Ever since July, it has been increasingly more evident that point guard Eric Bledsoe wants a maximum contract. The problem for the four-year guard is that his worth may not be equal to that kind of contract he desires. Now, with training camp a little over a week away, Eric Bledsoe may have to concede to a smaller contract, considering the point guard is running out of time. Whether the reason has been that he wants too much, that his agent wants too much, that he has not proven himself enough or that Phoenix, the team he played for last season, is low balling him, it does not matter. Without a signed contract, he is at risk for not playing in the NBA this season.
It is an intriguing scenario for Bledsoe. After all, last season he put up record numbers with 17.7 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.7 rpg and 1.6 spg. Those numbers are impressive, but compared to Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and many others who, currently, have a max deal in place, it is hard to say whether or not the point guard deserves that max contract. One of the key reasons why he is the last major player to be lost in the free agency hunt is the fact that he has only put up quality numbers in a minimal time span.
Last season, Bledsoe managed to more than double his ppg, while also increasing his rebound and assist average quite dramatically. The problem is that he has only been putting up these numbers for one season. Typically, to receive a quality contract offer, a player needs to prove their worth over time. Otherwise, a team runs the risk of giving a max contract prematurely, much like the Dallas Mavericks did for Erik Dampier in 2004, after he averaged 12.3 ppg, 12 rpg and 1.9 bpg, stats he would never approach again in his career.
Worse yet, in terms of bringing Eric Bledsoe to a club, is the fact that he only played in 43 games, a little more than half, of scheduled contests last season. This was due to the fact that the point guard had to undergo major knee surgery, in order to repair torn cartilage. While the guard did play well in those 43 games, it is understandable why no team wants to give up a significant portion of their cap space for him. Since mid-March, when he returned from his knee surgery, he only, roughly, played a month of basketball. As such, no one knows whether or not his knee problems will come back. This most recent injury was not even his first damage to his knees. In 2011, while he was a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, he missed more than half the season, when he had surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Due to these two major injuries alone, it makes sense that teams are reluctant to sign him.
Earlier in the offseason, his former team did offer him a contract worth $48 million over four years. As has been reported already, he wants a max contract that is likely worth $84 million over five years. In turn, all summer it has been obvious that the two sides are worlds apart. The problem is, no one else truly wants him either. While there have been rumors floating around, no one has formally made an offer, outside of Phoenix. Certainly, there are teams that would probably want him, but as was the tale with other restricted free agents during this offseason, Bledsoe would have to be overpaid in order for Phoenix to decline matching another team’s offer. It makes matters worse at this point in the offseason the majority of NBA teams are locked into their cap, without having much else to spend — except for Phoenix, who have over $20 million left in cap space.
In the media, Bledsoe has not been shy about his resentment to Phoenix. He believes he deserves a max deal. Phoenix, however, is not in agreement, and unfortunately for him, it is the Suns who hold the cards. By having such a large sum left in cap space, the only way for another team to obtain him is through a sign-and-trade. Even with that strategy, Phoenix remains picky. Over the last few days, and even earlier in the offseason, there was a rumor that the Minnesota Timberwolves wanted Bledsoe. The problem is that Minnesota, now without Kevin Love, do not have an All-Star-caliber player to trade, which is the only way the Suns are willing to part with the point guard.
With Bledsoe’s contract desire being so high, he has, in turn, left himself with few options. He believes the Suns have destroyed their relationship with the guard. Yet, for Bledsoe to play next season, it appears they are the only option, unless a team with an All-Star, is willing to trade said player for Bledsoe. It is an unlikely scenario. Because of this, there are two ways in which Bledsoe can return to Phoenix. The first is for him to approve his $48 million offer that has been on the table since July. The second, which may be his better bet, is for him to accept a qualifying offer from the Suns. In this scenario, the point guard would only make $3.7 million next season. The good thing about the deal is that he will be free to go anywhere next season as an unrestricted free agent. As for the bad, it would mean two things. The first is that he would be making $8 million less next season than Phoenix’s offer. It also would be a risk. If the point guard proves he can put up numbers equal or better, to his 2013-2014 stats, injury-free, he very well could obtain that max offer. On the other side of the coin, if he gets injured or slumps during next season, he would, likely, receive offers less than his current one from Phoenix.
Whether it is Bledsoe thinking he is worth more than he is or, wanting to jump the gun on a max contract prematurely, the point guard has to make a decision soon about his NBA future. Unfortunately for Eric Bledsoe, time is running out, as he will be out of training camp, for any team, unless he makes a decision. Between Bledsoe and Detroit Pistons’ big man Greg Monroe, this summer has proven that restricted free agents need to be more realistic about their worth. If they are not, they will hurt their league persona, which may have already happened to Bledsoe.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey