Eric Bledsoe

Eric Bledsoe Enjoying His Time With Bucks

Eric Bledsoe, who can hit the free agency after the season, is enjoying his time in Milwaukee. The Bucks are 8-1 and the point guard has never enjoyed this kind of success during his NBA career.

“Everything’s a learning experience. We’ve got a great bunch of guys in this locker room that are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team and it’s fun playing that way,” Bledsoe said (via Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).

This time last year, Bledsoe was stuck in a slow rebuild in Phoenix, having let the world know via Twitter that he was in a place he didn’t want to be. His reputation took a hit for the Salon tweet but it’s not something he’s still concerned about.

“That’s life, bro,” Bledsoe said. “Everybody is not going to like you. Some people aren’t going to like you and some people like you. You can’t go through life worrying about stuff like that both on and off the court.”

Bledsoe was sent to Milwaukee for Greg Monroe and a pair of draft picks last November and he has thrived since coming to the Bucks. Velazquez notes that in 80 games with the team, Bledsoe is averaging 17.4 points, 5.2 assists and 1.9 steals in 31.0 minutes per game.

All is going well on the court and off of it, as Bledsoe is enjoying Wisconsin. His wife and children have moved to Milwaukee, a change from last season where his family remained in Phoenix.

“I’m blessed, man,” Bledsoe said. “I’ve got my family here to support me, I’ve got great teammates, a great coaching staff. Everything is in the right direction…I’m living my dream.”

Central Notes: Stephenson, Parker, Stefanski, Griffin

Lance Stephenson has left the Pacers again, but just like last time it may not be forever, writes Dana Benbow for The Indianapolis Star. Stephenson, who signed a one-year deal with the Lakers this summer, was asked about a possible return during a party he threw Wednesday to say goodbye to Indianapolis.

“Oh, of course. This is home. Of course,” he responded. “I would always want to come back here.”

Stephenson was among Indiana’s most productive reserves last season, appearing in all 82 games and posting a 9.2/5.2/2.9 line. His previous stints with other teams — the Hornets, Clippers, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Timberwolves — produced mostly disappointing results.

“We stayed in constant communication with him,” team president Kevin Pritchard said. “At the end of the day, Lance gave us some great years. We love Lance. We love Lance on the court, we love Lance off the court.” 

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Mike Budenholzer may be having “buyer’s remorse” over taking the Bucks‘ head coaching job after the loss of free agent Jabari Parker, suggests Gery Woelfel of WoelfelsPressBox in his latest podcast. He adds that the entire organization was counting on Parker to stay and never expected him to get an offer in the $20MM range like the Bulls gave him.
  • The Bucks are still hoping to make a deal before the season starts, Woelfel adds in the same discussion. He names John Henson, Malcolm Brogdon and Tony Snell as the players most likely to go, but says Eric Bledsoe has also been mentioned as a trade candidate.
  • Ed Stefanski has made a lot of progress in his first 100 days as a senior advisor to the Pistons, notes Chris Schwegler of NBA.com. The most significant moves were the hiring of reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey, adding Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown through the draft and signing free agents Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon and Zaza Pachulia.
  • Blake Griffin is looking healthy during his summer workouts at UCLA, relays Kurt Helin of NBC Sports. A knee injury limited Griffin to 58 games last year between the Clippers and Pistons, and he hasn’t played more than 67 in a season since 2013/14.

Central Rumors: LeBron, Bucks, Stephenson, Pistons

LeBron James‘ player-option decision is due this Friday, and he’s “widely expected” to turn down that option, writes Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. According to Vardon, James is close to making a decision and the Cavaliers are “generally aware of his thinking.”

If James does opt out, it would significantly hamstring the ability of several over-the-cap suitors to make a serious run at him. If LeBron reaches free agency, teams with cap room like the Lakers and Sixers would be his most viable landing spots, along with the Cavaliers.

For what it’s worth, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com has heard within the last week from two members of the 2017/18 Cavaliers – a player and a team official – that they believe the Cavs have the best chance of any team to sign James. Within his article, McMenamin explains why a return to Cleveland could make some sense for the future Hall-of-Famer.

Here’s more from around the Central division:

  • Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times hears from NBA sources and officials that Eric Bledsoe, Matthew Dellavedova, and D.J. Wilson are among the players the Bucks have been willing to discuss in trades this summer.
  • After declining Lance Stephenson‘s team option, the Pacers could still bring him back later in free agency. However, league sources tell Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com (Twitter link) not to rule out the Bulls as a potential suitor for Stephenson.
  • The Pistons lack the cap space to be a major player in free agency, but the team could be in the mix for certain affordable targets. As Keith Langlois of Pistons.com writes, Dwane Casey‘s presence and the Pistons’ roster stability could be selling points as the club recruits free agents.
  • Frank Urbina of HoopsHype.com identifies a few potential landing spots for Cavaliers guard Rodney Hood, suggesting the Heat, Pacers, and Bulls could be decent fits for the restricted free agent.

Pistons Rumors: Failed Trades, S. Johnson, Love

The Pistons had originally planned to approach this season’s trade deadline by aggressively pursuing upgrades on the wing, writes Jake Fischer of SI.com. League sources tell Fischer that Detroit looked into several potential trade candidates around the NBA, including Danny Green, Jordan Clarkson, Tyreke Evans, Rodney Hood, and Courtney Lee. The Magic also called to discuss a deal that would have included Evan Fournier, Elfrid Payton, and Luke Kennard, per Fischer.

As a result of all that research and legwork on wing players, the Pistons came to a realization that prompted them to change direction. “It’s becoming a wing league, and not many teams are willing to move those players,” a Pistons source told Fischer. “We were willing to give up ours.”

Rather than looking to build up on their own wing depth, the Pistons decided to part with Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris in a deal that would bolster their frontcourt instead. It remains to be seen whether that approach will pay off, but the team will start to find out tonight, with Blake Griffin set to make his Pistons debut. “It’s time to make a run now,” one team source told Fischer, who notes that seven of Detroit’s eight remaining games before the All-Star break are at home.

Here’s more on the Pistons from Fischer:

  • The Pistons, who explored trading for Eric Bledsoe last summer, circled back to him in November and came “within inches” of acquiring him in a three-way deal with the Suns and Pelicans, according to Fischer. That trade, which would have included Reggie Jackson, fell through.
  • The Pistons will continue to keep an eye out for opportunities to acquire wing players, and Fischer hints that Stanley Johnson is more likely than Kennard to be included in such a deal.
  • Detroit’s front office worked with Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and GM Michael Winger on the Griffin deal. Head coach Doc Rivers, who served as the Clippers’ head of basketball operations until this past offseason, didn’t find out about the deal until Sunday — by that point, every detail except the first-round pick protections had already been agreed upon, a league source tells Fischer.
  • If the Pistons had been unable to finalize a deal for Griffin, they were planning to shift their focus to Kevin Love, says Fischer. Obviously, that was before Love suffered his hand injury, though there’s no indication that the Cavaliers would have seriously considered moving him.

LeBron Upset Cavs Didn’t Add George, Bledsoe?

Amid all the problems plaguing the Cavaliers this month, one underlying issue is LeBron James‘ frustration with the front office over not upgrading the roster, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Appearing on The Lowe Post podcast with ESPN’s Zach Lowe, Windhorst said James saw that the Cavs had a chance to land Paul George and Eric Bledsoe and was angry when both players ended up elsewhere.

Cleveland reportedly came close to acquiring George in a three-team trade shortly before the Pacers shipped him to the Thunder in early July. A deal was in place to trade Kevin Love to Denver in exchange for Gary Harris and the No. 13 pick, which the Cavaliers would have sent to Indiana to get George. Pacers president Kevin Pritchard had second thoughts about the trade and backed out before it was finalized.

The Cavaliers were also rumored to have interest in Bledsoe, who was among James’ summer workout partners and shares an agent in Rich Paul. Instead the Suns sent him to Milwaukee in exchange for little-used Greg Monroe and two draft picks.

“I’m sure if [Cavaliers owner] Dan Gilbert would ever speak freely, he probably never will, but he would say, ‘Well, I needed LeBron to commit past this year if I was going to trade, and LeBron wouldn’t commit, so therefore it’s LeBron’s fault this didn’t happen,'” Windhorst said. “Everybody’s going to have their own story. I’m just telling you that LeBron is there and he’s like, ‘We could have had Eric Bledsoe and Paul George, and instead we have a draft pick who I’m never going to meet [Brooklyn’s unprotected first-rounder] — Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m not meeting him this year — we have Isaiah Thomas, who is very clearly hampered and we have Jae Crowder, who’s having the worst year of his career.”

This offseason was the first for rookie GM Koby Altman, who was hired to replace David Griffin in late July. James had been a vocal defender of Griffin and questioned why the team refused to give him a new contract last season.

MacMullan’s Latest: Irving, LeBron, Cavs, Suns

With Isaiah Thomas having returned to the Cavaliers on Tuesday, and the Cavs now poised to square off against the Celtics on Wednesday, it only makes sense to revisit one of the 2017 offseason’s biggest trades. ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan has done just that, taking a deep dive into the factors that led to Kyrie Irving heading from Cleveland to Boston.

Along the way, MacMullan passes along several noteworthy tidbits — while the whole piece is worth checking out, especially for Cavs and Celtics fans, we’ve rounded up some of the most interesting details below:

  • While Irving made his trade request in July, the Cavaliers explored the possibility of moving the point guard in June, which MacMullan suggests contributed to Irving’s decision to ask out of Cleveland. “They didn’t want me there,” Irving said of the Cavs. Former teammate LeBron James disputes that notion, which he says “makes absolutely no sense.”
  • One deal the Cavs explored in June would have sent Irving and Channing Frye to the Suns and resulted in both Paul George and Eric Bledsoe landing in Cleveland. However, Phoenix balked at that deal, since the club was unwilling to give up the No. 4 overall pick, says MacMullan. A few days later, the Pacers dealt George to the Thunder instead.
  • Although no formal offer was made during those negotiations, Irving caught wind of the talks and believed they were orchestrated by James’ camp, since LeBron shares an agent with Bledsoe. Team and league sources suggest otherwise, telling MacMullan that former Cavs GM David Griffin sensed that an Irving trade request may be coming and initiated talks with the Suns.
  • When Irving and his agent met with the Cavaliers on July 9, they pressed owner Dan Gilbert about the team’s direction, and mentioned the Spurs, Knicks, and Timberwolves as preferred landing spots for Irving. Boston didn’t come up during that meeting, but Gilbert coveted the Nets‘ 2018 first-round pick that was held by the Celtics, and Irving’s camp didn’t oppose a deal to the C’s.
  • When the Celtics emerged as a viable trade partner for Irving and the Cavs, Gilbert went to James and attempted to secure a promise that he’d stay in Cleveland beyond the 2017/18 season, but LeBron declined to commit, sources tell MacMullan.

Deveney’s Latest: Thunder, Bucks, Kings, Evans

In his latest piece for The Sporting News, Sean Deveney takes a closer look at several teams that are good bets to be either buyers or sellers as February’s trade deadline approaches. We’ve rounded up several of the highlights of Deveney’s piece below, but the article also includes several notes on the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and a few other teams, so be sure to check it out in full. Let’s dive in…

  • According to Deveney, the Thunder figure to be targeting a shooter who can help create space and possibly an extra defender to bolster their depth.
  • Having already rolled the dice on Eric Bledsoe, the Bucks are looking to take another step toward legit contention and may be willing to gamble again before the deadline, says Deveney.
  • The Kings are in the market for a deal that could improve their long-term outlook. George Hill has already been shopped, per Deveney.
  • Tyreke Evans, who is enjoying an excellent season for the Grizzlies, has generated “significant interest,” according to Deveney.
  • Even though they’re not a contender, the Mavericks remain reluctant to sell off veterans like Wesley Matthews, J.J. Barea, and Devin Harris, writes Deveney. Nerlens Noel will be on the trade block though.
  • The Clippers would be willing to move DeAndre Jordan in the right deal, but so far the names connected to him have been underwhelming, says Deveney.
  • Don’t be surprised if the Hawks put out feelers to test the market value of point guard Dennis Schroder, per Deveney.

Central Notes: Rose, Wade, Mirotic, Bledsoe, Terry

Derrick Rose is back training with the Cavaliers as he attempts to rehab from a nagging ankle injury and resume his basketball career. If all goes well and Rose is healthy enough for an on-court return, his role on the suddenly surging Cavs is not clear, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. 

Cleveland is in the midst of a 12-game winning streak and currently occupy second place in the Eastern Conference. Jose Calderon has settled into the starting point guard role — where Rose began the season due to Isaiah Thomas injury — and the bench has been effective with Dwyane Wade a potential sixth man of the year candidate.

Fedor noted that the Cavaliers’ offense and defense have been better with Rose off the court. Injuries have taken a toll on Rose’s 29-year-old body as he is no longer the NBA Most Valuable Player-caliber talent he was with the Bulls. However, Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said Rose’s ability to score would still be a welcome addition.

“He was great. That Washington game, we had a big game in Washington and I think he had 24-25 points,” Lue said to reporters, including Fedor, during shootaround on Monday. “Just his pace, his ability to get to the basket, his speed that he plays with is great for us.”

Check out other news and notes out of the Central Division:

Suns Notes: Bledsoe, McDonough, Centers

Eric Bledsoe will return to Phoenix on Wednesday for the first time since the team traded him to the Bucks, but the point guard is downplaying the events, calling it “just another game.”

“It’s just another game,” Bledsoe said (via ESPN’s Nick Friedell). “Another game we just got to win. We got to win this game, get above .500, build off that.”

Bledsoe wouldn’t comment on the “hair salon” incident or on Suns‘ management when asked if he wished either party had handled things differently leading up to his departure.

“I’m at this point now,” Bledsoe said. “I’m on another team focused on what we can build here. So I ain’t focused on that.”

Here’s more from Phoenix:

  • The Suns waited too long to trade Bledsoe, RealGM’s Danny Leroux contends, suggesting that the team should have dealt him before last season’s trade deadline. The scribe argues that the number of teams in playoff contention at the time, combined with Bledsoe’s age and reasonable contract, made February 2017 the right time to move him.
  • Greg Moore of the Arizona Republic believes that GM Ryan McDonough can turn things around for the franchise, though it will take some time. The Suns are expected to be one of only a few teams with substantial cap room this summer and while Moore is hopeful that someone like LeBron James or DeMarcus Cousins decides to come to the team, he envisions Phoenix landing a player in the tier below them. He names DeAndre Jordan, Aaron Gordon, and Marcus Smart as possibilities.
  • Tyson Chandler is expected to be back in the lineup on Wednesday after missing the last three games with an illness, Moore writes in a separate piece. Coach Jay Triano said he isn’t sure how he’ll handle the center rotation, with Greg Monroe, Alex Len and Chandler all vying for minutes. “I haven’t even thought about it,” Triano said. “I’ve got a couple of days to figure out the rotations.”
  • The Northern Arizona Suns, the team’s G League affiliate, have added Earl Barron and Nick Friedman as assistant coaches, Chris Reichert of The Step Back reports (Twitter link). The club has also promoted Tyler Gatlin to associate head coach.

Nuggets Were Close To Eric Bledsoe Trade

Denver was in the “red zone” on a potential trade for Eric Bledsoe last month, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN. Complete details aren’t provided, but Lowe believes Phoenix would have received Emmanuel Mudiay and a first-round pick.

Negotiations with the Suns eventually fell apart and the Nuggets moved on, leaving them with an extremely young point guard duo in Mudiay and Jamal Murray.

“We chase every opportunity to improve ourselves,” said Denver GM Tim Connelly, who refused to comment directly on the Bledsoe talks. “We’ve had a lot of excellent players offered to us for our young talent. There’s a fine line between overvaluing your own players and being too aggressive chasing short-term results.”

The decision not to give up too much for Bledsoe is understandable, writes Lowe, who says he wouldn’t have made made the Nuggets title contenders this season or next. After that, he will be seeking a huge contract as a free agent in his 30s with a history of knee problems.

Lowe also notes that Denver had an opportunity to make a run at Kyrie Irving over the summer, but refused to include Murray in a potential deal. He believes a package of Murray, Wilson Chandler and a minimally protected first-rounder would have gotten the Cavaliers’ attention.

The experience issue at point guard was created just before the season started when the Nuggets elected to waive Jameer Nelson, who played 75 games last season and started 39. Denver worked out a deal to trade him to a lower-level team in exchange for a protected second-round pick, but pulled out because the front office didn’t want Nelson to be stuck on a team with no shot at the playoffs. He eventually signed with the Pelicans after clearing waivers.

“It was tough to see Jameer go,” coach Mike Malone said. “The players trusted him. I find value in veteran mentors. In our meetings, of course I brought up all the reasons it made sense to keep him. But you have to think big picture. It wasn’t like I was kicking and screaming. By the end, we were all on board.”