Phoenix Suns Hold All the Leverage over Eric Bledsoe's Free Agency

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJuly 19, 2014

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A maximum contract offer isn't coming for Eric Bledsoe.

The explosive but oft-injured point guard might think he's worth it, but the Phoenix Suns have no reason to pay that price. They are the only ones present at Bledsoe's restricted free-agency auction, and oh by the way, they have the power to match any offer he receives should another bidder surface unexpectedly.

Phoenix has complete control of this situation, even if Bledsoe sees things differently.

According to ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard, the Suns have put a four-year, $48 million contract offer on the table. That's right in line with what almost every promising point guard has received of late, most of whom had more reliable track records at the time of their extensions than Bledsoe has now.

Three prominent members of the famed 2009 point guard class inked four-year contract extensions over the 2012 offseason: Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday and Ty Lawson. Holiday took the least amount of money of the three ($41 million), Lawson got the most ($48 million) and Curry wound up between the two ($44 million).

In 2012, these three players were at similar points in their careers to where Bledsoe is right now. That's not just a matter of NBA service time, either. Their work in the 2011-12 campaign resembled, and in some cases surpassed, Bledsoe's production from last season.

Comparing Bledsoe Now to Curry, Holiday and Lawson Then
Eric Bledsoe17.75.5.57819.6
Stephen Curry14.75.3.60521.2
Jrue Holiday13.54.5.49614.7
Ty Lawson16.46.6.57919.4

Now, Bledsoe's numbers are among the best, and this doesn't account for his impact on the glass or the defensive end. Add the elements up, and maybe the Suns' offer feels a bit low.

That's assuming, of course, Bledsoe really is a walking triple-double threat with massive two-way potential. He looked the part last season—when he actually played.

He missed more than three months after suffering a torn meniscus in his right knee. In 2011, he had surgery on the same knee to correct the same injury.

He's lost significant time to knee troubles in two of his four NBA seasons. That's certainly concerning for a player who relies so heavily on athleticism to make an impact.

His star potential is obvious, but those medical red flags are impossible to ignore. If that tune sounds familiar, it should.

Curry faced an almost identical situation when he reached the negotiating table. His first three seasons in the league were wildly successful: 17.5 points on .473/.441/.901 shooting, 5.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds. But before he put pen to paper on a new contract, he had undergone two surgical procedures on his bothersome right ankle.

That's what led Curry to accepting a contract that now seems like one of the NBA's best values. Had those ankle problems remained an issue, though, his Golden State Warriors could have just as easily been saddled by an eight-figure albatross each year of his deal.

There is no crystal ball for these negotiations, so the most teams can do is draw from the past.

Yet, even that's a challenge when it comes to Bledsoe. He spent the first three years of his career as an understudy with the Los Angeles Clippers, serving behind the likes of Baron Davis, Mo Williams and Chris Paul.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

When a three-team trade sent Bledsoe to the Suns last summer, he brought along career averages of 6.7 points, three assists and 2.6 rebounds, along with a 43.1 field-goal percentage and an unsightly 30.8 percent three-point success rate.

The Suns are essentially staking his deal off the 43 games he played for them last season and hoping his knee problems won't ultimately define his career. All things considered, four years for $48 million is more than a fair deal for "mini LeBron."

Unless you ask Bledsoe, that is. According to Broussard's sources, Bledsoe is eyeing a jaw-dropping, five-year, $80 million contract.

Five for $80 million? For a player that has a half-season of stardom under his belt?

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

Bledsoe's camp can ask for that money, but where exactly is he going to find it this late in free agency?

Teams are running out of spending money.

As ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton noted, the Philadelphia 76ers are the only team positioned to throw a max offer at Bledsoe. Considering whatever Philly is building isn't supposed to be good for a couple more years, it's hard to see the Sixers investing in someone who could make them better now.

The Suns want to keep Bledsoe around, and they can do that without caving to his contract demands. They just need to see how the point guard wants to handle this.

Bledsoe's options are limited.

Mar 28, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) stands on the court during the second quarter against the New York Knicks at US Airways Center. The Suns won 112-88. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

He can take what Phoenix is offering, a more-than-reasonable contract that is the same deal Kyle Lowry got to stay with the Toronto Raptors. He can accept a $3.7 million qualifying offer, which would route him to unrestricted free agency next summer but also keep a player with a history of knee problems from collecting nearly $50 million in guaranteed money.

Or, he could hope a tapped-out market somehow finds enough money to improve what the Suns have offered and then collect that money from Phoenix after it inevitably matches.

"There's no way for Bledsoe to generate leverage because of the restricted nature of his free agency," CBS Sports' Matt Moore noted. "No team wants to tie up space and time just waiting for Phoenix to match the offer."

That external offer isn't coming, and if it somehow does, it won't be high enough for the Suns to balk at the price. The Suns don't want him to go anywhere, and they have the power to make sure he stays.

Eventually, Bledsoe is going to relent and accept Phoenix's offer. Maybe the slow pace of these negotiations will help him pick up a couple extra dollars in the process, but that's only if the Suns are feeling generous.

They are offering him more than money.

They can keep him on the ground floor of a rising franchise that could make major noise in the Western Conference as soon as next season. After picking up 48 wins in 2013-14, the Suns have since added veteran scorer Isaiah Thomas and promising rookies T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis. Sophomores Archie Goodwin and Alex Len could both take on bigger roles after seeing limited action as rookies.

The Suns are young, talented and loaded with future assets (more cap space and more draft credits to collect). Their coach, Jeff Hornacek, runs an uptempo, stat-friendly system. Their training staff is the best in the business.

Bledsoe would have a hard time finding many better basketball situations than the one he currently has. The few that do exist don't have the money to pry him away from Phoenix.

One way or another, he'll be back with the Suns next season. They already know as much, so they'll let this drag out as long as it needs to before Bledsoe realizes what the rest of us already have: He only has one option available, and it doesn't involve fleeing the desert.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.