The calendar has turned to September, marking the final month in which the Eric Bledsoe saga can drag along between him and the Phoenix Suns.
Just like students who wait to cram for a test. Or real estate agents who negotiate over a house. Or NBA front offices who wait until the trade deadline to pull the trigger on that trade that's been talked about for weeks or months.
People always save their best compromise for last, so it's human nature to assume the other side is holding back until they are forced by a deadline. And for that same reason, we hold our own best-and-final offer until the last moment so that we're not negotiating against ourselves.
Such is the situation with the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe.
Neither side wants to give in. Especially since after that it's just waiting until training camp anyway. My wife calls it "eating your liver". If you're going to accept less than your ideal, you don't want a ton of time to sit and think about it afterward.
So we wait.
There are 30 days in September. October 1 is the deadline day on which Bledsoe must sign something in order to play this season without losing money, according to the CBA. But training camp starts on September 30, and they actually leave for Flagstaff on September 29. So his decision could come down to missing a practice or two, which seems petty after all this time.
Right now, he's losing nothing. Players aren't paid during the summer, unless they voluntarily elect that option. Usually, players are paid as the season goes along.
And right now, the Suns are losing nothing. They know that, at the very least, they will have Bledsoe for next season. At the best, they will have a Bledsoe that's under contract for a long, or a big return in a sign-and-trade. But they won't lose him for nothing this season, that's for sure.
Bledsoe does have the option to play somewhere else - such as overseas in Europe or China - but he would still be a restricted free agent all over again when he returns. The Suns would keep his rights. There's no way Bledsoe wants to go through this again.
Bledsoe's fallback is the $3.7 million per year Qualifying Offer. There's risk involved. Any injury could derail his plans for a max contract next summer to make up for what he loses this season.
Here's the recap, again, of what options Bledsoe has on the table to meet or exceed the Suns' current $48 million offer over 4 years.
There are caveats to all these scenarios, of course:
- Suns offer: I just assumed a flat $12 million per year from the Suns, though there are rumors the offer was front-loaded to give Bledsoe more money in the first year than the fourth year. Per the CBA, the numbers can only fluctuate up to 7.5% either direction each year for the "home" team with his Bird Rights and 4.5% per year from any other team.
- Alternate plan MIN: I came up with the minimum starting value Bledsoe would need next summer to ultimately come out even after four years. Someone would have to offer Bledsoe a starting salary of at least $14.1 million with max raises of 4.5% each year. Note: only a handful of NBA point guards make more money than that each season.
- Alternate plan MAX: This is Bledsoe's ideal alternate plan. He takes the QO this season to turn it into a MAX offer from someone next summer. I am assuming a 7.5% increase in the cap next summer. We know it will be bigger, but not exactly by how much yet. But I did read that the league wouldn't want to jump the cap any higher than that from one year to the next.
- There are variations, of course. Bledsoe could sign a three-year offer with the Suns and potentially make a lot more money in 2017-18 on a new contract from them or another team. He could even negotiate a player option after two seasons, technically. Or even one season, as long as its the Suns making that offer. Other teams cannot give him a player option earlier than the third season in a restricted free-agent offer sheet.
Another risk to Bledsoe
Here's another risk at which the Suns placed Bledsoe: the presence of Isaiah Thomas.
If Bledsoe takes the qualifying offer, he returns to a Suns team with no less than three starting-caliber point guards vying for minutes and deserving of 30+ per night. He won't be handed the reins to "earn" his next contract no matter how well he plays, or how much he focuses on himself versus the team.
While the Suns hedged their bets on Bledsoe by signing a replacement in case of injury or non-performance, they also sent a message to Bledsoe that they were not going to throw all their eggs in that one basket.
Bledsoe must consider the fact that Thomas has beaten out all competition in his career, despite the odds against him. He won't acquiesce to a bench role if he's better than Bledsoe. And Thomas has the ideal temperament for coach Hornacek - fighting the odds, willing to do whatever he can to succeed while smiling all the while.
Factor in Goran Dragic not going anywhere, the stellar performance of Gerald Green last season and the likely development of Archie Goodwin, and Bledsoe can see that 35 minutes per night are not guaranteed to him. He has to earn those 35 minutes a night by being better than he's ever been.
Would a team next summer give him $15-16 million per year coming off 28 minutes per night? And what if the Suns underachieve? Look what happened to Lance Stephenson this offseason. His influence on the Pacers was questioned when they underachieved, despite George and Hibbert regressing while Stephenson had the career year.
That's a big risk to Bledsoe if he signs the QO and some of it will be completely out of his control.
He's all in or he's not. He's got to be GREAT if he's going to earn a max contact next summer. There's a lot less pressure if he just takes a long-term deal with the Suns now, even if it's lower than he thinks he deserves. No wonder he's in a foul mood.