ESPN’s Windhorst: Mat Ishbia’s incoming takeover of Suns could calm waters

Jan 18, 2023, 1:52 PM

The poor play, the injuries, an unstable ownership situation and a looming trade deadline hover around the Phoenix Suns.

They sit outside of the play-in at the moment at 21-24.

If there’s any place to find optimism, it wouldn’t seem to be ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, who has written on the complicated ownership situation. Suspended owner Robert Sarver, his interim replacement Sam Garvin and potential future owner Mat Ishbia all have separate connections to the day-to-day operations of the franchise.

Still, Windhorst sees light at the end of the tunnel for the Suns.

“Robert Sarver has allowed (Ishbia) to come in and meet with his people, and I think there’s more meetings scheduled,” the ESPN reporter told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marottaon Wednesday. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw him at a Suns game soon. That doesn’t happen unless they think the transaction is going to close.”

Windhorst said Ishbia could take over officially perhaps as soon as late February.

Of course, that doesn’t uncomplicate the present.

President of basketball operations and GM James Jones sits in that present only hoping to better his basketball team before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Jae Crowder’s separation from the team must be decided upon. The forward has been on the trade block since before the season began, and the Suns are being patient in acting.

How they do make a move could hint at how Jones wants to operate into the 2023-24 season. Would a new owner agree with that decision?

“They have to decide whether or not they’re going to be a salary-cap team next summer,” said Windhorst, as the Suns currently are spending into the luxury tax this year. “They can go a couple different ways. They can keep Chris Paul, they can extend Cam Johnson and they can be an over-the-cap team. Or they can move on from Chris Paul (who is partially guaranteed), they can move on from Cam Johnson and they can go hunt for salary cap space. I don’t think that (second option is) likely, but let’s be honest, that’s a thing.

“So if you’re going to trade Jae Crowder, you got to consider whether you’re trading him for a guy with years on his contract or are (the Suns) trading him for a guy … or two players who are ending their contracts so (the Suns) still have flexibility. If we don’t know our owner’s position on signing Cameron Johnson, on whether or not to keep Chris Paul on that contract, on whether to spend that money. … It’s a fundamental discussion about the future of all that.”

The current state of the team complicates that fundamental discussion, too.

Devin Booker will be out until at least the end of this month due to a groin issue. Paul is dealing with a hip injury and in 26 games played is having the worst shooting season of his career despite a reduced role.

Mikal Bridges and Deandre Ayton have been hot and cold taking on more with the Suns’ two stars sidelined.

“In the grand scheme of the last decade of being a Suns fan, I still think you’re in a good spot,” Windhorst said, noting Booker’s long-term deal, Phoenix being an appealing destination and having two high-caliber wings, plus a starting center.

In other words, things could be worse. And they likely will get better in the coming months with a Crowder trade still likely, health returning and the ownership situation resolving.

“I am optimistic about Mat Ishbia as an owner,” Windhorst said. “I think he has been preparing for a long time. I do think when you get a new owner there are inherent mistakes that’ll be made. From what I understand, he has done a lot of groundwork. … I have higher hopes for an incoming owner than I did for the team remaining for Robert Sarver.”

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ESPN’s Windhorst: Mat Ishbia’s incoming takeover of Suns could calm waters