ESPN.com and a Phoenix television sports anchor each reported Friday that the Timberwolves are prepared to pay restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe the four-year, $63 million maximum contract he has sought without success this summer from the Suns.
But it’s not that simple. The Wolves are well over the NBA’s salary cap and can’t make such an offer without first reaching a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns to acquire one young star point guard while they do the same negotiating dance with their own, Ricky Rubio.
The two teams are believed to have had trade discussions concerning Bledsoe for months, when the Suns pursued superstar Kevin Love before the Wolves traded their three-time All Star to Cleveland last month.
The Wolves owe the Suns their protected first-round draft pick next summer and could sweeten a trade proposal by reducing or removing restrictions that will defer the pick to 2016 if the Wolves draft among the top 12 teams in June.
They also have a $6 million-plus trade exception that could apply toward balancing salaries if they absorb Bledsoe’s new $15 million-plus average salary.
But agreeing on the other pieces could be problematic.
The Suns are not believed to be interested in neither center Nikola Pekovic and his $12 million salary nor Rubio. The Suns already have point guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, and they’d be back in the same situation they are with Bledsoe, negotiating with a player who believes he’s worth a maximum salary. (There’s no indication the Wolves are willing to trade Pekovic or Rubio, anyway.)
The Wolves likely will be unwilling to trade any of their top young players — Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Gorgui Dieng — the Suns might want, and can’t trade Anthony Bennett or Thaddeus Young, who were acquired in the Love deal, for at least another month.
The expiring contract of guard J.J. Barea and veterans such as Chase Budinger, Corey Brewer or Kevin Martin won’t get the deal done, either.
The Wolves could play Rubio and Bledsoe in the same backcourt, much as the Suns did with Bledsoe and Dragic last season. But with Rubio also seeking a max contract, doing so would involve paying big money to players who naturally play the same position.
Bledsoe reportedly has refused the Suns’ four-year, $48 million offer, and the two sides are in a standoff that will result in Bledsoe becoming an unrestricted free agent if he decides to play this season under a $3.7 million qualifying offer.
The Wolves and Rubio also are a good distance apart on negotiations toward an extension of the rookie contract he signed in May 2011. If the two sides do not agree by Oct. 31, Rubio will become a restricted free agent next July.