Trade grades: Suns send Thomas to Boston in head-scratching move
The Suns completed a shakeup of their crowded backcourt by shipping backup point guard Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics in exchange for shooting guard Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick (via the Cavaliers).
Thomas, 26, is averaging 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game while shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from deep. He is in the first year of a four-year, $27 million contract that decreases annually each season.
Thornton, 27, is averaging 8.9 points and 1.9 rebounds while shooting 41.6 percent overall and 41.9 percent this season. The six-year veteran is in the final year of a contract that is paying him $8.6 million this season.
Phoenix Suns: D
Did Suns GM Ryan McDonough get a little too trade happy? Phoenix’s decisions to appoint Brandon Knight as its point guard of the future and preemptively trade Goran Dragic to avoid summer free agency drama made sense, but this move looks like a bit of a head-scratcher.
McDonough got great value when he signed Thomas to a four-year contract last summer. That value increases relatively as the deal runs its court, with the salary cap set to explode and Thomas’s own salary diminishing each season. Yes, the 5-foot-9 guard is (very) undersized and not the world’s stingiest defender, but he’s a microwave scorer who can hurt opposing defenses in the pick-and-roll and with his jump shot.
A three-guard lineup of Knight, Eric Bledsoe and Thomas looks athletic, fun and explosive on paper, and Thomas is surely better suited to a big-minute reserve role over a starting job. Even if Thomas was somehow unhappy with the scope of his role with Phoenix, he’s a talented and proven offensive contributor worth more than what will likely be a (very) late first-round pick.
With three-plus years left on his deal and Thomas set to enter his prime years, it’s unclear why McDonough felt the urgency to move his sixth man so quickly after signing him. Perhaps it would be understandable if the Suns had a backup point guard in waiting, but McDonough also traded away 2014 first-round pick Tyler Ennis and 2014 signee Zoran Dragic. There was no obvious financial motivation either: Phoenix’s books are clear of deadweight deals.
Thornton has bounced from Sacramento to Brooklyn to Boston and now to Phoenix over the last two seasons, and it’s unclear whether he represents anything more than an expiring contract to the Suns. Known as a shoot-first scoring guard, Thornton’s production has steadily diminished since his career year in 2011-12. If Jeff Hornacek can reverse that momentum, perhaps a Thornton revival could salvage this deal. If not, and if Cleveland remains a championship contender next season, McDonough might regret making one deal too many.
Boston Celtics: A-minus
Boston’s roster has been seriously talent-deficient over the last two years, a problem made worse by its decision to part ways with Rajon Rondo earlier this season. Thomas plugs in nicely to a backcourt that also includes 2014 lottery pick Marcus Smart and fellow Tacoma, Wash., product Avery Bradley.
These three complement each other well on paper. Smart and Bradley have the potential to be one of the league’s best defensive backcourt pairings, and either is capable of covering for Thomas on that end. Meanwhile, Thomas’ established ability to get to the hoop, shoot from distance and generate offense in pick-and-roll settings are all welcome additions given Smart’s need to develop offensively and Bradley’s status as a tertiary threat.
Celtics president Danny Ainge is perpetually in deal mode, meaning Thomas arrives as a player and a potential future trade asset. Thomas’s team-friendly contract could easily play a major role in another deal down the line. To make that type of addition for an assumed late first-round pick and a player who wasn’t making much of a mark in Thornton looks like a no-brainer. If Thomas gets the touches and shots he wants, his numbers could soon make this trade look like a steal.