With only a week remaining until the expiration of his qualifying offer, Eric Bledsoe finally agreed to a new deal with the Phoenix Suns. The outcome of nearly three months of intermittent negotiation was a five-year contract worth a fully guaranteed $70 million, which was been confirmed by multiple outlets such as ESPN and Yahoo! Sports. These were unprecedented circumstances. Yet both sides played out their respective hands and decided they were better off together, now betrothed on the longest deal possible.
As a function of that contract term, Bledsoe landed the fourth-largest deal (behind Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Kyrie Irving) signed this offseason. It's not as gaudy as it might seem. Bledsoe made out well in getting the Suns to budge from their initial four-year, $48 million offer, though his new salary (which starts at $13 million and increases by $500,000 annually, per Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic) could wind up a good value for the Suns by contract's end. Bledsoe is now committed through the reshaping of the team, the dawn of a new league-wide media deal and the projected explosion of the NBA's salary cap. He has no option to enter free agency prior to 2019, at which point this contract will likely seem mild in relation to a booming NBA economy.
All of this makes for rather strange accord. One would expect that, given the circumstances, a deal between Bledsoe and the Suns struck in late September would come from a place of desperation. Maybe Bledsoe and his agent, Rich Paul, would have worried over the risk of the point guard playing out a one-year qualifying offer after undergoing meniscus surgery earlier in the year.
Perhaps Phoenix, faced with the possibility of losing Bledsoe outright next summer, would have panicked and thrown more money on the table. As it turned out, this late date brought only a sense of compromise. The influence of both of the aforementioned scenarios can be felt in the final deal. Bledsoe gets more money than initially offered while Phoenix dodges the max. The Suns get a great player under contract without the power to opt out and Bledsoe gets a guaranteed five years. Both accepted risks and gained from concessions. After all the talk of burned bridges, Bledsoe and the Suns clearly found a way to meet in the middle.
In doing so, a working relationship was protected even after the market for Bledsoe had run dry. Phoenix didn't have any immediate competition for Bledsoe's services. Yet the Suns' movement to a higher contract figure points to value beyond a few million in cap room. With this deal Phoenix gains some measure of security, all the more important as Goran Dragic's free agency looms. The Suns, too, preserve a certain flexibility. The size of Bledsoe's deal might make it tricky to move, but by retaining him Phoenix can more fully explore deals involving its other guards. On a similar note, Bledsoe's commitment doubles as a means of asset retention. By locking a terrific young player into a five-year deal without the threat of an early exit, Phoenix has either an anchored star worth building around or a trade chip boasting that same appeal.
Such matters of context tangle the question of what Bledsoe is actually worth to the Suns, though $70 million seems an utterly reasonable figure all things considered. There are risks, naturally, in committing so much to a starter of only one season. Doubly so for a player with two right knee surgeries in his recent medical history. Yet Bledsoe validates the investment with some serious potential -- if not the vaulted track of superstardom then something near enough.
Already he ranks among the best on-ball defenders in the NBA, oppressive to every move his target makes. Offensively, Bledsoe's rise to prominence last season coincided with a genuine breakout: career-best shooting (a 52.2 effective field goal percentage), a leap in box-score output (17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game) and creative co-leadership of a top-10 offense. This from a 24-year-old still new to the rigors of high-level play.
The above was reason enough for Phoenix to commit $70 million to the idea of a more finished Bledsoe, sight unseen. Promise pays in the NBA. In Bledsoe's case, though, it seems only a matter of time before the Suns collect their recompense.