LOS ANGELES — In praising young guard Eric Bledsoe, did Chris Paul divulge his plan to be back in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform next season and beyond?
“Bled is one of the best guards in our league,” Paul said following Sunday’s Los Angeles Clippers practice. “I’ve said it all season long, I’m enjoying playing with him right now because there’s no way he can be here next year because we probably won’t have enough money to pay him. He should be a starting point guard.”
Bledsoe, 23, is under contract through next season for a bargain $2.6 million. However, if the Clips max-out Paul, who will become a free agent this summer, the franchise could look to move Bledsoe, the third-year talent out of Kentucky taken 18th by Oklahoma City and traded to the Clippers for a first-round draft pick.
He was a catalyst off the bench in Saturday’s 112-91 Clippers victory for a 1-0 lead in the first-round, best-of-7 series against the Memphis Grizzlies. Bledsoe came alive in the fourth quarter for 13 of his 15 points (on 7-for-7 shooting) and all of his four assists and six rebounds as he played the entire period and Paul watched on the bench for all but 3:12 of the fourth.
“For him, I’m just enjoying it and I love to sit back and watch him because he’s a game-changer,” Paul said. “And like I said [Saturday] night, he’s the key to our run.”
The 6-foot-1 Bledsoe is explosive off the dribble and a rugged 190 pounds. He averaged career-bests with 8.5 points and 3.0 rebounds to go with 3.1 assists this season in just 20.4 minutes. His numbers per-36 minutes, or the floor time a starter might typically play, were 14.9 ppg, 5.4 apg and 5.2 rpg. He shot 39.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Bledsoe, as expected, said he’s not focused on his future beyond this postseason. Still, finding ample minutes for a remarkable backcourt arsenal that includes Paul, Bledsoe and veterans Chauncey Billups and sixth man Jamal Crawford is not easy.
“We got one goal and that’s to win the championship and I think we got a pretty good team to do that,” Bledsoe said. “So I’m not focused on next season. I’m pretty going to worry about winning, learning how to, really, for the first time in my career to get a championship.”
Through three quarters Saturday night, Bledsoe had logged 6:19 and had two points. His spurt of relentless activity in the fourth quarter included stint with Paul and Billups.
“Everybody on the team went through it,” Bledsoe said of sacrificing minutes on a deep team that routinely goes 10 and 11 deep. “For right now, it’s whoever is playing good at the time. So we’re just going to cheer the next man on, that’s part of a team. So I really can’t focus on minutes. If I get them I get them, if I don’t, I don’t.”
According to Paul, Bledsoe should be getting more next season when he’s wearing a different uniform.
And that could very well suggest that Paul plans to stay in a Clippers uniform.