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Most Likely Landing Spots for Eric Bledsoe

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Eric Bledsoe’s tenure in Phoenix is over, so where will he end up?

Although the season is just a week old, the 1-3 Phoenix Suns have already been through a season’s worth of turmoil. After a 48-point loss opening night to the Portland Trail Blazers and a 42-point loss to the Clippers in LA, head coach Earl Watson was axed, held responsible for their 0-3 start. On Sunday afternoon, seven-year veteran Eric Bledsoe not-so-cryptically tweeted his dissatisfaction with the Suns with a de facto trade demand. After discussions with the front office, Bledsoe was sent home, and is not expected to suit up in a Suns uniform again. As it appears his Phoenix tenure is over and trade rumors have begun in earnest, where are some possible destinations for Bledsoe that make sense for both sides?

But first, it is worthwhile to consider the player in question; Eric Bledsoe has had a solid career in his seven years in the NBA despite injury. The 18th overall pick in 2010, Bledsoe has been a consistent offensive player, averaging over 15.0 points on better than 40% shooting in five of his seven years. Although easy to overlook in the guard-dominated NBA, Bledsoe has excellent athleticism, and his playmaking and defense are solid as well. On the strength of his solid years paired with Goran Dragic under head coach Jeff Hornacek, Bledsoe signed a 5-year, $72 million deal in 2014.  

A few of the teams that have been mentioned in possible Bledsoe talks include the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets as the true serious suitors in the race for Bledsoe’s services. On the periphery are teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers, who have at least put in calls to Phoenix’s front office regarding the disgruntled guard. Though these teams have not shown much interest, they are still dark horses to watch in these trade rumors. 

 

Perhaps the most logical (and possibly likely) destination for Bledsoe is the Denver Nuggets. Given the stalled development of Emmanuel Mudiay and a new star player in Nikola Jokic, Denver makes the most sense as a Bledsoe destination, and could even be enough to propel the Nuggets into playoff contention. Despite efforts, it seems that Mudiay and Jamal Murray are not the answer for a Denver team on the cusp.  

While Mudiay was once considered the point guard of the future for Denver when he was selected seventh overall in the 2015 Draft, it appears that he will not grow into the cornerstone that the Nuggets had hoped. Despite the raw physical tools, Mudiay has regressed in key areas from scoring and rebounding to assists since his rookie campaign, and has shot below league average from the 3-point arc (career 32.1% compared to the league’s 34.8%).  

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If the Nuggets do pull the plug on Mudiay in favor of Bledsoe (while including Wilson Chandler and picks to complete the deal), the former Sun would remedy some of these problems; he has shot closer to league average from deep (career 33.4%), and his higher number of turnovers correspond to his higher usage rate. Although not a huge leap, Bledsoe is a defensive improvement over Mudiay, allowing opponents to shoot 48.8% to Mudiay’s 51.5%. His experience and floor leadership could elevate a young exciting Nuggets team to the next level, while giving Nikola Jokic a true sidekick to play with moving forward.  

The Bucks also present a mutually beneficial trade partner for the Suns; Milwaukee is a piece away from possibly making a deep playoff run, and Bledsoe could give the Bucks the athletic playmaker they need to pair with early MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Although the Bucks are deep at the guard position, Bledsoe could be an interest pairing with reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, evoking memories of the Bledsoe-Dragic tandem on the Suns from days past.  

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This could potentially be a win-win for both teams, if the Bucks were willing to part with Jabari Parker. Although Parker is a former second-overall pick with a lot of upside, he is also coming off multiple injuries, and Milwaukee is actually a minus on both ends of the court with Parker on it (-0.6 offensively,-4.8 defensively). There are real questions as to whether Parker and Antetokounmpo can coexist in the future, yet the Suns would love to have a player with Parker’s potential to pair with their young star Devin Booker.   

While the Bucks and Nuggets seem the most likely destinations for Bledsoe, the LA Clippers and New York Knicks have also been mentioned in rumors. Stoked by DeAndre Jordan’s “come home” tweet, the Clips have emerged as a possible ‘replacement by committee’ for the departed Chris Paul. In a possible deal, Doc Rivers might finally need to part ways with his son Austin to nab Bledsoe, and Eric would again be in position to play the off-guard next to Patrick Beverly. However, this deal seems unlikely.

The package that Phoenix was asking from the Knicks involved both their French draft pick Frank Ntilikina and 2016-17 All-Rookie First Team member Willy Hernangomez. At this point in New York’s rebuild, this package should be an instant non-starter for the Knicks’ front office. Although there is a need for solid point guard play in New York, this move makes no sense for them at this time. The only real reason that this rumor holds any water is because Bledsoe played his best years under Jeff Hornacek’s leadership.  

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Photo: Jennifer Stewart-USA Today Sports

The real question in all of these rumors is how much teams are willing to give up for Bledsoe. Many teams have already balked at Phoenix’s asking price for the 27-year old point guard and it remains unclear if any teams are willing to bet the farm on Bledsoe if it means giving up many of their prized prospects and young talents. Unfortunately for Phoenix, they have no leverage in these trade negotiations, thanks to Bledsoe’s public tweeting. The Suns are stuck in a situation where they have a good player who could command a decent return, thwarted by Bledsoe’s exasperated tweeting. The Suns will attempt to maximize his value, but he has not put them in a good bargaining position. 

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

SQuiz
Which of these NBA awards has Eric Bledsoe been awarded, as of October 2017?
Created 10/24/17
  1. NBA All-Star
  2. NBA All-Rookie First Team
  3. NBA All-Rookie Second Team
  4. NBA Defensive Player of the Year

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