The dust has settled from an exceptionally tumultuous week for the Phoenix Suns, as the front office decided to nuke their unbalanced and unhappy roster after their hand was forced by the public antics of Goran Dragic. Gone are Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, three of whom have expressed displeasure with their roles on the Suns.
The sulking, pouting fringe-playoff team is now transforming into a group of freewheeling youngsters, which is what a rebuild is supposed to resemble in the first place. After becoming distracted by a brief flirtation with success, the Suns are getting back to work on the foundation as they look to mold their team of the future.
At the epicenter of this recharged rebuild is a man of few words, who lets his play do the talking and leaves himself out of the spotlight otherwise. You don't see him on commercials, he doesn't give many soundbites, and he doesn't have a core of obsessed fans that follow him wherever he goes.
He is Eric Bledsoe -- the Phoenix Suns' best player and currently the central building block -- and it's time the fans gave him his due respect.
During Bledsoe's career, he has been second-fiddle to John Wall at Kentucky, backup to Chris Paul in Los Angeles, and has shared duties with Goran Dragic in Phoenix. When Bledsoe underwent knee surgery in January 2014, Dragic exploded and achieved All-NBA status while winning the Most Improved Player award. As a result, Bledsoe's contributions were heavily overlooked despite the fact that he put up nearly identical numbers to Dragic when both were healthy and established himself as a premier defender to boot.
Through all of this, Bledsoe has never complained. He just plays.
(And he plays pretty damn well, detailed here in Jim Coughenour's recent article that Bledsoe himself was a fan of)
When he entered restricted free agency in the summer of 2014, he and his agent Rich Paul refrained from negotiating with the Suns all the way until late-September. He didn't miss a day of training camp, yet his actions were described as a "holdout".
He was criticized for not spending any time in Phoenix, despite the fact that as a free agent he did not have access to the Suns' practice facilities. (Plus it's murderously hot in Phoenix during the summer, remember?)
He made a single benign statement about the Suns "using a restricted free agent against him" that was taken far out of context and turned into a sensationalist headline.
There were no reports about him wanting to play anywhere but Phoenix aside from a few popcorn-fart trade rumors, yet it was widely speculated that he wasn't a Sun at heart.
Through it all, he kept himself in excellent shape and when training camp started he did what he always does: he played ball.
No more, no less.
How is it that Dragic has been often praised for his humility, but never Bledsoe?
With the ugly allegations of selfishness and dishonesty thrown around the organization in the past week, the Suns have to be grateful that they are moving forward with Bledsoe up front and center -- the man who seemingly never makes it about himself and always gives you exactly what you paid for.
He's one of the few players in the NBA that can make an impact from any spot on the court -- either by pestering opposing guards in the backcourt, or by attacking the paint on offense, or swooping in for one of his Superman blocks, or wrestling rebounds away from dudes a foot taller than him -- and is the embodiment of the high-motor, two-way player that Ryan McDonough loves.
We need to love him, too. He doesn't have Dragic's 'European Opie' thing going for him, and he isn't extroverted and vocal like P.J. Tucker, but he sets an excellent example by letting his play do the talking and cutting out all the fat. With fellow youngsters Alex Len and newly acquired Brandon Knight, we're finally beginning to see a roster truly assembled in McDonough's likeness. Imagine a matured team full of two-way players that hound every possession and scratch for every point, but never make it about themselves individually.
Let Bledsoe be the guiding light, and let us all keep in mind that he is just as much a Phoenix Sun as any other player who has come through lately, if not more so.
Frankly, he deserves better from us.
While we all make the mistake of getting too attached to players, Suns fans have embraced Bledsoe about as warmly as they would a rented sofa. As we all struggle to cope with the soap opera that has engulfed our beloved team recently, let us be grateful that the man leading the charge from here on out has shown himself to be the antithesis of dramatic storylines and grandstanding antics, and let the entire organization reflect that as they build the next generation of Suns basketball.
Just play ball.
No more, no less.