A thirst for a serious shooting upgrade has inspired the Los Angeles Clippers to make a deal with a team starved for dynamic, young talent.
That hungry team is the Phoenix Suns, who are part of a three-team deal that will bring 23-year-old point guard Eric Bledsoe to town, according to multiple published repoerts.
While the initial reflex seems to be an inspiring leap for joy (at least for Suns fans), there are certain issues to consider before putting this move in the slam-dunk ledger of new general manager Ryan McDonough.
The Suns, who reportedly will surrender franchise favorite Jared Dudley, his semi-reliable 3-point gun and a second-round draft pick in this transaction, will — in Bledsoe — acquire a highly sought-after talent.
They’ll also absorb now-ex-Clipper Caron Butler and his $8 million contract, which expires at the end of this season. Dudley has three years on his deal (at a total of almost $13 million), including the 2013-14 season, so little problem there.
For the record, the Clippers’ main target in this trade is shooting guard J.J. Redick, who will come via sign-and-trade from the Milwaukee Bucks, whose return in this party is a pair of second-round picks.
Bledsoe, made available by the Clippers because superstar Chris Paul occupies the point guard position, has one more season remaining on his rookie contract and could be a restricted free agent at this time next season.
How much potential does he bring to Phoenix?
“That’s a good question,” a Clippers source said when asked for his opinion on Bledsoe’s ceiling. “He’s a good kid, a fantastic athlete who works pretty hard. As a basketball player, I really think of him as a weapon, someone who can defend the point of attack in a time when stopping dribble penetration is so important. He gives (the Suns) that.”
In his third season since leaving the University of Kentucky as a freshman — where he played alongside John Wall — the 18th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 20 minutes per game during 2012-13.
He shot 45 percent from the field, including 40 percent from 3-point range, the latter percentage being 20 points higher (in almost three times more attempts) than the previous, lockout-shortened season.
Although his shooting has evolved during his days as a Clipper, the 6-foot-1 Bledsoe’s freakish bounce, strength and quickness make him an outlier in other areas. For example, he led all NBA players under 6-7 in blocked shots per minute (1.3 per 36 minutes), and he checked in second behind Tony Allen in offensive rebounds per minute (1.8 per 36). He was second in the NBA (behind Paul) in steals per minute.
To the bad (especially for his position), Bledsoe checked in with the second-worst assist-to-turnover ratio among 50 qualified point guards.
So, this kid isn’t going to be Steve Nash.
For now, he’s not even Goran Dragic, who — until further notice in this July of NBA roster renovation — is the Suns’ starting point guard.
Dragic, generously listed at 6-3, might have enough size to defend certain shooting guards when first-year coach Jeff Hornacek employs a two-point-guard backcourt.
It should be noted that while it’s believed that rookie Archie Goodwin — taken at pick No. 29 last week and dealt to the Suns — might be seen as a potential point-guard convert, I would not exactly hold my breath on such a transformation. True, in some ways the NBA is obliterating the lines on player categorization, but the 6-5 Goodwin figures to improve his shooting stroke much easier than his decision making — even with the league’s defensive three-second rule creating more space than he saw at Kentucky.
So, a future of Bledsoe and Goodwin in the same backcourt may offer crooked shooting for a while, but it would work from a role-definition standpoint.
Anyway, based on the frequency with which we’ve seen such alignments in the Western Conference, the Suns using two point guards at once might not be that rare. But a Dragic-Bledsoe tandem — off the charts on effort and energy — would be really light on perimeter-shooting threats.
So it would be difficult to imagine this duo playing major minutes together. The greater consideration is that Bledsoe was a good soldier playing behind CP3 in L.A. But while his impact increased with the Clippers, Bledsoe did admit a strong desire to eventually run a team of his own.
Perhaps this is the first domino to fall in new general manager Ryan McDonough’s quest to recreate an elite Suns team. Dragic, at 27, has a reasonable contract and value around the league. He also has three seasons remaining on his current deal, a variable that would make it really challenging to re-sign Bledsoe next summer.
Having Bledsoe and Butler — a 33-year-old small forward who averaged 10.4 points last season and is a solid defender — probably makes the Suns good enough in the coming season to win far too often to land an early selection in the ballyhooed 2014 draft.
But the Suns could choose to buy out Butler’s contract, and while providing Phoenix fans with highlight plays usually not made by point guards, Bledsoe probably wouldn’t hike the win total beyond all current recognition.
Unless they convert Bledsoe into more assets with another deal, how much will it cost to re-sign him? That depends on his production, of course, and if the Suns try to move quickly on signing him to an extension.
In their quest to land star talent, how much of their often-discussed cap flexibility will be sacrificed to keep Bledsoe around? Can Bledsoe ascend to the star realm without having great offensive skill?
One issue to consider is just how many NBA players are legitimate stars capable of tugging a franchise anywhere near glory. A lot of NBA teams stockpile draft picks and other assets, clearing their books of bad contracts just to have the financial capacity to sign big-name free agents. When they’re unable to land the big fish, many of those teams end up hiring pretty-good players for pretty-great-player money.
With so many questions awaiting answers, at least we know the Suns have added a young player, upgraded their excitement potential and boosted their competitiveness on defense. That seems quite a bit wiser than offering huge money to Eric Gordon and crossing their fingers during the Michael Beasley Project.