The Suns Never Quite Figured Out What To Do With Their Backcourt (5 Potential Landing Spots for Eric Bledsoe)
They acquired the strength of their team for next to nothing, and now look to lose it all with nothing to show for it
At one point, the Phoenix Suns had one of the deepest, most talented backcourts in the NBA. Going into the 2014 season, the Suns’ backcourt consisted of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Seth Curry. It was inevitable that somebody would have to go, as there just weren’t enough minutes to go around for everybody.
Dragic was coming off of a 2013-14 season in which he posted career-highs in minutes, points, and FG% which led to an All-NBA Third Team selection and the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Although plagued by a second half of injuries, Eric Bledsoe was flourishing with his first opportunity to be a starting guard in the league, after being dealt to Phoenix in a three-team trade from the Clippers. Before knee problems sidelined him, he posted career-highs at that point of nearly 18 PPG, 5 RPG, and 6 APG all on 47.7 percent shooting from the field in 43 games.
The Suns also acquired a sub-six-foot point guard by the name of Isaiah Thomas from the Kings in the 2014 offseason for a $7 million trade exception and the rights to forward Alex Oriahki. Considering that Thomas was coming off career-highs at the time of 20.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, 2.9 RPG, on 45.3 percent shooting the previous season in Sacramento, has been named to two consecutive All-Star teams the past two seasons, and that Oriahki is out of the league, now playing in Puetro Rico before ever playing a single minute in the league, it’s safe to say that the Suns won that trade.
However, over the next couple of seasons, a series of bad trades on their own part has made what was once their strength, now set to become a weakness.
Thomas was dealt for Marcus Thorton and a late 1st round pick that would become University of Kentucky product Skal Labissière in 2015. While Labissière is beginning to show signs of improvement offensively, with defense already being a strength of his when coming into the league (averaging almost two blocks per 16 minutes at UK), it doesn’t matter because of course he was traded too. The Suns acquired Marquese Chriss in the deal and he’s struggled to find playing time in the frontcourt due to his inability to fully grasp the concept of playing defense (how ironic).
Dragic was also dealt that year for two 1st round picks after making his displeasure with the Suns public and requesting a trade. However, the only 1st round selection of the Suns over the course of the last coupe of years that seems to be panning out is Devin Booker – a pick that originally already belonged to the Suns (we’ll wait to see on 2017 pick Josh Jackson). Now, it seems like a matter of “when” more than “if” another guard will be traded as well after public trade rumors – Eric Bledsoe.
The Suns loaded up their backcourt, and
by far arguably won each and every trade where they acquired a guard. Now, they will most likely be forced into dealing the last of those guards from their almost-playoff season with nothing to show for it. You probably either forgot this backcourt even existed, or if you didn’t know, have a hard time believing it did given the Suns’ front office woes since then.
After just three games, the Suns fired coach Earl Watson. However, the Suns have lost those three games by a combined 92 points (two of the teams they lost to, the Trail Blazers and the Lakers, will probably miss the playoffs too – by a lot). Bledsoe seems justified, having sat through the Suns’ win totals decline from 2013 to 2016 (the only reason they didn’t drop again last year is because they beat their 2015 win total of 23 games by 1 game).
A team that looked to be on the cusp of a playoff berth (just a W against the Mavericks away in 2013, that they maybe would have got with a healthy Eric Bledsoe for the 2nd half of the season) in Bledsoe’s first season on the team is now one of the worst in the league in what seems to be his last one in Phoenix.
According to ESPN sources, Bledose reportedly met with team officials this morning and was sent home. Thus, he will not play tonight against the Kings. That just screams “he’s being traded,” and soon.
While the league is in this golden age of point guards, where almost everybody seems to have a good one, there are a couple GMs that are probably salivating over the phone with the Suns for that one missing piece on their teams.
With that being said, here are a couple potential landing spots for Bledsoe:
Bledsoe gets dealt to LA to run the backcourt with rookie Lonzo Ball
Minutes would have to decline across the board for Lonzo Ball, Kentavius Caldwell-Pope, and Jordan Clarkson, but you don’t think head coach Luke Walton would be welcome to adding an All-Star caliber guard to the backcourt rotation? Ivica Zubac has shown glimmers that he could be groomed into a starting big man in this league down the line. Luol Deng’s contract is horrible though, and his departure would lead to more minutes for rookie Kyle Kuzma at the 3, who has been impressive so far. He also won’t have to play behind Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr., who both are more natural power forwards. Magic, make the call.
The Bucks finally make the deal for a point guard
The Bucks are one of the best young teams in the league. Giannis Antetokounmpo looks to be one of the early front-runners for MVP. Khris Middleton is one of the underrated 3-and-D players in the league, and Thon Maker looks to be the rim protector they need, who can also run the floor in transition like Greg Monroe can’t. And when Jabari Parker is on the floor and healthy, he’s almost a given for 20 points a night.
Malcom Brogdon has been impressive so far in his career, even winning last year’s Rookie of the Year award. However, I don’t believe he belongs at the 1 on an NBA starting lineup, and I’m not impressed by Tony Snell either. I believe the better backcourt would be one with Brogdon at the 2 and potentially Bledsoe running the point.
Henson has already been the subject of trade talks, as there just seems to be a struggle for minutes in that frontcourt.
While I know Jason Kidd loves to have the ball in the hands of the Greek Freak, adding a more than capable ball handler would take a great deal of pressure off him to carry the team offensively, especially in the absence of Parker right now. I thin this is a no-brainer for the Bucks.
The Nuggets end the Mudiay experiment, and add another weapon to an already potentially lethal offense
It’s already surprising enough that I’m writing that headline above about a team whose point guard for most of the past three seasons shoots a career 36.9 percentage from the field. However, yes, Emmanuel Mudiay has primarily been the one running the show in Denver since his arrival in 2015 – and it’s time for that to end.
His calling cards coming into the league were his quickness with the ball and playmaking ability. However, neither have quite come to fruition, with a career average of 4.8 APG and the Nuggets coming off a season in which they ranked second-to-last and pace, only ahead of the Kings.
Kenneth Faried has also been an awkward fit on the Kings for some time now, as his 6’8″ frame and inability to stretch the floor or create for his teammates just kinda makes for an odd situation when he’s on the floor sometimes. The addition of Paul Millsap also has him relegated to a bunch of bench time.
The Nuggets came into this season being teased potentially as a breakout offense behind not onlyMillsap, but center Nikola Jokic, wings Wilson Chandler and Will Barton, and sharpshooter Gary Harris and his nice, new, expensive contract.
However, I don’t see this coming to fruition if Mudiay is running the show. I don’t even see this happening if 2nd year point guard Jamal Murray is running the show, as he’s a work in progress. Both he and Mudiay struggle defensively, making the possible acquisition of Eric Bledsoe all the more enticing for GMArtūras Karnišovas & Co.
This wouldn’t quite make them a title contender, but it would be a move in the right direction for a potential playoff berth this season.
The Pacers solve problem for the future of their frontcourt and find backcourt partner for Victor Oladipo
The Pacers are also be an interesting team to watch as these trade talks progress. With the team currently in rebuilding mode, they appear to have two great young prospects at the power forward position in 2nd year player Domantas Sabonis and rookie T.J. Leaf. Preventing them from getting quality minutes? Veteran Thaddeus Young.
While Young has played well for the Pacers, it’s safe to say that the team has a ways to go in a rebuilding process that will most likely not be completed during his best years.
This is all contingent on how much faith the Pacers have in veteran Darren Collision. His contract is two years, just as is Bledsoe’s, Young’s, and Lance Stephenson’s. Stephenson could potentially be a piece in this trade, just to alleviate the demand of minutes from the backcourt.
With all four players only under contract through next season, the risk is low, with the high reward being the development of whoever becomes Myles Turner’s frontcourt partner for the team’s rebuild.
The Bulls cash in potential for a proven starter
Look, I’m all for player development, but there comes a time when you have to suit up guys that can suit up and play at a high level. Kris Dunn and Cameron Payne are both projects in the backcourt, and Bobby Portis, well, if you haven’t heard click here.
The Bulls made the trade in the offseason to deal star Jimmy Butler, in which one of the players they got in return was Zach Lavine. Assuming he recovers well from last season’s ACL tear, the team will look to have him be one of the pieces they build around going forward. How about surprising him when he comes back with a backcourt mate in Eric Bledsoe?
LaVine hasn’t been all that impressive defensively, but Bledsoe should serve as the perfect compliment to such woes. The two wouldn’t make for a bad backcourt pairing offensively either.
Bledsoe’s arrival would add a veteran presence to a team that’s looking to turn around their rebuild sooner than later, and put some fans in stands in the process.