AP Source: Suns, Bledsoe agree to 5-yr, $70m deal

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PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns and point guard Eric Bledsoe have reached agreement on a five-year, $70 million contract, capping a long, sometimes-tense negotiation to keep him in the desert.

The deal Wednesday is considerably more than the four-year, $48 million the Suns initially offered but well below the five-year, $80 million-plus maximum contract Bledsoe's agent, Rich Paul, sought for the restricted free agent.

The sides didn't budge in the negotiations until talks finally progressed in the last few days.

''All summer, I knew that I really would be most comfortable coming back to Phoenix because of the great fans, my Suns teammates and our coaches,'' Bledsoe said in a statement released by the team. ''I am very happy it was able to work out this way.''

Bledsoe faced an Oct. 1 deadline to sign a $3.7 million qualifying offer to play for the Suns this season, then become an unrestricted free agent.

''I learned long ago that it doesn't matter how stormy the sea is as long as the ship comes in, and today we are thrilled that the ship has come in and Eric will remain a Sun for a long time,'' Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby said in a statement. ''He will be an integral part not only of our basketball team, but our Phoenix community.''

The Suns see Bledsoe as a critical part of their double point-guard system. He missed much of last season after undergoing his second surgery to repair a meniscus in his right knee.

When Bledsoe teamed with fellow point guard Goran Dragic last year, the Suns won two-thirds of their games. But injuries kept the duo apart, most significantly the knee surgery.

While the Suns coveted Bledsoe's skills - particularly his drives to the basket and defense - as well as his obvious upside, they balked at giving the 24-year-old guard a max contract but felt highly enough of him to give a rich deal.

''We are thrilled Eric Bledsoe will be in a Phoenix Suns uniform for years to come,'' general manager Ryan McDonough said. ''Eric is one the most exciting and dynamic two-way players in the league. He played very well for us on both ends of the floor last season and we feel he is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the elite players in the NBA.''

Despite Bledsoe's knee injury, the Suns won a surprising 48 games and just missed the playoffs.

Bledsoe was the backup to Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers before the Suns acquired him and Caron Butler in a three-team trade that sent journeyman forward Jared Dudley to the Clippers and a second-round draft pick to Milwaukee.

Bledsoe had knee surgery in October of 2011, then again last January.

Injuries limited him to 43 games last season, 40 as a starter. He averaged 17.7 points and 5.5 assists.

''Lon, Ryan and the Suns have shown confidence in me, and I am looking to take that responsibility and help our team get better from last year and position ourselves to win an NBA championship,'' Bledsoe said. ''It's why I came back to Phoenix.

Dragic, carrying a bigger load when Bledsoe was out, had a breakout season, averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists, shooting 50.5 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3-point range. The Suns added a third point guard to the mix in the offseason, signing high-scoring free-agent Isaiah Thomas.