Eric Bledsoe’s salon nightmare is over: The Suns traded him to the Bucks on Tuesday. The deal sends Greg Monroe, a future first-round pick, and a future second-round pick to Phoenix with only Bledsoe heading to Milwaukee.
The Suns had put Bledsoe on ice last February despite no known real injury while attempting to improve their NBA draft position and focus on developing younger players. (The Suns ended up improving their odds of picking No. 1 overall, yet fell two spots in the NBA Draft Lottery and picked No. 4. The Basketball Gods did not respond to requests for comment.)
Phoenix began this season 0-3, with two 40-point losses. On the first Sunday of the season, in sync with the firing of coach Earl Watson, Bledsoe tweeted that he didn’t want to be here, apparently taking a private offseason trade request public. (He later hilariously claimed he was referring to a salon — not Phoenix — as here.) As a result, the Suns sent Bledsoe home while looking for a suitable trade partner. This week, they found that partner in Milwaukee.
Here are the seven winners and six losers from the trade — and really the whole situation.
Needless to say, as Bledsoe requested a trade this summer and went more public as it became clear the Suns were circling the existential drain three games into the season, he’s the big winner here. It’s not even Veteran’s Day and he’s found a new club — a competitive one coached by an all-timer point guard with a top-five talent on the roster in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Expectations have risen for Milwaukee given Antetokounmpo’s sharp rise over the past two years. More than a fringe playoff team, we anticipate the Bucks actually fighting the Cavaliers, Celtics, Wizards, and Raptors for a top seed. If Bledsoe had soured on playing meaningless games in the winter, this is a nice salve. Every game counts for the ascendant Bucks, starting now. Bledsoe hasn’t played much real NBA basketball in nine months — Phoenix benched him for tanking purposes in the middle of last season — so he should be raring to go. Let’s see it.
The Buck most likely to benefit from Bledsoe’s presence is Antetokounmpo himself. Having another shot creator on the floor should relieve some pressure from Giannis, who has been drawing special attention from opposing defenses for more than a year now.
Bledsoe isn’t exactly a knockdown shooter, but he’s a bigger ball-handling threat than any other Buck but Giannis, and so defensive anchors and helpers will be on watch when the new point guard has the ball. That should allow Antetokounmpo to see even better opportunities for off-ball action.
Bledsoe also adds another good passer to the team, which should help the overall attack. When engaged, he can be a strong defender, which is where Milwaukee has the most potential. (It’s been a bad start for Milwaukee’s defense, but the schedule has been pretty heavy on high-octane teams.)
Milwaukee’s idiosyncratic defense should benefit from Bledsoe’s length at point guard, and the player’s offensive ability should make things smoother on that end once he, Giannis, and the other players get comfortable with each other. Having more talent always helps, and as Kidd draws questions about his ability to manage a roster from outside the organization, every bit matters.
Henson will still platoon with Thon Maker, who is Milwaukee’s long-term answer at the position. But removing Greg Monroe from the equation should allow Henson a longer leash and perhaps even a few more touches on offense.
Bledsoe isn’t just a top-50 player — he’s a really exciting player when he’s on. He was so good for Phoenix last season before they shut him down. Getting him back into the mix is a boon; adding him to a team that should be really exciting is a bonus.
The future Suns’ front office
The Suns get another first-round pick at some point in the future. Chances are that by the time it conveys — likely in 2020 when the Bucks are in the playoff mix — a new general manager will be at the controls. (No offense to Ryan McDonough, but rebuilds can only take so long.) Phoenix is already on deck to receive Miami’s 2018 and 2021 first-round picks, plus this one from Milwaukee, plus all of their own picks. It’s a bonanza!
A Paul client gets what he wants. Quelle surprise. Guess what? The dude’s a good agent!
The current Suns’ front office
McDonough, to his credit, stood up to Bledsoe when he felt the Suns were being bullied and disrespected and that Bledsoe was being dishonest. That’s worth something. But in this NBA, where players and agents have the power, how McDonough handled the whole situation was anachronistic and self-defeating. (Someone wise suggested it looked like McDonough was trying to get fired.)
The Suns flat-out tanked last season, and the method alienated Bledsoe. This is the fall-out. Phoenix’s front office began in such a place of weakness after sending Bledsoe home in October that it was inevitable they’d get a modest return in the trade market. That’s just poor management. It reflects poorly on the front office as its future comes into question.
Monroe signed with Milwaukee two years ago as a highly prized free agent. He did not live up to that status, unfortunately, and though the Bucks did become much better (as one presumes he predicted in making the decision to sign there) he won’t be a part of their potential ascendancy. What a bummer!
Parker hasn’t hit the court yet after ACL surgery, but when he does his unique offensive gifts will be muted somewhat by Bledsoe’s presence. More importantly, Bledsoe’s contract makes retaining Parker at the price Parker is likely to command much more difficult.
The best-case scenario might be for Parker to come back a month prior to the trade deadline and look great, and for Milwaukee to flip him (and perhaps Matthew Dellavedova) for another big man and a pick. But Parker might not be back until February, and he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer. Few teams will have the cap space to max out Parker. It’s going to be tricky, for sure.
Whether President Brogdon continues to start or not, he’ll have a smaller role for the Bucks in Bledsoe’s presence, which is a bummer given how good a fit he’s been. He’s still really valuable to the team, but it’s naive to think his role will remain as prominent as it has been for his career to date.
The Nuggets really, really could have used Bledsoe. Alas.
The Cavaliers also really, really could have used Bledsoe. This isn’t the first high-profile disgruntled star trade Cleveland has missed out on since getting trounced by the Warriors in the NBA Finals. (Missing on the Paul George trade should haunt Cleveland, truly.) Bledsoe would have been an odd fit once Isaiah Thomas returns and you’d like stronger shooting than he offers, but the Rich Paul connection and questions about LeBron’s plans in 2018 loom large.
Landing Bledsoe likely would have cost Cleveland Kevin Love, and that’s a tough sell while Tristan Thompson is injured. But narratives matter, and there’s a narrative growing that the Cavaliers are passing up deals that could make them more competitive right now, with LeBron still in his prime and still in northeast Ohio.