Eric Bledsoe stands out (Getty Images)
On October 31, the Phoenix Suns and guard Eric Bledsoe failed to come up with an agreement on a long term contract extension. Bledsoe, who had played all of one game with the Suns at that point, will be afforded the opportunity to work as a restricted free agent this summer. We applauded the move at the time, lauding general manager Ryan McDonough for letting the market determine Bledsoe’s worth in the offseason, while noting that the Suns have the right to match any offer.
Since then, of course, Bledsoe has gone off. He hit a game-winner to beat the Utah Jazz last Friday night, and he’s been instrumental in helping the surprising Suns rock off to a 3-2 start to the season – a season that would be boasting a 4-1 record had the Suns not weirdly gone away from Bledsoe down the stretch in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. If Bledsoe’s play sustains, his presence will come at a stiff price next July.
McDonough? He ain’t scurred. From Adam Green at ArizonaSports.com, documenting an interview the Suns GM gave to 620 AM:
"I feel very confident that he's going to be a Sun long-term," he told Burns and Gambo Wednesday. "We negotiated with Eric and his agents. I think the contract situation was handled very professionally on both ends."
"We can match any offer to Eric next summer," he said. "Another advantage would be we have an extra year to play with. Other teams who are making Eric an offer can offer him four years, we can offer him up to five if we chose to do so.
"So there's some inherent advantages that I just mentioned, also we can give higher percentage increases than another team could give Eric in a contract."
Bledsoe is averaging 21 points per game on 50 percent shooting through five games, with five rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. Not only are those numbers an improvement on his per game stats from last year (8.5 points, three rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals), as expected with his new role in Phoenix, but his per-minute stats have shot way, way up.
This all-around efficiency has Bledsoe working at a borderline MVP-level through his first five contests, and while this will likely tail off, understand that the Suns’ two losses have come against the last two Western Conference champions in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. That’s pretty solid stuff for a team that was designed to lose while working through a youth movement under rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek.
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There are several NBA players, Stephen Curry and Rajon Rondo come to mind, that cost themselves quite a bit of money by agreeing to lesser contracts during the extension period, as opposed to seeking out restricted or unrestricted free agency. Many other players, however, are costing their teams quite a bit of money because those teams didn’t play hardball with restricted free agency, lavishing those players with top heavy deals ahead of time.
How Bledsoe fits into this is still anyone’s guess, even after his startlingly-good start to the season. That’s not a shot at Bledsoe, we’ve always felt that he could be a borderline All-Star if afforded the minutes and opportunities to lead his own team. It’s just that we’re only five games into the starting career of a young man who was a backup for three seasons, and while his per-minute stats were just fine during his time with the Los Angeles Clippers, signing those per-minute stats up for eight figures a year is something else entirely.
If Bledsoe sustains this sort of play, or even something close to this sort of play? Then the Suns have a franchise player on their hand that they can match any contract offer for. As was the case when the Indiana Pacers hung onto Roy Hibbert after his restricted free agent visits in 2012, this isn’t a bad thing. The Suns will gladly pay for their brand new star.
And we’re glad all over at the chance to watch Eric Bledsoe, freed from those limited minutes in Los Angeles, do his thing as the leader of a young, entertaining Phoenix Suns squad. This is a win-win for all sides, even if the Phoenix wins eventually stop piling up.
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