LOS ANGELES -- Eric Bledsoe picked a funny time to have his best game of the 2011-2012 NBA season, with rumors swirling about him on the eve of the league's pushed-back trade deadline.
But the second-year guard's game on Wednesday against Atlanta -- 14 points, four steals and two blocks in 17 minutes -- is perfectly representative of the value he can provide the Clippers for the rest of the season and in the future. It's also representative of why he's the only tradable asset the team has left following December's deal for Chris Paul.
Now, the question is what the Clippers will do with him. If they make any sort of trade by noon PT on Thursday, it's likely he'll be involved. If they don't, then coach Vinny Del Negro will need to find a consistent role for him to fill for the remaining 25 games.
They don't want to trade him, for the same reasons they didn't want to trade him to New Orleans in the deal for Paul. He's talented, he's young, he's cheap and he plays a premium position. He also provides insurance if Mo Williams opts out of his contract next summer or Paul doesn't re-sign the summer after that.
But Bledsoe has still only logged double-digit minutes in three games this year, and none of them have been consecutively. But he has made a significant impact in all three, like Sunday's loss to Golden State, when he and Reggie Evans almost brought the Clippers back by themselves in the fourth quarter.
The problem is that Bledsoe was able to play 17 minutes only because Del Negro took it easy on Paul and played him the fewest minutes he has logged in a month and had Randy Foye on the floor for only 19 minutes, too.
"It's not always that easy," Del Negro said after Wednesday's game. "Tonight, it worked out with the minutes that he probably deserves, but it's hard managing those things, in terms of minutes and who's going well."
Bledsoe said Wednesday that his role "never changes" -- he's still asked to do the same stuff, just for different amounts of time. But he's clearly being under-utilized, especially now as he's proving he's getting closer and closer to 100 percent healthy.
It's a matter of value. Is it worth more to the Clippers to deal him now for a piece that could help them in their playoff run in two months, or is it worth more to continue to have Bledsoe as an asset while playing him for 15 minutes a game for the next six weeks?
The answer's probably the latter.