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NBA AM: Is Bledsoe Bound For The Wolves?

The Timberwolves would do a max deal for Eric Bledsoe, but will the Suns play along?… Is a NBA Lockout in 2017 inevitable or avoidable?

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The Eric Bledsoe Conundrum:  So, the Minnesota Timberwolves would be willing to sign Phoenix free agent Eric Bledsoe to a maximum four-year, $68 million contract, if the Phoenix Suns would sign-and-trade him.

Here is the problem: The Wolves don’t have the cap space to do a deal without Phoenix and Phoenix, at this point, isn’t interested in a deal that makes sense for Minnesota.

The Suns, at this point, would rather play out the season with Bledsoe than take on a ton of unfavorable salary from the Wolves. That changes if the Wolves can deliver a potential star in a package and, by the way, both sides have to make a decision before October 1.

There are a couple of sketchy parts to this. First, the Wolves’ interest in Bledsoe is real. They were involved in talks with Phoenix that would have landed Kevin Love in Phoenix earlier in the summer, but those talks died pretty abruptly when Cleveland and LeBron James came calling.

Wolves president and head coach Flip Saunders has a long history with Mark Termini, who is part of Klutch Sports, the agency that represents Bledsoe. Termini has represented Saunders for a number of years. There isn’t much math involved in that part of the equation.

The Wolves offered a max contract, built around the notion of offloading unwanted dollars and getting a player they really like.

That is a great deal for the Wolves; not so great for the Suns.

So what’s this mean for Ricky Rubio?

Not a lot actually. Like most, Bledsoe is viewed as more of an off-guard type that could flourish with a pass-first guard like Rubio. Sure it makes for a small backcourt, but a lot of teams are having success going small so that’s not the negative today that it was four or five seasons ago.

The Wolves are actively involved in extension talks with Rubio and they have some issues playing out there. The first is that to get Rubio on board with coming to the Wolves when he was in Spain, it was basically implied he’d get a max offer when it was time by the David Kahn regime. It’s time and the Wolves, now run by Saunders, don’t want to offer the max.

That’s a problem when you have hinted, danced and intimated that you would.

The other part is with the NBA salary cap set to rise to $66-$70 million next season and as many as 13 teams could have more than $20 million in cap space. So for Rubio, if you’re not getting the max to stay, wouldn’t it be better to see what else is out there? So a compromise deal for Rubio seems unlikely. Not impossible, just unlikely.

Historically the players that have done early rookie scale extensions for less than max money have usually outplayed their contracts. Restricted free agency has usually added two or three million for almost everyone that has turned away non-max extensions.

The Wolves have until the end of October to sort out a deal with Rubio, and they’d have the right to restrict his free agency in July if they don’t, but do the Wolves want to play out another “will he stay or will he go” season, this time with Rubio?

Landing Bledsoe wouldn’t mean the end for Rubio, and given what a max rookie scale deal means under the cap, $15-$16 million per season, the Wolves can afford both and still have room for Andrew Wiggins in four years, especially if they shed money in a trade with Phoenix. So, keeping both isn’t a financial issue or a sign that it’s one or the other.

For the Wolves, they simply need to make a deal with Phoenix for this to even matter and they have about eight days to make one.

The Suns, today, seem less than interested, but a lot can change in a week, especially with training camps opening up for some teams on Friday.

If the Suns remain firm on Bledsoe, he’ll have to sign the qualifying offer, which is worth just north of $3.7 million. The Suns have a four year, $48 million offer on the table.

So Bledsoe has some options, but Phoenix still controls the process – for about eight more days.

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The Uphill Fight:  The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn dropped some interesting comments on Sunday from former NBPA executive director Charles Grantham, who presided over the Players’ Association from 1988 to 1995, being ousted before the first NBA lockout in 1998.

Grantham had some comments about new Players Association director Michele Roberts, saying the biggest challenge facing the new executive director is another possible lockout in 2017.

For the better part of the last two decades there has been a very adversarial relationship when it comes to the players and the NBA owners when it’s time to divide the money in their labor deals, and in almost every instance the players have lost ground in this tactic.

The hope, at least among many, was that the new executive director would potentially change the tone of the discussions and forge a better, more balanced partnership.

There is no doubting that the purpose of the Players’ Association is to fight for the rights and privileges of players and that in and of itself requires something of an enforcement approach, but is drawing an unmovable line really the answer?

The NBA is on the verge of inking a new multi-billion media rights package that could see the salary cap in the NBA swell to over $70 million next season and as high as $80 million in the summer of 2016.

The salary cap was introduced in 1984 and was set at $3.6 million per team. In 1995, the cap crossed the $20 million mark and was set at $23 million. In 2006, the cap increased $53.1 million, with the current year’s cap being set at $63.065 million.

The NBA Players point to their percentage of the pie as being the core issue, along with harder and harsher restrictions on earning potential.

With the first NBA franchise selling for more than a billion dollars; in fact the Clippers fetched $2 billion in their recent sale, combined with a rights package that could be worth as much as $18 billion and a new executive director that has pledged to get things back for the players. There seems to be an inevitability that in the summer of 2017, the NBA and its players will square off again over how to split their money.

The question is, is this a winnable fight?

The Players’ Association has been urging players to prepare for a labor fight. They sent letters to would-be free agents urging them to structure new longer-term contracts to pay out over a longer stretches in the event of a work stoppage in three more years.

But is waiting until the offseason, and risking losing more games and more game checks really worth the fight?

Or would it be smarter for the new executive director to take a less adversarial approach and understand that a 50 percent percent share of revenue is likely not going anywhere, so rather than fight that almost unwinnable fight, the smarter way might be to help build a better system that will help grow the game and the revenues it creates.

The last go around the NBA told the players it wanted to “grow its way” out of some of the economic problems it was facing on the team side. The salary cap stayed flat for three seasons and is now approaching $70 million next season. Almost every team in the league has a chance to be profitable if it chooses to and franchise values have swelled as a result. There is a new rights package on the table that could see the cap swell to $100 million inside the next five years.

Are there things that need to be fixed in the system? Absolutely. Is it time to maybe look at a totally new cap system? Maybe.

Is it smart to try and force a few percentage points at the negotiating table? Maybe not.

There is no doubting that when talking about a $5 billion a year pie, that a basis point equals a mountain of money. One percentage point equates to $50,000,000 and that $5 billion number increases annually, so it’s not a number you can simply ignore and in contracts you only get what you are willing to fight for.

But is another labor fight really winnable?

Every time it’s come to that, the players have lost ground.

There are a number of challenges facing the new Executive Director and the NBA Players’ Association, but maybe this time drawing a line and gearing up for a fight might not be the best way to get a better deal.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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