With the NBA being as crazy and frenzied as ever, we have our first trade "demand" scenario propping up in the first week. The Phoenix Suns, playing some of the worst defense imaginable, fired their head coach on the same day their best player tweeted "I don't want to be here" for the public to see. The next morning (today), that player was sent home and is being shopped imminently. It appears as if the Suns, looking to gut their losing culture and salvage what is left of some young talent before cracks form in the foundation, are going to send Bledsoe away.
There are obstacles to trying to trade any player at this time of year, regardless of talent. The first is that teams are in an evaluation period, not looking to shake up their roster before they know exactly what they have internally. Adding a piece as troubled and injury-prone as Bledsoe carries some level of risk if you are unsure of how good the pieces you're giving up are going to be. The second is the lack of need for a starting point guard around the league. And third is the fact that almost a third of the players in the league cannot be traded until December 15th since they inked new contracts this summer.
So where could Bledsoe plausibly land, and what are some of the best packages that could be put together? We'll take a look here.
Deal: Phoenix sends PG Eric Bledsoe and C Tyson Chandler for C Greg Monroe, C Thon Maker and PG Matthew Dellavedova
Right now it's important to note that the Suns are about $12.3 million under the cap, meaning they can absorb more salary in order to help a team land Bledsoe while also trimming their cap situation. That scenario may be the best one in which Phoenix recuperates a high-level draft pick. Dealing with Milwaukee, however, they may be able to shed some long-term salary and get a talented young piece back instead of that draft pick.
It's a scenario that makes too much sense to pass up. Chandler, on a two-year deal just as Bledsoe is, would reunite with Jason Kidd, the point guard that played with Tyson in Dallas when they won the 2011 NBA Championship. Giving up two centers in exchange for one may not seem too palatable for Bucks fans that are already short Jabari Parker, but the move would also open up a roster spot for Milwaukee to utilize.
The Bucks then would find themselves $3 million below the luxury tax with a small trade exception to use as well. Milwaukee is dangerously close to that luxury tax threshold now and wants to get beneath it, which is the onus for wanting to work a deal that would get Monroe off their books - he's an expiring they can unload to a team with cap space (Phoenix) while getting decent value in return.
Milwaukee giving up Thon Maker after once season sounds a little crazy, but it saves them tax money, gives them a legitimate point guard and perimeter threat and trims the team of a Dellavedova contract that's on the books for the next three years.
Phoenix gets probably the best young player they could squeeze out of this deal in Maker. Thon fits the type of style they want from their bigs – shooters that can defend multiple positions. They'd trim Monroe at the summer and next season, after the trade, save roughly $16 million. Of course the immediate logjam with Monroe, Maker and Len as centers is difficult to deal with, but it helps them get Bledsoe away immediately.
The Fan Favorite
Deal: Phoenix sends PG Eric Bledsoe for PG Emmanuel Mudiay and PF Kenneth Faried
Everyone seems to want Bledsoe in Denver due to their lack of point guard depth and the glut of big men they need to get rid of. Faried wants out and might be a culture game-changer in Phoenix. Mudiay offers the Suns a look at a young player with offensive potential that has been miscast as an off-ball slasher around Nikola Jokic.
Bledsoe could thrive in that role as a secondary playmaker, though he is one of the more underrated creators one-on-one in the league. A trio of him, Jokic and Millsap is a core that can do some damage out West, and they give up only minimal young pieces to make this work. Faried-for-Bledsoe keeps the cap situation stable, and actually opens up a tad more space while unloading Mudiay.
For Denver, making this move is about three things. First is the impact that Bledsoe can have on the court playing around their already-existing core. Second is their willingness to move on from Mudiay after a strong preseason. Third is the wonder of if they would have to throw in something else if a bidding war starts. Denver, sitting on some other young players and some future draft picks, could easily be swayed into throwing more into the pot for Bledsoe.
The consensus answer to all three seems to be a resounding yes, but we'll see what the organization is willing to do. They have a strong need at point guard and are ready to explode in a win-now type of way. The issue comes around the ante being upped by other teams and just how much the Nuggets would want to match. They don't appear to be in a position to absorb any salary from Phoenix's big men to help make a deal work.
The "We'll Place a Call and Hope for the Best" Group
New York Knicks
Deal: Knicks gets PG Eric Bledsoe and F Jared Dudley for PG Frank Ntilikina, C Willy Hernangomez, C Joakim Noah and a 2018 lottery protected first-round pick.
No way the Suns can soak Ntilikina out of the Knicks unless they agree to take on (and then subsequently buyout) Joakim Noah. It's not as one-sided as it seems, as the Suns would waive him and take on a large portion of that guaranteed salary over the next few years. We've seen reports about Ntilikina and Hernangomez being offered with a pick, but it only makes sense for the Knicks if they can unload Noah.
Phoenix would have the money to eat Noah's deal if they turn Bledsoe and Dudley into youngsters like Ntilikina and Hernangomez. And that pick, lottery protected then likely turning into two second-rounders (the Knicks have Chicago's highly-coveted second in 2018) is a good gamble for the Suns to make.
New York would simultaneously get a win-now point guard and commit to a smaller lineup with Porzingis at the 5 and shed themselves of the worst contract in basketball. It's a great gain for the franchise long-term financially, though the pain of giving up what could amount to back-to-back first-round picks isn't great for a rebuilding team.
Los Angeles Clippers
Deal: PG Eric Bledsoe for PG Patrick Beverley, F Wesley Johnson and a 2021 first-round pick
The Clippers realistically lack the assets to pull this trade off, but the unprotected first-rounder might be what gets this done. Bledsoe would be an upgrade from Beverley despite how godly he is on the defensive end. Bledsoe, Blake and DeAndre is a solid core, and it's the type of aggressive move the Clippers could make to help keep DeAndre happy and ready to remain a Clipper long-term.
But seeing Phoenix take this deal over many on the board would be a surprise. Of course the Clippers could load up more picks or another youngster just to sweeten the pot, but these are two odd trading partners despite the overtures made by DeAndre Jordan on Twitter.
Deal: PG Reggie Jackson to Phoenix for PG Eric Bledsoe
Straight up. My dead-beat point guard for yours. Little to no chance the Suns take this when other deals are on the table, and the Pistons don't have much incentive to throw in meaningful players or picks to make the deal happen. Sure a Bledsoe-Bradley backcourt is scary on defense, but does he really move the needle that far into making them a playoff contender?
On the flip side this is probably the lowest return Phoenix would get out of any of these scenarios. A worse player that is on a longer, more expensive deal that isn't much younger. The only interesting part here would be how willing the Pistons would be to try and sweeten the pot with a stretch big like Henry Ellenson... and how keen the Suns are to add another non-defensive player into their mix.
Deal: PG Eric Bledsoe for 2018 Brooklyn Nets 1st Round pick, C Ante Zizic and SG Iman Shumpert
Cleveland could get to the point where they have too many cooks in the kitchen. Imagine a team that has a playoff rotation of LeBron, D-Wade, Isaiah, Bledsoe, J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose... and that's not including their frontcourt. Serious chemistry and cohesion issues may happen as a result, which is why I'm not optimistic that the Cavs are a serious contender for Bledsoe despite their interest in the past.
Phoenix has little desire to do a deal like this, where they eat into their roster space and flexibility without taking a point guard of the future back. The only way they do is if they get that unprotected Nets pick and a youngster like Zizic or Osman. Still, this offer isn't as sweet as many of the others they may get.
The Dark Horse (and my personal favorite)
Deal: PG Eric Bledsoe and SG Troy Daniels to Orlando for SG Terrence Ross, PG Elfrid Payton and a the 2020 first-round pick from Oklahoma City
Phoenix needs talent, and this deal gives them the most talent across the board in multiple positions. In Payton they get an up-and-down but talented pass-first point guard that could make life a lot easier for their scorers like Devin Booker. He's arguably better than Reggie Jackson or Emmanuel Mudiay, other point guards mentioned in the trade list. As a restricted free agent, the Suns have the cap space remaining after this deal to match any offers he may receive next summer, and the added benefit of knowing the point guard free agent market will be a chilling one. If there's anything front offices learned this summer, it's to invest in restricted free agents you like because you'll be able to bargain shop with them next summer thanks to the lower-than-expected salary cap spike. Especially at point guard this is a huge plus.
Add with him a legitimate starting wing and another scorer to flank Booker with and the Suns now have some added shot-making on the perimeter to make the space work with Payton. And that 2020 pick from OKC is probably not a highly valuable one, but if you look at the trade market around (and other scenarios) not a lot of teams can throw some legitimate first-round picks their way. And with luxury tax issues in Oklahoma City, you never know how valuable that pick will become.
Orlando on the other hand ends their decade-long quest for a franchise point guard with this move, and while they give up a decent amount to get him, Frank Vogel finally has the defensive pieces he needs. A super-athletic Magic group, spearheaded by a starting backcourt of Bledsoe and Jonathon Simmons and flanked with Aaron Gordon at the 4, would be a nightmare for a lot of teams out East. On athleticism alone that team would vault itself high into the conversation for one of the last remaining playoff seeds.
For some reason I'm rooting for this deal to go down. I'd love to see Elfrid Payton in a lawless, push-tempo offense that gets others open shots. I'd love to watch Bledsoe and Aaron Gordon run the pick-and-roll, with Nikola Vucevic cleaning up down low. Somebody, please make this happen!
Head Boys Basketball Coach, Boys' Latin School (MD).