The Eric Bledsoe contract negotiations continue to meander on aimlessly with no end in sight. Yesterday, news even leaked that the Suns are looking at sign-and-trade scenarios for their star point guard.
Now, the odds are pretty high that this leak was from the Bledsoe camp in an effort to drum up suitors for their unyielding client, and thus driving up the price for the Suns. While surely the Suns want to keep their budding star, the fact of the matter is that the team is making him a fair contract offer in the eyes many. Last season was his first playing a significant role in the NBA, and it was only half of a season at that because of his knee injury in January. And while I wouldn’t call Bledsoe injury-prone by any means, it is worth mentioning that this is now the second time he’s needed to have surgery to repair knee cartilage. This, in conjunction with the sheer volume of valuable point guards in the NBA, has worked to drive Bledsoe’s contract price down to a level lower than he would have liked.
Obviously, the Suns and Bledsoe would eventually like to come to an amenable agreement for both sides, and that seems to be the most likely outcome. Yet still, I wonder if a trade is the best case scenario at this point if Bledsoe is unwilling to accept a four-year deal worth approximately $48 million. And if a trade ends up being the most amenable result, I see one particular team that could be the best potential suitor for a sign-and-trade:
The Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks are in an interesting place in the Eastern Conference. Undoubtedly below the Cavs and Bulls in the conference pecking order, but probably near the top end of the next tier, the Hawks could make an aggressive move towards that top tier by acquiring Bledsoe. Remember, the team was third in the Eastern Conference last season before Al Horford went down for the season, and they almost took out the “top-seeded” (and tailspinning, but whatever) Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. Adding Horford and Bledsoe into a mix of Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver could actually create a team that can challenge for the Eastern Conference crown in the first season of the post-Heatles era until the LeBron-led Cavs get fully acclimated.
How would they do it? After the Shelvin Mack and Mike Scott deals become official, the Hawks will have somewhere around $9 million in cap space. But without them having gone through yet, the team has about $12.7 million in cap space. It’s probably fair to assume that these deals haven’t become official yet because the Hawks can go over the cap to complete them, and they want to keep as much financial maneuverability as they can. With $12.7 million in tow, the Hawks could conceivably offer Dennis Schroeder, Adreian Payne, and a first rounder for Bledsoe, sign him to some contract above what the Suns have offered him, and become a contender that hasn’t quite reached its ceiling in the East.
A crunch-time lineup of Jeff Teague, Bledsoe, Korver, Millsap, and Horford may not sound entirely sexy, but that’s probably the third-best possible lineup in the Eastern Conference. Plus, trading those young players wouldn’t totally diminish their depth, as Mack, newly-signed Thabo Sefolosha, DeMarre Carroll, Scott, and Pero Antic make up an excellent next five. With a good amount of luck, reasonable development progression, and a lack of injuries, that’s a team that can get to the NBA Finals. And in reality, that’s all Danny Ferry can do right now as a general manager.
The next question is whether or not the Suns could actually accept that offer. They probably won’t get a better one that fits their needs, to be honest. A first rounder in the 20s is useful, but the players are the real haul from the Suns’ standpoint. In Payne, the Suns would acquire a young replacement for Channing Frye: a center that can shoot threes and keep their lane spaced for the slashing of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. Payne also projects as a better defender than Frye, someone who can legitimately defend the rim with his 7’4 wingspan. Finally, he’s also athletic enough to defend both 4s and 5s, which means he’ll be able to play with Miles Plumlee and Alex Len as they continue to develop, or with the Morris twins.
Schroeder also fits exactly what the Suns want to do, and would give them some further point guard depth behind Thomas and Dragic. The German speedster has high upside as a transition player and defender, but most importantly he already has excellent feel in the pick-and-roll. According to Synergy, the Suns were second in the NBA in plays finished both by a pick-and-roll ball-handler AND by a pick-and-roll screener. Jeff Hornacek’s offense is simply driven by the screen-and-roll, and allowing Schroeder to develop behind Dragic and Thomas could pay immeasurable dividends down the road. Plus, letting Schroeder and rookie Tyler Ennis compete in practice every day might not be the worst thing for either of their developments.
The problem for the Suns is that, despite signing Thomas as a ready-made replacement for Bledsoe, this probably makes them a worse team than they were in 2014. I’d counter with the fact that they played somewhat above their means in the 2014 anyway, so they are something of a regression candidate as it is even with Bledsoe on their team. Viewing the big picture and looking further out than 2015 might be the smart move, even though this will likely be the last season Dragic is under contract (he has a player option at $7.5 million for 2015-16 that he will assuredly decline). Signing Dragic is already important to their future, but without Bledsoe it would become an utter necessity.
With a seemingly excellent coach in Hornacek; a star in Dragic; good role players like Thomas, the Morris twins, and Gerald Green; as well as solid young players like T.J. Warren, Plumlee, Len, Ennis, the Suns have a bright future with or without Bledsoe. The question is just whether or not he wants to be a piece of that future.
And if he doesn’t and the team decides to move him, the Hawks should come calling.