Knight's touted qualities grew him into an All-Star candidate and a Suns trade target.

      
 
 

Knight's touted qualities grew him into an All-Star candidate and a Suns trade target.

      
 
 

Everyone was surprised when Isaiah Thomas entered free agency last summer looking for a starting job but ended up taking a contract with the Phoenix Suns to play backup instead.

The Suns insist they told him they wanted to re-sign Bledsoe and keep Dragic long term. Thomas does not dispute that, but has said he still expected to play 30+ minutes and finish games.

Yet he was decidedly less energetic about his role on Media Day than he had been just after signing. That put a bad taste in fans' mouths, who from then on alternated between disliking him for his ball-pounding ways to disliking him for taking touches away from fan favorite Goran Dragic.

The Suns were playing the mad scientist as they continued the asset-collection game during a rebuild. They convinced themselves that a three-headed-monster could work, and in the end it did work - at least on the court. The Suns went on a tear in December/January that justified all the angst.

The good folks at Nylon Calculus did a great feature on the Suns three-headed monster to prove it really was effective when played (only 7% of the time) and that the two-point system is a clear winner in Phoenix.

suns-nylon-calculus

But the players never bought into it, which made failure a self-fulfilling prophecy. As we know, Thomas never liked his reserve role from day one, which put everyone on edge all season long.

Now Thomas is in Boston, thanks to close ties with Danny Ainge who is also in the asset-collection business. He is excited to go to a team he had lead from day one.

"If you've got a basketball and a hoop, I'll fit in," he said of joining the team. "I'm just happy to be somewhere they can appreciate me and hopefully I can make the city fall in love with me."

That sounds familiar to last summer's intro press conference where Thomas said he just wanted to be wanted. But what he really meant was that he just wanted to be wanted... as long as he can start, and get all the minutes he wants, as well.

From day one of training camp and all the way through the season, Thomas made it known he wanted to start. Wanted more minutes. Wanted to finish games.

Finally, the Suns had enough. Lost in the DragonGate shuffle was the move of Thomas to another team - something that had been brewing for a long while.


"I think this year," GM Ryan McDonough said to Bright Side's Bryan Gibberman last Friday. "Certain players are more concerned about their contractual status or what was best for them, rather than what was best for the team. To be honest with you, that led to a lot of the moves we made yesterday."

He wasn't just talking about Goran Dragic, you know. He was also talking about Isaiah Thomas as well. When two of your three point guards are frustrated with touches and playing time all season, it makes for a real grind.

"We tried to clear out the guys who were more concerned with what they did individually," he continued. "Or we felt were more concerned with what they did individually than with team success. I feel like we accomplished this."

Now Thomas has a team to run. And Dragic has a team to run. And Bledsoe has a team to run.

Tonight, Thomas returns to Phoenix to face his former team. Will he have extra motivation to prove anything to the Suns? Or will it just be awkward?

"Just a little bit," he said of it being awkward to play the Suns on Monday night. "But I was only there for a little while so it won't be that awkward. It's gonna be different going against the guys I just practiced with (a few) days ago. I'm excited and hopefully we can get a win."

Here's his first interview after joining the Celtics.

The time has come for Suns fans to get over the Dragon and embrace Eric Bledsoe, who has been ballin' it up and staying away from the drama like he always does.

The dust has settled from an exceptionally tumultuous week for the Phoenix Suns, as the front office decided to nuke their unbalanced and unhappy roster after their hand was forced by the public antics of Goran Dragic. Gone are Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, three of whom have expressed displeasure with their roles on the Suns.

The sulking, pouting fringe-playoff team is now transforming into a group of freewheeling youngsters, which is what a rebuild is supposed to resemble in the first place. After becoming distracted by a brief flirtation with success, the Suns are getting back to work on the foundation as they look to mold their team of the future.

At the epicenter of this recharged rebuild is a man of few words, who lets his play do the talking and leaves himself out of the spotlight otherwise. You don't see him on commercials, he doesn't give many soundbites, and he doesn't have a core of obsessed fans that follow him wherever he goes.

He is Eric Bledsoe -- the Phoenix Suns' best player and currently the central building block -- and it's time the fans gave him his due respect.

During Bledsoe's career, he has been second-fiddle to John Wall at Kentucky, backup to Chris Paul in Los Angeles, and has shared duties with Goran Dragic in Phoenix. When Bledsoe underwent knee surgery in January 2014, Dragic exploded and achieved All-NBA status while winning the Most Improved Player award. As a result, Bledsoe's contributions were heavily overlooked despite the fact that he put up nearly identical numbers to Dragic when both were healthy and established himself as a premier defender to boot.

Through all of this, Bledsoe has never complained. He just plays.

(And he plays pretty damn well, detailed here in Jim Coughenour's recent article that Bledsoe himself was a fan of)

When he entered restricted free agency in the summer of 2014, he and his agent Rich Paul refrained from negotiating with the Suns all the way until late-September. He didn't miss a day of training camp, yet his actions were described as a "holdout".

He was criticized for not spending any time in Phoenix, despite the fact that as a free agent he did not have access to the Suns' practice facilities. (Plus it's murderously hot in Phoenix during the summer, remember?)

He made a single benign statement about the Suns "using a restricted free agent against him" that was taken far out of context and turned into a sensationalist headline.

There were no reports about him wanting to play anywhere but Phoenix aside from a few popcorn-fart trade rumors, yet it was widely speculated that he wasn't a Sun at heart.

Through it all, he kept himself in excellent shape and when training camp started he did what he always does: he played ball.

No more, no less.

How is it that Dragic has been often praised for his humility, but never Bledsoe?

With the ugly allegations of selfishness and dishonesty thrown around the organization in the past week, the Suns have to be grateful that they are moving forward with Bledsoe up front and center -- the man who seemingly never makes it about himself and always gives you exactly what you paid for.

He's one of the few players in the NBA that can make an impact from any spot on the court -- either by pestering opposing guards in the backcourt, or by attacking the paint on offense, or swooping in for one of his Superman blocks, or wrestling rebounds away from dudes a foot taller than him -- and is the embodiment of the high-motor, two-way player that Ryan McDonough loves.

We need to love him, too. He doesn't have Dragic's 'European Opie' thing going for him, and he isn't extroverted and vocal like P.J. Tucker, but he sets an excellent example by letting his play do the talking and cutting out all the fat. With fellow youngsters Alex Len and newly acquired Brandon Knight, we're finally beginning to see a roster truly assembled in McDonough's likeness. Imagine a matured team full of two-way players that hound every possession and scratch for every point, but never make it about themselves individually.

Let Bledsoe be the guiding light, and let us all keep in mind that he is just as much a Phoenix Sun as any other player who has come through lately, if not more so.

Frankly, he deserves better from us.

While we all make the mistake of getting too attached to players, Suns fans have embraced Bledsoe about as warmly as they would a rented sofa. As we all struggle to cope with the soap opera that has engulfed our beloved team recently, let us be grateful that the man leading the charge from here on out has shown himself to be the antithesis of dramatic storylines and grandstanding antics, and let the entire organization reflect that as they build the next generation of Suns basketball.

Just play ball.

No more, no less.

The Phoenix Suns rightly decided it was time to reboot a team that had lost 5 of 6 games and had one of their best players demand a trade.

And reboot they did.

Basically, the Suns kicked the rebuild can down the road a few paces. They traded one unrestricted free agent (Dragic) and four multi-year contracts for one restricted free agent (Knight), an unrestricted (Thornton) and a release/stretch candidate (Granger).

Four days ago, they projected to have no money to spend on outside free agents this summer with the cap hold on Goran Dragic and multi-year contracts on Thomas, Zoran, Plumlee and Ennis. They would only have had the mid-level exception provided to all teams over the cap, which would have been the case with the Dragic and Green cap holds.

Now, the Suns will have a good deal of cash to spend when a lot of big names hit free agency. Basically, they are starting the 2014 summer over again, beginning in July.

salary-cap-update-0222

Without cap holds this summer, the Suns could have nearly $22 million to spend in free agency, even if the cap does NOT rise. But many assume the cap will be artificially increased to avoid the windfall effect a year later. Assuming the cap jumps up to smooth out the transition to the new revenue the next season, the Suns would even have more to spend.

Brandon Knight's cap hold is just under $9 million. That reduces spending power on the Suns' part, unless they let him go. Gerald Green's is $6.65 million, while Marcus Thornton's is a whopping $12.2 million and Brandan Wright's is $9.5 million. Expect both Green and Thornton to be renounced and off the cap before free agency starts. Each could be re-signed as regular free agents if the Suns desire to use other exceptions on them, just without the cap hold predicating the signings. Not sure yet on Wright.

Brandon Knight is a restricted free agent. He turned down $9 million/year last summer in a contract extension offer from Milwaukee and has played a bit better this year than he did a year ago. In this inflating market, he should command $12-15 million per year in a new contract.

With TV revenues going up so much, the cap is expected to rise by up to 50% in the next two or three years. That means salaries will rise as well. Bledsoe was paid partially because of that increasing cap, and so will Knight.

As a side benefit, by sending out three rotation players (Dragic, Plumlee, Thomas), the Suns can now find time to play Brandan Wright and the kids in the second half to see if they are ready for rotation spots long term.

Again, the Suns look to have hit the reboot button on the off season. Let's see if they handle it better this summer than they did last summer.

Last summer, they entered free agency with a high-profile restricted free agent (Bledsoe) and lots of spending money. They tried to swing for the fences to bring in LeBron James and maybe a Chris Bosh along with him before re-signing Bledsoe to make the perfect summer.

But in retrospect it couldn't have gone much worse for the Suns. While waiting out the big cheeses, they lost a key rotation player (Channing Frye) and alienated their RFA (Bledsoe). Then they signed the wrong insurance plan (Isaiah Thomas) when they were bypassed by all the big names.

This year, they will have yet another high-profile RFA (Knight) and lots of spending money.

Will they shoot for the moon again, going after a big name unrestricted players such as C Marc Gasol or C DeAndre Jordan or PF Paul Millsap or C Greg Monroe? LeBron James and Kevin Love will both be technically free agents as well.

Or will they get a restricted free agent to sign an offer sheet for max money, such as SF Jimmy Butler (Bulls) or SF Draymond Green (Warriors) or PF Tobias Harris (Magic) or SF Kawhi Leonard (Spurs)?

Or, will the Suns aim lower at players such as SF DeMarre Carroll (Atlanta), SG Wesley Matthews (Blazers), C Robin Lopez (Blazers), SG Danny Green (Spurs), SG Khris Middleton (Bucks) or C Kosta Koufos (Grizzlies)?

Or will they look to the trade market, knowing their biggest needs are clear upgrades in the front court and most of the free agent options are either staying with their current clubs or not enough upgrade for the price to pay?

Who knows. But at least the Suns aren't locked into a perennial playoff-bubble team as they were just a few days ago.

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