Just like GM Ryan McDonough and President Lon Babby said at the end of the season media conference, McDonough repeated again to azcentral.com/sports reporter Paul Coro in recent days.
The Phoenix Suns want to sign restricted free agents P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe to new deals before they are forced to sign offers from other teams.
"We'll try to do that as soon as possible and not let it get to the point where you'd have to get an offer and we'd match it," Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said.
The big issues are money and timing.
After making a grand total of $3.5 million between them in 2013-14, restricted free agents P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe could command as much as $20.8 million between them in 2014-15 ($15.5 million for Bledsoe, $5.3 million for Tucker). That's just under 1/3 of the salary cap. Ouch.
Together, the two accounted for just over 25% of the team's scoring, rebounding and assists per game while playing 25% of the team's total minutes per game.
That's roughly 33% of the cap for 25% of the major stats each game. Where they become more valuable than simple stats is that they are also two of the team's best defenders and can play very effectively in the same lineup.
Of course, the Suns would prefer to agree to contracts that total less than 30% of next year's cap, and will likely open the bidding to the two restricted free agents at much lower numbers, like $10 million per year to Bledsoe and $3 million per year to Tucker.
The problem is the 29 other teams.
Timing, Part 1
Once July 1 hits, every team in the league can offer contracts to P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe. But will they?
Tucker's likely max is the midlevel exception, since he's viewed as a playoff contributor rather than a building block for a young team. I don't see a team with cap space like Philadelphia spending more than the midlevel just to secure Tucker's services.
A full midlevel deal from another team is 4 years at $22.6 million, starting at $5.3 million with 4.5% raises each year (based on the year one salary).
For Bledsoe, the maximum salary he can command as a 4 year veteran is 25% of the salary cap, which is projected at $62 million this year. That's a starting salary of $15.5 million, with a 4-year total of $66 million. That "mini max" might seem high to you, but that's how the CBA is defined.
While I can see Tucker getting a full MLE offer because his game profiles to other players in the same income bracket, I have a hard time seeing another team offering Bledsoe the full mini-max.
But as the old saying goes, all it takes is one.
So it's no surprise that the Suns would like to head off a bidding war before it starts. The Suns will begin negotiations with each player on July 1 just like every suitor. Throughout negotiations, the Suns will be likely presented with counter-offers from each player's agent and will have to decide how serious those offers are.
Would another team really write up an RFA offer that high, or is the agent just trying to make the Suns bid against themselves?
That's the big question.
Four years ago, Channing Frye was a free agent the Suns wanted to retain. Per Amin Elhassan on a recent podcast, the Suns thought they had Frye ready to re-sign for a reasonable amount until another team offered him a great deal more. The Suns had a up their offer, and Frye stayed for a whopping 5 years, $30 million with a player option.
Frye was an unrestricted free agent, while Tucker and Bledsoe are restricted free agents.
The Suns can conceivably wait until another team makes the formal offer, writes it up, gets the player to sign and forces the Suns to yay/nay within three days. The Trailblazers did it with Nicolas Batum in 2012. The Pacers with Roy Hibbert. And the Hornets/Pelicans with Eric Gordon. All that same summer.
The problem with that path is the potential for ill will with the player, making them force the Suns to match something they don't want to match. Things worked out fine for Batum and Hibbert, but Gordon and the Pelicans were never the same. But in each case, the player was forced to make a decision and choose another team before staying with their incumbent.
More likely, if the Suns and the players' agents trust each other enough, the Suns will get a chance to make the same offer to Bledsoe/Tucker that's been suggested by another team before the dreaded offer sheet. Per Amin in a podcast with Bright Side this spring, team's generally get that chance to usurp the RFA offer with their own. This practice is common, and an example why other teams don't always like to "do all the work".
The only way this doesn't happen is if (a) the Suns simply don't believe the "other team" really wants to pay that much or (b) the Suns believe the offer but just don't want to pay it unless they absolutely have to.
With Tucker, whose been adamant that he wants to stay, I can see the ideal scenario playing out where the Suns end up making the deal directly with Tucker after he hears interest from other teams.
With Bledsoe, the situation might get trickier. He's going to want to make the most money possible, especially with the lingering concerns over his knee. His agent will see this year as the prime opportunity to get "overpaid" and won't take an early offer he doesn't like.
Timing, Part 2
The other aspect of these negotiations, which could go on for weeks despite the Suns best intentions, is the rest of free agency and trade season.
It's in the Suns best interest to drag out negotiations with Bledsoe and Tucker because their 2014-15 salaries will far exceed their cap holds while negotiations are underway. Their aggregate cap hold is only $9.4 million total, or about half what their salaries will add up to.
That cap hold will leave the Suns with nearly $20 million to spend in free agency UNTIL those two players sign new contracts. It's not about when the contracts are verbally agreed to. It's when they (or the RFA offer sheet) are signed. Until then, the cap hold is the cap hold.
The Suns could conceivably use up all that cap space ($20 million) in trades and free agency and then exceed the cap for Bledsoe and Tucker, as long as neither signs an RFA offer before all the heavy lifting is done.
It's all about the timing.