Bledsoe a Key in Free Agency

The free agent class of 2014 has the potential to significantly alter the landscape of the entire NBA.

Superstars in their prime, such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, can be signed by any team in the league if they opt out of their contracts. 

A perennial All-Star is available in the trade market if Minnesota decides to cut ties with Kevin Love now by trading him instead of potentially losing him in free agency next summer without any pieces in return.

For all of the marquee players that are available this summer, no one may influence how the entire market reacts more than Phoenix point guard Eric Bledsoe.

The 24-year-old is a restricted free agent is a candidate to receive a maximum contract offer to lure him away from the Suns.

Bledsoe just completed his fourth season in the league after spending his first three years as the backup to Chris Paul before being dealt to Phoenix last summer.

Any player with zero to six years of experience can have a maximum contract worth approximately 25 percent of the salary cap, meaning teams can offer him a deal worth up to $15 million a year.

Point guard Eric Bledsoe averaged 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game last season in Phoenix.

Last October, the Suns tired desperately to ink Bledsoe to a contract extension, in an attempt to avoid him entering free agency.

The team has declared it would match any offer it deemed reasonable for the 6-foot-1 guard and intends to come to terms quickly with him once free agency begins next month.

The Suns can sign him a contract that runs through 2018, one more season than any other team can offer, but as the point guard position has evolved into one of the most critical throughout the league, Bledsoe is a commodity.

A year ago, when the Clippers were interested in dealing Bledsoe to open cap room to chase a maximum level free agent, the Raptors showed a strong interest.

Toronto may have a vacancy at the point guard position, with Kyle Lowry, a player that fell just short of landing on the All-NBA Third Team after being snubbed from the Eastern Conference All-Star team, is an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Playing point guard full time may be a priority for Bledsoe, after he spent much of last season in a time share at the position with Goran Dragic.

The Raptors have just over $40 million committed next season, meaning Bledsoe could be the primary option for the team in free agency.

Phoenix also has plenty of cap room, as Philadelphia, Orlando, Utah, Dallas and the Lakers are the only teams with more money available to spend this summer.

Few available players possess the combination of youth, athleticism and play making ability of Bledsoe.

Eric Bledsoe was selected with the 18th overall pick by Oklahoma City in the 2010 NBA Draft.

In his first season as a primary starter, he averaged 17.7 points on 47.7 percent shooting from the field to go along with 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game.

Perhaps his best attribute is his perimeter defense.

Phoenix allowed five fewer points per 100 possessions with Bledsoe on the floor, posting a 100.5 mark in defensive rating, a figure that would make the team one of the five best in the league.

The biggest concern going forward for the former Kentucky star is his ability to remain healthy.

Last season, he was originally diagnosed with a sprained right knee, but it was later discovered that he would have to undergo surgery to repair torn cartilage.

The injury forced Bledsoe to miss a total of 39 games, with Phoenix posting a 28-15 record with him in the lineup and going 20-19 when he was out.

In his four seasons, Bledsoe has appeared in 240 out of a possible 312 games.

Along with his health, there are some concerns about his high turnover rate. Throughout his career, he has averaged 3.6 turnovers per game per 36 minutes, a statistic that was exactly the same as his 2013-14 season average.

With the season on the line against Dallas late in the regular season, he turned the ball over seven times, as the loss essentially eliminated the Suns from playoff contention.

Turnovers are a major concern for nearly every young point guard in the league, but as Bledsoe enters his fifth season, he should be expecting a major pay raise.

About Brendan Galella

Brendan Galella founded Shatter the Glass to make the NBA even more accessible to basketball fans. Composing player rankings, team evaluations and intriguing observations, he hopes to turn every reader into a dedicated and educated basketball follower.

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