It took a few weeks, but Eric Bledsoe finally got his wish Tuesday.
Sources confirmed to The Washington Post that the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to send center Greg Monroe, a lottery-protected first round pick and a second-round pick to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for the disgruntled point guard, a deal first reported by ESPN. Bledsoe has been out of the picture for the past three weeks after tweeting he didn’t want to be with the Suns anymore. Phoenix General Manager Ryan McDonough subsequently banished him from being around the team.
Doing so, while understandable, only cemented the fact that Bledsoe was persona non grata in Phoenix — and, thus, ensured the Suns would get a lower return than they would’ve liked. That was certainly the case here, as Milwaukee gave up what will be a late first-round pick and an expiring contract to land a talented playmaker — something the Bucks could use next to superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Bledsoe should fit what Milwaukee likes on multiple levels. First, he’s long armed and athletic — just like virtually everyone else on the Bucks, and should be a perfect fit for their defensive scheme. He has also been desperate to get out of the monotony of losing and into a competitive playoff atmosphere, so the up-and-coming Bucks should be exactly what he was seeking. Bledsoe will provide some extra oomph in the half-court alongside Antetokounmpo, allowing Khris Middleton to be more of a complementary piece.
What acquiring him doesn’t do is fix Milwaukee’s spacing issues. For all of his skills — and Bledsoe, who averaged career-highs of 21.1 points and 6.3 assists last season, has plenty of them — shooting isn’t one of them. He’s a career 33.4 percent three-point shooter, and shot 33.5 percent last year. If anything, the Bucks need more shooting around Antetokounmpo, not less. But they also need more shot creation, and while losing Monroe as an offensive hub will hurt, they already have Thon Maker and John Henson, whom they can give more minutes at center now that Monroe is out of the picture.
This trade also makes the Bucks extremely expensive next season. Replacing Monroe’s expiring contract with the $14.5 million Bledsoe is owed this year will save the Bucks a few million this season, and could potentially allow them to use some of their remaining mid-level exception to land someone that gets bought out later this season.
But adding Bledsoe’s $15 million for next season to the books already has Milwaukee at $105 million in guaranteed contracts for 11 players (including the contract of second-year guard Malcolm Brogdon, which is currently unguaranteed but who isn’t going anywhere).
Assuming Milwaukee comes to some kind of long-term agreement with Jabari Parker, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, the Bucks will be heavily into the luxury tax in 2018-19 by the time they fill out their roster, presuming they can’t move off some of their current money.
For a team that hovers around breaking even when it’s under the tax, that’s an important thing to note.
From Phoenix’s perspective, this trade was entirely about moving on from Bledsoe. That said, the first round pick is an interesting asset, given its protections. The Suns will get Milwaukee’s pick after this season only if it is between 11 and 16, and will only get it in 2019 if it is between 4 and 16. In 2020, the pick is just top-seven protected, and if it somehow hasn’t conveyed after that, it will be unprotected in 2021.
The Suns will also get cap relief for next summer in the deal, potentially giving them max cap space. Having that space, though, doesn’t mean anyone will fill it; the Suns tried to sign both Paul Millsap and Blake Griffin this summer, for example, but couldn’t get either.
One interesting wrinkle to watch from this deal is a potential Monroe buyout. The Suns already have Alex Len and Tyson Chandler as true centers on the roster, and can play second-year forwards Marquess Chriss and Dragan Bender at the five, as well.
Monroe, meanwhile, went to Milwaukee specifically because he wanted to play for a playoff team, which he finally did for the first time last season in his seventh year in the NBA. If he’d be willing to give up some money to hit the open market early, he would be an incredibly attractive free agent — specifically to teams such as the Oklahoma City Thunder, who desperately need bench help, and the Boston Celtics, who could use another big.
Boston has a $8.4 million disabled player exception it acquired after losing Gordon Hayward for the season. It can potentially use that to add as a sweetener to try to lure Monroe to come to the Celtics — assuming, of course, he’s able, or willing, to agree to a buyout in the first place.
For now, though, this trade is about Bledsoe, and him finally escaping from Phoenix. Milwaukee hopes this gives them the kind of player they need to move into the upper half of the Eastern Conference this season.