With Caron Butler's ringing endorsement, Suns welcome Eric Bledsoe into driver's seat.
By RANDY HILLFS Arizona
PHOENIX -- Perhaps the most qualified scouting report on the new basketball hotshot in town was served by a Butler.
After all, this Butler has been a teammate for the last two of the three seasons Eric Bledsoe has spent in the NBA.
"He's an explosive, dynamic guard who has superstar written all over him," Caron Butler, a veteran small forward who also arrives via that fan-base-galvanizing trade from the Los Angeles Clippers, said of Bledsoe during Thursday afternoon's meet-and-greet at U.S. Airways Center.
Well, that's pretty refreshing to hear. Adding a superstar in a deal that only cost the
Suns the services of beloved-but-limited swingman Jared Dudley and a second-round pick is pretty sensational.
But what Butler offered was conjecture, a commodity that's been in abundance when the 23-year-old Bledsoe -- who worked part-time behind and sometimes beside Clips superstar (no conjecture there) Chris Paul – is discussed.
"He's a guy every team in the league was trying to get," general manager Ryan McDonough said, exaggerating only slightly, more than a week after initiating a three-team transaction to get him.
While we're dribbling around the issue of Bledsoe's potential, please note that he has another, more realistic, word written all over him.
And that word is g-u-a-r-d.
"He's a guard," McDonough said. "He's a basketball player. Goran Dragic is a basketball player."
Ah, yes … Goran Dragic. At the end of last season, the swervin' Slovenian had been registered as the Suns' best player. He seemed to have "long-term point guard of the Suns" written all over him.
But in the new NBA -- presided over by progressive thinkers such as McDonough and new head coach Jeff Hornacek -- the notion of having multiple playmakers on the floor at the same time certainly trumps positional categorization.
"I see this as our backcourt going forward," McDonough said, referring to not being bogged down by limiting the definition of any player.
So, if you've been wondering if the acquisition of an exciting, 6-foot-1, rock solid bundle of energy would lead to moving Dragic for other exciting bundles of energy, the Suns would like you to ditch that notion.
"As a coach, I'm just envisioning Eric and Goran pushing the ball down court, creating those four-on-threes, those two-on-ones," Hornacek said. "Caron's knocking down threes and jumpers, our bigs are rollin' to the basket …"
Can't you just imagine it? But, for the sake of the potentially loaded-and-crucial 2014 NBA Draft, let's not envision it going all that swimmingly, OK?
Anyway, Bledsoe -- who spent his only year at Kentucky working beside John Wall -- seems eager to embrace this vision, too.
"I'm a basketball player," he said. "Put me at the five, I'm going to play the position the best way that I can. Wherever coach decides to put me, I'm going to play the position the best way that I can."
Self-awareness is always important. But we also remember the "I'm a basketball player" routine from about one year ago. The issue was whether the new Suns employee in question was a small forward or power forward.
"Basketball player" Michael Beasley was not about to be defined, was he?
Well, this in no way attempts to shove Bledsoe anywhere near the Beasley category. But let's just say that talent and willingness to adapt don't always translate.
For more important testimony and a return to soaring Bledsoe optimism, let's go back to Butler.
"He's a relentless worker," the 11-year veteran said of the three-year whippersnapper. "The second he arrived here yesterday, he was in the gym. That's the attitude he had the whole off-season. I think he's going to be great this year and years to come."
Butler's belief in Bledsoe, who averaged 8.5 points (making 40 percent of his limited number of 3s) and 3.1 dimes in 20 minutes per game, was solidified by watching him assimilate what he was taught by Paul and now-ex-Clippers veteran Chauncey Billups.
"Him doing more than holding his own in practice and then doing what he did in games shows me what he's capable of," Butler said. "I think he's going to come here and put the world on notice."
Speaking of notice, we're recognizing a theme … Butler really thinks a lot of kid, doesn't he? Bledsoe, who said he's working on everything in an effort to reach this widely endorsed potential, can't wait.
"I'm excited to get things started," Bledsoe said.
But is the kid with all of this physical potential, the kid who was coveted by so many NBA teams, satisfied to come to Phoenix and, once again, be one of two good point guards?
He did appear and sound to be buying in to the push-the-pace, attack-off-the-dribble scheme the Suns are preparing.
"It makes it easier having Dragic, who can control the game also," Bledsoe said of his new teammate.
Of course, until the Suns generate proof that this tandem can exploit its quickness and vigorous approach while mitigating the (for now) marginal, deep-shooting accuracy and defensive stature, the skeptics will continue chirping.
By the way, Butler – a two-time All Star and 15.5 points-per-game scorer in his career – brings more than an expiring, $8 million contract to Phoenix.
Adding him to the Suns' for-now mix was rewarding for McDonough, who – as a member of the Boston Celtics' talent-evaluation team – had become a fan of Butler when Caron played at the University of Connecticut. While the C's were busy preparing for deep playoff journeys the past few years, McDonough said he'd been attempting to help bring Butler to Beantown.
"It was rather thrilling to find out (McDonough) had a man-crush on me," Butler quipped.
And in a moment of inspired irony, Butler – who is leaving a division-winning team for a franchise that registered the worst record in the Western Conference last season – had this comment:
"We're going to bring a winning culture to this organization."
Right, a Clipper is here to help teach the Suns how to prevail.
That really explains how things have changed and why McDonough is here.
So, if Butler and a lot of the league's talent evaluators are accurate, Bledsoe will spend the next few years validating it.