After the 2013-14 season, the Phoenix Suns were everybody’s favorite upstart. The unlikely chemistry between super-fast guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic was the engine behind a team that went from top-of-the-lottery candidate to barely missing the playoffs. Emboldened by that unlikely success, Suns GM Ryan McDonough doubled down on the point guard strategy and signed Isaiah Thomas away from the Sacramento Kings on a bargain deal. But it all unraveled half a season later, and Thomas was traded for greener pastures in Boston.
Now the Suns have lost all of that 2014 momentum, and they’ve been one of the worst teams in the NBA. Asked by Phoenix radio hosts what he would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight, McDonough expressed regrets about Thomas, but maybe not the ones you were expecting.
“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.”
For a quality player like Thomas on an extremely cheap deal, the Suns’ haul was disappointing — the Cavaliers’ first round pick in this upcoming draft, almost certain to be near the back end, and Marcus Thornton. It’s understandable that McDonough has regrets, but instead he might wonder if he should have signed Thomas at all.
Chemistry’s a fickle thing, and Thomas’ acquisition and subsequent gripes about playing time were some of the first signs that the Suns didn’t quite know what to do following their magical run in 2013-14. McDonough wanted to chase what worked, but in doing so, he upset the delicate balance of the team.
A year and a failed pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge later, the Suns are in the rebuilding mode everyone thought they’d experience two years ago. If McDonough had held off on trading Thomas until the summer, would an improved return have changed Phoenix’s fate that much?
One thing’s for sure: The Suns are a long way from the charming upstarts they once were, and McDonough is left to stew on just where it went wrong.