On the Trade Front: What is Eric Bledsoe Worth?

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Published: April 23, 2013

Without a doubt, the #1 question I get on Twitter, in emails, for the podcast, etc. is “What would the Clippers want for Eric Bledsoe?” That question came even more feverishly after Chris Paul’s comments about Eric Bledsoe most likely being traded this offseason. First of all, that is an impossible question for me to answer because I am not the Clippers. I am not their owner (thank God), I am not their GM, and I am not their soon to be let go head coach. I am just a guy who knows a bit about basketball, both the game itself and its vast history. When trying to predict what will happen next, the answer always lies in the past – trying to find a similar situation and seeing how it played out. The problem with that is that we so rarely see a young point guard on a great contract, who is just hitting his prime, traded in this league. Somewhat ironically, the most comparable situation we have seen in the last five years has been when New Orleans traded Chris Paul’s dynamic backup point guard to the Indiana Pacers in the summer of 2010.

So, in order to try and predict the future, let’s take a glance into the past and see just how similar (or different) these two situations truly are.

The Teams

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers were a young team with a talented nucleus that included Danny Granger, Tyler Hansborough, Roy Hibbert, and the recently drafted Paul George. They didn’t own any future picks other than their own and the veterans on their roster didn’t really hold any trade value. Their young players did, but trading one young guy for another would have been counterproductive to their plan. In several ways they are similar to the New Orleans Pelicans in that the players that have the most value are likely off the table with regard to the Bledsoe trade. In other ways, however, there are differences, as the Pelicans have young productive players in Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez who are on great contracts.

New Orleans Hornets

The Hornets were in ‘win-now’ mode, as franchise cornerstones David West and Chris Paul were two summers away from becoming unrestricted free agents. They had a new coach and a new GM, desperate to try and avoid what everybody saw coming, and instead they tried to meet Chris Paul’s request of building a championship contender around him. The front court was solid, with David West and Emeka Okafor patrolling the paint, but New Orleans had absolutely nothing on the wing outside of a steadily decling Peja,a defensive black hole in Marcus Thornton, an unknown in Marco Belinelli, a rookie in Quincy Pondexter, and an overweight, unproductive player in James Posey. They were desperate for a wing who could provide the defense that Monty Williams philosophy was built around, and a guy who could knock down the open trey when CP3 kicked it out.

In some ways the Clippers and the Hornets are similar, but in more ways they are different. The Hornets had a two year window, while the Clippers figure to have CP3 and Blake locked up for 5 more years starting this summer. That is their window. The Clippers also reside in a larger market and are probably more likely to pay the luxury tax if it came to that, and as much as I joke about Vinny Del Negro, they do have some stability in the front office and at coach – at least more than the Hornets had at the time when they executed this trade.

The Trade

The Hornets traded Darren Collison and  the bloated contract of James Posey to the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers, in return sent out the expiring contract of Troy Murphy to the New Jersey Nets. The Nets sent Courtney Lee to the Rockets, who completed the puzzle by sending Trevor Ariza to the New Orleans Hornets. The fact that this was a multi-team trade gives us multiple things to look at. First, there is a difference between what the team who landed the young point guard (Indiana) gave up and what the team who traded him (New Orleans) received. Indiana did not have the ‘win now’ young wing veteran that the Hornets sought out, but by taking on a bad salary and finding other teams to get the Hornets what they wanted, they got their young guard without giving up any significant pieces of their young core.

The Players

Production

Darren Collison’s rookie year was a tale of two seasons. As a reserve, he really struggled finding his role on the Hornets second unit. In his 39 games off the bench, he averaged just 6.4 points and 2.5 assists, shooting 45% with an assist to turnover ratio of 2:1. In the 37 games he started when CP3 went down, however, he was fantastic, averaging 18.8 points and 9.1 assists per game. He shot nearly 49% from the field and 43% from three, and posted an assist to turnover ratio of nearly 3:1. The more minutes he played, the better he produced, as evidenced by his rediculous numbers when he got 40+ minutes: 21.4 points, 10 assists, 52% from the field, 41% from three. While the stats look great, there was one problem – the Hornets were not winning. They went 14-23 with him as a starter and many feared that his numbers were more of a result of Byron Scott’s point guard friendly system than anything Collison was doing in particular.

Eric Bledsoe, meanwhile, has more data to pore through, but he has only started one more game in his first three seasons than Collison did in his rookie year. In his rookie year, Bledsoe started 25 games and put up some solid numbers, averaging 9 points, 6 assists, and nearly 4 rebounds while shooting close to 45% from the floor. After his rookie year, Chris Paul was brought in and Bledsoe has only started 13 games since, twelve of which came this year when CP3 went down with a knee injury. In those games, Bledsoe put up some fantastic numbers defensively, and led the Clippers to a respectable 7-6 record without their superstar. Bledsoe put up 14, 5, and 5 as a starter with 2.5 steals and 1.3 blocks a game. The points and assists are admittedly pedestrian for a point guard, but if Bledsoe put up those same numbers throughout the season, he would be 1st in the NBA in steals, 1st amongst guards in blocks (by a WIDE margain), and 2nd amongst all guards in rebounds per game (1st amongst PG’s).

The one area where we can not compare the players is in their playoff production. Collison’s Hornets did not reach the playoffs in his rookie year. Meanwhile, Bledsoe is a key cog in the Clippers playoff run for the second consecutive year. Last year in the playoffs, he posted a PER of 22.2 over 11 games, as he attacked with great efficiency and was a nightmare for opposing teams on the other end. Despite playing just 17 minutes per game in the playoffs, he was second on the team in steals and third in clocks. He also shot a team high 59% from the field and had the second best defensive rating on the team. This year, he has picked up right where he left off, averaging 12.5 points (on 78% shooting) and 5 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game as the Clippers second unit has been one of the biggest reasons the Clippers lead their current series 2-0.

Advantage: Bledsoe

Contract

Darren Collison still had 3 years and just $5.1 million total on his deal when he was sent to the Pacers. He would then become a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of just $3.4 million. Basically the Pacers were getting a starting point guard who was getting paid like a 10th man. Eric Bledsoe is locked in for $2.6 million next season, but then becomes a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $3.7 million. Whatever team Bledsoe is on this summer can negotiate an extension with him that will kick in during the 2014-15 season. If you project that Bledsoe will get something similar to what Jrue Holliday got this past summer, you could be looking at paying Bledsoe a total of 40-48 million dollars over the next five seasons.

Advantage: Collison

Upside

At the time of the trade, Collison was just two weeks shy of his 23rd birthday. Eric Bledsoe turned 23 six months ago. Collison had just one season in the NBA, but played for four years at UCLA, while Bledsoe has three years under his belt in the NBA after having playing just one season at Kentucky. Bledsoe is really just learning how to run a team, while Collison had plenty of experience by the time he was traded to the Pacers. Essentially, Darren Collison came into the league and was already close to his ceiling, while Bledsoe was as raw as they come, and has been slowly adding subtle nuances to his explosive game each and every season. Collison was a cat quick guard in transition with the ability to beat the other guys down the floor on a consistent basis, but Eric Bledsoe is that same guy plus 20 pounds of muscle, better agility, and more vertical explosiveness. There aren’t ten guys in this league with the combination of strength, speed, and explosiveness that Bledsoe possesses, which means that he can become an elite player if he can continue to refine his skills.

Advantage: Bledsoe

X-Factors

New CBA

Back when the Hornets were looking to move Collison, there was a completely different CBA in place. The penalty for going into the tax was on dollar for every dollar over. The new CBA went in place last year, and next season is when it really starts to get punative. It the prior CBA, the Clippers could have entertained the thought of keeping Eric Bledsoe and paying him 9-11 million dollars a year to be their 4th best player, but not anymore. Bledsoe will be a restricted free agent next offseason, and after the Clippers re-sign Chris Paul, they will be committing close to $50 million per year to Paul, Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan alone. Signing Bledsoe to a big deal will put them in the luxury tax year after year, which would mean a double penalty because of the repeater tax. Because of the new CBA, it looks like keeping Bledsoe long term is just not an option for the Clippers, while the Hornets could have held onto Collison without being penalized financially.

2014 NBA Draft

GM’s view first-round picks as gold in this new era where the CBA restricts teams from spending up to and beyond the luxury tax. Not only are these guys on rookie scale contracts, but GM’s believe that with the way that restricted free agency works in the 5th season, you can essentially control a guy for the first 8-9 years of his career. If a first round pick is normally gold, then the depth and star power in this 2014 class could make a 2014 1st rounder double platinum. I’ve talked to two people in the league and asked them the same question, “If you were to make a Big Board with everybody from the 2013 draft class and everybody you expect to be in the 2014 draft class in it, how many guys from the 2014 class would be in the top 25?” One guy said 19, the other said 21. In essence, what that says is that you could theoretically get the same guy at 20 that you can get at 7 this year. Plus that class figures to have superstars at the top, while this one doesn’t. Bottom line is that 2014 pick, even if it is protected, could fetch you quite a bit in a trade.

The Market

You can try to gauge the intrinsic value of a player and project what trades might be on the table, but the fact of the matter is that a player is worth what a team can get for him. The more bidders, the more that the team trading the player can get for him. In 2010, there weren’t in many teams in dire need of a young point guard. Older teams who had the assets that the Hornets coveted weren’t going to give up those veteran players for a young guy who wasn’t going to get them over the hump immediately. Meanwhile, younger teams either had their point guard of the future, or didn’t have the veteran assets the Hornets wanted in a trade. Indiana was the clear favorite to land Collison from day one, with the Raptors also reportedly in the mix.

Now that it appears likely that Chris Paul will re-sign with the Clippers, and with Marcus Smart returning to school, there are several teams starving for a point guard for the future that the New Orleans Pelicans will likely have to contend with. The Magic, Jazz, and Mavericks figure to be the most aggressive in looking for a point guard this summer, and add Milwaukee and Atlanta to the list if they lose their point guards to free agency. The Celtics also showed interest in the past and could be a factor again if they are willing to move either Avery Bradley or Rajon Rondo in a deal. Detroit, Sacramento, and Charlotte are all darkhorses as well. Expect there to be more of a bidding war for Bledsoe than there was for Collison.

Summary

For slightly different reasons, both the New Orleans Hornets in 2010 and the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013 have to trade Chris Paul’s young backup point guard. While Collison was locked into to a better contract, Eric Bledsoe clearly has the bigger upside  and there are more teams after him than there were after Collison in 2010. For those reasons, Eric Bledsoe should fetch more for the Clippers than Collison did for the Hornets. What the New Orleans Pelicans have to consider when pursuing Bledsoe is whether or not they think he is significantly better than other options they can pursue in free agency. Eventually, Bledsoe will get a contract similar to what Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans, and Jeff Teague will get this summer, but there is a chance that you can get those guys without giving up an asset. When you are a young team in a small market, trying to build a title contender, every asset matters. But if the Pelicans believe that he can be an elite player in this league, which he has shown that he can be in spurts, then you give up replaceable assets to get the type of player you don’t see on come onto the market very often. It all comes down to how you evaluate Bledsoe and what you project moving forward.

Possible Trades

(*All trades were approved by Clippers writers. Many were proposed, and these were the ones that they said they would at least strongly consider)

Two-Teamers

Lopez, Vasquez, and lottery protected future 1st for Bledsoe, Grant Hill, and Willie Green

The Pelicans will start off with just trying to give up Lopez and Vasquez, but you wouldn’t blame the Clippers for turning that down. Vasquez isn’t Chris Paul’s favorite player on the planet, and he doesn’t really fit what the Clippers do. Robin Lopez would be a huge upgrade for them as a third big, but not big enough to downgrade from Bledsoe to Vasquez. Expect the Pelicans to have to throw in a future protected first to start to tip the balance in this deal. Grant Hill and Willie Green are added to the trade to make salaries work, but expect Hill to retire after the season. Willie Green would be welcomed back with open arms by Monty.

Lopez and 2013 1st rounder for Eric Bledsoe and Grant Hill

If the Pelicans are slated to pick 6th, the Clippers might have some interest in adding another young, talented piece to the roster and if Dell doesn’t love anybody on the board, he might oblige. Shabazz Muhammad would fit in perfectly with the Clippers and LA wouldn’t have to pay him big money for another 4-5 years, making it a trade the Clippers would have to consider. Again, Hill is here just to make the salaries work.

Eric Bledsoe, 2013 1st rounder, and DeAndre Jordan for Ryan Anderson and Lance Thomas

Yeah, you read that correctly – I actually included Ryan Anderson in a possible trade. The Pelicans will not want to part with him, but when Dell calls, the Clippers will look up and down the roster and Ryan Anderson will be the guy that they ask about the most. The reason why LA’s offense stalls at times is because their bigs can’t stretch the floor. Blake Griffin and Ryan Anderson wouldn’t strike fear into teams on the defensive end, but that team might be unguardable on offense. Meanwhile, the Pelicans unclutter the power forward position and get their point guard of the future along with another pick. On top of that, they still have Lopez and Vasquez to move in other trades while having the ability to pair Jordan with Davis to give the Pelicans one of the longest and most athletic front courts in the league.

Multi-Teamers

Greivis Vasquez, Darius Miller, and 2014 top-10 protected 1st to Magic, Aaron Afflalo to Clippers, Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler to Pelicans

A lock down, defensive minded shooting guard who can knock down the three is exactly what the Clippers need next to Chris Paul in the backcourt. In this deal, they also get to unload Caron Butler’s contract as they go younger. Meanwhile, the Magic get their possible point guard of the future, a young wing, and another quality pick to add to their stash, while making their team worse for the loaded draft of 2014. The Pelicans lose some cap flexibility for this summer, but that space opens back up for the summer of 2014, where they can target any number of quality small forwards that will be on the market.

Robin Lopez and Wilson Chandler to the Clippers, Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe to the Pelicans, Nuggets get Pelicans lottery protected 1st and Clippers 2013 1st rounder

The Nuggets are in an interesting position with their wing players. Both Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer are free agents this summer and Evan Fournier is showing signs that he can start full-time next year. If they can get some picks for Wilson Chandler, they can use his money to re-sign Brewer and Iggy and avoid the luxury tax. And even if the picks are in the teens or 20’s, the Nuggets have shown the ability to get very solid players that late in the draft. Meanwhile, the Clippers get a very good wing to put next to Paul and Lopez as a third big. In this scenario, the Pelicans still have Vasquez as a trade chip and nearly $9 million in cap room this summer, plus their 2013 pick and in all likelihood, their 2014 pick as well since they likely wouldn’t make the playoffs.

Eric Gordon to Phoenix, Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat to Clippers, Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe, and picks to Pelicans

This is the blockbuster trade that could drastically change all three franchises. The Suns get the guy they wanted last year in Eric Gordon while the Clippers get two guys in who can help them win right now on reasonable contracts. The Pelicans get Bledsoe, unload Gordon, hold on to valuable assets in Lopez, Vasquez, and their draft picks, and even add a few picks. The Suns own Minnesota’s 2014 pick (lotto protected in 1st year, top-12 protected in future years) and the Lakers 2015 pick. Throw in one of those picks and the Clippers 2013 pick and there would be enough incentive to do this trade and move from the Gordon Era to the Bledsoe Era.

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