An underlying subplot to this Celtics season is the performance of Marcus Smart and how it affects his impending restricted free agency. Every steal, every long-range make, every success is tinged with the specter of it adding to his appeal to other teams.
But as I’ve said many times, the “restricted” part of his free agency makes next summer a daunting one for Smart and his agent. They need teams to be willing to pay him above his perceived value so Danny Ainge will blink and not match the contract offer.
At the same time, Phoenix is horribly botching its point guard situation. After giving Isaiah Thomas away to Boston for next to nothing and settling on Eric Bledsoe after trading Goran Dragic to the Heat, Phoenix has completely alienated their remaining point guard to the point of exhaustion.
Last season, Phoenix shelved a healthy Bledsoe in a blatant effort to tank. The Suns then crawled into the season putting up exactly this much fight in the first three games of their season before firing Earl Watson.
Now Bledsoe wants out, and the Suns are very happy to oblige. So happy, in fact, that their GM blasted him in a radio interview.
“I was certainly surprised by it and disappointed by it,” McDonough said in the interview. “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.”
Not exactly the type of thing you do if you want to keep his trade value high. The Suns may be asking the world for Bledsoe, but there’s no way they get it. Eventually, presumably, he’ll have to be traded for pennies on the dollar.
This is less than ideal for Smart, who is already staring at a dry point guard market. The wanton spending immediately after the cap spike is over and capable point guards dot the landscape. Hell, the Celtics are already making things worse for Smart by showcasing Shane Larkin as a competent, cheap option at the position. For a league desperate for stretch-bigs and two-way wings, turning to Larkin for low money after a solid season seems like a palatable option.
That aside, unexpectedly injecting Bledsoe into the mix really hurts Smart’s summer. If a point guard-hungry team decides they want an established guy, then they can get a proven scorer and two-way player in Bledsoe for $14.5 million this year and $15 million next year.
That just happens to be in the range of what Smart will likely be demanding. Sure, Smart’s younger, but Bledsoe is about to turn 28 and has displayed the ability to be an above-average scorer while also capably defending. If Bledsoe becomes available at a reduced price, a team might choose his value over waiting for Smart to demonstrate his.
The Suns can continue to botch this situation by letting Bledsoe’s value, and career, rot on the vine until the trade deadline or beyond, but at that point they risk making their own situation too toxic for any impending free agent.
The natural reaction to Bledsoe being traded would be for “Smart to the Suns” rumors to surface. But Phoenix is not a good team, and right now, they’re don’t seem to be much fun to play for. The dysfunction there seems to be at a high point, and there’s nothing in owner Rob Sarver’s past that would suggest it will stabilize any time soon. Sarver is one of the league’s worst owners, and that toxicity trickles down throughout the organization.
So the Suns incompetence here could eliminate two teams from the already thin point guard market. For a guy like Smart who’s hoping to cash in this July, a situation across the country with absolutely no connection to him could cost him millions of dollars.