When the Phoenix Suns signed diminutive former Sacramento Kings scoring point guard Isaiah Thomas in 2014, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. The Suns already had similarly-styled hybrid guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe on their roster, and though Bledsoe was a restricted free agent currently at a stalemate with the team, Phoenix owned all the negotiating leverage.
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Bledsoe eventually signed an extension with the squad, and the Suns entered 2014-15 with the uneasy troika in the backcourt. Ideally, Thomas would provide punch off the bench, but both Dragic and Bledsoe declined to embrace the new addition, and the Suns disappointed in what was hoped to be a playoff season. At the 2015 trade deadline, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough seemed to rectify the problem by somehow stealing to two future first round picks for Dragic in a deal with the Miami Heat. All seemed to be in cleared for takeoff.
Then the Suns, weirdly, dealt Thomas. Eventual “2015-16 NBA All-Star, Isaiah Thomas.”
Just one year later, in something you rarely see in this league, McDonough pointed out on record that he whiffed on the deal. From a talk with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, as transcribed by Kevin Zimmerman:
“I think in retrospect trading Isaiah Thomas when we did was a mistake,” he said of last season’s trade deadline deal with the Boston Celtics. “I think sometimes in the recruitment process things sound better in July (luring Thomas in free agency) than they do in November.
“He wanted more, he wanted a bigger role and I understand why: He’s a talented player,” McDonough added. “In retrospect, we should have carried him into the summer. If there’s one (decision) that stands out, if I could get a mulligan, that’d be it.”
Well. That’s certainly … refreshing?
The 2015 trade deadline was a busy week for Phoenix. Again, somehow they lured two future first (likely in 2018 and 2021, still a steal) from Miami for an unhappy player in Dragic that was set to leave as a free agent anyway. Then, in another shocker, the team dealt what many felt could be a franchise-altering pick owed to them from the Los Angeles Lakers (protected to the third pick in 2016 and 2017, unprotected in 2018), essentially, for another hybrid guard in Brandon Knight.
Thomas? They dealt him to Boston for what will turn out to be Cleveland’s first round pick this season, currently slated and very likely to be 28th overall.
That’s 32 slots up from where the Sacramento Kings picked Thomas with the final selection in the 2011 draft, so there’s always a chance, but geeeeez. Isaiah had already averaged over 20 points per game in his final season with Sacto in 2013-14 and was working on a very affordable contract (he’s owed just over $12.7 million between now and the end of its terms, in 2018). That deal – originally a four-year, $27 million agreement – was a bargain even when Thomas wasn’t meshing with his Phoenix teammates, as he averaged over 15 points on efficient shooting at just under 26 minutes a game off the bench.
Isaiah doesn’t come off the bench anymore in Boston. As stated he earned an All-Star berth this season and is back to scoring over 20 points per game for the third-seeded Celtics.
The Suns just continue to have the oddest strains of timing.
The team was able to snare Tyson Chandler in a surprise signing last summer in hopes that LaMarcus Aldridge would be swayed to consider joining the team, which he did briefly before moving on to San Antonio. Chasing those two meant losing Marcus Morris in a deal to Detroit, which sent Morris’ twin Markieff into a tizzy. With Markieff demanding to be dealt, McDonough found little to work with in a leverage-less trade market; but not even Markieff’s unproductive 2015-16 stopped Washington from incredibly sending a first round pick to Phoenix in February’s trade deadline after talking themselves into the idea that Markieff was the answer.
The odd timing dates back a year. Dragic went in a steal, but that still won’t provide consistent production for years. Brandon Knight is hardly a game-changer (in exchange for what could be the fourth overall pick in either of the next two drafts, or the top overall pick in 2018), and Bledsoe (whom the Suns signed Thomas to ostensibly provide insurance for while they waited out a restricted free agency game that was tilted in their favor) is now out with yet another frightening torn meniscus.
As surprising as it is to hear an NBA GM admit to screwing up a deal just one year after it went down – again, these things just don’t happen in this league – if any GM had to pick one, it would probably be the Isaiah Thomas fiasco.
These Suns are something else.
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