In July, the Phoenix Suns dealt for former Clipper Eric Bledsoe, igniting their rebuilding process. The team’s new general manager Ryan McDonough understood going into the deal that Bledsoe, entering his fourth season, could potentially become a restricted free agent following 2013-14 if the team could not come up with a contract extension for the hybrid guard by midnight Eastern Time on Nov. 1. That deadline came and went over Halloween night in Phoenix on Thursday, and neither side seems to mind. Because while Bledsoe is a formidable talent, the Suns are joining a number of teams in taking advantage of restricted free agency, and how it can help your club develop a sensible payroll.
“There is no rookie extension with Eric but that doesn’t in any way suggest that we are not excited that Eric is a Sun and we look forward to Eric being a Suns for a long time,” said Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, who has been engaged in extension talks over the past month with Mark Termini, the former agent who works as a negotiator for Bledsoe’s agent, Rich Paul.
It appears that the talks did not turn contentious, which is a danger in such situations.
“It was completely professional, not acrimonious,” Babby said. “Everyone understood the task was a difficult one because of the nature of the circumstances and the context of restricted free agency.”
As Babby noted, the Suns could risk alienating Bledsoe by letting him court other suitors next summer before matching a contract offer, but outside of New Orleans’ Eric Gordon (who, co-incidentally, begged the then-Hornets not to match Phoenix’s offer sheet), most restricted free agents have handled their turns professionally in the years since the NBA re-introduced restricted free agency.
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Look at what happened with Atlanta’s Jeff Teague. Teague signed an offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks last July, and publicly asked the Hawks not to match. When the Hawks surprisingly did match, Teague didn’t kvetch about it (despite being roused while enjoying a day at the amusement park), and happily rejoined the team. Some six and a half months later, nobody remembers Teague’s Milwaukee plea.
Most important is the wave of fiscal sanity that is slowly creeping into NBA front offices. Teams don’t need to toss big extension money at sub-MVP types in order to keep them in place. This is exactly what restricted free agency is for, and though the practice has been back in place since the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s 2005 ratification, far too many NBA general managers have declined to utilize a function of the CBA that was meant to save them money. This poor planning, and all those subsequent excitable roster moves, led directly to the NBA’s 2011 lockout. GMs and owners were daft with their money, and further conditions had to be put into place to save them from themselves.
Restricted free agency is in place to help GMs, not hurt them. It allows for a proper market to set up in the attempts to acquire an employee’s services, and even if the market is a seller’s market (with so many teams featuring cap space for players that might stick on their incumbent teams, the 2014 offseason most certainly will be), restricted free agency is still a useful tool. Because if a desperate team pays way too much money to acquire your restricted free agent, then you’re helping hurt their finances even if you decline to match and lose the player.
Eric Bledsoe has franchise-changing talent. He’s also played just one game for the Phoenix Suns, and the team is attempting a cogent rebuilding process in the wake of years’ worth of terrible front office moves. This was a sound decision for both sides of that table.
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