The Phoenix Suns have won 14 of 20 games finished byand , yet national media members continue to believe the team will eventually split the tandem up.
Phoenix — which dropped to 5-6 when missing a star guard (including the OKC game Dragic left early in the second half) after Thursday’s loss to Memphis — has played at a .700 clip that’s bettered by only five elite teams with both stud guards, but there’s a reason CBS Sports’ Ken Berger is the latest reporter to speculate the Suns might eventually trade one of them.
“League sources say the pairing of Bledsoe and Dragic in the backcourt is not expected to be a long-term solution for the Suns. The growing belief among league executives is that Dragic will opt out of his contract following the 2014-15 season, potentially ramping up the pressure on GM Ryan McDonough to pursue a trade.”
Dragic has averaged 18.9 points, 5.9 assists, 2.9 boards and 1.4 steals per game in his finest season yet. He will be entering his age 29 season when he must decide whether or not to exercise his player option for the 2015-16 campaign worth $7.5 million.
The Dragon already took a discount when he signed that four-year, $30 million deal during the 2012 offseason, and he did so as a player who had never commanded a team as a starting point guard aside from his scorching hot finish to the 2011-12 season after Kyle Lowry got hurt. During his first season and two months back with the Suns, he’s clearly outplayed his $7.5 million a year contract, and after seeing the kind of deal Bledsoe will sign this offseason for putting up (thus far) very similar numbers, every sane agent would advise Dragic to opt out if he sustains his level of play and stays healthy.
That, of course, does not mean he would necessarily want to leave Phoenix. It just means he would want to receive market value for 2015-16 and start his next long-term contract with an extra prime year included. After all, he considers Phoenix his home in the United States and already came back once despite being traded.
So to me the likely Dragic opt out is not news. He was always going to opt out after three years if he performed the way Phoenix expected him to. The question is whether the Suns will want to commit major dollars to make Dragic and Bledsoe cornerstone pieces for the next half decade or whether they will eventually deal one of them.
Considering the team’s success and the disruptive nature of such a trade, I would not expect anything to happen until the offseason. At that point, the Suns will have had a year to evaluate the pairing. Dragic on a $7.5 million a year psuedo-expiring deal in the midst of his prime would be a very enticing asset and could be the starting point of a blockbuster trade the Suns seem to be loading up for.
For example, if Kevin Love becomes available as seemingly every Suns fan on Twitter seems to think will eventually happen, Dragic would be a superb asset either to send to Minnesota or package in a three-way deal for a player that fits Minnesota’s plan better. Personally, there’s no young superstar I would rather acquire then Love, but I’m not as optimistic as others that the Wolves will eventually look to move him. That being said, if Love ever were put on the trade block, what team would be in a better position to deal for him than the Suns?
The Suns could also acquire a third stud below Love’s class to complement Bledsoe and Dragic and just re-sign Dragon. Their 2015-16 salary structure currently only includes cheap rookie deals, so the Suns could still build a quality young team around Bledsoe, Dragic and a third sizable salary. If that third stud is a rookie the team trades up for in the upcoming draft, even better financially.
The fact that Dragic will probably decline his player option does not say anything about the Suns’ future. That time will come next offseason when the Suns can try to find trade value for Dragic’s below-market value contract or prepare to eventually re-sign him and build around DragonBlade for the foreseeable future.