Nov 20, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas (22) makes a pass against the Phoenix Suns guard Ish Smith (3) in the first half at US Airways Center. The Kings defeated the Suns 113-106. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

Takeaways from Isaiah Thomas’ trade to the Suns


What does the Phoenix Suns’ sign-and-trade acquisition of Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings mean? There are four main takeaways from the deal that is expected to go through … as soon as the league office makes a phone call that will make it official.

It’s a variant of asset acquisition

Phoenix didn’t give up much to get a talented player, and that might be the most important way to view this trade.

Along with 2013 second-round pick, Alex Oriakhi, the Suns gave the Sacramento Kings a trade exception — it gives the Kings the ability to make a deal (or deals) over the next year while taking on $7.2 million in salaries without sending anything away.

To sum up why acquiring Thomas makes sense for Phoenix, let’s turn to the best paragraph from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton’s trade grade piece:

… this is different from how we approach the NBA Draft, when teams are generally encouraged to pick the best player available rather than draft for need. For most teams, this makes sense. Free agents are expected to contribute immediately, and they generally don’t carry the same long-term upside as draft picks. However, for teams building their rosters, it might be more important to get the better player and figure out another move later.

Thomas is a solid player and analytically considered worth the four-year, $27 million deal despite being considered a backup, the sixth man behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Phoenix now has the ability to trade any of its backcourt players without having to worry so much about who replaces them. And even if keeping Dragic and Bledsoe are part of long-term plan, there’s no doubt the Suns picked up another player who can help them.

Financially, three backcourt players will be making quite a bit of money, especially once Bledsoe re-signs and Dragic pushes for a bigger deal next summer. But the Suns have drafted well and can retain inexpensive depth with Archie Goodwin and Tyler Ennis for the next several seasons — the backcourt is more than set for years down the line.

As it stands, Phoenix is still a few simple moves from having the cap space to make a big signing. We learned this offseason that Phoenix may not be the most attractive free agent destination, but the roster is only getting better. Making a trade with current players may be the most likely way to acquire a Kevin Love, anyway.

The Suns have bought themselves another asset for nothing, and they can wait until tomorrow to create a more well-rounded roster.

Ish’s success might have got him replaced

After the 2013-14 season, it was clear why Ish Smith stole Kendall Marshall’s backup point guard spot. Like a change-up running back, the Suns used Ricky Bobby as a change-up point guard who ran up opponents’ backs and forced their heads to move on swivels as he energized Jeff Hornacek’s second unit.

Smith was worth a lot in how his style organically stirred up his teammates. His tempo got the ball moving. His defense was pesky. Smith’s best talent was impactful enough for the Suns to know they liked it. They’ll get the same, and more, from Thomas.

Smith lacked a jumper to keep defenders honest. When he got to the hole, his success rate wasn’t adequate, either.

Here’s a look at Smith’s shot chart:Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.49.07 PM

The Suns envision Thomas playing Smith’s role but with heavier minutes. Thomas brings the efficiency with an effective field goal percentage of 51 percent (right at Hornacek’s team goal) to Smith’s 42.5 percent. Smith proved that his role is important — so much so the Suns felt like they had to upgrade it with a borderline starting talent and a player who statistically fit their moneyball.

Thomas brings the ability to score efficiently at almost every spot on the floor.

He’s a 35 percent three-point shooter and though he’ll have to prove that he can score without playing with passing scorers – DeMarcus Cousins assisted him 49 times last year and Rudy Gay did so another 30 — there’s reason to believe he will fare just fine working on pick-and-rolls opposite Dragic and Bledsoe.

Here’s a peek at Thomas’ shot chart from 2013-14.

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 7.49.47 PM

It presents questions about the rotation, but not necessarily at point guard

It’s easy to predict a trade follows the Thomas signing. If that doesn’t happen, where the Suns really have a logjam is at shooting guard and small forward, assuming the three-point-guard backcourt rotation fills both guard slots while pushing Gerald Green out.

Green’s $3.5 million expiring deal has a bit of value since he helped proved his production last season. It’s also a contract that can be thrown into a number of trades to make the financial bits work out. If he sticks around this year, it’s conceivable for Green to become P.J. Tucker’s backup and for Marcus Morris to help brother Markieff at power forward. That would mean Archie Goodwin’s opportunities will again be hard to find. Same with T.J. Warren.

Rookie point guard Tyler Ennis might have found himself in Bakersfield anyway, but how Phoenix handles the minutes for Green, Warren and Goodwin will be the thing to watch.

Phoenix doesn’t want to take a step back

Channing Frye’s departure has been the only step backward from the 48-win squad from last year. It might be a bigger or smaller step back that we think. Nonetheless, the Suns have enough cap space to spend on even more asset acquisition and players who immediately can provide for them. Thomas is both.

No, Phoenix didn’t knock out a home run in free agency or via a trade — not yet, anyway — but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t add more assets that could bait other teams into trade. Even though it’s spending money, this is the Suns having room to spend rather than the Kings replacing Thomas with a nearly-as-expensive Darren Collison.

The Suns’ assets first came in the form of draft picks and dollars. Now, those are turning into actual players.

  • coachj

    Makes absolutely no sense. Asset collection is fine, but when you are going 3 deep, and that third guy is making mid-level money, you wonder. If Thomas was a hot commodity, why wouldn’t he command more than a mid-level deal? Since that didn’t happen, what can you get for him in a trade? What is he really worth as an asset?

    If they now sign Deng for $12M per, I will rip all my hair out.

    • 4everis2long

      Agree Coach

    • Voqar

      Deng would be worth it. He’s solid both sides of the ball. I don’t like this signing at all unless they think they don’t want to give Bledsoe max money (he’s good but coming off of injuries makes it really iffy) and that he’ll get max offers. Ish was terrible on offense for sure but you’d hope he’s working on it and it’s not like you need the 2nd unit to be as lethal as the first unit for offense. There’s a lot to be said for his defensive disruptiveness and general hustle – and does that need replaced at 7m/yr.

      I like Goodwin a lot too and he’s not going to get any better sitting nonstop. Green, IMO, was a big part of the Suns success last season and he got progressively better (and less erratic and emo) with more playing time. I’d be bummed if they dealt him or let him go unless they get something ridiculous out of it like Love or the like (and if Love does the LBJ reacharound and gets moved to Cleveland I may just vomit).

      I don’t see Enis doing much in the NBA so if they can move him that’d be great – better now than after he Marshalls.

      Hopefully they have some more moves planned that don’t make me hurl because so far things look wierd. I agree with not paying Frye – he just won the lotto and is not remotely worth 8m/per. But that leaves Morris starting at 4 which isn’t exactly awe inspiring unless he miraculously pulls off player of the week level play for an entire season, which is unlikely.

  • DBreezy

    The Suns may not want to take a step back, but unfortunately the teams ahead of them feel the same and many are taking a step forward. Dallas has improved and Carter is a nice get for a Grizzlies team that is often offensively challenged. I would agree that the Suns view this deal partially as asset acquisition at a solid price, much like they viewed PJ’s deal and why they were willing to pass on Channing.

    As I said on the other article, I think McD is showing a trend of preferring to spend his money on backcourt or wing players vs. bigs unless the big is a star. That’s in-line with how the Celts tended to play things and not necessarily a bad thing. Teams like the Pistons and Denver have repeatedly overpaid non-star bigs in the past for questionable value. I may not have gone out and signed Thomas, but I can see that his deal (or the other backcourt players) would be easier to move than say the deal Josh Smith signed a year ago with Detroit. Or a Larry Sanders. This stuff is asset acquisition, I’m just not sure it’s going to get them an established star via trade in the end because of the cba. They may be more likely to get that star via a trade for a high draft pick, or perhaps they get somebody outright via free agency and use trades to fill the roster smartly out around that player.

    Rotation wise there are a lot of questions. I feel that Archie has not only earned minutes, but is a good enough prospect that as an organization you want to see him and Alex out there consistently to see what you’ve got. Kobe didn’t get to 20ppg until his 4th season, but he played 26mpg or better after his rookie year. I think they’re going to have to find him some time by lowering Goran and Bled’s minutes slightly and/or sneaking in some time at the 3. I don’t think Marcus has a lock on the time behind Kieff. It’s likely that they add another front court body this summer, but even if they didn’t my bet is that Marcus and Warren share that time depending on how they’re playing on a given night. I also wonder about distribution with the bench crew. Ennis seems like a nice potential fit with a mostly scoring unit of Goodwin, Green, Marcus/TJ, and Len where he just sets things up and only shoots when he has to so defenses are honest. Thomas seems like he’s in more of a in-prime Leandro type role as a scoring point who’s the primary bench option. I also wonder what happens when Goodwin’s play ultimately demands that he be on the floor for longer stretches.

    • 4everis2long

      Excellent point DB with the Kobe analogy. It seems we have a mad scientist working somewhere in lab. I hope he doesn’t blow anything up.

      • DBreezy

        Kobe is the gold standard and I used him as an example he’s someone everyone knows and a bonafide superstar, but I don’t think a lot of people remember that he didn’t hit the scene that way. You see a lot of fans look at the draft year in and out and say player XXX isn’t worth it because they don’t see him as instant superstar. Sometimes (rarely these days) it works that way, but most times it doesn’t. McGrady didn’t score 20+ppg until his 4th season either. 7th for Jermaine O’Neal. 4th for Dwight Howard. Makes you realize how special guys like Lebron, Makes you realize how unique guys like Lebron, Durant, Melo, and Stoudemire were coming into the league. Watching Wiggins today, you can see why CLE is hesitant to give him up and why his game translates better to the NBA than college.

        Guys like James Harden and Paul George are more representative of the typical developmental curve of today’s NBA stars than the way things were in the 90′s and 80′s. I think Archie fits that kind of mold, and possibly Alex too though we need to see more of him. I don’t think McD will blow anything up unless he’s under strict orders to do so, but I do think he will engineer more trades. I just think that he’ll acquire assets if he has to make a deal and maximize them vs the Suns recent past.

        • Doug Miller

          I think MJ averaged 10 pts his first season. Do the Suns have enough minutes to go around to the young talent? I think more trades to come.

          • DBreezy

            Great point

    • Underdog_Lefty

      Great analysis DB. I’m a big fan of Goodwin and am expecting him to have a breakout year. His raw talent has the potential to equate into a star down the road, and having Hornacek as his coach is a plus plus. Pairing him with Thomas, I think the Suns’ second team improves quite a bit. Though the defense may drop off some when they come in, they would probably be facing the opponents 2nd team too. Teams with a potent guard combo like Thomas/Goodwin are far and few.

      What’s your thoughts on improving the SF position?

      • DBreezy

        I think they’re likely to be patient and keep watching what they have in Warren, Marcus, and Gerald although Marc Stein is reporting that they’re trying to get into the Luol Deng talks. That’s not surprising since it was rumored that Deng was looking at a 2year 20M deal from the Heat. A deal that short fits in with McD/Babby’s view of sensibly priced asset acquisitions. If not they have at least 2, possibly 3 first rounders in next year’s draft. There are several (4)SF projected to be in the lottery.

  • 4everis2long

    Look it is probably impossible to judge this roster in July. I get that it is work in progress or asset acquisition. However a couple of things are clear in my mind, signing another guard was for some unknown reason a priority. When you have Goodwin begging and deserving minutes, we sign a midget. We need a defensive power forward and it appears we will simply take what is left. Stunting Goodwin’s growth is not a good thing no matter how someone frames it. This is not a championship team so he should be playing a lot while we grow. This move hurts his development.

    If this is a prelude to a trade of Bled I fear we will take step backwards which will hurt us in the end. I also do not want to trade Dragic or Goodwin even for Love. Love will not make this a championship team and I seriously doubts he signs an extension. The Suns badly need to make the playoffs this season if they want a shot at any good free agents.

    I guess my point in all of this is asset acquisition should never compromise the development of young promising players like Goodwin unless in my opinion the team is trying to win a championship and that is not the Suns this season. The Suns need to lock up Ed Davis soon.

    • DBreezy

      You have to think that the Hill deal set the market for Davis at 9M or better a season. As such, I would think that deal length and our structure will play a huge role in the Suns going after Davis. They weren’t willing to pay Channing roughly 8M per as a starter, you have to wonder if they’d pay more than that to lock up Davis as backup. Especially if the guaranteed deal length is greater than a year or two. The Celts paid 3M over two years for Shaq. PJ Brown signed for a quarter of the season plus the playoffs. Troy Murphy signed a similar deal. So did Ryan Hollins. And Sean Williams. They also rented Nenad Kristic for part of a season in the Kendrick Perkins trade. Jermaine O’Neal signed for the MLE of 5.76M over two years. They declined to pay Perkins. After much whining by Baby, he resigned a two year deal as a rfa for 6.5M They later traded Baby for Bass who got 3 years at a little under 7M per. Shelden Williams aka Candace Parker’s worse half, signed a one year deal for 1M. Rasheed got a 3 year deal at the MLE. Patrick O’Bryant got a two year, vet min deal. Chris Wilcox got the vet min.

      That pretty much covers every big man the Celtics signed outside of KG during the Big 3 contention era. The rest were draftees that didn’t even make it to RFA status with the team like Semeh Erden, Jajuan Johnson, Leon Powe, Greg Stiemsma, Jarvis Varnado, etc. I think this is a tale of the tape worth noting. From now going forward there is likely to be much commentary on who the Suns do or don’t sign or trade for in their front court. There is likely to be blame/scorn aimed at Sarver, Babby and the Suns history and not McD. I’m not sure that will be fair. During their run from 2007-2013 the Celts never paid much for bigs outside of KG and that’s including guys they had pegged as starters. McD looks like he’s on the same track here, willing to pay Love or Bosh big $$$ but probably not anyone else. It’s hard to see him paying the market value of 9M per for a guy like Davis on a playoff bubble squad when he never paid anywhere close to that for starters on a contender in BOS. To me, this should be the 5th takeaway in this article.

      • 4everis2long

        If the Suns had made Davis or a power forward a priority perhaps Hill doesn’t set the table. Hills numbers were slightly better than Davis primarily because he got more minutes. I suspect they could possibly get him at $8m/yr. Good research on McD’s history. In the East when you have one Hall of Famer up front it is easier to get away with that philosophy. He needs to understand you need size in the West and excellent guard play.

        • EarlBlackJesusMonroe

          Patrick Paterson: 6′-9″ 235# last season 8.5 points/5.3 boards/14.67 PER. In the playoffs he stepped it up a bit to 10.4 and 6.6 against the Nets.

          Is he any better than Markieff? No. But Ennis is more than likely going to Toronto in exchange for him.

        • DBreezy

          Maybe, but bigs have a history of getting overpaid early on. They can usually wait longer than most guards to get a deal because there aren’t that many of them. The Celts always had size until KG’s last season there when he played the 5. The Celts built their squads initially to handle teams like DET and CLE, but over time needed less size at the 4 because they were battling ORL and eventually MIA. They just didn’t pay much for that size outside of KG. Their cap was basically the MLE. They filled spots with a mixture of vets who would take less to win, retread projects, and late first or 2nd round picks.

          That’s fine with me, IND basically does the same thing behind West and Hibbert and I’d rather not be in the situation like DEN and DET where you have tons of money locked up in bigs, several of whom can’t lock down their spot in the rotation. At this point, and it’s still early, it looks like the mistake McD MAY have made is not picking up another 4 in the draft Either by trading up in the first to get a guy like Capella or McGary or more practically financially, buying a 2nd round pick and taking someone like Powell along with Brown. If no one is available on an affordable deal, perhaps they sign someone who shows well in SL (Suns or elsewhere) to a non-guaranteed deal or maybe they make a deal for another team’s out of the rotation big to save that team dollars or get their roster down to size. Whatever it is, I don’t think they’ll be paying much more than the MLE.

          • 4everis2long

            Sooner or later McD has to realize he is in the West where Bigs are a priority .Memphis, Spurs, Clips, OKC and Trailblazers all have centers and power forwards who are tough physically. Not getting a power forward in the draft will only be a problem if they do not get one in free agency or trade. I think he was hoping Gasol would have interest in joining the Suns but he only wanted to play for a championship caliber team. I cannot predict what they will spend but they need a defensive and or rebounding four in the worst way but yet guards seem to be a priority. The blue print seems similar to what Golden State is doing and they cannot get in the upper tier of the West.

          • DBreezy

            I initially thought they would go after Gasol too, but the Thomas signing and Deng interest made me start thinking and looking at the Celts history. I don’t think Gasol would have ever been in McD’s price range for a non-star big, but with so many contenders after him it was never going to be an issue anyway. I do think they will add another 4 to the roster somehow, just not a pricy one unless it’s a star. I think they only reason they got interested in Deng is that he was willing to take a two year deal that fits the whole asset acquisition thing they’re rolling with.

    • DBreezy

      I would also add that the Celts track record may be instructive for how Kieff’s extension or RFA status is handled.

  • Boomer

    I guess we need to wait and see how it all plays out but if there’s no further roster changes, I fully agree with those concerned about the impact this has on Goodwin’s minutes. We’re still in development mode and he looks like he has potential to be a seriously good player. He needs the court time to realise that potential.

  • MyMets

    Is 2014-2015 going to be a step back? We still need a PF – is Markieff the answer? And what about Center, Plumlee is good for about 20-25 minutes, is Len going to be able to be productive playing 25 minutes – is he ready? Right now it seems like we stock piled a lot of point guards and wing players. At some point we need players that can play in the paint.

  • 4everis2long

    We better hurry and sign DJ Augustine before it is too late.

    • EarlBlackJesusMonroe

      For those that don’t know Forever, it is SARCASM!

      • 4everis2long

        Absolutely EBJM. I also agree Patterson IMO is not an upgrade to Markief.

  • EarlBlackJesusMonroe

    Well lets look at the bigger picture! The Lakers struck out huge in the free agent market! They helped the Rockets retain Chandler Parsons by picking up Jeremy Lin. They now have Nash, Lin, Marshall and rookie Jordan Clarkson playing point. Pau Gasol rejected two years and $20 million and is looking at the Spurs or Chicago. Their 2015 1st rd pick they the Suns own is going to be a lottery pick.

    Tyler Ennis to Toronto for Patrick Patterson?

  • Todd

    Nice pick up but Suns still MUST acquire power forward. They should have prior to last year’s trading deadline and they can’t wait any longer. Time is now not later. Boozer? Amare return home?