Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe

Posted: 07/23/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

After LeBron James went back to Cleveland, shocking the nation (I’ll do a LeBron post at some point, I promise), the free agency floodgates opened. Carmelo Anthony announced that he was staying in New York, and all the major (along with most of the minor) unrestricted free agents signed in the following days. Even Jameer Nelson appears to have found a new team, as he’s reported to have signed a one year deal with the Dallas Mavericks. Houston lost both Chandler Parsons and top target Chris Bosh, but rebounded to an extent by signing Trevor Ariza to take Parsons’ place. Miami had its heart broken by LeBron, but stopped the bleeding by re-signing Dwyane Wade and Bosh and signing Luol Deng. Sacramento did its normal thing, and by that I mean they made some puzzling moves. Choosing Darren Collison over Isaiah Thomas?? Really? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that free agency is basically over. So why can’t I hand out grades and move on? Well, I was planning on doing that, and then I saw two names staring at me, still unsigned. Those names, of course, are Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe, both restricted free agents. These are two cases with some similarities and some differences. Both players are 24 years old and just completed the last year of their rookie contracts. Both are good players, and it’s a little puzzling that neither has been signed to an offer sheet by a team looking to either actually sign one of them or just make things difficult for the player’s team to match the offer. There’s a clear comparison to the Bledsoe and Monroe situations, from just last year: Nikola Pekovic, a similar value to Bledsoe and Monroe. Pekovic was unsigned through the end of July, and ended up re-signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves for five years and 60 million dollars. What’s going to happen with this year’s prized (I think) RFA’s?

I think Bledsoe is almost certainly going to return to the Phoenix Suns. For one thing, there just aren’t that many teams that can pay for him. Only the Philadelphia 76ers can sign Bledsoe to the max offer sheet without needing to send some cash elsewhere, and we know that the Sixers aren’t going to be bidding on competent NBA veterans any time soon. For another thing, I’m pretty sure that the Suns will match any offer for their young point guard. I say pretty sure, because I thought they’d have signed him by now. They haven’t though, and instead have added the aforementioned Thomas, a 25 year old point guard who makes up for his lack of height (he’s listed at 5’9″) with scoring ability (he averaged 20 a game last year with the Kings). I don’t really think the Suns thought they’d actually get Thomas. They signed him to a four year, 27 million dollar contract, which was entirely reasonable. Most people, and the Suns have to be included here, thought that the Kings would match the offer. They didn’t, though, and Thomas was a Phoenix Sun. I don’t think this is in any way an indictment of Bledsoe, though. Depth is always a good thing, and Thomas seems like the perfect sixth man. So I still think Bledsoe will re-sign, and he should take his place next to Goran Dragic in that surprisingly vaunted backcourt. I think it’s entirely reasonable that Bledsoe and Dragic could play 33-35 minutes a piece (like they did last year) with Thomas getting another 25-30. Not bad. But the question still remains: why hasn’t Eric Bledsoe inked his contract with the Phoenix Suns yet? The answer has to be money. The Suns have offered Bledsoe a deal identical to what Kyle Lowry just received and similar to the ones that other good but not great point guards have gotten: four years and 48 million. Meanwhile, Bledsoe is reportedly holding out for the max deal, which for a player of his service time is five years and 80 million. Without a doubt, the Suns hold the edge in negotiation. They can argue that they’ve already replaced Bledsoe with Thomas, and also that Bledsoe can’t get more money with any other team. As a result, Bledsoe has to make a decision: does he want to sign a four year deal with similar average annual value that the Suns are offering (about 12 million per year)? Or does he want to sign a shorter contract in order to prove that he’s worth more the next go around? In the end, Eric Bledsoe is going to re-sign for the Suns barring a huge shock. It’s just a matter of length and dollars. I suspect that Bledsoe will sign a deal for four years and between 50 and 55 million dollars or will get his wish in terms of years (five) but not AAV (probably more like 10 or 11 million per year if he gets five years). To sum it up, his four options are:

  1. A two year deal worth around 30 million (15 per year)
  2. A four year deal worth around 52 million (13 per year)
  3. A five year deal worth around 55 million (11 per year)
  4. The wildcard: sign the Suns’ qualifying offer and test his luck as an unrestricted free agent next season. It’s possible, but it’s very risky and I don’t think Bledsoe will end up taking it.

It’ll be interesting to see which option he takes, but in the end, Eric Bledsoe is going to be a member of the Phoenix Suns next season. Not too much intrigue there.

Greg Monroe‘s situation got interesting last summer when the Pistons signed Josh Smith to a big money deal that looked bad then and has gotten progressively worse in the past year. The problem is that the Pistons essentially have three good players vying for two spots, and instead of deciding to make one of the three a bench player, they decided to start all three. That obviously didn’t work out for any of the three (Andre Drummond being the third), because Smith was placed at small forward and took way too many ill advised shots. Drummond is clearly the best player of the three, and he’s going to be the Pistons’ starting center for the foreseeable future. That means that, unless the Pistons want to have the same below-average and very poorly spaced team that they had last season, either Smith or Monroe has to go, and, sure enough, there have been trade talks involving Smith. But team president and head coach Stan Van Gundy reportedly told Smith that he would almost certainly be in Detroit next season, which begs the question: could Monroe be the one on the way out? The Pistons are surely listening to sign-and-trade ideas, but nothing has happened so far, and no team has made Monroe an offer sheet. Could it be that nobody has a specific interest in Monroe? It’s possible, and that would explain the lack of news regarding the big man. But that doesn’t really make sense, because Monroe is a 24 year old who can play both power forward and center effectively. He’s averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, 1.2 steals, and a 51% field goal percentage in his career. He might not get any better, but regardless, he’s a very good player at a position where efficient scorers are hard to find. Then again, he’s a poor defensive player who is asking for the maximum contract, and that’s probably too much to ask for. With that said, I’m surprised that Monroe hasn’t signed an offer sheet or re-signed with the Pistons yet. In the end, this is what I think it comes down to: the Pistons want to sign-and-trade Monroe, but nobody wants or is willing to give enough up for the big man. So Monroe will either end up back on the Pistons, or some team will step up and sign the big man to an offer sheet or acquire him in a sign-and-trade. Who will that team be? I have no idea, which is sort of the point. It seems like there’s no team that fits here. The Suns apparently have interest, but Monroe doesn’t fit their run-and-gun approach. The Blazers had interest, but then signed Chris Kaman. I don’t think Monroe wants to go back to the Pistons, and the team will keep exploring sign-and-trades, but he might have to return to Motown in the end.

There are still a couple of interesting unrestricted free agents still available (Mo Williams, anyone?), but Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe are the two big fish still available. Bledsoe seems likely to return to Phoenix; it’s a matter of how much money he gets. Monroe could be signed and traded if there is a team with enough interest, but he too might return to his previous employer, in his case Detroit. It seems like both of these guys will be signed soon, and it should be interesting.

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