Heat intensifies as summer of Bledsoe nears end

Will next season be the last Jeff Hornacek coaches Eric Bledsoe?

Tom Szczerbowski/Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

PHOENIX — With less than 14 restricted-free-agent shopping days left, Eric Bledsoe appears destined to settle for a contractual lump of coal.

True, the one-year, $3.37 million Bledsoe would play for after choosing the Suns’ qualifying offer may be extremely lucrative to most of us. But the potential diamond of restricted free agency — although it’s difficult for most NBA observers to embrace the notion that this summer’s unsympathetic market will explode in his favor next summer — is the motivation.

Beyond the hand-wringing that has mitigated what should have been a summer of anticipatory glee, we’ve wondered how the rest of the league sees this Bledsoe-Suns issue.

Based on reports earlier this summer, we know many NBA personnel types believe the Suns’ four-year, $48 million offer was quite reasonable for a point guard with two knee injuries and 78 career starts.

But now that training camp is approaching at a gallop, what do other NBA front-office sharpies think will happen? After reaching out to several professionals representing seven different teams, we’ve learned they’re about as perplexed as the rest of us.

Each respondent registered an opinion that Bledsoe and agent Rich Paul — who also represents LeBron James and operates the Klutch Sports Group that includes hotshot contract negotiator Mark Termini — won’t blink before the Oct. 1 deadline. This means that unless Bledsoe chooses to play abroad (he’d still return as a restricted free agent), he’ll accept the qualifying offer and assume some serious risk.

According to our respondents, there’s the obvious risk that his stab at impressing potential employers will be compromised by poor health. During his first season in Phoenix, a thigh contusion and meniscus troubles kept Bledsoe sidelined for 39 games.

The insiders also remind us Phoenix’s crowded backcourt could make it difficult for Bledsoe to replicate the numbers (17.7 points, 5.5 assists) he achieved during his 32.9 minutes per game last season. Having added the electric Isaiah Thomas to work with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in the Suns’ commitment to dual-point-guard basketball, it might be tricky for all three to reach individual statistical glory.

While two of our experts said this probably wouldn’t matter to prospective buyers, the other five believe an efficiency rate isn’t enough to overcome a limitation on raw numbers when negotiations begin. It also was posited that even slightly diminished playing time — fashioned by Suns coach Jeff Hornacek playing whoever is playing well in certain crunch-time situations — could affect rhythm and, ultimately, efficiency.

The risk of alienating Suns fans and/or becoming toxic within the team structure also was addressed. While all seven respondents said this is cause for concern, they agree that playing well would be a remedy. They also lauded the on-court culture fostered by Hornacek and his staff, while noting the looming contractual futures of so many should make this season much more challenging.

By far the most popular point of contention among these personnel experts was Team Bledsoe’s (seeming) lack of interest in gunning for a shorter deal.

With so much chatter regarding how upcoming TV deals will lead to greater contract inflation, seeking a two-year deal was considered an obvious move. The respondents were pretty uniform in believing the Suns probably have little to no interest in a short-term commitment to a potential franchise cornerstone, especially when high dollars over a couple of seasons still could impact their flexibility in upcoming negotiations with their other players.

The prospect of the Suns upping the ante between now and the end of the month didn’t receive much traction either.

An overriding premise was that having Bledsoe on the books at more than $12 million per season would make him very difficult to move … if such a maneuver were desired. And based on the aforementioned risks, $12 million could put them there as well.

Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, left, the Suns second-round draft pick this summer, plays against Brazil in the FIBA World Cup.

While we had our experts at the mercy of inquiry, they were quizzed for impressions of Bogdan Bogdanovic, the young Serbian shooting guard selected by Phoenix with the 27th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

Although they all were quite familiar with Bogdanovic beforehand, his performance in the FIBA World Cup inspired four of the seven to admit the Suns — relative to where he was selected — may have the steal of the draft.

The other three believe T.J. Warren — the Suns’ pick at 14 — is a strong candidate for that honor.

All seven believe Warren will be regarded as a substantial get at 14 … whenever the Suns make or find room for him in their rotation.

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