- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Especially because it's already September.
Inside a month to go before the Phoenix Suns and the rest of the league open up their training camps, Bledsoe remains unsigned, just 25 days and change away from the Suns' scheduled return to work in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Which raises the unappetizing possibility that Bledsoe won't even be there for that first day of camp to reunite with Dragic. The deadline for the Suns' prized restricted free agent to sign his qualifying offer isn't until Oct. 1. And these parties have been locked in a stalemate for months.
As ESPN.com reported in August, Bledsoe is seeking the five-year max from Phoenix worth $85 million. The Suns' offer has topped out, to this point, at a reported $48 million over four years. The resulting impasse -- and tension -- has led to both parties exploring sign-and-trade options while Bledsoe himself inches closer to playing next season on a $3.7 million qualifier that would allow him to become an unrestricted free agent in July 2015.
Going the latter route would be an undeniable risk for Bledsoe, coming off a second knee surgery that limited him to 43 games last season, but make no mistake: Phoenix would be facing tremendous risk here as well. Should Bledsoe decide to sign the qualifying offer, as appears increasingly likely if no sign-and-trade materializes, Bledsoe can't be traded without his consent for the whole season ... and would instantly set himself up to join Dragic as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Consider that last sentence again.
If Bledsoe elects to go the rare qualifying offer route, Phoenix would suddenly face the very real possibility of losing both of its two best assets without compensation in 2015 free agency.
The Lakers, for example, are just one team league sources say would likely make a hard run at both of them, based on the premise that the Suns couldn't afford the cost of paying both at that point, theoretically making either Bledsoe or Dragic gettable. Sources say that Houston, furthermore, has Dragic on its list of potential targets next summer given how he's blossomed since leaving the Rockets for Phoenix in the free-agent summer of 2012.
If Bledsoe signs the qualifier, furthermore, you can pretty much bank on him leaving Phoenix as soon as he gets the chance, because players don't take that sort of gamble and then bury the bad feelings months later to re-sign with the incumbent team. And that would naturally increase Dragic's leverage in the process, because Phoenix simply couldn't stomach losing its two most valuable players, who both happen to play what is routinely regarded as the most important position on the floor in the modern NBA.
So it's quite a quandary for the Suns. As sensible as their four-year, $48 million pitch to Bledsoe sounds and as outlandish as the player's demands might seem -- given what Kyle Lowry just got in Toronto -- I have to believe Bledsoe's agent Rich Paul thinks he can get much more than what Phoenix is offering next summer. He wouldn't be turning down Lowry money now if he didn't already know.
You'll recall Utah's Gordon Hayward was roundly questioned after passing on a similar four-year, $48 million extension offer from the Jazz last October when he was said to be seeking $52 million. Hayward wound up scoring a max offer sheet from Charlotte worth $64 million over four years, which Utah was forced to match.
Now it's Bledsoe's turn. And Greg Monroe's. The Detroit big man is also weighing whether to play out the coming season on a qualifying offer if he isn't presented with a sign-and-trade scenario to his liking before Oct. 1, fully believing that there's more money available next summer as an unrestricted free agent than the Pistons are offering now. And if you don't think Monroe has the gumption to go that route, you're forgetting that he's represented by the fearless David Falk.
My sense is that Bledsoe and Paul are indeed prepared to take the qualifying offer despite the rarity of the strategy. And you can't help but wonder, in the Suns' case, what sort of season awaits the NBA's plucky darlings of 2013-14 if that's how it plays out.
It would appear that Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek faces quite a challenging sophomore season, after his fantastic debut as a head coach, given that the harmony and chemistry that played such a big role in the Suns' success is bound to be shaken by the uncertainty surrounding the future of their two franchise players. Free agency is also looming, incidentally, for Gerald Green (unrestricted) and twins Markieff and Marcus Morris (both restricted) in July 2015.
Some solace for the Suns: Oct. 1 is the likely the longest they'll have to wait before seeing Bledsoe ... assuming they (A) can't hammer out a deal with Bledsoe through an 11th-hour round of negotiating or (B) don't opt to sign-and-trade him.
The league's new labor agreement in 2011, thanks to one of the union's many concessions, moved up the deadline for signing qualifying offers to Oct. 1. Otherwise this saga potentially could have dragged out even longer.
Or have you forgotten Anderson Varejao's foray into restricted free agency in the summer of 2007?
In that instance, Varejao's agent, Dan Fegan, rejected what he felt was an unworthy offer from the Cleveland Cavaliers and waited until December before he landed the offer sheet he felt Varejao deserved. Charlotte eventually came through with a two-year, $11 million pact that the Cavs ultimately matched ... after playing without Varejao for the first two months of the season.
Seven years later, even though both Bledsoe and Monroe do still possess the option to stage an old-fashioned holdout once their respective qualifying offers expire, Oct. 1 looms as the likely end to both of these dramas.
At least as far as this seemingly endless summer goes.
100dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo