Apr 9, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) celebrates with guard Goran Dragic (1) against the New Orleans Pelicans in the second half at the Smoothie King Center. The Suns won 94-88. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

If it's one or the other, Goran Dragic is a keeper over Eric Bledsoe

On Thursday, Ryan Weisert made a very strong case for keeping the backcourt combo of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic together. What is most pertinent to his case is that the Phoenix Suns, who might be interested in trading for Kevin Love, should absolutely avoid gutting their roster a la the 2011 New York Knicks. Prior to that blockbuster, the Knicks were finally turning the corner, but they traded young, talented wings Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, two players unafraid of the spotlight in Madison Square Garden. New York also dealt a first round pick and center Timofey Mozgov, a player who fans took to quickly.

Anthony will test the free agent market this season and during his time with the salary-strapped Knicks only mustered a single successful season. New York not only dealt all their pieces for him but weren’t able to find him help because of the financial situation.

The argument for the Suns to avoid such a drawn-out and risky trade for Love is probably not lost on anyone. Minnesota hasn’t won much with him, after all.

Let’s say the Suns believe they need a maxed-out star to take them back to the postseason. Saying that also assumes they can’t get stuck in a tight financial spot.

If it comes at the cost of deciding that one of Goran Dragic or Eric Bledsoe will need to be moved, Bledsoe might need to be the one on his way out, whether he’s part of a trade for Love or otherwise. A Bledsoe max would get in the way of what the Suns expect to do in free agency next summer, when there will be plenty of stars on the market.

The qualifier for keeping Dragic over Bledsoe assumes the Suns can’t keep both, but here’s why the Slovenian point guard might be the one sticking around Phoenix long-term.

Will Dragic be a better value?

All sign points to Bledsoe earning max money this summer that pays him close to $15 million, if the projected $63.2 million salary cap holds up. All signs point to Dragic making more than his current $7.5 million annual deal if he opts out following this 2014-15 season, as expected. He’s clearly loyal to Phoenix, meaning he probably won’t go hard after the biggest offer (he didn’t take the big money last time around in free agency).

Dragic will be 29 years old next summer, and even with another stellar season won’t be breaking Phoenix’s bank. He could possibly earn a deal in excess of $10 million, which would still save the Suns bit of cash — that compared to a Bledsoe max might be the difference in keeping P.J. Tucker, if it’s deemed worth doing.

Like the Oklahoma City Thunder or Houston Rockets, Phoenix wants its back-end of the roster to be built in two ways; draft picks and value diamonds in the rough. Saving even a few million helps in either case, be it set aside for an Ish Smith on a deal less than $1 million or a $3 million annually for a talented player on a rookie deal. Playing some sort of money-ball, Dragic over Bledsoe at the least gives Phoenix more flexibility.

None of this is to say Bledsoe isn’t valuable and deserving of a max contract in today’s market. His defensive plus-minus is off the charts for a guard as one of only six perimeter players in the top-40 of the league. It ranks 13th overall in the league, and third among perimeter players.

I asked Weisert to crunch the numbers using his model of the NBA Skills Market piece he’s done two years running, and both the values of Dragic and Bledsoe measure around $9 million per year. Taking the more proven and less expensive of the two — especially if the Suns succeed in landing a big name post player — is the best bet to win now.

This is win-now mode with a caveat

The caveat: the win-now mode in today’s NBA is not the financial hemorrhaging like that of the Knicks or the ridiculously spend-happy Nets, who under owner Mikhail Prokhorov might as well have an asterisks beside their salary and tax totals. Teams like the Thunder and the Spurs can win and do it frugally.

Phoenix management says it’s in win-now mode, and it’s arguable whether that’s an imagined truth stemming from Ryan McDonough’s comments, or not. This past season’s success leaned the evidence toward it being a reality.

All season long and into the draft process, coach Jeff Hornacek has been open about acquiring a low-post offensive threat.

Obviously, the Suns haven’t decided if its two stars can take them to the promised land. Most can agree Hornacek’s squad needs an upgrade to Dragic and Bledsoe, or an addition if they can pull it off. Of any NBA teams, the Suns might most represent the Thunder, who likewise have two elite perimeter stars. Oklahoma City similarly earns criticism as a ball-dominated offense for simpltons — give it to Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook — but the bombs lofted Scott Brooks’ way should be directed perhaps more toward general manager Sam Presti, whose management of the frontcourt options hasn’t given Brooks much offensive flexibility to work with.

Phoenix has realized this is its own situation, and that might make one of Dragic or Bledsoe expendable.

Why Dragic over Bledsoe? While the ceiling is lower, the risk-factor is less. This is a Jabari Parker versus Andrew Wiggins choice. The sure-fire pick is Dragic but the future could be Bledsoe. Hornacek and McDonough saw Dragic’s leadership in the EuroBasket tournament last season, and that’s something that has its own value. If winning is the key now, Dragic is more ready to do so.

The business side counts

Informal Twitter polls lend a sense of how Phoenix fans value Bledsoe and Dragic. It’s the Most Improved Player who has grabbed Suns fans with his kind-hearted nature in an interview and the cold-blooded killing on the court. At the same time, those who have watched the Suns can easily gauge Bledsoe is important to the team, but it might be difficult to presume what he can be down the road. He’s shy off the court, and his personality on it flips seamlessly between ephemerally brilliant to focus-lacking.

Dragic returned to Phoenix last offseason as the man who took Steve Nash’s locker. The storyline felt a bit forced, though it’s hard to say it wouldn’t have been the case for any other point guard the Suns brought on (we were saying it about Kendall Marshall when he was drafted, after all). Yet, Dragic’s All-NBA season made him truly deserving of the heaps of expectations place on him.

He’s no Steve Nash, but he’s helped Suns fans move on more than anyone else. Marketing power is not a trait in strictly basketball terms, but it accounts for a lot of the decision-making.

Tags: NBA Free Agency

  • 4everis2long

    I love both of these guards but what Bled did at age 24, his first season starting was pretty remarkable. Combining his steals, rebounds, assists and points he was in the exemplary group of Westbrook, Durant, LBJ and James Harden. While I could certainly understand the financial logic in keeping the likely cheaper one, at age 24 Dragic did not perform like Bledsoe. Bled has the higher ceiling. I cannot think of too many GMs who would trade the substantially younger talent with the higher ceiling just because he will be a max player. I could be wrong but it does not seem to be the formula for championship success. OKC traded Harden because Ibaka accepted less but he was the defensive ingredient they needed. Good topic Kev but you knew I was going to weigh in on this one.

  • Jared3636

    I don’t think it is even a debate which player the Suns would keep if they needed to move one. They would keep Dragic over Bledsoe in almost any scenario. Not only is Goran the better player and leader, but he also seems to genuinely want to be here. Remember that Goran chose to come here while it was forced upon Bledsoe via trade.

    I understand the Bledsoe is a quiet guy by nature, but it sure doesn’t help him convince anyone that he is happy here. Bledsoe is clearly projected to be the long term better player. But I think the Suns are in win now mode and would keep the known commodity over potential.

    • 4everis2long

      Jared what does win now mode mean? The Suns were over .500 last year.

      • Jared3636

        What does “win now” mean?? Ok let’s try to explain this.. It means that you place more importance on winning as much as possible in the upcoming season than you do on future seasons. Sometimes that means sacrificing long term potential for short term rewards.

        You are correct that the suns were over .500 and therefore a winning team. The only problem is that they still didn’t make the playoffs.

        I would love to see the Suns keep both players. But the point of this article was to speculate which player the suns would keep IF they could only keep one, under the assumption that they use the other player to bring in a big name such as Love.

  • Horny’s Harem

    While, I do agree that you would keep Dragic over Bledsoe right now if you had to, I don’t think McD will get there. I do not agree with the following statement: “A Bledsoe max would get in the way of what the Suns expect to do in free agency next summer, when there will be plenty of stars on the market.”

    The salary cap keeps going up and there are a lot of ways we can add a good player next year. Unless it’s in a trade, I don’t see Bledsoe going anywhere anytime soon. I think we’ll be able to keep them both and add someone next year in FA. There is a huge class, and they can’t all get max deals. We’ll get a good player.

  • 4everis2long

    Can someone explain what “win now” means? If it simply means getting to the playoffs that can be done by keeping both players and adding a defensive minded power forward. If it means win a championship, I cannot imagine The Suns feel that will happen in the immediate future unless LBJ is coming here. If it means win a championship in three years why would the Suns trade a guy who will be in his prime in three years and keep the guy on the back side of his prime in three years? I am begging for an explanation.

    • Lloyd Cadle

      “Win now” is what Boston did when they got Garnett and Allen for assets and won the title because of it.

      When you have a great GM and coach, you can win now, short term and long term. San Antonio has had a great run, but they are now old. As is Dallas.

      There are no more dominant teams on the west (like the Lakers of old)

      • 4everis2long

        Absent getting LBJ the Suns will not be winning a championship next season. Boston made deals that allowed them to keep Paul Pierce and Rondo while adding hall of famers KG and Allen. The Suns do not have that ability this upcoming season. To think the Suns can trade their potentially most talented player and get assets to win a championship next season is delusional. If anything LBJ would come to the Suns because of Bled not after they trade him.

        While a great GM and coach can get it done, that type of success with this roster isn’t imminent. In all likelihood the Suns are at least 2 or 3 seasons away from being a championship contender, which means Dragic will be near the backside of his prime.

        • Lloyd Cadle

          Like someone else said, the point of the article was which player would you prefer to give up, Bledsoe or Dragic?

          You are not going to get a Kevin Love type of player for a can of pork and beans.

          • 4everis2long

            Considering your take on win now, you think the Suns would be a championship contender if they let Bledsoe go or traded him to Minny for Love?

          • Lloyd Cadle

            Congrats to the Spurs as they won and demonstrated what teamwork is all about.

            I like Bledsoe, my concern is that he may be injured a lot. Dragic is a young 28, not a lot of miles on his body.

            If they give up Bledsoe in a deal for Love, it may take a package which will include 3 teams.

            McDonough was quoted as saying that the Suns are aiming for 55- 60 wins next year. That is a win now mentality. That puts them in the hunt in the west.

            We are talking Love, McDonough may very well be blowing smoke. He may have other players on his radar.

            With injuries, contracts and free agency, things change quickly. Teams can no longer afford 3-5 year rebuilding plans. Like Cards coach Bruce Arians said, you have to win now or you may be out of a job.

      • 4everis2long

        The Spurs who have been to consecutive championships the last two years aren’t dominant? Are you kidding me? Yeah they are old but they are about to win it all being old. So you do not think they will be a championship contender next season with K. Leonard and everyone else returning? Wow!

        • Lloyd Cadle

          With Ginobli and Duncan getting old, the Spurs will not be a dominant team past this year. Yes, they have been a great franchise and they should win it this year. Tim Duncan is the main reason for the greatness of the Spurs.

          Big guys like him don’t come along very often.

          • 4everis2long

            They just destroyed the Heat in 5 games and the MVP was 22 year old Leonard and you do not think they will be a championship contender next season?

          • Lloyd Cadle

            It depends on Duncan. How many titles would they have won without him?

            If he slows down, that’s it. Most guys his age are broadcasters.

          • DBreezy

            Yup and it underscores the challenge ahead of the Suns. It doesn’t look like any of the current West playoff squads will get worse this offseason and a healthy Denver will likely return to it’s previous winning ways. The 55 W’s McD mentioned would still have only made them a 4 seed this season, with two other teams right on their heels.

          • 4everis2long

            DB that is why I am fishing for answers how anyone can reasonably believe the Suns will be a championship contender in the West next season. There is a lot of confidence floating on Planet Orange these days.

          • DBreezy

            There is a lot of confidence amongst fans which is curious to me in some respects. I don’t think this team could beat any of the Suns teams from 2004-2010 in a series (yes even the Terry Porter team). I don’t even think it would be close, yet the confidence level in what they have right now seems just as high for some. To me they’re at least one dominant player away from even being the first SSOL team in 2004-2005.

            Also while I think the Spurs, Mavs, and Suns of that era were stronger teams overall than what’s atop the conference now, top to bottom I think the West is tougher than it was during those years. There isn’t as much of a drop off after the first 3 teams and there really are no gimmes. History will show the Spurs as champs this season so few will remember that the Mavs legitimately had them on the ropes in the 1st round and if it wasn’t for a self-inflicted stretch in game 1 of that series, we might be looking at a different champ.

            In other news DX just put out their yearly stats rundown of the power forward prospects. I won’t post links anymore as that seems to keep my posts from showing, but if you get a chance look at it and compare Payne’s numbers with those of Markieff’s. You can get Markieff’s by going into the archive section and choosing articles from June 2011. It’s under the Big Men section.

          • 4everis2long

            DB Thanks for the reference. While I diid not get to compare Markief’s numbers, I love the breakdown of the power forwards. I guess it depends what a team is looking for from their four but IMO the Suns should want someone who has very good defensive skills including rebounding and block shots. Cappella seems to fit that description nicely. I guess if being a stretch four is a priority, Payne can get it done but I admit I am not as high on him today as I was during the college season. The comparison was impressive.

          • DBreezy

            I like comparing the two as it brings us back to the reason Kieff was drafted in the first place. Babby/Blanks believed they ‘owed’ it to Nash and Hill to give them the best chance possible of making the playoffs each season they stayed here. So they targeted players who they felt could contribute right away and fit positional need vs. best player available.

            Kieff was considered a safe pick who would be able to come in and defend and rebound right away with the belief that his offense would come as he showed a nice shooting stroke his last year at KU. As it turns out, Kieff has mostly been an offensive player who hasn’t done much on D outside of fouling a lot although he does rebound slightly better than Frye. I’m also curious as to why he hasn’t been able to secure the starting 4 job after 3 seasons with 3 different coaches. Even now with Frye potentially opting out and generally considered on the backside of his career by the organization, you don’t get the sense that they’re comfortable going into next season with Kieff as the starter. It was the question I wanted to ask Hornacek the most when I saw him out at a restaurant recently.

            When you look at Payne’s collegiate numbers vs Kieff’s, Kieff pretty much beats him across the board except for pace adjusted points per 40mins where Payne is about 2ppg ahead. Even that to me is a win for Kieff or at least a wash as Payne had a higher usage rate. Coming out of school, I would say most scouts viewed Kieff as a better defensive player than they do Payne. Right now Payne’s biggest advantage is his slightly longer frame as I believe Kieff is more athletic-something easier to compare as they’re pretty close in age. It’s not that I think Payne is going to be a bust, but I just don’t see the Suns in the same position as they were when they drafted Kieff-ie management wanting the 8th seed for Nash/Hill at all costs. So why draft a guy who at best seems to project the same as your current backup 4? Especially when it took that guy 3 years to arrive despite a lot of playing time-playing time that might not be available if he can’t beat out two similar guys in Frye and Kieff. I did also notice that several of Capella’s stat’s do fit what the Suns are lacking at the 4 on the defensive end. It also doesn’t hurt that he appears to be a good s/r player.

          • coachj

            I agree that Payne is essentially similar to Kieff. I also don’t believe that I have high expectations that a pick at 18 is going to produce more than what Kieff or Payne are [although we always hope]. I also don’t believe that Kieff is anything more than a role player, and if we had a starting level PF, Kieff is a nice bench piece. BUt we don’t and relying on Kieff or Payne to come in and be that for us isn’t putting us anywhere.

            If we already have Kieff [remember he is on his QO after this season], the only reason to draft Payne is to move Kieff and have that type of player on his first year of a contract rather than the last and dealing with having to give him a raise. This is where the Spurs model tells you to trade Kieff and draft Payne and you are getting similar production on a smaller salary that is locked in for the next 4 years.

          • DBreezy

            Well if they’re gonna draft Payne and move Kieff according to the Spurs model, now is the time to do it. Kieff is on a rookie contract so it’s not like you can get much in return in terms of matching salaries, so I’d rather pick up a pick in this years draft as well similar to what the Spurs did with Hill and Leonard. I don’t really want to trade our 4th year player for another 4th year player generically speaking.

          • coachj

            That’s what I was going for… Trade both Morri [because I think you have to if you trade one, and frankly both are replaceable players] but maybe not in the same deal [or maybe so], and use them possibly to pick up younger replacement players or use in a package for an upgrade [Thad Young?].

          • DBreezy

            It’s possible and in the big picture might be wisest, but as Foreveris has noted the optimism on planet Orange is quite high right now and such a move would be a step back initially. If the Suns had performed closer to the ‘plan’ than I think there wouldn’t be any management consternation with your idea.

          • Lloyd Cadle

            I like Love, but I am beginning to think that the asking price is too much. It might be better to trade up (the 14th and one of next years picks), to move into the top ten.

            Keep the 18th to nab Capela (unbelievable potential). 18th may be considered too high for him, but if you wait til 27, he will be long gone.

            Keep Bledsoe and Dragic intact, (and hope Bled stays off DL).

            Address your need for added big man and sign Gasol. Plumlee has a lot of upside, and Len for a great future. In moves like this, you are addressing need for now (Gasol), adding for future (top ten pick and Capela), and keeping Bledsoe and Dragic. This should get you 55-60 wins.

            By the way, Markief is a young stud of a player.

            That’s my two cents.

          • 4everis2long

            I agree with ya Lloyd. If the Suns could trade up to get to get Randle with Lakers 7th pick< I would do it as long as the asking price does not include Goodwin or more than two 1st round picks. Otherwise I would do exactly as you outlined above, keep Dragic and Bled and draft Cappella with the 18th pick. The Suns may go after Gasol but they can also get help at the 4 spot at a cheaper cost in getting E.Davis or J. Hill.

          • Lloyd Cadle

            Sounds good. Gasol gives instant 18-10, and you don’t have to give up players. The ones you mentioned are good also.

            When Bledsoe played with Dragic the Suns were at a .667 winning %. So, with a couple of moves, they could get to 55 wins and have Goodwyn, Len, the number 10 pick and Capela for the future.

            That is the way the Spurs do it.

  • DBreezy

    There’s no way the Suns have a clear cut answer on this right now as I think it will be heavily dependent on the deal presented and what personnel ultimately remain. We see how OKC struggles at times with two of the top 10 players in the game who genuinely seem to like each other, but who’s games don’t really match. Same with the Knicks where all reports are that Melo and Amar’e get along very well personally.

    The financial side of this is presented very well imo and I’m sure it will factor in on some level, but what I like the most is that the Suns front office seems to be being proactive with this decision. Previous Suns front offices would take a decision like this where they knew they had to decide, but would waste all of their leverage waiting till the last moment out of indecision or the desire to ‘win-now’ with bubble playoff teams. If you’re gonna make a move, get the most bang for it.

    • coachj

      I think Bled/Drag actually fit together better than Durant/Westbrook. The former are willing teammates that will defer to each other and are good on both sides of the ball, the latter are two alphas competing for the ball.

      • DBreezy

        To me the thing about Durant and Westbrook isn’t so much that they’re competing with each other but that they’re games don’t match. Westbrook gets most of the heat for it, but imagine if Durant copied more than just Dirk’s FT line step back but watched tapes of that old Terry/Dirk screen roll. They wouldn’t need to run it all the time, but I think it would improve their efficiency together and that of their teammates. They didn’t really need to when they had Harden down the stretch as a facilitator and scorer, but the guys who’ve replaced him are more scorers than creators.

        Bled and Drag fit together well as long as the Suns are pushing the pace and scoring off fast breaks or early O. I think they still have some work to do in the half court, but it was their first season and they missed a lot of time together. The questions will come if the Suns make a trade for a front court player as to who they’d best work with.

  • MyMets

    I know that Bledsoe wants a some team, maybe any team to give him a max deal. But, I just don’t see any team in the NBA offering a guy – who has a long list of injury history and has just proved himself for a little over 40 games, a max contract.

    There’s probably a team out there that will offer him 4 years $44 million which might be a reach, I think he is likely to get more like 40 mil over 4 years. There’s too many good PG’s to have in free agency and in this draft that will cost less, there is just too much depth, and unfortunately for Bledsoe no team in the NBA will be willing to offer him a max deal, not happening.

    • DBreezy

      It only takes one team, but I would agree that generally speaking the new cba and a relative glut of strong point guards on the market has generally brought their price down. Since the new cba, I think only CP3, Deron Williams, Westbrook, John Wall have broken the bank as pg’s. So two established guys, a young superstar and one young guy like Bledsoe. Steph Curry got 4/44M. Jrue Holiday got 4/41M. Brandon Jennings got 3/25M. Lin got 4/28. Dragic got 4/34. I don’t expect any poison pill deals for Bledsoe like the Lin and Asik deals as I’m sure the league has noticed that neither one of those moves worked out the way Morey expected and he’s been struggling to move both. I’m mostly curious to see if anyone values him more than what Steph got.

      • Marques Morgan

        Steph curry signed his contract before the season l, so the Warriors didn’t have to worry about offers from other teams

        • DBreezy

          Yes he signed an extension for under what his market value is because he was worried about his ankle. However, the general effect of that extension is that it helped set the market for pg’s of a certain level. I also forgot to mention that Ty Lawson got 4/48M in an extension post-lockout.

  • Marques Morgan

    Personally I would get rid of Dragic, Phoenix isn’t winning a Championship any time soon. Dragics value will never be higher than it is now. The teams best bet is to be aggressive in getting in the drafts top 3 and build around one of those 3 players. No one on the roster should be untouchable. These next two drafts will be really strong, building thru these two drafts will give phoenix a chance at being contenders in the next few years

  • Lloyd Cadle

    Keep Dragic. I am concerned that Bledsoe will be on the disabled list too much. Deal Bledsoe as part of a package to get Love or another excellent PF.

    Then try to deal up in the draft in order to secure Nik Stauskas, to play alongside Dragic. Keep Goodwin, Green and Ish.

    Every year should be “win now”, the future is way too uncertain in sports.

  • coachj

    If you are going to trade one or the other, you better be getting something BIG. Dragic is all-nba and I think will continue to get better and Bledsoe is phenomenal who WILL ONLY get better. If you trade either one, you better be getting a major piece. Is Love it? I am not so sure.