After a 0-3 start in Phoenix, Earl Watson was fired and Eric Bledsoe tweeted he didn’t want to be in the
hair salon desert anymore. It was a tumultuous opening to the 2017/18 season for the Suns and the fallout has resulted in swirling rumours about the souring relationship between Coach Watson and the franchise, plus Bledsoe’s perceived value around the league. However, departing the Suns isn’t the only thing these two have in common. They are both represented by Rich Paul’s agency Klutch Sports and for the most part, that dynamic is being sorely missed by most reports.
While plenty of stakeholders posture for a position, Ryan McDonough has made himself available for two radio interviews with Arizona Sports. The Phoenix Suns General Manager has had plenty to say, leaving behind plenty of quotes for the National media to run with but one has been surprisingly overlooked throughout the majority of reporting.
I would say with us, we are building. Some people say rebuilding – if veteran players don’t like that or they’re not comfortable with that, that’s kinda too bad. I don’t know how else to put it. We are going to do what’s best for the organisation and my job is to put the team in a position to one day win a Championship. I grew up around the Celtics, Red Auerbach and that culture. The only thing they do there is raise Championship banners. That’s all I really care about. Fielding a decent team or trying to have .500 record (is not) putting this organisation in a position to compete for Championships. If the way we’re doing it upsets some people or people don’t like it, we have to live with that. I take responsibility for that. I hope in time people will see it was the right thing to do.
The side we haven’t heard from directly as yet, is Bledsoe and his agent. At least not since the ambiguously clear tweet, of course.
Paul is much smarter at playing this game. He is known for using (and creating) any leverage he possibly can, often factoring leaks to the media into the equation. To date though, Paul and Klutch Sports have neither directly or indirectly addressed the below comments made by McDonough in the public forum.
I think Eric’s a good person. I think he’s got some bad advice and is listening to the wrong people. Generally, anytime you sign a contract it doesn’t only work one way, it works both ways. For a guy with years on his contract to say or intimate that he didn’t wanna be here anymore, I didn’t find that to be appropriate. I think he says he wants to be a leader, that’s the opposite of what leadership is. I think that’s all I’m gonna say on that.
He was certainly hurt by getting shut down last year and we certainly understand that and respect that. At the same time, it’s a new year. He has multiple years left on his contract. I talked to Eric, met with him a couple of times before the season started. He said he was excited by the group, excited to play with the young guys and I thought we had a good thing going here. I think, just my opinion, the shift comes from contractual demands by his representatives and that’s what I was referring to when I said I think he got bad advice.
In order to fully appreciate these comments from McDonough and understand the angst he speaks with, it’s important to note the history between Klutch Sports and the Phoenix Suns. It perhaps dates back to when Bledsoe signed on with the team. Trading Jared Dudley for Bledsoe was McDonough’s first major move as Phoenix GM, where he anointed him the Suns Point Guard of the future and made plenty of moves with that in mind.
However, the RFA negotiations for Bledsoe in the 2014 offseason were messy between Rich Paul and the Suns. It dragged on until late September and was arguably the reason McDonough signed Isaiah Thomas, an insurance policy of sorts in case both sides couldn’t reach an agreement. Eventually, Bledsoe signed on after Paul’s all too common leverage play and handing him the keys began to drive both Goran Dragic and Thomas out of town.
What has followed to date is a four-year stint with the Suns, where Bledsoe has been healthy every other season and played in 221 of a possible 328 games for Phoenix. Including a 15 game team imposed absence to end the season in 16/17, despite appearing to be healthy and wanting to play. Bledsoe put up career-best numbers that season, 21.1 PPG/6.3APG/4.8RPG/1.4SPG, but the Suns continued their poor team form. Ironically the Suns were perhaps at their best during Bledsoe’s tenure towards the end of the 13/14 Season when he went down with a knee injury and Phoenix rallied to a 48-34 record in his absence, just missing out on a spot in the playoffs.
It has been a complicated relationship between agent, player and team. One that is not as simple as the team playing it’s best without Bledsoe or Bledsoe having every right to want to leave after being told to sit last season. Neither statement is 100% correct. Add in the fact the recently fired Head Coach was represented by the same agency and the timing of the two decisions becomes all the more intriguing. McDonough is likely dealing with a lot of emotions resulting from this strained relationship and tried to clarify the second time around, exactly who he had a major gripe with.
Eric is eligible for a re-negotiation and extension of his contract. He was eligible for that I should say, that window has come and gone. There were two years left on his contract, we did not think that was something that made sense for the team. We told Eric and his representatives that was something we were potentially open to discussing next summer with one year left on his deal. I guess they didn’t like that answer and took kind of a hostile approach and shut down and distanced themselves from the team. I think that’s where the approach came from.
To be clear with my thoughts on Eric Bledsoe. He’s a very good player. I think he’s a good person. I think he’s getting some bad advice from his representatives. I don’t really want to say more than that but that’s how I feel. I think if, or potentially when, we’re able to move him he’s going to help another team and play well and continue to be one of the better two way guards in the league.
While McDonough clearly attempted to walk the comments back a little in his second interview, the damage was well and truly already done. The mainstream media have piled it on the Suns GM and the franchise since the comments and rightly so. However, it’s easy to understand the source of his frustration given the history and it’s obvious McDonough is wanting to call out Klutch for their questionable behaviour. If true, it’s hard to imagine any of the other 29 NBA teams catering to Paul’s extension demand for his client.
Even still, it’s a war the Suns will never be able to win and McDonough needs to learn that lesson sooner rather than later.
McDonough’s comments and sending Bledsoe away from the team have been seen to kill any market for the star Point Guard. With plenty of rumours swirling on potential deals and demands, it could be best to refer again to McDonough’s own words when it comes to a potential deal.
We’ve gotten a lot of calls, we’ve gotten some pretty good offers. Especially in the last 24 hours or so. We’re comfortable with the offers that we’re getting. There are a few teams in particular that are being pretty aggressive, so, for now, we’re just answering the phones and seeing if one rises to the level to pull the trigger. Contrary to what you might have heard and read, there is a strong market for Eric Bledsoe and we’ll keep exploring that market.
We’re looking for a young centrepiece. It would be great if that were a Point Guard but we’re certainly open to other positions as well. Or draft picks that could potentially be talented players that we draft down the line. That’s kind of the gist of it.
It’s fair to suggest the Suns GM has paid attention to the numerous reports suggesting Bledsoe’s value is at an all-time low, given his comments on Arizona Sports 98.7. Until a Bledsoe trade is official, it will not be known just how much he may be bluffing.
However, one thing McDonough does have on his side is history. In recent years, the Suns have managed to land far greater returns than expected for disgruntled players Dragic and Markieff Morris. A return of three first-round draft picks in total, flew in the face of the general consensus that the Suns had created a PR nightmare against their players and would have to sell for cents on the dollar.
Phoenix and it’s GM could be borrowing from Rich Paul’s leverage playbook but also have a history of using any leverage they can already. It’s not the only history McDonough has though, with his transactions illustrating a number of trends.
The Suns have shown a keen interest in trading for Restricted Free Agents under the current GM’s reign, Bledsoe himself one plus Brandon Knight. Knight and Tyson Chandler sit on the books as bad contracts that the Suns could look to dump. Almost the remainder of the roster is under 25 and on team friendly deals.
Plus the Suns have collected a number of draft pick assets, most notably the Miami picks received for Dragic, which they could add to deals due to already having enough youth to work with. Something McDonough has already done with mixed results in the past but may gamble on again in order to use the assets he compiled rather than hand them over to his successor. Finally,
McNinja McDonough works in the dark. With almost all of his deals coming from nowhere and not mirroring any leaked reports.
With all that in mind, there are some potential out of the box scenarios for a Bledsoe trade with the same teams being often reported in the media. Most of which would rely on McDonough potentially letting things drag out a little longer.
This would require some serious patience with Plumlee not eligible for trade until Jan 14th, 2018. However, by that point the Nuggets may be desperate enough to part with Murray to chase a playoff spot and could be intrigued by swapping out three years of Plumlee for two years of Chandler. The Suns would land a legitimate young prospect, at the cost of Bledsoe and an additional Miami pick.
The Bucks can execute this trade from today if they like it enough, while the talent of Parker might be enough for the Suns if they miss out on any younger prospects on offer. The real lure for the Suns is getting off some salary while taking a look at Parker before his RFA hits. For the Bucks, an upgrade to Bledsoe and re-uniting Chandler with Kidd could be tempting as they march to the playoffs.
Another trade that can happen immediately if both teams agree. For the Suns, other offers would have to be lower than expectations in order to deal with their Division rivals. The Clippers roster situation doesn’t offer up much, nor does their current pick situation. Patrick Beverley and a ’21 1st Rounder could be more about fit and building more future assets, should the Suns place more emphasis on those factors.
New York cannot deal Doug McDermott until Nov 24th, 2017 but he is another RFA that could provide the Suns with some much-needed shooting. The real prize for the Suns though would be Ntilikina, whom would surely have to be included in any Suns/Knicks deal surrounding Bledsoe. The Knicks could likely choose either of Jones or James to include if they wish, while O’Quinn might be included to match salaries only.
Shelvin Mack’s trade restriction lifts on Dec 14th, 2017 and his contract is non-guaranteed for next season. That makes him a nice salary filler piece, should the Magic look to push for the Playoffs with Bledsoe. Payton, yet another RFA, could intrigue the Suns enough to trial next to Booker and Iwundu had some interest in Phoenix prior to the draft. The Magic would likely also have to throw in their first round pick, or potentially Mario Hezonja, leaving the Suns with a few players with potential in return for their star PG.
McDonough may yet still win the transactional battle of this ordeal, just like he arguably has many times before. However, he will have still lost the PR war. Whether he is right or wrong, he will need to start putting the franchise before his personal feelings if he hopes to one day build that Championship roster. So whilst it’s fine to have that Celtics bravado behind closed doors, it’s key to remember the Celtics did the majority of their banner raising in the 60’s. It was a different time and new rules certainly apply in today’s NBA.
Winning (and often money) can change everything. Yet, while the Suns aren’t winning and all the money in the world won’t land the top Free Agents of any upcoming class at least, McDonough might want to take a leaf out of two other past NBA legends who remain in the game today.
A recent quote from Pat Riley on what he learnt from Jerry West, which appears in Jack McCallum’s Golden Days and is read by Adrian Wojnarowski on a recent podcast.
I made the mistake in 1987 and 1988 of taking too much credit after our Championships. All of a sudden everybody was talking to me….. I fell into the trap. These days I will always tell coaches that before you put yourself out in front of the players, you have to be thinking about how it impacts the team. What they think of what you’re doing, I didn’t always do that. Coaches are part of this great circle, they should be on the perimeter, not the inside. Jerry knows these things. He always sees the other side of the coin. He sees everything about a franchise. He sees what needs to be right to build the team. How owners should act, how coaches should coach, how practices should be run, how public relations staff should run. When he sees something he doesn’t like, it drives him nuts.
The context may be different but the lesson remains the same. It’s time for McDonough to put the team first. Jerry West may very likely agree with his feelings but it would still be driving him nuts. Rosie Perez said it best; sometimes when you win, you really lose and sometimes when you lose, you really win.
Winning on the court can change a lot for outside perception but until that comes for the Suns, it might be best to forget always having to win the off-court games. McDonough might be unapologetic to the end in his quest to win it all. However, it could mean he never gets the opportunity and the end arrives sooner than he ever expected. There are no ticker tape parades when you get fired and only others get to celebrate.