Nine years ago, in the fall of 2004, the Suns failed to reach an extension with young Joe Johnson, who ultimately left the next summer after playing his way into a max contract while the Suns rose from the bottom to the top of the heap.

Years later, managing partner Robert Sarver confessed that failing to resign Joe Johnson that summer was his biggest regret.

Sound familiar?

Now the Suns have decided to roll the dice on young Eric Bledsoe, who will get every opportunity to play his way into a max contract extension of his own. Bledsoe's value is difficult to assess, much like Joe Johnson's was in the summer of 2004. Lots of talent, but little body of evidence to prove a huge contract.

Recalling Joe Johnson

While most fans remember the summer of 2005 when Johnson begged and forced his way to Atlanta on a max contract, the die was cast the summer before in a contentious extension negotiation gone bad.

Coming off a 29-54 season with rookie coach Mike D'Antoni leading a ragtag group of kids, new managing partner Robert Sarver decided to go "almost all in" to buy a quick winner in 2004. He committed more than $115 million dollars to two free agents before July was out: point guard Steve Nash and small forward Quentin Richardson.

Nash was a former All-Star with major pedigree but a balky back, while Q was coming off a 17-point, 6-rebound per 36 minute season in which he made 35% of his threes.

The contracts were lucrative. Much bigger than their incumbent teams, Dallas and the Clippers respectively, ever wanted to offer. Big spenders indeed. Nash and Q would supplement a talented young core of Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson and Leandro Barbosa to hopefully make the playoffs.

That summer, 22-year old 6'7" shooting guard Joe Johnson was eligible for an extension beginning the next season.

The 2003-04 season, Johnson's third year in the league, saw Johnson start 77 of 82 games and produce 14.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per 36 minutes. A solid all-around player, Johnson made only 30% of his three-pointers and hadn't yet to show superstar abilities.

The way the Suns saw it, Q gave them more production (more points, rebounds, shooting %) for less money ($6 million per year) than Joe Johnson wanted ($10 million per year).

With Shawn Marion already making $12+ million a year, $115 million invested in Nash and Q, and young buck Amare Stoudemire waiting impatiently for a max extension the next summer, the Suns decided that Joe Johnson was just not an eight-figure player.

The Suns reportedly offered only $9 million per year that summer - still a very good contract - but Johnson was reportedly offended by the nature of the negotiations as well as the dollar amount and rejected it. He later stewed and simmered his way off the island, all while the Suns surprised the league with a 62-20 record and WCF appearance as one of the league's youngest teams.

Despite being the team's 4th-most talented player even a year later, behind Nash, Marion and Stoudemire, Joe Johnson was offered a max contract by the desperate Atlanta Hawks while Q was traded to the Knicks for Kurt Thomas.

In the end, the Suns should have left Q in LA and signed Johnson to $10 million per year, but you can understand how that wasn't so clear in 2004. Back then, Q promised more productivity for less money while Johnson hadn't yet scratched the surface of his superior talent. Plus, he would only be a restricted free agent the next summer. What could go wrong?

Fast forward: Eric Bledsoe

Now the Suns face the same dilemma again, albeit under completely different collateral circumstances.

While Eric Bledsoe compares favorably to the Joe Johnson summer-of-2004 situation (uber-talented but not yet proven as a star), the Phoenix Suns didn't just back the Brinks truck up the driveway of each of his teammates.

Bledsoe could very well have a season in 2013-14 like Joe Johnson did on 2004-05, where he ascended from pretty good to pretty great during his fourth season as he enters restricted free agency.

  • Bledsoe's per-36 in his third year: 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists
  • Johnson's per-36 in his third year: 14.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists

The only difference was that Johnson played twice the minutes that Bledsoe played, giving Johnson's numbers a lot more substance.

Still, their situations are quite similar. And the Phoenix Suns apparently made the same decision each time - don't offer too much money to a guy not guaranteed to be worth it. Plus, they are just restricted free agents the next summer, so what could go wrong?

The difference

The biggest difference between Johnson's situation and Bledsoe's is the tangental circumstances.

Johnson tried to negotiate a projection-based deal (otherwise known as potential overpayment) in the middle of a cash-storm where the owner was staring two max contracts (Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire) and two high-dollar contracts (Nash, Q) in the face while they were coming off a 29-54 season.

That's nearly $300 million committed to four players not named Johnson to play for a team hoping to win more games than they lost.

The Suns of 2013-14 have no such surrounding talent. While $10+ million per year is still potentially an overpayment to Bledsoe, it's not like the Suns couldn't match a max offer this time if Bledsoe earns it.

When Johnson got his max offer in 2005, Sarver knew he was still just the 4th best player on the Suns roster.

But if Bledsoe gets a max offer in 2014, there's no such hierarchy. And other teams know it.

Back in 2005, Atlanta knew they had a good chance to get Johnson, and still even gave up Boris Diaw and two #1 picks to seal the deal.

But in 2014, other teams know the Suns have no better place to put their money than 24-year old Eric Bledsoe. That will limit the offers, considering that ties up your free agent money for three long days. And even if someone rolls the dice, the Suns have more than enough room to match.

So while Eric Bledsoe's situation compares to Joe Johnson's, there is less of a chance of this one ending badly.

More importantly, the Suns need to make sure Bledsoe is still on the same page with them, rather than stewing over failed negotiations.

"It was completely professional, not acrimonious," Lon Babby said to Paul Coro last night. "Everyone understood the task was a difficult one because of the nature of the circumstances and the context of restricted free agency."

That's a good start.

More from Bright Side Of The Sun:

As has been conjectured for months, the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe were unable to come to terms on a contract extension, per Paul Coro of

There was no word of the details of the talks, but speculation is that Bledsoe's camp wanted starter money while the Suns would have been basing their offer on a combination of predictions and expectations rather than past performance.

Bledsoe, who scored 22 points with 7 rebounds and 6 assists in the opener for the Suns, would have made almost twice Dragic's salary next season if the Suns would have paid Bledsoe money similar to Ty Lawson or Stephen Curry for example.

Bledsoe now will be a restricted free agent next summer, free to receive offers from any other team with the cap room to sign him. The Suns will have the right to match the offer though, and no restricted free agent has been signed away from his team against their wishes to date.

More from Bright Side Of The Sun:

The Suns and Eric Bledsoe failed to agree on a contract extension by midnight Eastern Time on Halloween, meaning the Phoenix guard will become a restricted free agent after the 2013-14 season....

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This kid is for real! Miles Plumlee dominated in his first career start. Check out this video of his Suns debut and NBA coming out party!

In a vacuum the season debut of the Phoenix Suns showed numerous positive trends. This game was an indication of how exciting this team can be, how much fun they can have running up-and-down the court, and how many new faces are going to surprise us nightly.

The team jumped all over the Trail Blazers and their energy was never matched throughout the game.

Miles Plumlee Coming Out Party

That energy was newfound after last season. Flash back to the beginning of the 2012-2013 season for the Suns scraped and clawed to an 87-85 loss to the Golden State Warriors. It was a game that was not something the franchise was used to with a slow pace, methodical defensive intent, and overall an ugly brand of basketball. Luis Scola (15 points 11 rebounds) and Michael Beasley (8 points 4 rebounds) had forgetful debuts that led to a one-and-done tenure with the team.

Overall the underlying difference between an exciting 104-91 victory versus an ugly loss like last season was the very impressionable first impressions by a few of the teams new faces.

For his career Miles Plumlee had totaled, 13 points 22 rebounds and 3 blocks in 55 minutes -- yes, totaled. He did not have a lot of opportunity as a rookie with the Pacers behind two All-Star caliber players in the front-court. He was not part of the regular rotation. When the team acquired Plumlee this summer General Manager Ryan McDonough referenced him as, "one of the best five players" at the Orlando Summer League.

The athletic rebounding big man, and lesser thought of brother in a Plumlee trio that includes Nets rookie Mason Plumlee and Duke sophomore Marshall Plumlee.

In the first nine minutes of the game Plumlee snuck free under the rim for an easy dunk, isolated on the right block for a bank hook, and then followed that up with another isolation on the left lock for a sweeping hook. A few plays later he worked the two man game with Eric Bledsoe for the first highlight of the season on an ally-oop dunk. Mix in two blocks and six rebounds and Plumlee had a first quarter to be remembered with 10 points 6 rebounds and 2 blocks.

For the game Plumlee finished with 18 points 15 rebounds and 3 blocks in 40 minutes.

That is five more points, seven fewer rebounds, and a career total match in blocks. It is not outside the realm of possibility that in his next 15 minutes of action that Plumlee exceeds his rebounding total from last year and continues on a career resurgence path that could be a highlight of the overall season.

Looking back at recent years with all the big men the team has introduced this is a performance that out did the likes of Shawn Marion (14 points 14 rebounds 2 blocks in 35 minutes), Jake Tsakalidis (0pts, 2rebs, 1blk in 4min), Jake Voskuhl (8pts 7rebs 1blk in 16min), Amare Stoudemire (10pts 6rebs 0blks in 20min), Boris Diaw (7pts 4rebs 1blk in 24 min), and Shaquille O'Neal (15pts 9rebs 2blks in 29min). All of those former Suns big men opened up their career with average debuts and losses, expect for Big Jake, who was a part of a win off the bench.

Plumlee outscored, out-rebounded, out-blocked, out-hustled, and overall out-performed every Suns big man over the past 15 years.

His energy and effort sparked the team and led to a 30 point out-burst in the first quarter.

Eric Bledsoe was not to be out done in his debut. The shiny new engine that was brought in to drive the Suns on both ends of the floor came out slow, but closed the game strong. His attacking style led to four trips to the free-throw line for easy points to help close out the game, something the team did not have last season. For the game Bledsoe finished with 22 points 6 assists 7 rebounds and one steal in 39 minutes.

Of the primary point guards in the franchise history, Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Stephon Marbury, and now Goran Dragic, this was the most impressive.

Both Dragic and Nash had initial debuts and rebirth debuts for the Suns, for them, let's focus on the former. In Nash's case he debuted with a win and 12 points 4 assists and 2 steals. It was the first game on his way to an MVP season. Dragic came in the second time with a tough loss and 17 points 8 assists and 3 steals. They each had an impact early.

Kidd (6pts 9asts 7rebs 3stls in 20min) came in mid-season, like Johnson (4pts 5asts 1stl in 25min), and they had average debuts.

Only Marbury had a clean slate for his first impression with the team. His 14pts 10asts 1stl in 33min did not lead to a win, or a long tenure, but was arguably the most impressive debut for a point guard with the Suns in the last 23 years.

Who would have knew that the the recipe for the 2013-2014 Suns to be successful was to have the single most exciting debut for a big man and a point guard. These are both players that were hand picked by McDonough to be a part of the future of the team with their athleticism and skill. They each brought the energy and intensity that was required to win, in a vacuum, and going forward if they find consistency, this Suns team could be a pleasant surprise.

This season will be patched together by great, albeit surprising, performances from individuals. Who had the better overall debut?

The answer is deeper than an individual performance. The best rookie performance was a collection of Plumlee inside, Bledsoe on the perimeter, McDonough in the front office, Hornacek on the sideline, and -- even more-so important and worth talking about -- the culture that is now emanating throughout the arena after just one game.

The Suns are exciting again, no matter the wins and losses, they are just simply exciting thanks to a collection of promising debuts.

More from Bright Side Of The Sun:

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