Is former Los Angeles Clipper Eric Bledsoe worth a maximum contract extension? The short answer is no. But it's not quite a simple as that. After all, Gordon Hayward isn't worth a maximum deal and Chandler Parsons isn't worth the deal he got.
Or are they? NBA players are worth what teams are willing to pay, and three years after the owners claimed poverty and vowed to change their ways as they locked the players out and demanded a higher percentage of revenues, franchise valuations are soaring as General Managers are throwing money at marginal talents.
There's some indication that teams sense a revenue boom coming with the league thriving and a new National TV deal on the horizon; with maximum salaries tied to current revenues, a max deal signed today might look like a bargain in a few years if league revenues skyrocket. My feeling is that revenues are going to have to go up a LOT to make a line item of $15M for Gordon Hayward look like anything other than a salary cap anchor.
The maximum contract is the best deal in the NBA -- for the right player. LeBron James and Kevin Durant and Chris Paul and Blake Griffin contribute to their teams' success disproportionately to their salaries, with the maximum serving as an artificial barrier precluding them from earning what they are truly worth. On the other end of the spectrum, the max deal is the worst contract in the NBA for the wrong player. Doctoral dissertations have been written on the effects of external constraints on economies -- it's more than a little beyond me, but it doesn't take an Nobel Laureate to see that plateaus in the NBA salary structure (the maximum salary and the mid level exception in particular) create their own micro-climates. Bledsoe wants a max deal because he wants a max deal; because Hayward got a max deal; because getting a max deal validates him. If there were no such thing as a max deal, I highly doubt that Eric Bledsoe and his agent would be demanding a starting salary north of $14M per season. The max deal is like a mountain in front of you: you want to get to the top because it's there.
I've always said that Eric Bledsoe is a difference maker with his athleticism and his motor, and he's certainly worth more than Gordon Hayward. (I feel like I'm picking on Hayward here, which is ironic since I really love the guy as a player. But he's simply not worth a maximum and Utah has no hope of being a top team if he's their highest paid player.) I'm not the least bit surprised that EB is asking for the max. Now it's looking like his days in Phoenix are numbered, since there has got to be some serious resentment on both sides at this point. The Suns went so far as to sign Isaiah Thomas, which tells me they don't expect to have Bledsoe over the long term.
This report that Minnesota is "offerring" to pay Bledsoe the max is nonetheless a strange thing. It cannot honestly be said that Minnesota is "offering" a Bledsoe a max deal, as they don't have the cap space to sign Bledsoe to an offer sheet. Truth be told, the fact that they're willing to pay Bledsoe isn't particularly relevant. If you're the Timberwolves, why aren't you just talking to the Suns quietly about a sign-and-trade? Why go public? The Suns have to agree to a deal, so the point is moot without a deal in place.
The only conclusion is that the Wolves believe that a public acknowledgement that they believe Bledsoe is worth what he's asking will force Phoenix's hand -- they're sending a message to Phoenix that they either have to pay Bledsoe or lose him. But it's kind of a douchey thing to do, and if I'm Phoenix it would make me far less inclined to ever work with Minnesota. "Hey guess what? We already knew we were going to lose him, but don't wait around by the phone because we'll talk to 28 other teams before we call you."
All of this brings last summer's big trade back up for discussion at Clips Nation. Bledsoe had a break out season in Phoenix. He was by far the best player in the deal that brought the disappointing Jared Dudley and the oft-injred J.J. Redick to the Clippers. So it seems fairly obvious in hindsight that the Clippers should have gotten more for him.
On the other hand, the Clippers were never going to be able to keep Bledsoe. Perhaps he would not have been asking for $14.7M per year after another season as Chris Paul's backup, but he would most certainly have been looking for more than the Clippers were willing to pay for a backup. Not to mention that he would have been desperate to get out of LA, out of CP3's shadow. So the Clippers were going to lose him anyway.
Finally, don't dismiss the fact that potential trading partners from last summer obviously knew that Bledsoe would be a free agent. Yes, they were trading for a potential star on a cheap contract -- but that cheap contract would only last one season, and then they'd be in the position Phoenix is in now where they either have to pay him or lose him. They'll work out a deal at some point -- they won't lose him for nothing -- but in the end the Suns traded for a potential star, and a contract mess. If they were smart, they probably knew that at the time.