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Any Eric Bledsoe trade won't be easy

There are very few scenarios in which a trade makes sense for a team prepared to pay the Suns' restricted free agent top dollar.

Christian Petersen

There is a report out of Phoenix that has the Suns looking to move Eric Bledsoe in a sign-and-trade deal. The report is from a TV broadcaster, so administer salt according to your personal Local Media Verisimilitude Hierarchy.*

But the basic fact is that Bledsoe and the Suns are at a stalemate. He wants more than Phoenix is willing to offer and neither side will budge. Since he's a restricted free agent, the opportunity to ensure separation from the franchise he feels is slighting him is not under his control. If he signs an offer sheet from another team, Phoenix can match and he'd be forced to play for the Suns, with whom he is currently muy angry.

In that sense, a sign-and-trade that improves Phoenix's frontcourt might be the best solution. The Suns would miss Bledsoe (he's fantastic!) but Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas would certainly ease the pain. Meanwhile, Bledsoe is good enough to draw a major frontcourt talent, which would help the Suns get over Channing Frye (who decamped for Orlando). Bledsoe gets paid by a team other than the Suns, Phoenix avoids dropping max money on a dice roll with a recent injury history as long as Gerald Green's treasured Epic Dunks I Will Do Someday list and improves its roster.

The problem, as always, is in the details.

Again, Bledsoe is a restricted free agent. He can sign an offer sheet from any team. Once he does, the Suns have 72 hours to match or decline it. If they match, Bledsoe is a Sun and cannot be traded to the team who offered the contract for a year. If they decline, Bledsoe joins the offering team at the offering price and the Suns get nothing. Those are the only two outcomes possible once Bledsoe signs an offer sheet.

So, he can't sign a deal he really doesn't want just to put pressure on Phoenix. Once he signs, the game is done. It's just a matter of which team he reports to in October.

Reports have said the Suns offered Bledsoe four years and $48 million. It's unclear whether that offer stands, but for this exercise, let's assume it's still on the table. If Bledsoe absolutely wants to leave Phoenix, he needs to sign a deal well above that. We don't know at what point the Suns would balk. Is it at $50 million? $54 million? $60 million? Bledsoe won't know that either. Neither will a prospective new team.

Besides, Bledsoe has some high salary demands. To get Bledsoe interested and to prevent Phoenix from matching, a prospective team is going to have to make a really high offer. If a team is going to make a really high offer, there's no sense in executing a sign-and-trade, with one exception we'll get to in a moment. Any team willing and able to pay Bledsoe $15 million a year probably won't want to give up a major asset as well.

The problem is that we're now at Aug. 21 and Bledsoe doesn't have any offer sheets we know of on his desk. If someone was willing to pay Bledsoe what he wants, wouldn't the deed be done already? There's nothing else holding any team back. The throes of free agency are done; that 72-hour waiting period is no longer an issue for teams who in July were nervous about tying up cap space for so long. (Unless some team is worried that a rival will swoop in to claim Andray Blatche or something.) There appears to be no room for a sign-and-trade arrangement that makes sense for both parties.

In the end, the Suns have all of the power

There is one major exception: that a team without the cap space to sign Bledsoe to a mammoth deal outright wants him. If there's a team that is willing to pay Bledsoe what he wants but can't issue an offer sheet due to salary cap issues, a sign-and-trade is the solution.

The question is how hard a bargain Phoenix would drive. Make no mistake: in such a situation, the Suns would rule the negotiations. If a team without cap space wants Bledsoe, the sign-and-trade is the only fix. No one can threaten the Suns that they'll lose Bledsoe for nothing if Phoenix won't play ball. It has to go through GM Ryan McDonough's desk.

So, Phoenix can hold out for something it really wants. For all we know, this is exactly what's going on right now: the Suns are balking at facilitating a sign-and-trade with a mystery team. (Though you'd expect if that were the case, something would have leaked from Bledsoe's camp if for no other reason than to show that someone thinks Bledsoe's salary demands are reasonable.)

In the end, the Suns have all of the power, as they have since mid-July when all other free agents got snapped up and all that free agent money got spent spent spent. Restricted free agents never win protracted battles with their teams because the system won't allow it.

Credit McDonough for taking his lumps and sticking to his plan. He's won. He controls the situation fully. The only question is whether he'll celebrate with Bledsoe on his roster next season.


* My personal Local Media Verisimilitude Hierarchy:

1. Beat writer.
2. Team blogger.
3. Columnist.
4. Sideline reporter.
5. Official TV and radio play-by-play folks and color analysts.
6. Meteorologist.
7. Traffic reporter.
8. Random commenter.
9. Foot Locker clerk.
10. Handbill publisher.
11. Sports anchor. But note that I've been deeply scarred by one particular local sports anchor.
12. Sports talk radio host.


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