Something about Phoenix's response to Eric Bledsoe's trade request has been bugging me, so let me try to explain why. It began earlier this week when we found out that Bledsoe explained his "I don't wanna be here" tweet by saying that he'd been dragged to a hair salon.
Bledsoe likely wanted to avoid a fine from the league for publicly addressing his displeasure with Phoenix, so we now have a spiritual cousin to Boogie's hot sculpting class. That part was amazing. The problem was that the information came from Suns GM Ryan McDonough. It was disclosed in an effort to make Bledsoe look bad, and considering how horribly the Suns have been run for the past few years, this is obnoxious
McDonough doubled down a day later. "I was certainly surprised by it and disappointed by [the trade request],” McDonough said on Arizona Sports radio 98.7. “I think Eric’s a good person. I think he’s unfortunately gotten some bad advice and is listening to the wrong people. I think generally, any time you sign a contract, it doesn’t only work one way. It works both ways, and for a guy with years on his contract to say or intimate he didn’t want to be here anymore, I didn’t find that to be appropriate, and I think if he says he wants to be a leader, that’s the opposite of what a leader does and the opposite of what leadership is. So I think that’s all I’m going to say about that.”
I have three reactions here:
1. When a star signs a contract in the middle of his prime, there's an implicit understanding that the team is going to surround him with pieces to succeed. But since Bledsoe signed his deal, almost every move the Suns have made has been a disaster. Examples: They gave away Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Morris for nothing. Goran Dragic demanded a trade, in part because the team had inexplicably signed Thomas, and the Suns dealt Dragic for draft picks in the 2020s. They traded a Lakers lottery pick for Brandon Knight, signed him to a $70 million deal, and watched him become unplayable. They chased LaMarcus Aldridge and wound up with Tyson Chandler as he entered his 15th season. This team hasn't had a plan in more than a decade.
It's just incredibly disingenuous to pretend that the trade demand happened in a vacuum, or that if a bargain was broken, it was Bledsoe who broke it. McDonough and the Suns were the team who asked 27 year-old Bledsoe to sit out the final month of last season while his team tanked. And now we're lecturing people about leadership?
2. I get it if people want to roll their eyes at an NBA star forcing their way out of a bad situation. From a certain angle, it makes things look even more impossible for any bad team looking to transform itself into a competent contender. But player leverage is what's made the NBA great over the past decade. Any league is in better shape with its best players are part of stable, nationally relevant franchises. Jimmy Butler in Minnesota, Paul George in OKC, and Eric Bledsoe on a team like the Nuggets or Bucks—all of this is how the sport works, and it's worked just fine for any number of teams who haven't been half as lost as the Suns the past few years.
I'm not asking any GM to come out celebrating player leverage or defending trade demands, but it's a bad look to act surprised or disappointed. Pinning this on Bledsoe either betrays a broader misunderstanding of the sport and the leverage players enjoy, or an inability to accept even a little bit of responsibility for several years of bad ideas. Either way, not great.
3. If Bledsoe was acting on someone else's advice this weekend, let the record state, the advice was fantastic. The Suns can't even pretend to be competent after the past week. They have no leverage, and Bledsoe has reportedly been frustrated and open to a trade for more than a year. It's clear back-channels weren't working. Now was the time to go public.
Speaking of contracts and advice, a few years ago Bledsoe's prolonged contract negotiations became an ongoing saga in which the Suns tried to paint him as unreasonable and considered trading him. Ultimately, management gave him $14 million per year and the move paid off for Bledsoe. Once the Suns stop trying to save face and make a deal this week, the hair salon trade demand will pay off, too.