he can live up to his lottery status. Selling off a first-round pick is a similarly easy decision for a team with an overcrowded roster and no need for more youthful contributors.
Interestingly enough, considering his disgruntled nature, Faried is the man with whom it would be toughest to part. His energy and athleticism are vital off the bench, and replacing him with Trey Lyles, Juan Hernangomez, Darrell Arthur or Tyler Lydon could create a hole in the second unit.
But that's a price worth paying if Bledsoe is inserted into the starting five. As Matt Moore explained for CBSSports.com, everything makes sense, referring to both the fit and the package the Nuggets would likely offer:
"Call this one the Occam's Razor. This is the simplest answer to the Bledsoe debate. Denver has a need at point guard; Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray were both given opportunities to cry carpe diem in training camp and while neither were awful, neither took the bull by the horns. Bledsoe's athleticism and playmaking would fit with the roster, he's a good enough shooter not to inhibit Nikola Jokic, he can play on and off-ball effectively, and his athleticism would be beneficial."
Denver might not emerge as the leading contender for the point guard's services.
But it should.
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers Get: Eric Bledsoe
Phoenix Suns Get: Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers, Sindarius Thornwell, 2019 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick (via Cleveland Cavaliers)
"Come back home bro," DeAndre Jordan tweeted Sunday afternoon, shortly after Bledsoe's initial revelation that he was no longer content in Phoenix. Though the message was technically ambiguous, Jordan was almost assuredly referring to the point guard with whom he played in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 before the smaller player was dealt from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Phoenix Suns.
Now, a reunion could be possible.
To be clear, "possible" does not mean "likely."
Because of the Stepien Rule and the nature of their roster, the Clippers don't have much they can actually offer. No first-round picks can leave their hands until the 2021 draft, which pretty much eliminates that as a compelling asset. They don't have any young players with overwhelming levels of potential, either.
Assuming his father/head coach is even willing to part with him (Doc Rivers no longer serves as the team president, but you're kidding yourself if you don't think he has a say in personnel decisions—especially those regarding a blood relative), Austin Rivers has developed into a key backcourt member who could serve as the centerpiece of this deal. He's not a glamorous addition, but his defensive acumen makes him an intriguing find for a young Phoenix roster.
Throw in Johnson to make salaries work, Thornwell for a bit more upside and a pair of second-round picks, and you have a package that might pass muster if all other contenders for Bledsoe's services drop out of the running. That's the only situation in which this works, as Lucas Hann explained for Clips Nation:
"The Clippers, unfortunately, don't seem to have much of a chance at Bledsoe. They don't have a ton to offer the Suns in terms of high-potential prospects or valuable draft picks, and the base of any package would likely be Austin Rivers—a solid player, but an inferior guard to Bledsoe. While Eric's value is artificially lowered by his current troubled standing with the Suns, it still seems likely that plenty of teams with a greater need for a guard than the Clippers would also be able to offer a better package."
Given Bledsoe's preferences for scoring rather than facilitating and defensive switchability, he'd be a strong fit next to Jordan, Blake Griffin, Danilo Gallinari and Patrick Beverley. Getting him on the roster is the issue, rather than the chemistry that would develop once all the aforementioned pieces were thrown out onto the Staples Center's hardwood.
Milwaukee Bucks Get: Eric Bledsoe
Phoenix Suns Get: John Henson, Rashad Vaughn, 2018 first-round pick (lottery protected)
The New York Times' Marc Stein has already reported the Milwaukee Bucks are interested in trading for Bledsoe, and they should be. Though Malcolm Brogdon is coming off a Rookie of the Year campaign, the current Sun would still present a huge upgrade, as well as an ideal fit alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo.
He's a fantastic scorer out of the pick-and-roll—imagine him and Antetokounmpo running that set together—while serving as a capable shooter and tremendous cutter. In the former play type, he scored 1.06 points per possession last year to finish in the 72.6 percentile. In the latter, 1.58 and 95.4, respectively.
Milwaukee has a deadly core in place already. Especially when factoring in Jabari Parker (once healthy) and Greg Monroe, a lineup comprised of Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Tony Snell, Antetokounmpo and Thon Maker offers both immediate production and long-term upside.
But moving for Bledsoe would show a certain level of insistence—a desire to improve immediately and make a serious push at the Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy. It adds another possible All-Star into the mix and gives Antetokounmpo the best running mate of his early career. That can't be overlooked since the Bucks can't afford to squander the Greek Freak's best years and don't have that many avenues through which they can substantially elevate the talent of the current roster.
Is that worth parting with a slow-developing Vaughn and a first-round pick in what's expected to be a loaded 2018 draft? Absolutely, and that grows doubly true if the Bucks can shed Henson's salary in the move to find a monetary match.
The Suns would be getting a strong draft-day selection and a player with enduring upside (Vaughn should still count as a youngster who isn't getting enough minutes to blossom in his current location), which might be all they can hope for after this quick-moving situation effectively tanked their leverage.