Caron Butler teaches Eric Bledsoe the crane, poorly (Getty Images)
It does seem a bit strange to watch the Phoenix Suns actually making moves worth applauding, doesn’t it? To pull in someone like Eric Bledsoe, seemingly for precious little in return save for the sort of cap space they’d hope to use on him anyway. To work in a way that reminds you that, oh yeah, the Phoenix Suns have a general manager in Ryan McDonough that actually seemed to re-up his NBA League Pass subscription last season.
Those Suns, fresh off of hiring McDonough, employing Jeff Hornacek as coach and drafting Alex Len, agreed to trade for Eric Bledsoe on Tuesday. The deal won’t be official until July 10, but Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that the Suns sent out valuable role player Jared Dudley (to the Los Angeles Clippers) and a second round pick to take in Bledsoe and Caron Butler, with the Los Angeles Clippers grabbing a signed-and-traded J.J. Redick along the way. The Milwaukee Bucks, for their troubles, will receive two second round picks in return. And a sad trombone note.
This is the end result of a Bucks trade that sent Tobias Harris, Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb, and cash to Orlando from Milwaukee for Redick. The guy may have been the 2013 trade deadline’s top acquisition, and yet the Bucks (working ahead of the Andrew Bynum and Doug Collins-less Philadelphia 76ers) basically tanked down the stretch of 2012-13, making the playoffs but losing 21 out of 29 (including postseason) games with Redick in the lineup.
(This also includes the stretch where the team’s weird choice for an interim coach, Jim Boylan, basically refused to speak with Redick about his role.)
While the Bucks may have done well to grab a pair of second rounders for their role in the agreed-upon transaction, this is still another whiff for GM John Hammond, a guy that seems to vacillate between lusting after 41 wins, all while taking huge risks in the draft on projects – risks we agree with, even if they’re paired with an unending commitment to mediocrity.
Lusting after a player like Eric Bledsoe was long thought to be a risk for teams battling for his services. Though the young guard was respected for his talents and potential output, he remained the underutilized bit player in Los Angeles rotations, one that former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro didn’t see fit to use in a first round loss against Memphis last spring. The very Grizzlies team, you’ll recall, Bledsoe had dominated in the previous postseason.
Bledsoe will have his chances in Phoenix, though. Chances and how. Plenty of minutes and shot opportunities as McDonough figures his way around a miserable rotation that former GM Lance Blanks put together seemingly without care. We’re a year removed from Blanks throwing all the money he could at Eric Gordon while signing Michael Beasley and a talented but out of place Luis Scola, and as a result the Suns are a year or two behind in the rebuilding process, moving forward with Bledsoe about to sign his second contract. Such is the price for wasted breath, but at the very least the signs are encouraging. That McDonough valued Bledsoe’s gifts is all you need to know about the new Phoenix GM. He’s on it.
The Clippers, though we still hesitate to root for this crew, are on as much as well. The front office valued Bledsoe, seemingly far more than their ex-coach, declining to deal the talent during last winter’s trade deadline while considering its options as Chris Paul approached free agency.
Paul is certain to return, though, and while Bledsoe’s talents don’t have to rank as superfluous with a big market team that can afford to pay the young guard big bucks to come off the bench, the Clippers were right to cash in and exchange their asset for depth in the form of Redick and Dudley. Both players are in their prime, piggybacking on a player like Paul that has proven to be both fragile in terms of his own health, but also the best point guard in the NBA. It’s true that Clippers like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are still young and with plenty to learn, but Los Angeles went all-in on Paul’s yo-yo game in December of 2011, and the time to win is now.
This is why the trade stands as an early winner for all sides, assuming you value Milwaukee’s contributions in a vacuum that began earlier in July. Bledsoe should shine in Phoenix, and the Clippers will look longingly on their Pacific division counterparts every time Paul’s latest tweak keeps him out of the lineup, but this is how you build a winner – trading possible stars without a role for lesser players that fit right in. And for a team both in need of long range shooting and depth on the wing, Redick and Dudley come straight out of central casting.
Those matched roles, and that new competency on the sideline in the form of coach Doc Rivers, mean that the Los Angeles Clippers are out of excuses. This is a team that is expected to take a second and third round in 2014, health-willing. Heady times, for the former laughingstock.
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