Apr 14, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) dribbles against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Suns Free Agency: Should they match any Eric Bledsoe offer?

Like most teams this time of year, the Phoenix Suns have to make crucial decisions regarding their restricted free agents. In this case, we’re talking specifically about Suns’ guard Eric Bledsoe.

If you’re unfamiliar with restricted free agency, basically, a restricted free agent (RFA) has the ability to talk to other teams and sign an offer sheet, if one is offered to him. After that, the RFA’s current team has the ability to match that offer sheet and keep the player. Such is the case with the Suns and Bledsoe.

Coming off a career season, even though he only played 43 games, Bledsoe will generate interest from plenty of teams. He’s young, athletic, and talented, virtually a triple threat in free agency. He averaged more than 17 points and almost six assists per game last season, but he’s poised to do much better in the future. Take a look at his career stats:

2010-11 21 LAC 81 25 22.7 .424 .276 .470 .744 2.8 3.6 1.1 0.3 2.4 1.6 6.7
2011-12 22 LAC 40 1 11.6 .389 .200 .448 .636 1.6 1.7 0.8 0.4 1.2 1.5 3.3
2012-13 23 LAC 76 12 20.4 .445 .397 .453 .791 3.0 3.1 1.4 0.7 1.8 1.5 8.5
2013-14 24 PHO 43 40 32.9 .477 .357 .517 .772 4.7 5.5 1.6 0.3 3.3 2.3 17.7
Career 240 78 22.0 .445 .327 .477 .759 3.0 3.4 1.3 0.5 2.2 1.7 8.7
3 seasons LAC 197 38 19.6 .431 .308 .459 .749 2.6 3.0 1.2 0.5 1.9 1.5 6.7
1 season PHO 43 40 32.9 .477 .357 .517 .772 4.7 5.5 1.6 0.3 3.3 2.3 17.7
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/4/2014.

You’ll hear a lot of pundits and writers talk about “upside” when analyzing Bledsoe. The word is a complete contradiction, in my opinion, and I consider it taboo. That’s a topic for another time, but it’s important to understand why Bledsoe will be sought after and possibly offered a max contract. Regardless of who offers for Bledsoe and how much money they offer him, Phoenix can match that offer and retain Bledsoe.

The Suns are coming off a great season, in which they nearly snuck into the playoffs as the eight-seed. Bledsoe was a crucial part of that success. Nearly everyone on the Suns had a great season individually, but Bledsoe is the only guy on the roster who isn’t expendable. The Suns need him going forward. That’s a huge statement, too, considering the success each individual player had last season. All of the Suns’ player should be available to be moved, and could be moved if Phoenix can find the right deal in place to sign a big name.

Which brings me to my next point: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, and LeBron James. All three are long shots to actually end up in Phoenix, not all three together, but it’s possible two of them could be in Phoenix next season. With the news that LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh are not working together or at least not in agreement on how much money each should take, Phoenix may have actually have a chance at James. It’s slim, but a chance nonetheless. I admit, saying that makes me feel like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber: “So, you’re telling me there’s a chance…” Yup, there’s chance LeBron goes to Phoenix, and that’s possibly what’s holding up the Suns from offering Eric Bledsoe a monster deal.

It’s also possible the Suns are just biding their time with Bledsoe, waiting to see what happens with him and other free agents. Apparently, they had a meeting scheduled with LeBron’s agent, and could be one of the teams James is considering. Also, it’s important the Suns wait to see what the market is like for Bledsoe before offering him a contract. If the Suns were to offer Bledsoe a monster contract, something that would deter any other teams from offering the max and tying up their finances while Phoenix decides whether or not to match, they would have no chance to get two big names in free agency. That’s where it gets tricky for the Suns, sort of.

If James, Love, or Anthony is a realistic addition in Phoenix’s overall plans, the Suns have to be letting Bledsoe know it’s a possibility and make sure he doesn’t sign an offer sheet with another team. The weird thing about the Bledsoe situation is no one is even talking to him, at least there have been virtually no reports of teams reaching out to him or anything of the sort. It makes it seem like whatever is about to happen on Phoenix’s end is a done deal. You’d still think a team would at least make contact and see if they could pry him away from the Suns. Until that happens, there’s virtually no chance Phoenix offers a deal. They don’t want to pay more than they have to for Bledsoe. That’s just common sense.

Let’s say, for instance, another team does come along and offer Bledsoe a deal, and Bledsoe does, indeed, sign an offer sheet. What does Phoenix do? All of that depends on the rest of free agency to see how it pans out. Phoenix has plenty of cap room to work with, but no one can afford James, Anthony/Love, and Bledsoe on max deals.

James could get max money, which would be around $20 million. Anthony/Love would have to take in the $15 million range, as would Bledsoe. Is that possible? Phoenix would still need to clear some room by unloading a few contracts, but it’s definitely in the cards, especially if they have give up five or six players to sign Love and, most likely, Kevin Martin. I know that doesn’t technically answer the question, but the possibility of something like this actually happening is what is holding Phoenix back from making a major offer to Bledsoe right away. Remember, players can’t actually sign anything until July 10. These deals we’re hearing about are just agreements to terms. Technically, any of these players could back out of their agreements.

If you’re Phoenix, the goal is bringing in another free agent to be successful. You can’t win in the West without a a few great players, but that winning future starts with Bledsoe.  He’s too valuable to the Suns organization to let go. The fit isn’t perfect with Goran Dragic, but if they work at it, I think it’s a great setup to have, based on each player’s ability to score and pass equally. It creates huge matchup problems for a lot of teams. Plus, when you have a guy this good and this young, you don’t let him walk for any reason. You overpay that guy if you have to because you never really know how good he could be. Players make gigantic leaps every season. Look at Blake Griffin, for example. A year ago, he was a dunker and that’s about it. With a new coach and slightly different situation, you never know what could happen.

Still, if a max contract is on the table for Bledsoe, that would complicate things incredibly for Phoenix. They’d have to make a real decision about chasing the big free agent, like James, or lock up their guy for the future. If I were Phoenix, Bledsoe would be a must re-sign. There just aren’t that many players like him who can contribute in all aspects of the game like he can. The fact that Phoenix is keeping this situation quiet makes me think they have a very good strategy in free agency.

See, if all the other teams knew Phoenix was going to lock up Bledsoe for sure, you’d think a rival organization would at least try to drive up the asking price for Bledsoe and force Phoenix to give him a max contract. Phoenix and general manager Ryan McDonough have said they will do “everything they can” to bring him back. What does that mean? Who knows. That’s a fairly open statement. It could also go a different way for other teams interested in Bledsoe. They could feel like they have a real chance to get another free agent and don’t want to come home empty handed when Phoenix matches the offer for Bledsoe.

It’s really hard to say what will happen at this point, but my gut feeling is that Phoenix will match whatever offer they have to in order to keep Bledsoe. And, when you really think about it, the Suns should do everything they can to re-sign him, including giving Bledsoe a max contract. He’s going to be one of the best 20 players in the NBA over the next few years. Plus, he’s a player who can make other players better. Those players are attractive to other free agents, which gives Phoenix a better chance at building a championship level team. To me, that is worth a max contract, and that’s the worst-case scenario for re-signing Bledsoe in the next ten days. Notice how it also leaves the door open for another big name to join Phoenix.

Hear that, LeBron?

Tags: Eric Bledsoe NBA Free Agency Phoenix Suns

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