Suns guard Eric Bledsoe went through some turmoil this offseason as a restricted free agent. He signed his qualifying offer last fall after the team made it clear they wanted to wait until he had proven himself in a starter’s role after backing up Chris Paul for three years with the Clippers. Then, a shin ailment digressed into a torn meniscus and Bledsoe missed half of the 2013-14 regular season after having surgery to remove the meniscus. In what time he did appear in the Suns’ double-headed backcourt with All-NBA Third Team member, Goran Dragic, Bledsoe showed he’s a more-than capable starter in the Association.
Coming off a 27-point game against his former team, the Clippers, in preseason, plus a pretty gnarly step-back that had reserve Clippers guard Jared Cunningham stumbling from the three-point line all the way to the photogs under the basket, we chatted with Bledsoe about a multitude of items, including the upcoming Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, due out Nov. 4.
The Suns’ newly minted five-year, $70-million man talked about the summer acquisition of yet another guard, Isaiah Thomas, the headlines surrounding his on-off negotiations with Phoenix management, head coach Jeff Hornacek and battling his former teammate, Chris Paul.
(Our conversation was edited for space)
Dime: Congrats, by the way, we posted your crossover on Jared Cunningham, and our readers loved it.Do you remember that move?
Eric Bledsoe: Yeah, I remember.
Dime: Have you been following the Call of Duty franchise since the beginning?
EB: Yeah, I have. [My brother] is actually the one who introduced me to the game. And I gave it a try and I really liked it.
Dime: So you’re looking forward to the new release. Do you play online, or just the single-player option for the journey or odyssey?
EB: I play online a lot. I do the little journey mode to get the feel of it when I start it out. After I beat it, I play online.
Dime: Do you bring the Call of Duty on the road at all, or is it more of an offseason thing?
EB: Oh, I play during the season, especially when I’m at home. I don’t really change the player too much when I’m on the road. I’m playing so much, I’m trying to get rest.
Dime: Do you let people know it’s Eric Bledsoe when you’re online, or do you keep it anonymous? What’s your screen name?
EB: My screen name is just eb2, buy some people know who it is, but when I get into the game, I don’t think people really know.
Dime: So no one comes at you, like ‘I’m gonna take out Eric Bledsoe’?
EB: [Laughs] Nah, all the guys don’t know me when I play the game.
Dime: Did you play against any of your teammates during your one season in Kentucky? Like with John [Wall] or Boogie [DeMarcus Cousins] or anyone?
EB: No, I didn’t really play it until my first year in the NBA…I wasn’t really into video games when I was in college.
Dime: On the basketball front, has it been a relief to you when you signed an extension and you’re kind of locked in? Was that something you didn’t really want hanging over your head going into the season?
EB: No, I wasn’t worried about it. I went last season without signing a contract, but…I wasn’t worried about. I love playing the game, and I was gonna play the game.
Dime: Do you think the headlines about your acrimony with Phoenix during extension talks were overblown, or were you always pretty sure you were going to re-sign?
EB: I was pretty sure. I had already signed a qualifying offer and what-not. The media are gonna be doing what they gotta be doing and write their story. At the end of the day, [nobody] knows.
Dime: Was it nice hearing support, LeBron came out and publicly said they should pay you. Did you pay attention to that stuff, or just leave it to your agent to figure out?
EB: I left things up to my agent. I did what I had to do during the offseason, and I think I did just get better working on my game. I let my agent to do what I hired him do.
Dime: What was the one thing about your game you were working on the most this offseason?
EB: Stay sharp, worked on my conditioning a little bit; staying in shape, not getting too tired. And shooting the ball a lot, so I got a lot of shots up this summer.
Dime: Do you think — after only playing a backup’s minutes in LA — the increased usage as a starter contributed to the meniscus injury?
EB: I mean, injuries happen. Doesn’t matter if you’re playing four minutes, [or] playing 40 minutes. So injuries happen, and it’s something you can’t control.
Dime: What’s a Suns practice like with so many guards competing against one another?
EB: Practices are intense because…we all want to win and compete in practice, so it makes it really intense and it make the games so much easier.
Dime: So [coach Jeff] Hornacek makes practices really intense?
EB: Oh no question coach get into it at the practice because they’re preparing us for the game.
Dime: Watching [Hornacek] on the sideline, he seems very happy-go-luck, very optimistic. Is that what he’s like in the locker room or behind the scenes? Very positive, ‘we can do this’ sort of guy. Is that how you were able to play so far above expectations last season?
EB: Oh, no question, coach is always positive. Even though we have a young group of guys, and we mess up more than we have to, he understands it. And he — uh [he’ll] be the vocal guy. He’s always thinking positive about the situation.
Dime: Does he ever talk about his own playing days?
EB: No he don’t. But when I first got on the team, it was about [Hornacek] and KJ [Kevin Johnson] and now it’s me and Goran [Dragic], so…
Dime: So he does’t talk about his playing days at all, like when he’s teaching you stuff in practice?
EB: No, I mean we kinda mess with him a little bit and that kind of thing. Like we’ll be shooting free throws and we’ll mess with him and he’ll just look at us like — he was shooting a high percentage, something like 90 percent or something [close, Hornacek shot 87.7 for his career and 88.6 percent from the stripe in the playoffs].
Dime: You know he had that weird routine before free throws, right?
EB: No, I don’t know. I’m gonna have to check that out.
Dime: Next time you’re shooting free throws at practice, or just YouTube it or something.
EB: Oh, OK, I didn’t know that.
Dime: Do you find it easier to play with two other guards, rather than the traditional guard,guard, forward, forward, center lineup?
EB: No question…you gotta play where your playmakers [are] and it makes the game easy. When everybody’s trying to be in the paint, [you’re] not putting any pressure on the defense, and there are kick outs and the guys are wide open.
Dime: So it spaces the floor to have more perimeter players on the court?
EB: Yeah, I think so.
Dime: Has Hornacek put like four guards on the court at practice with Plumlee down low? Has he experimented with super-small lineups?
EB: No, we haven’t gotten [to that] yet. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen sometime.
Dime: How has Isaiah Thomas blended with the team since getting signed?
EB: I think great…He wanna win…he’s unselfish…
Dime: You’ve spent a lot of time guarding Chris Paul — whether in practice with the Clippers, or in games with the Suns — tell us how hard he is to go against?
EB: Leaving him alone, he’s tough, and he’s like any other player early, but it’s tough to stop him towards the end of a game.
Dime: You guys were the last team eliminated from a possible playoff berth last season. Can you make it this year in a loaded Conference?
EB: I think that we have a great chance of making it. 48 games [last year] and we didn’t make it. I think we can [go] up back to 48 and probably even more, so it’s easier. But I think everybody’s coming together at the other end. Playing as a team and everybody’s helping one another.
What do you think?
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