As NBA training camps approach, there has been no movement on Eric Bledsoe's restricted free agency front in weeks. With the window closing on the 24-year-old point guard's reported max contract demands, his camp is apparently making one last push before crawling back to Phoenix. On his Instagram account, LeBron James, whose power was apparent in the league's deafening silence in July as his own announcement held free agency hostage, posted a picture of himself and the so-called " Mini LeBron " with the caption, "Future All-Star in this league in no time. PHX break bread." The inference from James that Phoenix's front office should be the side caving is a strange one, since the Suns reportedly offered Bledsoe $48 million over four years and last we heard anything on this matter the team's owner Robert Sarver publicly declared, " We haven’t heard from the guy in four months. " While Bledsoe has long been billed as a future franchise floor general — even illustrating that theory with averages of 17.7 points, 5.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds over the first half of last season — a $12 million average annual value seems like a fair shake for a player who has undergone two knee surgeries in his first four NBA seasons, including one on a torn right meniscus that cost him the final 39 games of 2014. Add to that set of circumstances a Suns backcourt safety net of Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas as well as the apparent lack of interest from the league's 29 other organizations in meeting Bledsoe's reported demands for a deal in the five-year, $80 million range, and his camp has little remaining leverage. Bledsoe has tried several tactics this summer , including publicly claiming Phoenix is "using restricted free agency against me." However true that statement may be — since GM Ryan McDonough's suggestion Phoenix would match any offer for Bledsoe's services may have scared potential suitors — it's done little to mend what has reportedly become a strained relationship between the two sides. So, where does LeBron's Instagram account fit into all this? Well, for starters, he and Bledsoe share the same agent, Rich Paul, a longtime friend of James who negotiated the four-time MVP's return to Cleveland. And given the attention to detail that goes into LeBron's marketing campaigns , it's hard to imagine LeBron wasn't trying to wield whatever influence he might have in supporting Bledsoe, especially given that he dropped "#Klutch" in reference to Paul's sports management firm. Not that it makes a lick of difference. A sign-and-trade remains a possibility, as does taking the $3.7 million qualify offer in hopes of cashing in as a 2015 unrestricted free agent, but any way you slice it the bread is going stale in that hot Phoenix sun, and Bledsoe is the one who will ultimately have to break it. More on LeBron:
The Scoop:He is still not signed and multiple reports suggest he's looking like he'll sign a qualifying offer for $3.7 million. Bledsoe would be able to request a team of his choosing, and perhaps this prolonged time apart explains why the Suns signed Isaiah Thomas. The former Clipper seems like he won't be with the Suns beyond the 2014-15 season.
The Scoop:LeBron said Bledsoe is going to be an all-star "in no time" on his Instagram post. Bledsoe is now the only restricted free agent left on the market, and there has been very little communication between him and the Suns. There was a report that Bledsoe will sign a qualifying offer, but nothing is official yet.
It's been a strange road for Kenneth Faried. From the moment he arrived in the association, his dichotomous nature as high-energy Manimal on the court and soft-spoken son of two mothers off it made him a media darling. And yet even as his star rises as Team USA's starting power forward, Faried's value as a once traditional player at a position that's evolving further from the basket remains in question. Drafted 22nd overall by the Nuggets, Faried earned a 2011-12 First Team All-Rookie selection and Rising Stars Challenge MVP honors upon collecting 40 points and 10 boards as a sophomore. The 6-foot-8, 228-pound Morehead State product averaged a double-double per 36 minutes each of his first three NBA seasons, and has replicated those numbers in the opening three games of the FIBA World Cup. While Faried has emerged as a perfect frontcourt pairing to Anthony Davis in the absence of Team USA stalwarts Kevin Durant, Kevin Love and Blake Griffin — all of whom bring their own set of skills to a position increasingly populated by stretch-4's — the criticism leveled at the Class of 2015 restricted free agent remains. We'll let Zach Lowe explain, as he did both fairly and pointedly for Grantland last month. Faried conceives of himself as a max-level player, but he can’t shoot and he has struggled defensively. He can’t protect the rim in the half-court (his chase-down blocks in transition kick major ass, though), and he’s never been an intuitive pick-and-roll defender. Lowe rightly noted Faried's tireless work ethic around the rim and in transition, skills that earned Kenyon Martin $91.75 million over seven seasons in Denver, but the Nuggets are determined not to hamstring themselves with the same contracts that ultimately left them Western Conference also-rans last decade. So, Denver general manager Tim Connelly has shopped Faried at every turn — for a first-round pick last year and more understandably for Kevin Love this summer — and if all of this seems like a strange way for a 36-win team in need of elite talent to court a 24-year-old All-Star-caliber player, then join the club. Speaking about last season in Denver last night, Team USAer Kenneth Faried said trade rumors "affect you when you want to stay somewhere" — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 3, 2014 Faried clearly wants to stay with Nuggets and is mounting quite a contract drive as negotiations continue on extension to keep him in Denver — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 3, 2014 Nuggets and Faried have until Halloween to finalize extension or Team USA's emerging energizer will become restricted free agent next summer — Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) September 3, 2014 Restricted free agents experienced mixed results this summer. The Jazz matched Charlotte's four-year, $63 million offer to Gordon Hayward. The Mavericks snatched Chandler Parsons from Houston for three years and $46 million. Greg Monroe seems willing to sign Detroit's $5.5 million qualifying offer in hopes of cashing in as an unrestricted free agent next summer. And who the hell knows what's happening with Eric Bledsoe . All these options are on the table, as is a five-year extension worth eight figures annually. Given the history of stars using USA Basketball as a springboard to NBA success, the Nuggets may be wise to meet Faried's demands sooner rather than later. Granted, he's played three blowout wins against Finland, Turkey and New Zealand, but Faried's World Cup averages of 14.3 points on 80.8 percent shooting and 8.3 rebounds are impressive, and count Mike Krzyzewski among his growing list of fans. "Overall, from the start of training camp, he's been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us," USA Basketball's coach told ESPN.com . "He’s made that happen." That endorsement alone should have suitors lining up for Faried's services next summer. Then again, if rumors are to be believed, Denver couldn't find a team willing to part with a first-round pick for him last summer. The NBA sure is a strange road, even for a kid forever plowing full-speed ahead.