Perhaps the most highly coveted free agent remaining on the market, Eric Bledsoe, still remains log jammed in negotiations with his most recent team the Phoenix Suns. Coming off a rookie deal, Bledsoe entered the 2014 offseason as a restricted free agent, which has put a major delay on his ability to reach any deal. He is seeking a maximum five years, $80-plus million, but the Suns are way below that figure at about four years, $48 million.
Bledsoe emerged as one of the NBA‘s rising stars last season after he was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers and earned the starting gig in Phoenix. Given the extra playing time, he exhibited his impressive talent on the defensive end of the floor, shutting down opposing point guards on a consistent basis. In recent years, the point guard position has become loaded with tremendous talent league wide. In order to be successful in today’s league, a franchise point guard is almost a necessity with the exception of whatever team LeBron James is playing for. Therefore, a point guard who is as explosive as Bledsoe is offensively, and who is an absolute beast defensively, must be retained at all costs.
Being a smaller market, Phoenix has always been reluctant to spend large sums of money on players who are somewhat of a risk. Aside from his talent, Bledsoe has caught the injury bug on numerous occasions, most recently a torn meniscus. Knee injuries are no joke. They have single handedly swayed careers of countless superstars, so Phoenix’s worries are 100 percent justified, especially since Bledsoe had cartilage removed rather than reconstructed. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the difference, Derrick Rose had his meniscus reconstructed, meaning the surgeon went in and repaired the torn cartilage whereas Bledsoe’s cartilage was beyond repair forcing a total removal. As a result, Bledsoe’s knee has much less cushioning in it than Rose’s.
Furthermore, all medical issues and negotiations aside, Bledsoe’s talents are few and far between warranting his demand for a higher salary. Who knows, if no salary cap were in place, maybe Phoenix wouldn’t hesitate to take a gamble on him. Unfortunately, the salary cap is in place and it is a hurdle every franchise must take into account, making a larger market franchise the more suitable destination for his services. You all may be familiar with this franchise as they go by the name of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Believe it or not the Lakers had a realistic shot at signing Bledsoe this offseason, but due to the delayed decisions of both LeBron and Carmelo Anthony, the window to lock up Bledsoe was closed before Los Angeles even got the chance to peek in. Los Angeles’ best opportunity to steal Bledsoe was immediately subsequent to the league moratorium being lifted in July. Hypothetically speaking, if the Lakers offered Bledsoe a four-year, $60 million contract, Phoenix would only be given three days to match the deal, sending their front office into a frenzy. Judging by how long negotiations are taking, Phoenix likely would have allowed Bledsoe to walk if they were forced to decide within three days.
Sadly, the Lakers have missed out on the opportunity to sign Bledsoe as Mitch Kupchak has used every penny of flexibility when the team acquired Jeremy Lin via trade and re-signed both Jordan Hill and Nick Young the same day. Fortunately, the Lakers may be presented with the chance to snag Bledsoe next season without Phoenix’s interference. In order to become a restricted free agent, a franchise must make the candidate a qualifying offer, which is somewhere in the ballpark of their current annual salary $3.7 million in Bledsoe’s case). Most free agents shy away from accepting this qualifying offer mainly because it is such a low salary but also due to the shortness of the contract. Say Bledsoe gets injured again; his market value can potentially plummet compared to this offseason. On the other hand, accepting the qualifying offer allows the free agent to become unrestricted the following summer, meaning he has the freedom to sign wherever he desires minus the interference from Phoenix.
So, if Bledsoe does in fact accept the qualifying offer, Los Angeles can make their case next offseason and potentially lure the star point guard the team has been in desperate need of. The addition would also make the Lakers a desirable destination once again.