Eric Bledsoe ready to make 'big things happen' in Phoenix


PHOENIX — “I’m in!!!”

After reading the two-word tweet from fellow teammate and six-time All-Star Chris Paul on July 1, Eric Bledsoe knew what that meant for his basketball future in Tinseltown.

He was out.

With the cyber writing literally on the wall, the 23-year-old guard understood that as a highly-coveted asset, playing in Paul’s shadows for another season with the Los Angeles Clippers simply wouldn’t have worked for either side.

However, while he sensed a trade was coming at some point during the summer, Bledsoe’s assumption that it’d be to a destination full of sunshine and high temperatures was only partially right.

“First off all, I didn’t know where I’d end up. I thought I was kind of going to Orlando. Then this opportunity came,” Bledsoe said of the three-team deal between the Suns, Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks that sent him and Caron Butler to Phoenix. “I’m excited to get things started. I’m ready to start playing.”

Bledsoe, who averaged 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and 3.0 rebounds in 2012-13, officially was introduced to the media at a press conference Thursday inside US Airways Center. But while he and an entire fan base are collectively excited to see what transpires in 2013-14, the million-dollar questions remain: In what role and with who by his side?

For a former first-round pick of his pedigree, Bledsoe (career average of 20.4 minutes per game) doesn’t exactly have a ton of miles on him — a trend that’s likely to change in Phoenix. Although on paper he’s being thrown into a situation with an incumbent point guard — the team’s 2012-13 leading scorer Goran Dragic — seemingly set in place, the theme being thrown around is one of a backcourt built on coexisting parts.

“I’m a basketball player,” said Bledsoe when asked what position he plays. “You put me at the five, I’m going to play that position the best way I can. Whatever Coach Hornacek decides, I’m going to play it the best way I can.”

Hornacek wasn’t asked at length about the prospect of playing Bledsoe and Dragic side-by-side at the press conference, but he talked about the potential pairing rather openly during a radio appearance this week on Arizona Sports 620′s Burns and Gambo.

“When you have Eric out there and you have Goran, you can throw it to either guy,” Hornacek said. “They’re both going to be able to just take the ball and go with it and I think all our guys, when you have two guys like that, it forces everyone else to run because they may never touch the ball if they don’t run. I think it gives us a great two-person weapon.”

While the new backcourt duo might not match up favorably just yet, Hornacek suggested that the Bledsoe-Dragic combination has a chance to resemble the five-year period when he and three-time All-Star Kevin Johnson patrolled the hardwood at the Memorial Coliseum as multi-faceted tandem.

“I kind of compare it to when Kevin and I played together back in the day, where you could throw it to either one,” said Hornacek. “We were able to fast break. Kevin could throw it up the court to me and then I could handle it or vice versa.

“I think they’ll work well together.”

Count Ryan McDonough, who Suns President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby referred to as the “facilitator” of the three-team trade, as another major proponent of the two logging plenty of minutes together.

In a league that has started to embrace position dissipation, the 33-year-old general manager doesn’t see two competing players in Bledsoe and Dragic, but rather two interchangeable components that can be utilized simultaneously on either end of the floor.

“I think they’ll play together great,” McDonough said. “One of the issues I saw last year was when Goran [Dragic] got doubled or teams took the ball out of his hands, the team struggled to make a play. With Eric [Bledsoe] and Caron [Butler] here, you now have to be careful with who you’re going to double. These guys can make plays off the dribble and also knock down shots.”

It might not be Orlando or an opportunity to lead a team exclusively at point guard, but Bledsoe has no more shadows hanging over him. In Phoenix, those prior glimpses of greatness have the chance to grow into something much greater.

It will certainly take time and a level of futility he’s not accustomed to, but Eric Bledsoe finally has the chance to be Eric Bledsoe — something that hasn’t been possible since his senior year at Parker High School in Birmingham, Ala.

“It’s definitely a plus for me,” said Bledsoe of coming to Phoenix. “Unfortunately I couldn’t play as much as I wanted to [in Los Angeles] because I was playing with an All-Star. Now, Ryan [McDonough] has full confidence in me and I have full confidence in myself to help Caron [Butler] make some big things happen here. It’s a blessing.”

Dudley’s departure

While the Suns were admittedly excited to welcome Bledsoe and Butler into the fold Thursday, the name Jared Dudley was never far from the minds of the Suns brass.

Dudley, who was sent to the Clippers in the three-way deal with Phoenix and Milwaukee, played parts of five seasons with the Suns after being acquired in a trade from Charlotte on Dec. 18, 2008, and most notably anchored a second unit during the franchise’s run to the 2010 Western Conference Finals.

“Jared Dudley is such a favorite of all of us here in Phoenix and in the Suns organization,” President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby said. “He is a consummate professional and his professionalism never wavered throughout our period of transition. He takes with him to Los Angeles our gratitude and our very best wishes. On behalf of the Suns and I think our entire community, I thank him.”

Despite a tumultuous final season in the Valley that saw him go from starter to bench contributor to briefly out of the rotation, Dudley still managed to record double-digit scoring (10.9 points per game) to go along with 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

  • Scott

    I just watched the player introduction video on Suns.com … and this is the first time I can remember reporters asking the players some tough questions.

    Questions like, “Caron, you were just playing for a team contending for a championship. Tell us, what are your feelings coming from that team to a team that has just begun the rebuilding process?”

    Ouch.

    Caron and Eric said they were excited to be with the Suns, but they couldn’t quite say why, and I think they were trying to hold back some tears and sighs. Quite understandable.

  • ShanMan

    Honestly I think they are both happy to be in Phoenix. Bledsoe is going to get to play starter’s minutes and Butler gets a shot to show he can still play. I expect Butler to average no less than 15ppg and be one of the main scoring options next season. He must also realize he gets to work with Aaron Nelson this season and maybe he can keep his aging bones healthy.

  • Josef M

    Writing is on the wall that Bledsoe will refuse any extension offer by the Suns, will try to Eric Gordon the Suns and look for any easy way out after this season. He doesn’t want to be here, he wants to be in Orlando, andn can you blame him?

    Enjoy the one year of Bledsoe Phoenix…

  • Josef M

    Just look at Eric’s face, just like another Eric in New Orleans when he got introduced. Writing is on the wal – he’ll be leaving after this sreason

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    What if the unthinkable happens ?
    The Suns are good.

    Gortat, Butler & Scola form a pretty good frontcourt that can score in the half-court set.
    Shannon Brown flourishes playing alongside Bledsoe & provides athleticism to balance the experienced but slower frontcourt.

    Dragic leads the Suns revitalized 2nd team ( a Suns tradition) with Tucker, the Mo Bros & Len/Oriakhi.
    The unit proves to be very effective.
    Goodwin is the 12th man.

    Dragic would get 16-18 mpg as back-up PG & another 10-12 minutes playing alongside Bledsoe or Brown.

    Cut Beasley….think there’s a rule where his contract can be paid out over 4-5 years.
    Cut Marshall.
    Garrett can swing between D-League & Suns depending on injuries & Goodwin progress.
    If Frye returns, Oriakhi would probably head to the D-League.

    Unlikely, but not that far-fetched.
    or
    bust up the frontcourt…..keep Beasley & pray you can get Wiggins (Suns pick) & maybe Adrean Payne with Minny’s (top 13 protected) pick.
    also unlikely.

  • DBreezy

    @Scott,

    From the other thread, yes I understood that Marcus spent most of his first, not second season in the D league when I made my comments. Imo, you really don’t see that much D league time given to a lottery pick on a lottery team unless they’re really raw. Raw does not describe Marcus Morris, so while not really following the Rox closely I have to wonder if his attitude had something to do with it. Especially after he found himself in Hunter’s doghouse after the quick start you mentioned.

    Also I watched the Butler and Bledsoe presser and while I thought both guys were professional, they both did look they had been sentenced to San Quentin. The most important thing is that I highly doubt either one will be problems on or off the court, but they do look shocked to be here. Bledsoe expected to be moved to a bad team, but also expected to have the pg reigns all to himself.

  • DBreezy

    @Hawki,

    It’s sports and anything can happen, but it’s hard to see that scenario. There’s zero indication that the team plans on starting Bledsoe and Brown and using Goran with the second unit. Everything that Horny and McD have said points to notion of both Goran and Bledsoe starting and playing big minutes together. If Bledsoe did start, I’d expect the Suns 29th offensive efficiency to drop further as Bledsoe turns the ball over a lot and doesn’t pass as well as Goran. That may change, but it’s unlikely to do so right away.

    I’ve always liked Butler, but looking at his offensive numbers he really doesn’t jump out compared to Dudley with both taking advantage of playing with HOF level pg’s(except for Dudley’s last year). I do think he’ll be a better locker room presence as far as basketball goes than Jared.

    It’s hard to know exactly what Horny is going to run offensively, but as far as the frontcourt goes it seems destined to fail with Scola and Gortat. For better or worse, Marcin is Marcin and it’s hard to see that changing. On this team he believes he should be a primary option whether in the post or in a S/R. Thing is he isn’t that efficient in the post, and other than when he played with Nash he hasn’t been special in the S/R with any other pg. He’s probably best using his speed to score in transition, cutting off the ball, and taking selective advantage of good matchups but he doesn’t believe that. Randy Hill of FSNAZ did a great job last season pointing out all of the scoring opportunities he missed by not playing off Scola in the corner offense and how his whining ultimately led to Scola being benched and the offense changed. A lot of good that did.

    Above all we should expect the team to struggle defensively. They weren’t good last year, and playing a two pg lineup for more minutes than probably anyone in the league isn’t likely to help that. I think the effort will be there, but not the results. As for cutting Beas or Marshall, I think it’s unlikely. The team isn’t on the verge of going anywhere so the team will try to use them as trade assets. IIRC Beas’ deal is only partially guaranteed for the last year which could make him an interesting trade asset for a team trying to work their cap. If the Suns don’t pick up the options on Marshall and/or the Morris twins they also become cheap expiring deals that could net something. The 2014 draft is coveted, but largely because of the picks in the lottery. It’s possible that a playoff team would prefer to trade out for a cheap expiring deal for cap reasons rather than add a draft pick on a multi year deal. Unless something changes soon, I think most of us would be more than happy with any first round pick in exchange for Marshall or the twins.

  • foreveris2long

    D’Breezy, If Bledsoe gets equal or more time than Dragic to run the point, it will not be because he is a better passer today. It will be because they like his upside over Dragic’s and there is no better time than this year to suffer through the growing pains. I seriously doubt Bledoe signs an extension unless he is confident he will get quality minutes running the point. As we discussed before, this is going to be tricky but I doubt the Suns will be too worried about taking one step back for efficiency purposes if they can lock up Bledsoe and fully turn the team over to him in the foreseeable future.

    In a way I feel bad for Dragic because he has to feel slighted by the Suns once again. I could be wrong but I think Dragic and Bledsoe in the same back court is just an attempt to sell the guys on a system until they find a trade partner for Dragic. Then again things get really ugly if Bledsoe tries to hold the team for ransom with a new contract. It is a tough business.

  • foreveris2long

    As for Marshall and the twins I would be happy with a 2nd round pick for any of them. I continue to believe Marshall is the worst point guard in the NBA. I honestly cannot think of anyone in the association with as many limitations as he has. Is Blanks selling used cars yet?

  • Scott

    @forever -

    I’m sure Hornacek will tell Bledsoe of his own experience: how he’s a favorite Sun and now the head coach, but he only played for the Suns for a few years before getting traded. And he went on to greater success with Utah.

    So he’ll advise Bledsoe to make the most of his situation, and not worry too much over whether he stays or goes. Good players tend to go to good situations before too long.

  • Scott

    @DBreezy -

    I don’t know what the situation was with Marcus and Hunter. But, as I pointed out, Marcus was shooting exceptionally well from 3 when he came to Phoenix, and then his usage and scoring plummeted. It could have been a conflict of some sort with the coach, or it could have been a preference by Hunter to use other players at 3 (he had a few to choose from), or maybe Marcus didn’t know the offensive or defensive schemes as well as the guys who’d been there all year, or maybe Marcus was focusing more on helping his brother and wasn’t holding down his spot very well.

    In his rookie season, when Marcus was with Houston, at PF he was behind Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson, and at SF he was behind Chase Budinger and Chandler Parsons.

    The only player Marcus was likely to challenge for a spot was Parsons, and we know now that Parsons was a flukey good pick … tall, lean, and energetic, capable of playing either wing position with brio. By contrast, Marcus was reportedly struggling to transition from PF to SF, and it was deemed he’d play SF because of his size. That’s why he went to the D-League.

  • Scott

    As for Bledsoe running a team, I can tell from the presser that he’s not comfortable communicating or leading yet. So he was fairly accurate when he mentioned communication as a key thing for him to work on and demonstrate this coming season.

  • Ty-Sun

    It’s most likely that the Suns will only be slightly better this year. Bledsoe has talent and upside but, at this point in their careers, I’d say that Dragic is the better PG. Butler will help the Suns but not that much.

    If improving even a little bit worries some people that it could hurt the Suns chances in scoring in next years draft, just remember that almost all of the other lottery teams are going to improve at least a little this season too.

  • Ikoyi

    Can’t wait to see Bledsoe do his thing!! Nice article, my fellow Trojan! Fight on!

  • a-game

    For those of you who watched the presser, did u notice how not one word…i repeat NOT ONE word, was ever mentioned or questioned about Kendall Marshall???….This kid is sooo done! Its all about the dragic/bledsoe dynamic moving forward. See ya later kendall…

  • Doug

    Please play Beasly heavy minutes!!!! We need to be the worst team in the league to try and get Wiggins.

    This next season must be a wash for the suns, bomb, get more picks by trading Scola and Gortat. Then come out in 2014-2015 with a real team that might have a shot. Len, Bledsoe, and Dragic seam to be the initial building blocks, add Wiggins or Parker, a couple of big named free agents, teach Goodwin how to shoot, another draft pick or 2 and we will have a good team.

  • Ty-Sun

    The Suns already have two 1st round picks in the 2014 draft, their own and Minnesota’s (which is top 12 or 13 protected). The Suns were actually lucky that Minn didn’t make the playoffs this year or we would have had that pick in this years draft instead of next year. That being said, I doubt that any team that actually might be interested in Gortat or Scola would be willing to give up even a low 1st round pick in next years draft for either (or both) of them.

    But, with the present roster, I doubt that the Suns will win more than 30 games – at best – next year. Lol, Beasley is so unpredictable that giving him heavily minutes might be the wrong thing to do because he might have one of those rare great nights against a very good team that could cause the Suns to beat a team that they were expected to loose to!

    Barring some sort of miracle, the Suns are going to be bad this season, not quite as bad the next season and the next season MAYBE contesting for the 7th or 8th seed in the playoffs with what I hope will be team of young, talented players that still have a lot of potential to get even better. Then we can talk about drawing the interest of a top free agent or two.

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