Unless Eric Bledsoe finds his way onto a basketball court this season, he won’t play for the Portland Trail Blazers. I’m no Nostradamus, but the writing on the wall is pretty clear.
Dealt to the Blazers from the Los Angeles Clippers days before February’s trade deadline, some might have assumed the 32-year-old as the biggest piece in the deal, which also brought Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a second round pick to Portland.
With 12 years' experience, Bledsoe has represented the Clippers (twice), Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Pelicans, averaging 13.7 points on 33 percent three point shooting, 3.9 boards, 4.7 assists and 1.4 steals.
He’s also earned an All Defensive First Team (2019), All Defensive Second Team (2020) and the All Rookie Second Team in 2011 after being drafted 18th out of Kentucky
The defensive prizes are pretty impressive considering he’s all of 6’1, although it doesn’t hurt to be built like a running back with a 6’6 wingspan.
The above offensive numbers are OK but nothing world beating and are not helped by a 78 percent free throw rate and a less-than ideal 4.7 assist to 2.5 turnover ratio.
His Blazers tenure
The bench has been kept warm.
Prior to the trade, Bledsoe played in every single one of the Clippers’ 54 games. As soon as he arrived in Oregon, he began experiencing left Achilles tendinopathy and has not played since.
I’m hazarding a guess, but I suspect Portland’s Interim General Manager Joe Cronin tried to move Bledsoe again before the February 10 trade deadline without success. The guard is now on the roster for the rest of the season and, if anything, will hurt the Blazers’ chances of sinking down the standings if he plays.
Bledsoe is earning $18.1 this season and $19.3 million next season, becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2023. The catch to his contract is that his 2022-23 salary doesn’t have to be guaranteed until July 10 (after free agency starts), with only $3.9 million coming to him if he’s waived.
Now, the trading of said contract gets a little tricky from here. Due to the nature of his deal and the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, only the non-guaranteed amount can be considered outgoing salary once the season is done. Meaning that the Blazers would only be sending out $3.9 million (not $19.3 million) if they moved him before his July 10 guarantee date.
On the other hand, the team receiving Bledsoe would still be taking back his full guaranteed $19.3 million.
As a result, the Bledsoe leaving Portland would be worth $3.9 million and would need to receive the same amount back. However the Bledsoe arriving in said new destination would be making up almost $20 million of that team's cap. That complicates things.
Where does he fit in the Blazers rotation?
As mentioned, Bledsoe is an undersized defensive-minded guard who will earn close to $20 million next season.
Portland currently has Damian Lillard locked into $42.5 million and, if he’s not waived or moved, Josh Hart at $12.9 million next season. They’ve also got restricted free agent Anfernee Simons who is in line to return on a likely-sizable contract.
That’s, at minimum, $70 million going to three players manning the guard positions. Yes, Hart is a more than competent small forward, well, more competent than Norman Powell. But at the end of the day, he’s still 6’5 and Cronin and Coach Chauncey Billups have both spoken on size being an issue in the past.
If history, and Neil Olshey, has taught us anything, you do not want to dedicate $100 million of your payroll to the guard positions. And honestly, if you’re making me choose, I would take Hart over Bledsoe every day of the week. He's bigger, cheaper, younger and better offensively.
Give Bledsoe a break
Anyone reading this who had never seen Bledsoe play basketball might be pretty down on his ability. Let me refute this loud and clear, he’s not a bad player. From all reports, the Clippers were pretty sad to see him go, it’s just that they wanted Norman Powell ($15.5 million) and Robert Covington ($12.9 million) more and the salaries had to come close to matching.
If Bledsoe is waived, he’ll still find himself on a contending team next season, contributing in a supporting role on veteran minimum contract off the bench.
He’s just not worth his existing contract and can’t be given the playing time he’d be taking away from the likes of Simons and Hart, assuming the latter is not traded.
This team is not complete and we have no idea what Cronin is cooking. But the scent is tantalizing. Bledsoe was no doubt dealt to Portland to help match Powell and Covington’s salaries.
His contract is unique and even if the Blazers don’t find a suitor at the draft and early July, I’d be kind of OK with them eating that $3.9 million if it clears space for other signings or trades.
Best case scenario, Cronin finds a deal that sends Bledsoe and other players/assets out at the June 23 draft or some time before July 10.
Because, honestly, Bledsoe has entered the chapter of his career where he signs cheaper contracts with contending teams. If the Blazers are able to, they should try and get him on that journey sooner than later.