Eric Bledsoe, Jeff Hornacek, Goran Dragic

Report: Eric Bledsoe-Suns ‘relationship is on the express lane to being ruined’


The Suns are using restricted free agency against Eric Bledsoe.

That’s no secret. It’s a reality of the situation.

Bledsoe knows this, which surely leaves him feeling a little helpless as July turns to August and he remains unsigned.

I feel for Bledsoe, who’s in a tough spot, but he’s not the first restricted free agent to get stuck, and he won’t be the last. The Collective Bargaining Agreement sometimes gives teams a lot of leverage over players, and this is one of those cases.

There’s nothing to do except whine.

Really. That can actually be a solution.

If the Suns think Bledsoe is unhappy enough, they might offer a bigger contract in order preserve harmony and keep Bledsoe devoted to winning. An employer paying to keep its employees happy is not unreasonable.

So, Bledsoe or his agent, Rich Paul, or someone else in Bledsoe’s camp is pushing this angry agenda.

Chris Haynes of CSN Northwest:

According to league sources, an “ominous development” has arisen with sides still “very far apart” in contract negotiations. It has even escalated to the point where the “relationship is on the express lane to being ruined,” a source with knowledge of the situation informed

The Suns offered Bledsoe a four-year, $48 million deal with declining salaries each year, two sources said. That proposal was quickly turned down. Bledsoe’s camp is putting a max price tag on the player Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek called “a Top-10 player in the NBA in coming years”, another source said.

However, the effort by the Suns to undermine Bledsoe’s market is what has angered Bledsoe and his reps and led to a standoff in which the relationship is now on the verge of being irreparable, we’re told.

Other teams that are/were in the process of dealing with their own restricted free agents (Utah, Detroit, Houston) chose not to use the public scare tactics this summer, another factor that has Bledsoe feeling chilly at the thought of a return to the desert, sources say.

The difference between a four-year max contract and a $48 million contract is $14,965,420 – a hefty chunk of change.

Unfortunately for Bledsoe, he has little recourse here.

The Suns are well within their rights to dissuade teams from signing him to an offer sheet. The Jazz actually threatened to match any Gordon Hayward offer (which they did), and the Pistons have sent softer signals for Greg Monroe.

If Bledsoe doesn’t want to accept $48 million, he could always accept the $3,726,966 qualifying offer. That one-year contract would make him an unrestricted free agent next summer, though he’d be extremely underpaid this season.

It also screws the Suns, who couldn’t trade Bledsoe without his consent. If he’s forced to play so far below market value, you think he’s rushing to approve deals that help Phoenix?

So, there’s incentive for both sides to work toward a more-amicable solution.

Bledsoe could try to persuade the 76ers, the only team with enough cap space remaining to offer him a max offer sheet, to offer one. Or he and Phoenix could engage teams about sign-and-trades.

And of course, both Bledsoe and the Suns can continue negotiating with each other, trying to bridge that $14,965,420 gap.

Maybe they compromise with Bledsoe taking less than the max per year but signing for few than four years and/or receiving a player option. That would limit Bledsoe’s safety net, but set him up for a bigger payday later.

Of course, Bledsoe wants it all, and the best way to get that is to threaten the Suns with extreme unhappiness.

So, that’s what he – or someone on his behalf – is doing. The next step is seeing how seriously Phoenix takes these complaints.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.