This is as good a time as any to look back on the moments over the course of the Suns’ recent history that led to today. Perhaps the biggest inflection point during the team’s decade-long rebuild was the trade that sent Eric Bledsoe to Milwaukee in November 2017.
In return, the Suns fetched a future first-round draft pick (as well as a second-round pick that never transferred) and Greg Monroe, whom they moved on from the next summer for nothing. That pick was ultimately used by the Suns to acquire Aron Baynes and Ty Jerome on draft night, adding nicely to the return for Bledsoe.
As a member of the Bucks, Bledsoe has settled into a smaller role, taking off the high-usage play-maker suit he wore in Phoenix. Still, Bledsoe has been near an All-Star level, and his defense has returned to the elite level he played at as a youngster with the Clippers. Bledsoe made the difficult transition from a high-volume, fairly efficient scorer to a high-level role player on a great team. Not many players can stomach the pride of individual stats and buy into team basketball.
Of course, Bledsoe all has flamed out in the playoffs in each of the past two years. In 15 playoff games last summer, Bledsoe shot 41 percent from the field for Milwaukee and lost his role to George Hill. The team has reportedly listened to trade calls on Bledsoe.
With the benefit of hindsight, and having seen how Bledsoe’s career played out so far in Milwaukee, have Suns fans forgiven the incredibly fun guard who once was seen as the missing piece of the 2013-14 team that won 48 games?
It’s worth recapping the timeline of Bledsoe’s time in Phoenix first.
June 2013: Bledsoe is traded in the final year of his rookie contract to the Suns
January 2014: Bledsoe undergoes knee surgery and misses more than two months
April 2014: The Suns win on the final night of the 2013-14 season, but it’s not enough to make the playoffs
July 2014: Ryan McDonough signs Isaiah Thomas, creating a doomed backcourt tandem that would be blown up in less than a year
February 2015: McDonough trades both Thomas and Goran Dragic, receiving Brandon Knight in return
December 2015: Bledsoe undergoes surgery for a torn meniscus and misses the rest of the season
March 2017: Bledsoe, amid an All-Star caliber season, is shut down so the Suns can tank
November 2017: Bledsoe tweets “I Dont wanna be here” and McDonough trades him
We can all agree the tweet wasn’t the most professional thing in the world. But who could blame Bledsoe? He was traded to a new franchise just before he was set to sign a new contract, then alternated between injuries and poorly executed plans that led to him being benched in his prime so the Suns could tank. Before Devin Booker, it was Bledsoe whom Suns fans clamored was underrated league-wide and deserved All-Star consideration before he got it.
Though I also believed Bledsoe should have been in the 2017 All-Star conversation, the role he’s settled into in Milwaukee is perfect. Few guards in the NBA are better defensively, and he doesn’t have to do too much on offense. It’s going to get tight again in the playoffs, undoubtedly, but then again the Suns never would have given him the chance to even play in the postseason.
Bucks fans have their own gripes with Bledsoe, but Suns fans have nothing to complain about. I’m sure there are many who held no vendetta against Bledsoe in the first place, but there were many as well who felt frustrated by the way he left. It seemed as if Rich Paul never forgave McDonough for the way the contract negotiations played out in 2014 — that Bledsoe was never fully committed.
Still, the same fans who are angry about all that would criticize McDonough for not putting players like T.J. Warren or Dragan Bender in position to succeed. It can’t go both ways. The organization was toxic for Bledsoe just as it was toxic for the young players who flamed out. Bledsoe was just the one to state it plainly.
I hope Suns fans will celebrate a championship for Bledsoe and the Bucks this year. In many ways, he really was Booker before Booker (if not as good), in the way he entertained us nightly and played consistently at a high level. Like many stars, he took his future into his own hands, and the Suns were able to engineer a trade for him. There was never a path toward winning in Phoenix, even if he would have been a perfect backcourt mate for Booker.
“I Dont wanna be here” will always be legendary, and some people will be put off by it. But Bledsoe’s departure was a symptom, not a cause, of what was wrong with the Suns, and getting rid of him was perhaps a first step toward building the team that improved this year. When you think of Bledsoe, think of him fulfilling his potential in Milwaukee. Think of Jerome and Baynes. It worked out the best for both parties.