Back to school fervor (gross) is in full swing, the days are getting shorter and it’s even downright chilly in some parts of the American Midwest – there’s still some summer left, but all the signs are there. Training camp is seven weeks away, which makes this the absolute midpoint of the NBA’s free agent season; and in two notable cases we’re right where we started in early July, even if certain camps claim the opposite.
Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe and Phoenix Suns hybrid guard Eric Bledsoe are restricted free agents that are currently without a team, workers without a contract offer from another squad, and (to hear the players tell it) viable or even tangible offers from their incumbent outfits. Both Monroe and Bledsoe are very talented but somewhat flawed players who would look just fine as a second or third option on a good team, but with the initial wave of free agency long ago washed to the shore, these two have been left standing in staid water.
Teams declined to waste their time offering Monroe (a clever scorer near or away from the basket) or Bledsoe (an emerging all-around talent at the NBA’s new and most fashionable position) a deal. Contract agreements for their probable value as unrestricted free agents would eventually be matched by Phoenix and Detroit, but not after the Suns and Pistons took a valuable and needed 72 hours of the other team’s free-agent time as they pursued options. It may not feel like it now, but in July entire franchises can be turned on their ear in half as many minutes.
As a result, Bledsoe and the Suns are miles apart on figures, and a report out of Detroit was tossed out to warn the Pistons that Monroe could play for the qualifying offer next season, and become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, leaving Detroit for no compensation. Detroit and Phoenix, in the catbird seat with no real reason to bid against themselves, are in no big hurry to end this anytime soon; because even though the NBA (smartly) moved up its deadline to decide to Oct. 1, these franchises are using restricted free agency properly.
For now, at least.
First, let’s check in with that source around Monroe, who spoke to Vincent Goodwill at the Detroit News recently:
While the Pistons big man has not pursued an offer sheet from another team, he has pursued sign-and-trade possibilities, and Monroe is “definitely” willing to take the one-year qualifying offer worth $5.3 million from Detroit in order to ensure his unrestricted free agency next summer, a source familiar with Monroe’s thinking told The Detroit News.
The source went on to say that Monroe “likes” new Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy, and “likes what he says,” and it isn’t as if the Pistons have been completely ignoring Monroe during this offseason – they met with him at the outset of free agency.
Still, Monroe was a little testy in response to the rumor that the Pistons have offered him either a five-year, $60 million deal, or a four-year, $58 million deal:
In a lot of ways, it makes quite a bit of sense for Monroe to take the QO. We’ve discussed this at length before, but he’ll have myriad options as an unrestricted free agent in 2015. Working for “just” $5.3 million next season is clearly below his true market value, but even a frustrating, down year for him in 2014-15 should still result in several too-eager teams with plenty of cap space and few “star” options to chase pouncing on Monroe for as much money as they have available. We forget, as Sensible August sways along, just how ridiculous Stupid July can get.
Detroit has fallback options should Van Gundy fall madly in love with Monroe and his game while observing from up close. They’ll be able to offer Greg more money than anyone else next summer should he take the QO/unrestricted free agent route. On the opposite end of that track is the idea that Van Gundy and the new Pistons regime are only smitten with Monroe to a point – would they be terribly crestfallen if some other competitor laughably overpays Greg Monroe next summer? Even if it meant losing him for no compensation?
Even the disparate possibilities have value here. As would any possible trade involving a third team like the Philadelphia 76ers, taking in draft picks in exchange for helping a team like, say, the Atlanta Hawks clear cap space to encourage a deal. The issue on that end, in the wake of the Golden State Warriors gutting their draft future in order to acquire Andre Iguodala, is that these draft selections are now being overvalued to the point of absurdity. It’s also why, to the most appalling of optimists, the Pistons letting Monroe go for nothing next summer can be argued away: Detroit did get value in employing Monroe for five (admittedly unsuccessful) years on a cheapo rookie deal.
On the Bledsoe/Suns side of things, the noise is coming from the opposite direction. From the owner (er, sorry, “managing partner”) of the Suns, Robert Sarver. He’s on record, as well, in talking to Paul Coro at AZcentral.com:
Six weeks into free agency, Suns Managing Partner Robert Sarver expressed how he still wants to sign Bledsoe to a long-term contract with the Suns. He also just wants to be able to talk to Bledsoe.
“We value Eric as a player,” Sarver said. “I hope at some point we’ll be able to sit down and meet with those guys and make a deal….
“Maybe that’s just posturing and negotiating,” Sarver said of the reports (that the Suns relationship with Bledsoe soured). “We haven’t heard from the guy in four months, so I couldn’t tell you. I do know that when he played here, he felt good about the organization, his coaching staff and his teammates at the end of the season. We had the same feelings toward him.”
ESPN’s Chris Broussard informed viewers recently that the relationship between the Suns and Bledsoe was “going downhill,” and it’s always a possibility (despite the source) that Bledsoe could figure to be the first truly disgruntled signee or qualifying offer-grabber to return to his team in the wake of extended restricted free agency negotiations.
Eric’s not a disgruntled sort of dude, but it was bound to happen sometime. If it happens.
The Suns actually have presented Bledsoe with a four-year, $48 million offer, which seems low at the outset but something that you can talk yourself into once you remember Bledsoe’s two meniscus tears, his iffy numbers when running the Phoenix offense without Goran Dragic last season, and similar contracts signed by other guards of his current (Bledsoe has considerable potential) ilk.
The issue for Bledsoe is not only the disparity between that figure and what he thinks he’s worth, but the calculated indifference 29 other NBA teams sent his way this summer. New’ish Suns general manager Ryan McDonough took great pains last season to throw the scent off when asked about Bledsoe’s impending restricted free-agent turn, coming just short of guaranteeing that his Suns would match just about any massive offer sent Bledsoe’s way. This has clearly scared teams off, as McDonough’s forward-thinking paid off.
It seemed an intelligent bit of calculation on the Suns’ part, but it’s always hard to calculate for August, September, and what could happen if Bledsoe returns for the four-year deal after capitulating, or if he decides to take his own qualifying offer of $3.7 million.
These are individuals with feelings that are sometimes unable to be modified or controlled in spite of friendly intentions, and Bledsoe can’t be expected (despite nice, if not value-approximate, compensation) to be a good soldier merely because Roy Hibbert (in signing with another team and returning) and Ben Gordon (in signing the QO) played things cheerfully the next season.
Shockingly, after all this waiting, we still have a while to work with. Another month and a half, even. As always, it’s a long NBA summer.
UPDATE: Some 1300 words later, USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt is reporting that Monroe, indeed, has decided to accept the Pistons' qualifying offer of over $5.7 million, making him an unrestricted free agent in the 2015 offseason. Monroe's trade options are limited in 2013-14, and the Pistons will still have until Oct. 1 to finagle a sign-and-trade for Monroe if he decides not to put the pen to paper until the last minute.
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