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.
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.
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.