What the Suns-Bucks trade of Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe means

Nov 7, 2017, 11:26 AM | Updated: 3:45 pm
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LISTEN: Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee Bucks' and Former Suns' Guard

Sent away from the Phoenix Suns two weeks ago after that cryptic tweet, Eric Bledsoe now has a new home.

The Suns traded Bledsoe to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday for the expiring contract of center Greg Monroe, a weirdly-protected first-round pick and potentially a second-round pick, reports ESPN.

It was two weeks ago that Bledsoe tweeted “I Dont wanna be here,” leading to the Suns and general manager Ryan McDonough sending him home after admitting he did not believe Bledsoe’s tweet was about being at a hair salon.

They believed it was about his unhappiness in Phoenix. Message received.

What does the trade mean looking back and moving forward?

Here are a couple initial thoughts.

Why the market wasn’t so great

At first glance, the trade appears to be a disappointment when it comes to expected return.

Phoenix, after all, reportedly wanted point guard and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon back in a Bledsoe deal.

Bledsoe is a top-15 point guard — when healthy.

McDonough did not help his value by questioning his leadership — maybe.

But the reality was this: In a league deep at point guard, his value was already in question. By the advanced stats, his 2016-17 season widely called his “best” wasn’t that. By value over replacement player, it was his 2014-15 season that was actually his best, per Basketball-Reference. More responsibility placed on him since the departures of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas — and the team around him getting significantly worse — saw his defensive impact decrease significantly by the eye test as well.

Throw in three meniscus surgeries between his two knees, and it’s not as cut-and-dry as trading away a 20-point scorer, playmaker and defender for scraps.

Is the trade underwhelming? If you’d expected McDonough to pull off another handsome return like he did for disgruntled Dragic or Markieff Morris, yes. If you saw the more stingy NBA trade market and the value of Bledsoe decrease over the past two years, not so much.

About those odd pick protections …

From 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s John Gambadoro:

Phoenix gets the pick in 2018 if it is between the 11th and 16th spot. Otherwise, the pick would roll over to 2019 to be protected if it is outside fourth through 16th overall. If the Suns don’t get it in 2019, the pick will be protected from first to seventh overall in 2020.

There is no protection on the pick if it is bumped to 2021.

This looks bad, even if it keeps the Suns from taking a devalued pick if it lands in the backend of the first round.

Still, it looks like the Suns aren’t going to get a young player for another year — or two, or three. But the fact is Phoenix already had the assets to move about atop the lottery in this upcoming draft. They need to do so.

And even if the incoming draft pick is not involved because of the uncertainty, that pick can be used to maneuver again in a later draft.

This is a long-term rebuild. Putting off picks isn’t a concern, unless McDonough is worried about his job status now.

The Milwaukee test case

Looking ahead could help us understand what went wrong with Bledsoe and the Suns.

Did the Suns make a mistake by handing him the keys over Dragic and Thomas? Was it on the point guard or several coaching staffs that the ball would often die in his hands over the past few years?

Milwaukee doesn’t operate with a traditional point guard. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has orchestrated some early MVP hype by initiating lots (sometimes too much) of the offense.

Can Bledsoe contribute — and contribute at his best — by playing a secondary role?

Bledsoe’s shooting had taken a step backward after he hit 37 percent from three before his last knee injury in December 2015. The Bucks are the third-best three-point shooting team and can absorb his drive-happy style, perhaps. Playing off Antetokounmpo might give Bledsoe the ability to again become the defensive menace that made him great in 2014-15 playing alongside Dragic.

But while Milwaukee might see adding Bledsoe as an improvement of the roster, there will be speed bumps.

Bledsoe theoretically will take minutes from Brogdon, a lockdown defender and dead-eye shooter who doesn’t need the ball to make an impact.

Playing under former point guard Jason Kidd will be a fine determining factor as to whether the Suns failed to build around Bledsoe, whose basketball talent has always been far greater than his impact on the court. It’s never been clear if that’s more about his flaws or Phoenix’s own.

What comes next at center?

Adding Monroe is an obvious opportunity for Phoenix to open up cap space heading into next year. While Bledsoe has two years on his contract, including this year, Monroe comes off the books after the 2017-18 season, in which he’ll make $17.8 million.

For now, he is the highest-paid contract on the Suns’ books.

Monroe, 27, is currently sidelined. The Bucks shut him down for two weeks at the end of October due to a calf injuries that had limited him all year long, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He could miss another week if he remains on the predicted timeline set by the Bucks.

So at the moment, there’s no concern about the Tyson Chandler-Alex Len center rotation.

Moving forward will be the interesting thing to watch. Chandler would be the most obvious candidate to be traded next. Len is a free agent after the year.

Monroe, though, might have the most value for a follow-up trade as a No. 1 bench player to run the offense through.

If he heads to Phoenix, the Suns could find the center position too crowded this year, and that is a concern if Monroe indeed joins them hoping to build his value in a contract year.

Phoenix has center Alan Williams under contract for $5.5 million next season but that isn’t guaranteed.

So beyond this season, there are several options, including looking to keep Monroe, who when healthy is one of the more productive rebounding and offensive bigs in the league. Last year, he averaged 11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 22.5 minutes per game.

Speaking of the roster at hand …

Shaping the identity of the future

One storyline lost amid the firing of Earl Watson, hiring of Jay Triano as interim through the end of the year, and now the Bledsoe-Monroe deal is defining what the Suns will become down the road.

They lit the dumpster of small ball on fire by removing Watson.

Triano’s traditional lineups with a center always on the court would allow Monroe to find a fit. It’s helped Chandler and Len gain some rhythm.

That leads to wondering how Phoenix can bring along young power forwards Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender in their critical sophomore seasons. With Jared Dudley playing down the stretch in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, that’s an even bigger worry.

So what’s the direction of basketball identity?

Positionless basketball is suddenly an endangered species in the desert.

Penguin Air

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What the Suns-Bucks trade of Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe means