Three games into the season, Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted "I don't wanna be here" and was fined $10,000 by the NBA and sent home by the Suns as they worked on finding a new home for him. On Tuesday, Milwaukee acquired the 27-year-old guard in exchange for center Greg Monroe and a 2018 first round and second pick with protections. Here are three takeaways:
The Milwaukee Bucks are building a win-now roster with Giannis Antetokounmpo as their centerpiece
In his fifth season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.0 points, 9.9 rebounds and 5.0 assists has emerged as one of the best players in the league. With the Bledsoe trade, the Bucks add another piece to the core group around Antetokounmpo as they look to become a perennial contender in the East. Milwaukee is 10th in the league this season in three-pointers made per game (10.7) and third in three-point percentage (39.5 percent). Bledsoe is a point guard by trade, but with Antetokounmpo responsible for a majority of the ball-handling duties on the team, this trade will be evaluated on Bledsoe's ability to provide perimeter shooting and secondary scoring for the Bucks.
Bledsoe is a career 33.4 percent three-point shooter and has averaged over 20 points per game in each of his last two seasons. He will add to Milwaukee's offense, and paired with Malcolm Brogdon, will likely bump Matthew Dellavedova from the rotation. Bledsoe is signed through the end of the 2018-19 season, and joins Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Jabari Parker and Thon Maker as the core group around Antetokounmpo, who is signed through the 2020-21 season.
Even with Antetokounmpo's terrific start to the season, the Bucks are 4-5 and have lost three in a row. The trade is an upgrade in talent for Milwaukee and should put them into the East playoff picture, where everyone expected them to be at the start of the season. Parker is out until at least February as he recovers from a torn ACL, but when and if he is healthy, a five-man lineup of Brogdon, Bledsoe, Parker, Antetokounmpo and Maker possesses tantalizing potential on both ends of the floor, with shooters around Antetokounmpo and the length and switchability across multiple positions on defense that Jason Kidd and the Bucks crave so much.
The trade gives Milwaukee a chance to be significantly better, and at a modest cost. Trading draft picks can always turn out to be costly down the road, but for a team looking to assemble talent around Antetokounmpo and find out where they stand in the East, this trade made perfect sense for the Bucks.
Phoenix officially presses reset on a failed rebuilding plan.
The Suns were one of the surprise teams in 2014, winning 48 games in the West under Jeff Hornacek, with a team led by the backcourt of Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. After their 48-win season, Phoenix added Isaiah Thomas in free agency and tried to figure it out with a three-headed backcourt of Dragic, Thomas and Bledsoe. It didn't work. Thomas spent half a season in Phoenix before he was traded to Boston. Dragic was also dealt at the 2015 trade deadline to Miami, and now Bledsoe is off to Milwaukee. In trading their three guards, the Suns got a minimal combined return of role players and draft picks. They are owed an unprotected first round pick from Miami in 2021, but otherwise, none of the deals helped accelerate the rebuilding process for Phoenix.
The Bledsoe trade is no different. Having sent their point guard home and without much leverage, general manager Ryan McDonough acquired two protected picks, and Monroe, who will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The deal does open up some cap flexibility for the Suns this summer, but they're not in a position as a franchise to lure any significant talent in free agency.
Add to the fact Phoenix just fired their head coach Earl Watson earlier this season and replaced him with Jay Triano on an interim basis, and the rebuilding process is starting anew in Phoenix. The core group of Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender represents a start. But in many ways, the Suns are almost the cautionary tale of the process in Philadelphia. Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie nailed most of his trades and his years of tanking landed three potential franchise players for the franchise (Ben Simmons, if Joel Embiid can stay healthy and if Markelle Fultz can figure out which hand to shoot with).
The Suns, meanwhile, have come out on the wrong side of many of their trades during the rebuilding process, and don't have a player to build around from the draft, depending on what you think about Booker's potential as a number-one scoring option in the league and Jackson's potential. Add it all up, and the rebuild will take a little while longer in Phoenix than it has in Philadelphia. The Sixers missed the playoffs for five straight seasons, but seem poised to compete for a playoff spot this season. Meanwhile, the Suns are headed towards an eighth consecutive season out of the playoffs.
The trade presents an opportunity for Eric Bledsoe to rebuild his value.
Because of the nightmarish ending with the Suns organization, it's easy to forget that Bledsoe is coming off the best season of his career in which he averaged 21.1 points, 6.3 assists and 4.8 rebounds (all career-highs) in 66 games. With a month left in the 2016-17 season, the Suns shut down Bledsoe with knee soreness, although it was seen more as a move to help improve the team's position in the draft lottery (Watson called it a management decision at the time). Per Dave King of Bright Side of the Sun, only three players from the past five seasons -- LeBron James, James Harden and Russell Westbrook -- matched Bledsoe's points, assists, rebounds and free throws per game output from last year.
Bledsoe will not be a ball-dominant point guard in Milwaukee, but he has a chance to recreate himself as a second option behind Antetokounmpo, and re-establish himself as one of the better defenders at his position. If he does, the Bucks should move up the standings in the East in a hurry.