Bucks Land Eric Bledsoe In Trade With Suns: Does This Make Milwaukee Contenders?

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(Photo: Getty Images)

Eric Bledsoe got his wish—he finally gets to leave the Phoenix Suns Hair Salon. The point guard has been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks for draft picks and the expiring contract of veteran big man Greg Monroe.

While the final haul might disappoint Suns fans, this is unfortunately all they were going to get considering the franchise had tanked his value by disgruntling him to be the point that he’d demanded a trade.

Besides, with Monroe’s nearly $18 million salary coming off the books next summer, Phoenix will have roughly $25 million in cap space to play with come the 2018 offseason. This puts them in the position to either spend on free agents or use that money to take on other teams’ bad salary so long as draft picks or talented young assets are attached (sort of like how the Brooklyn Nets landed D’Angelo Russell this summer).

So long as the malcontentedness of Eric Bledsoe is behind him, this could be a boon to the Bucks’ ascension to contender status. His strength and 6’8″ wingspan at the point means he’ll fit in perfectly to Jason Kidd’s switch-heavy defensive scheme, and he joins Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton as another much-needed ball-handler and playmaker to support MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.

But the loss of Monroe will hurt Milwaukee more than it might appear. Without him, the Bucks are thin, literally, up front—the only other centers on the roster are Johnson Henson and Thon Maker, who are solid shot blockers but lack the heft to slow the league’s burliest centers. Monroe has missed the team’s last four games with a sore calf, and the team’s gone 1-3, with their lone win coming against the helpless Atlanta Hawks before dropping three straight. In those losses, the team has been brutalized by opposing centers—Steven Adams, Andre Drummond, and Dwight Howard combined to average 18.3 points and 12.3 rebounds on 66.7 percent shooting from the field.

The good news: Thanks to the rise of small ball, there’s no shortage of underutilized massive individuals in the NBA. The Orlando Magic have $77 million tied up in centers Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo. The Toronto Raptors are paying Jonas Valanciunas $50 million over the next three seasons and are desperate to give impressive youngsters Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Noguiera more playing time. And, as has been the case for what seems like five decades, the Philadelphia 76ers are looking to rid themselves of Jahlil Okafor.

There are talented, strong centers to be had, but of course, there’s a catch—with Bledsoe in tow for this season and the next, they could be hamstrung, cap space-wise. Will they be willing to use more assets to add a much-needed big man and give the franchise some monetary breathing room going forward?

With the Eastern Conference wide open thanks to the Gordon Hayward injury and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ brutal start, this might be just the season to take that sort of risk.