Change is coming: Mat Ishbia’s takeover could bring Suns leadership turnover

Feb 7, 2023, 7:49 AM
FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2015 file photo, former Michigan State players Mateen Cleaves, left, and Ma...
FILE - In this Dec. 12, 2015 file photo, former Michigan State players Mateen Cleaves, left, and Mat Ishbia laugh as they are introduced with Michigan State's 2000 national championship team during halftime of the Michigan State-Florida NCAA college basketball game, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
(AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Trade Chris Paul?

To his credit, the veteran reacted like a coldblooded, highly trained professional.

But deep inside, CP3 must be seething.

Trade him, the future Hall of Fame point guard who lifted the Suns out of the muck?

Trade him, the guy who signed up to play for a franchise that was 34-39 the previous season, a team that hadn’t posted a winning season in six years? Who helped execute an NBA Finals run and a dramatic culture change in Phoenix, including the non-stop pestering of Deandre Ayton?

Trade him to Brooklyn in the sunset of his career … when his family lives in Southern California?

That’s cold. Literally and figuratively.

Buckle up, Suns fans. It’s about to get real around here.

Incoming owner Mat Ishbia is expected to assume control of the team before Wednesday, and the winds of change are blowing throughout our heritage franchise. Mateen Cleaves, one of Ishbia’s former teammates at Michigan State, is expected to join the organization at some point in the future. Same with former Thunder vice president Paul Rivers. And multiple sources told longtime NBA analyst Ric Bucher that Ishbia expects to name former NBA great Isiah Thomas to a prominent place in his new front office.

Thomas was the gifted ringleader of the Bad Boy Pistons, and one of Ishbia’s boyhood idols. He would also be a polarizing executive and a curious choice for a franchise trying to scrub itself clean from Robert Sarver’s toxic workplace. In sum, it’s a bit disorienting to see a celebrated culture and hierarchy disintegrate before our eyes, morphing into something completely different.

Has a new owner ever taken over a franchise so close to a championship and this close to an official trade deadline?

The timing suggests that Ishbia wants to take over now. He wants to put his mark on the on-court product before the stretch run. Like anyone else, he wants to make a bold first impression for his new team and his new audience. Like acquiring Kyrie Irving, which might go down as the best trade the Suns never made.

In the end, the Suns might suffer from a lack of options. They might value their own players a lot more than the rest of the NBA. They might be forced into trading Jae Crowder to the Bucks for an underwhelming trade package that’s been sitting on the shelf for weeks.

How will this team respond if no real enforcements arrive at the trade deadline? Will bruised feelings be an issue on a team where Paul and Mikal Bridges have both been subjected to trade rumors since last summer; and neither Ayton nor Cam Johnson were rewarded with rookie extensions? And if the reports are true, how did president of basketball operations and general manager James Jones really feel about potentially trading CP3?

It was interesting to see Suns head coach Monty Williams cover for Jones on Monday, implying that Paul’s name was dropped into the rumor mill by another team seeking leverage. And in a perfect world, the erratic Suns will block out all noise and distractions and rally around their new owner, the guy who walked onto a championship team at Michigan State.

Either way, change is coming. Everyone knows it. New owners bring their own people. They bring their own ideas and their egos. Both are generally large in scope. Especially when it comes to billionaires.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

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Change is coming: Mat Ishbia’s takeover could bring Suns leadership turnover