During the 2013-2014 season, one of the biggest surprises in the NBA was the Phoenix Suns, in large part to their surging point guard Eric Bledsoe. After a season that almost saw them enter the playoffs, the point guard became a restricted free agent this summer. While Bledsoe was projected to be one of the top free agents in 2014, he has yet to find a home for next season. Despite many players, arguably, being overpaid this summer, no one has offered the point guard what he wants — a five-year, $80 million contract. As great as Eric Bledsoe was, it brings into question if the point guard and his agent are out of touch in terms of his contract worth, which may be what has created the current stalemate with the Phoenix Suns.
Earlier this summer, Phoenix pitched a four-year, $48 million contract to Bledsoe, showing their interest in building a future with the guard. Instead of accepting the contract, which was equal to the one Kyle Lowry signed during the offseason, the starting point guard declined. Instead, Bledsoe is reportedly looking for a five-year max deal worth $80 million. As such, the two sides appear to be worlds apart. It is understandable why a stalemate has occurred in this situation. Bledsoe is a restricted free agent. Phoenix has the ability to match any offer for the point guard. In other words, while Bledsoe denied Phoenix’s first offer, the franchise is not at all obligated to adjust their terms.
The further problem for Bledsoe is that free agency will be entering the month of August by the end of the week. At this point, many squads who had money, including the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets and others, no longer have the cap space to sign the point guard to a max contract. Phoenix is one of the few teams that has cap space left. Furthermore, they, essentially, can match any team’s offer for Bledsoe, and other franchises know this. Due to the rules of restricted free agency, Phoenix has put a stranglehold on Bledsoe. As a result, other teams are unlikely to pitch an offer to the guard, knowing very well that Phoenix will match it in a heartbeat.
Bledsoe had his first starting season last year with Phoenix. During the course of the season, he averaged 17.7 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.7 rpg and 1.6 spg with 48 percent shooting. Those are outstanding numbers for any player. As a star point guard, Bledsoe proved to be one of the most blossoming point guards in the league by being able to do a bit of everything. More importantly, at only 24 years of age, it can be argued that his best days are in front of him. One problem with that notion is that he has only been playing at a high level the last year. During his prior three seasons, he served as a bench player on the Los Angeles Clippers, where he averaged 8.5 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.1 apg and 1.4 spg, while only playing 20 mpg. As such, it could be argued that many teams are too afraid to put an $80 million contract out there, based on hopes of an improving player. As great as Bledsoe played last season, the point guard may not be worth an average of $14 million over the next five seasons to many teams.
Restricted free agency is one of the most complicated aspects of free agency. This offseason, the Dallas Mavericks had to offer three years of $46 million to Chandler Parsons for the Houston Rockets to decline matching the deal. On the other end of the spectrum, the Utah Jazz matched a jaw-dropping four-year $63 million offer from the Charlotte Bobcats for Gordon Hayward. Yet, Bledsoe currently has no idea where his future will be. He has stated that he understands why Phoenix has not upped its game when no one else, asides from a low-ball Milwaukee Bucks offer, has stood up to the plate. However, as August nears, time is not on the point guard’s side.
The Phoenix Suns have a chance to make some noise, even in a competitive Western Conference. Their 23-game improvement from the 2012-2013 season may only be the beginning of a squad that is developing together. One of the reasons for their surge in their turnaround season in the West was due to their point guard Eric Bledsoe, who if lost, may result in a regressed Phoenix team. However, as great as Eric Bledsoe was during the 2013-2014 season, the point guard’s worth might not be as much as he and his agent think. This has resulted in a stalemate put into place that, without question, may tarnish the relationship between both sides. Bledsoe is a great upcoming player in the league. However, in order for him to continue that success, he may have to slow down by lowering his asking price. If he continues on the road he has been on, he may very well get to that $80 million mark, but it might be too early for him at this point.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey