Apr 14, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) answers questions after facing the Memphis Grizzlies at US Airways Center. The Grizzlies won 97-91. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

NBA salary cap change hurts Eric Bledsoe's free agency

There are more than a few reasons for the gulf between the Phoenix Suns and Eric Bledsoe’s camp when it comes to his value as a restricted free agent. I went over the details a few days ago, but Grantland’s Zach Lowe attacked Bledsoe’s situation from a wider angle in an article published today.

Lowe offers a few more details about why this process is in a deadlock, while also pointing out the injury questions and issues surrounding Bledsoe’s unproven point guarding. For what it’s worth, I eventually was pulled in the direction of believing that Bledsoe’s elite defense alone would make up for his turnover and general offensive issues — Lowe points out that non-Dragic lineups scored at a bottom-5 rate — and I’m of the opinion the injury issues might be even more harmful toward the point guard’s restricted free agency.

Lowe suggests that the uncertain future of the salary cap is the guiding force that has made it hard to pin down Bledsoe’s value. The salary cap increase of 7.5 percent (from $58 million to $63 million) in just a year’s time might be the beginning if new TV deals change the league’s income. Lowe mentions that team executives believe the league may be determining a way to “smooth out” what could be massive bumps in salary cap space available.

Specifically looking at how this affects Bledsoe, Lowe takes a look at similar young point guards Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry, all of whom were quite productive but a bit more proven than Bledsoe. Their deals are probably no longer setting the market as the salary cap rises. From Lowe:

The Holiday-Lawson-Curry $11 million–plus deals were signed two years ago, and they’re obsolete now — apples to oranges. Bledsoe sits squarely at the intersection of all sorts of competing trends.

A few teams have internal projections showing the cap level might jump as much as 30 percent over the next two years, and there is some anxiety that there could be a massive one-year jump in there somewhere depending on the exact timing of the announcement and implementation of the new national TV contract.

Gauging the proper value of a player changes if the cap jumps wildly year over year; constructing a long-term core is harder if more players start pushing for shorter contracts. On the flip side, shorter contracts today allow teams to plan for cap space tomorrow.

Bledsoe’s injury history has to make his camp pause when considering taking a shorter deal. Making the most guaranteed money over the longest amount of time would seem smarter at this point, and conversely the Suns wouldn’t want to pin their future down on a player with too many questions. Bledsoe is not in the same situation as LeBron James giving himself an opt-out on a short, two-year deal to return to Cleveland. It’s even hard to fault Lance Stephenson for taking a three-year deal in Charlotte. It’s quite possible he can help his value and sign a bigger deal in his prime, and the former Pacers guard doesn’t have the injury history of Bledsoe.

Offering Bledsoe the reported $48 million over four years would indicate the Suns are confident that the guard’s health won’t be an issue. They could instead hand him a max contract for two or three years if they feel like he might break down, but that, again, would be a risky move for Bledsoe.

It’s smart for Phoenix to offer Bledsoe the market price, and it’s smart for Bledsoe to hold out, hoping he can earn his money.

But there is another reason that holding out hasn’t worked as the market dries up.

A little-known clause of the collective bargaining agreement gives any team that matches an offer sheet — Phoenix in this Bledsoe scenario — two days beyond that 72-hour window to administer the player in question a physical. The amount of the offer sheet stays on the rival team’s books during those two days, meaning a team in Phoenix’s position could lock a rival out of free agency for longer than 72 hours.

A team signing Bledsoe to an offer sheet would be punished with a cap hold, disallowing the squad from making any other moves in free agency. Many teams have filled out there rosters quite well at this point, so this might not be that big of an issue.

And thinking that has anything to do with Bledsoe’s free agency overlooks the low probability a team with cap space has any ambition of adding Bledsoe at all. Simply, there aren’t many teams that have the money to pay Bledsoe what the Suns are offering.

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