Eric Bledsoe Still Unsigned
In just under two weeks, training camps will get under way for NBA teams, yet Phoenix Suns restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe still does not have a contract.
The stalemate between Bledsoe and the Suns has been well-documented over the last several months, mostly because there’s plenty of coverage for a story that runs from start of the July through the end of September. It still essentially boils down to the fact that Bledsoe feels as though he’s worth a max contract, which in this case would be worth $84 million over five years. Phoenix, unfortunately for Bledsoe, has never offered more than $48 million over four years, leaving quite an impressive gap between what the player thinks he’s owed and what the team thinks he’s worth.
There’s also the matter of what the market is dictating for a player of his skill set. In real estate, for example, a seller may inject a heap of sentimental value into the listed price of a home, which ends up entirely too pricy for any potentially interested buyers to cut a check. Even if there were a buyer that would theoretically buy the house at the price listed, more often than not they’d make their initial offer under the list price because similar homes were selling in the neighborhood for quite a bit less.
And if there are just a ton of homes on the market from which to choose, all sellers face difficulties in closing deals. In the NBA, the market is absolutely flooded with talented point guards right now, and more and more enter the league every year. Bledsoe’s a great player with room to improve, but paying him a premium doesn’t make much sense when there’s so much depth at the position league-wide.
Basically, it’s supply and demand, and when it comes to Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, teams just weren’t interested this summer in tying up their cap space for half a week while other elite free agents were snatched up in the interim. By the time teams would have been open to waiting out an offer sheet, most of the league’s cap space had dried up, leaving Bledsoe without a home and few options other than to just except the $3.7 million qualifying offer from Phoenix and play out one more year there.
Next summer, he’d be unrestricted and would have a much better opportunity to get the money he feels he deserves.
As far as anyone knows, the Suns and Bledsoe’s agent, Rich Paul, haven’t had any real conversations about a new contract since earlier in the summer. Bledsoe has waited and waited, hoping a better offer would pop up, but so far he just hasn’t been given the opportunity to make the bank he wants to make.
So where will he ultimately end up? Darren Wolfson of KSTP in the Twin Cities tweeted earlier this week that the Minnesota Timberwolves were still very much interested in Bledsoe, but don’t really have the pieces to make a deal work. Grantland’s Andrew Sharp, meanwhile, really wants to see Bledsoe on the Milwaukee Bucks. Teams are interested, in other words, but no one is offering enough to get Phoenix surrender a pretty talented asset. So, for now, he remains in Phoenix, even though with both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas on the roster, Bledsoe and his checkered injury past isn’t someone they necessarily need anymore. They certainly have no need to pay him a max contract.
Will someone ultimately give him that money? It depends on what he shows this year. At least he’s on the right team to keep himself healthy, as Phoenix has the best training staff in the league, but with all those point guards on the roster he might not have quite the same opportunity to showcase his skill that he would’ve had last year had he not missed all that time after his meniscus surgery.
A dominant year out of him earns him big money, but still probably not max unless he ratchets up his game and makes an All-Star game and/or an All-NBA team. In the meantime, Bledsoe is just waiting, even as camp closes in and the rest of the league’s stars gear up for another season.
This summer didn’t work out the way Bledsoe would have liked, obviously, but his fate (and his future salary) lies in his own hands. One more year of “prove it,” and he gets paid. One more of missed time and missed opportunities, and he’ll be regretting he turned down $48 million in the summer of 2014.
UPDATE: Brian Windhorst of ESPN reports that the Timberwolves want to acquire Bledsoe from the Suns in a sign-and-trade, and ultimately pay him the four-year, $63 million maximum-level contract he wants. These teams talked prior to Minnesota’s Kevin Love trade, and have reopened discussions now.
Coach K Denies That Team USA Affiliation Helps Recruiting
On Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports published a rather scathing article claiming that the only reason Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski takes on the USA Basketball responsibilities every other year is because it gives him a competitive advantage in recruiting the nation’s best high school players to his college program. The article even goes so far as to suggest that Jabari Parker would not have ended up there otherwise.
There has to be some measure of truth to the idea that players head for Duke at least in some part because of prior experience with Coach K, who is afforded the opportunity to meet and work with several high school players very closely in some of USA Basketball’s lower levels.
At a press conference on Thursday, however, Krzyzweski denied that such an advantage exists, pointing out that he isn’t the only college head coach with access to those players.
“No one is saying about him [Florida head coach Billy Donovan] that he has an advantage, and he’s with those kids for 3½ weeks each summer,” Krzyzewski said, adding that Virginia head coach Tony Bennett also helped coach the under-19 team this past year.
He added, according to C.L. Brown of ESPN.com, that he’s only spoken to the under-19 team twice in his last nine years skippering the senior national team. One of those was last year, however, and that was enough to land Duke three of the top 12 recruits in the country, including No. 1 overall recruit Jahlil Okafor, as well as Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow. Grayson Allen, another top-30 recruit, also will attend Duke next year, completing a monster recruiting class that makes Duke the early favorite to win 2015’s NCAA National Championship.
Still, Krzyzewski believes he brings the best players to his team because his program has long been one of the best in the country—long before he took on the Team USA gig.
“That that (access) gives you an advantage, it’s utterly ridiculous. And anyone who comments on it without doing the research is really wanting to take that point of view,” he said. “I don’t get it. We’ve won four national championships.”
Perhaps he’s right, that great players would end up at Duke no matter what he did with Team USA, but what Coach K didn’t mention was that it certainly didn’t hurt anything.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.