The Phoenix Suns will reportedly acquire restricted free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas in a sign-and-trade agreement with the Sacramento Kings, according to Yahoo! Sports. As a function of the deal, Thomas has agreed to a four-year contract that will pay him $27 million. Sacramento, in exchange, will create a trade exception worth $7.2 million and acquire the rights to 2013 second-round pick Alex Oriakhi.
Thomas' relationship with the Kings has been tepid throughout his three years with the team, during which Sacramento worked the trade market and made signings to supplant Thomas as a starter. None of those moves panned out as intended. In the end, Thomas averaged 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game as the lead guard on a team that didn't seem to want him – a curiosity given how incredible a return on investment Thomas turned out to be. The Kings initially acquired Thomas by selecting him with the very last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and paid him just $2.1 million over three years as a result. Yet by the end of that contract, Sacramento reportedly had no interest in matching this incredibly reasonable offer sheet and Thomas was equally uninterested in returning to the Kings, according to CBSSports.com.
That works to Phoenix's benefit here, as the Suns managed to steal away a quality restricted free agent without overpaying him in the process. Contrast Thomas' situation with that of Chandler Parsons or Gordon Hayward; those two forwards (both restricted free agents) will be overpaid next season relative to their contributions, with Hayward pulling a true max offer sheet from Charlotte and Parsons near enough on his offer from Dallas. Each will earn a starting salary of around $14.7 million next season, more than double that of the more productive Thomas. That doesn't seem to be a result of some deflation in the market for point guards, as reserves like Greivis Vasquez (two years, $13 million) and Shaun Livingston (three years, $16 million) have been able to work out favorable deals. Even Thomas' former team will pay Darren Collison – a backup by type with glaring flaws – $16 million over three years with assurance of a starting opportunity. In what universe does that make sense?
Sacramento's moves are plain but its intentions confusing. Collison is a far inferior player to Thomas, yet their difference in salary will be marginal. One would think the Kings would have made more of an effort to re-sign the player who persistently forced his way to the top of their depth chart against long odds. Thomas, after all, hasn't merely had to overcome his lowly draft status but also his trademark lack of size. It's not often that a 5-9 player creates such staying power, yet Sacramento apparently disqualified what Thomas was able to accomplish to the point that both parties sought a divorce. There were practical means to fit both Thomas and Collison in under the luxury tax line provided Sacramento shed salary (via trade or the stretch provision), but apparently it's preferable to let one of the team's best players leave while receiving only a trade exception in return. The Kings aren't a team that can afford to squander assets, yet here they are doing just that.
Thomas should be a terrific fit with the open-floor Suns, even as he assumes a reserve role behind Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Together those three guards are an absolute terror – able scorers and pick-and-roll creators all, with enough range between them to play competitively in every possible tandem. Dragic and Thomas, too, play on deals that are easily movable should the right trade come along to reshape the Suns. There isn't the slightest downside here for Phoenix, which lands a fine, appreciating player at a good price without much sacrificing their roster's flexibility.
Grade: A. This was very well played by the Suns, who managed to secure a deal with a terrific, undervalued player amidst Friday's free agent frenzy.