The Phoenix Suns have a decision to make as it relates to Eric Bledsoe, but it isn’t as simple as some would have you believe. They’re at a stalemate and to be quite honest, if teams were knocking the door down to acquire him, somebody would have signed him to an offer sheet during the free agency period. Is there a simple option? No, but there’s one option that stands out above the rest.
The Suns should call Bledsoe’s bluff and allow him to play for the qualifying offer this season.
Why would they do that? Why would they risk having Bledsoe walk away for nothing? It’s simple — time changes everything. It’s not as if there’s a ton of personal animosity between Bledsoe and the club at this point. They’re simply at different ends of the spectrum, with neither side
able willing to come to a compromise.
Bledsoe believes he’s a max-level player, while his stats indicate he’s more of a $12-14 million player (comparing to the market, specifically Kyle Lowry).
Would The Qualifying Offer Motivate Bledsoe To Win Or To Leave?
This is a terrific question and only those close to Bledsoe can give you the exact answer. It is a bit of a gamble because player egos are delicate (see: Love, Kevin). Some players will swear off a franchise if they feel like they’ve been wronged, as they count down the days until they can sign with somebody else.
Let me ask you this — if Bledsoe accepts the qualifying offer and plays for $3.7 million (via ShamSports.com), won’t he be 100 percent motivated to put together a huge season? Now, let’s assume he does exactly that. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the Suns would have a very good year if Bledsoe is able to duplicate last season’s stats (17.7 PTS, 4.7 REB, 5.5 AST, 1.6 STL) over an 82-game basis?
Let’s not forget that the Suns went 28-15 in games Bledsoe appeared in and 27-13 in games he started in 2013-14. He’s a defensive stalwart and was coming into his own on the offensive end as well. Perhaps you’ve forgotten about the fact that he put up 30 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and three steals in a game in San Antonio in April? This is the trio they’re going to trot out there nightly:
In our fantasy scenario, let’s assume the Suns win 52 games and make the Western Conference playoffs and suffer a brutal Game 7 defeat. Would the chemistry and camaraderie that the Suns built throughout the season mean nothing? If the Suns decided to throw that five-year max deal Bledsoe’s way at that point, wouldn’t it be extremely difficult to say no?
That Sounds Great — What If They Lose?
As always, there are two sides to this coin. The other side involves the Suns not having a great season and/or Bledsoe himself failing to meet expectations. I go back to my initial point — if the market were so hot for Bledsoe, wouldn’t someone have thrown him some kind of offer sheet?
Let’s also not discount the fact that although negotiations have cooled considerably, that doesn’t mean the relationship between player and team is poor. There’s still a very good possibility that even if Bledsoe hits the open market, that he ends up staying right where he is.
Let’s assume the worst here (next to Bledsoe having a season-ending injury) — let’s say Bledsoe is dinged up all year (again) and plays 40 games. In those games, let’s say he puts up similar stats but shows a little regression both offensively and defensively. What then?
The Suns would not only breathe a sigh of relief that they didn’t cave to Bledsoe’s demands, but the market wouldn’t be hot for Bledsoe next summer. They could throw him a Dragic-like offer of $8 million annually to test the waters. If he turns them down, the Suns still have Dragic and Thomas and could use that cap space to go after a player who wants to be in Phoenix.
Why Not Trade Him And Get Something Back?
If you don’t think general manager Ryan McDonough is wearing out his contact list looking for suitors, you’re crazy. He knows that once the qualifying offer is signed, the Suns have less leverage in trades. Teams like the New York Knicks, who will look to make a big splash in the summer of 2015, can just sit back and wait for Bledsoe to become a free agent.
I can see a scenario playing out where the Suns feature Bledsoe (they’re going to do this regardless), in an effort to drive up his value. Knowing that there are some other quality players out there in their contract years, I could see McDonough send Bledsoe off near the trade deadline if things aren’t going well for the Suns.
The danger of trading him now is simple — you’re giving up hope that a magical season will encourage Bledsoe to stay for a more reasonable amount. The Suns are in an enviable position right now, because they can make a run in the Western Conference playoffs, lose Bledsoe and still have the resources to replace him and be right back in the mix.
They Must Call Rich Paul’s Bluff
Even if you’re not savvy in contract negotiations or public relations matters, you can see that Rich Paul (Bledsoe’s agent) is desperate. He’s throwing all of his chips in the middle, hoping the Suns will give in and award Bledsoe and Paul all of the money.
You don’t have to be the best poker player in the world to win — you just have to be better than your opponents. Paul is playing a high-stakes game with two guys (Robert Sarver and Lon Babby) who have been down this road a time or two and it’s not going to work.
My prediction? The Suns don’t cave. Bledsoe fires his agent, has a great season and ends up signing a near-max deal with the Suns next summer, making all of this a risk that turned out well for all parties involved…except Paul.