Eric Bledsoe, Jeff Hornacek, Goran Dragic

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

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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 CSNNW.com.

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.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine slam dunks the ball during the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect. Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates:

Splash Brothers showtime: Klay Thompson beats Stephen Curry to win Three-Point Contest

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TORONTO — It came down to the Splash Brothers. Because of course it did. Just like last season.

In the final round of the NBA All-Star Saturday Three-Point Shootout, defending champ Stephen Curry hit his first eight shots and set the bar high with 23 points — the best score of the night.

His backcourt teammate Klay Thompson responded by draining his last seven shots, which included the entire money rack, and put up 27 points — tying the event record.

That gave Thompson the upset win and the Three-Point Contest title.

Although, is it an upset if the second best shooter in the game beats the best?

“It was like déjà vu last year,” Thompson said. “Not gonna lie, I got nervous when he hit his first eight, and I didn’t think he was going to miss. But it was exciting, just coming back to Oakland [with the title], you know. Back-to-back years for Splash Brothers, it’s pretty cool.”

So does Thompson have bragging rights?

“(For) about 364 days, and then — but that’s a daily thing we do,” Thompson said. “We love to shoot against each other. You know, I’ve never been on a team with someone who shoots it better than me, so it’s a privilege to work with him every day. He makes me that much better.”

The Final round was two you expected — the Splash Brothers — plus one few did, Suns rookie Devin Booker.

Getting there was not simple. In the first round, Thompson set a high bar going first and putting up 22. Curry got hot in the middle, then hit the last two money balls to reach 21. James Harden and J.J. Redick ( who stayed behind the line this year) scored very solid 20s. Later 19-year-old rookie Booker put up a 20 to tie those two veterans. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton (13 points) Portland’s C.J. McCollum (14) and home-town crowd favorite Raptor Kyle Lowry (15) got bounced. .

That left Harden, Redick, and McCollum in a tiebreaker, and the rookie calmly put up a 12 in 30 seconds to advance.

Booker took a step back in the final round with a 16.

Not that it mattered with the Splash Brothers in the building.