As the stalemate between the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe continues, we need to start taking seriously the option of Bledsoe simply signing this year's qualifying offer ($3.7 million for 2014-15) and becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer.
At the moment, and with no rush to compromise until late September, the Phoenix Suns are holding fast at their 4 year, $48 million offer to Bledsoe, while Bledsoe wants the full max extension of 5 years, $84 million. The Suns are using Bledsoe's restricted free agent status as a barometer of how high to go in contract offers, while Bledsoe doesn't like that.
Let's do some market shopping on those positions.
Bledsoe wants max
Recent point guards who have gotten maximum level extensions at the end of the their fourth NBA season include some of the most talented players in the NBA: John Wall, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving.
Here is a snapshot of their careers to date, compared to Bledsoe.
As you can see, each of the guys who have earned maximum level, 5-year extensions in the past couple of years were starters from day one in the NBA. While each has had their injury issues, some bigger than others, each of these point guards has been the focal point of their team whenever they are on the court.
Bledsoe, on the other hand, should not have that held against him as he was buried behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles for two of his first three seasons. You can't penalize someone on a future contract for being held back in such a manner.
So let's look at just their penultimate season that earned them their max extension. For Bledsoe's max-salary competition, that was the third NBA year for each of these guys.
As you can see by the numbers, each of these players had a heck of a season leading into their maximum extension talks, including Bledsoe. Irving and Wall also had injury issues, but got their max extension anyway, while Rose and Westbrook were two of the best players in the NBA on two of the best teams.
My guess is that Bledsoe's agent is making the comparison to Wall and Irving more than the other two. Bledsoe shoots better than either of them, but doesn't pass the ball as well. Defensively, they are hit and miss, with Wall being the better defender than Irving.
Does Bledsoe compare favorably to these players, when compared to their most important season prior to the contract? Most definitely.
However, it's not as clear as all that.
Other point guard contracts...
The prior section just pointed out the best of the best, in terms of extensions with their teams. Lots of other point guards were drafted and have gotten new contracts as well. Let's compare those point guards' seasons that earned them a new contract, just to see how Bledsoe compares.
As you can see, Bledsoe fits quite snugly into this group of point guards. The outlier might just be Dragic, who didn't start any entire season until after signing his $7.5 million/year contract with the Suns.
Holiday and Lawson both earned $11-12 million per season, while Jennings and Teague garnered just a little bit more than Dragic. Each of those four were starters for most of their first three to four years in the NBA.
That's really quite the disparity in contracts for roughly similar statistics.
Speaking specifically of this summer, the contracts given to point guards have been all over the board for roughly similar statistics.
Irving, as we already discussed, got the max. Lowry got $12 million per year. And Thomas got only $7 million per year.
So where do you slot Bledsoe?
Irving is younger with a presumably brighter future. Lowry is older with a presumably dimmer future, yet Lowry is more durable and proven.
Isaiah Thomas is the same age but generally seen as having already reached his potential and likely at his best as a Sixth Man candidate for a great playoff team, mainly because of his height and defensive limitations.
What's his worth
Bledsoe does have a case for getting a max extension. If Irving can get one, and Wall can get one, then Bledsoe is right in that same company.
Yet the Suns have a case to offer $12 million per year because Bledsoe also compares similarly to Lowry and Lawson and Holiday, who all got money right there or just below.
That's why each side is standing firm. An ideal situation is to meet somewhere in the middle, possibly on fewer years so Bledsoe can get a bigger payday in 2017 in when the new TV contract comes into play.
The Suns have to consider already have Isaiah Thomas, who has put up similar numbers, for $7 million per year and Goran Dragic who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Suns will want to keep all three long term, but breaking the bank on Dragic and Bledsoe would be tough.
Take the qualifying offer?
If the team and Bledsoe can't reach an accord, Bledsoe could take his qualifying offer. However, that's a HUGE risk, not the least of which is that even a max contract next summer would barely exceed the Suns current offer of $48 million through 2018.
*the 2018-19 season is not included in this graph. Bledsoe would certainly get PAID in that season, unless he's had a catastrophic injury, either way.
**this chart assumes a 7.5% raise in the cap and max salaries next summer, something that's been predicted. If the cap does not go up 7.5% to 68 million, then the chart overstates his income potential
As you can see in this graph, by taking just $3.7 million this year it's almost impossible to make more than the Suns are currently offering over the next four years. If the Suns just up their offer another $6 million (to $54 million) over 4 years, there's no way Bledsoe could ever make more money under any long-term contract scenario.
But yet if Bledsoe could get the Suns to give him his max extension with max raises, he'd make $65 million over that span. No wonder he wants the max.
This is why Bledsoe is holding out.
I don't see him taking the qualifying offer simply because an injury could derail any big contract offers next summer. As you can see by the range of contracts given to point guards just in the last two off seasons, it's a total crap shoot to assume you'd get a max offer next summer. The league is flush with point guards right now, and will continue to be.