There is still plenty of time for Eric Bledsoe and the Phoenix Suns to reach an amicable agreement on Bledsoe's contract, but both sides appear dug into their current positions. Bledsoe made his first public statement on the ongoing negotiations today, and his words tell the story of a man who hates the game, not the player.
Eric Bledsoe doesn't have the most gregarious, dynamic personality, so it's no surprise he had said nothing as his contract negotiations entered their fourth week. He broke that silence today while attending a street ball tournament in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. According to Birmingham WVTM sports reporter Kyle Burger:
"First off I'm going to let my agent handle it," Bledsoe said, while attending a "Ball Up" street ball tournament in Birmingham. "I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using a restricted free agent against me. But I understand that."
Here is the video, if you want to see for yourself:
Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL
As we've discussed at length here on BSotS, these negotiations have gone exactly as prescribed by the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement. Bledsoe had the opportunity to shop his services and solicit an offer, but no offers came. The Suns are reported to be offering a 4 year/$48M contract to Bledsoe, but he's holding out for more and is said to be asking for the maximum, 5 years/$80M.
From an objective viewpoint, 4/$48M seems fair. It matches what the Raptors signed Kyle Lowry for, and Lowry's an underrated player. I'd say he's the Raptors best player and leader, which can't be said of Bledsoe and the Suns. Sure, Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons were overpaid in the RFA process, and I can see where Bledsoe might be bothered by that, but the market had their cracks at him. With no offers, or teams who can even offer what he's asking for, he holds little leverage.
The leverage he does possess includes only negative, lose-lose measures such as signing his qualifying offer for one year, not playing at all, or playing overseas. Extremely unlikely, but there's a reason the phrase "cutting off one's nose to spite their face" exists. It's because people sometimes do it. Still, I seriously doubt it comes to that.
So, all fair, right? The process played out, and Bledsoe is left with a contract offer that seems reasonable. But Bledsoe still isn't ready to sign, and is unhappy with the result. Some have speculated that he doesn't love playing for the Suns, but if he's asking for a 5-year contract, that contract will make him a member of the Suns for his prime. Doesn't sound like a guy looking for a different team to me.
No, he's upset because, although things have played out exactly as they should have under the current rules, he simply doesn't like the rules. It's a rage against the machine, if you will, and I somewhat understand. Bledsoe's a free agent, but he really isn't. He can go negotiate with other teams, yet they know the Suns still hold the trump card. If he were truly a free agent, and his salary and the salary total of teams weren't arbitrarily capped, how much would Bledsoe make?
I support the concept of a salary cap for the objective of competitive balance but, if I'm a player, I'm asking, "Where is the cap on owners' profits? Why can a horrible person and owner like Donald Sterling make boatloads of money even though he's managed his team incompetently by all accounts? Where's the cap on that?"
In the 2011 NBA lockout, owners squeezed the players hard for concessions. Although the players were able to stave off some of the owner's demands, the owners still routed the players in the deal. Owners complained that teams were losing money, and now we see franchises valued higher than ever before, so what gives?
I'm confident that Bledsoe and the Suns will settle before training camp, and the other half of the Suns explosive backcourt combo will be back in purple and orange, but this situation is revealing labor relations problems down the road for the NBA. Say what you will about Bledsoe's agent Rich Paul, but he also represents basketball's best, most marketable and most powerful player in LeBron James.
If LeBron wants to use his muscle, through his representative, to effectively protest the conditions of the CBA, there is more labor discord on the horizon.