EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns owner Mat Ishbia: ‘I don’t know what the second tax apron’ is

Mar 8, 2024, 6:23 AM | Updated: 1:01 pm

PHOENIX — The intentions were immediately made clear.

When the Phoenix Suns traded for Bradley Beal in the offseason, a story from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst detailed Phoenix’s plans to “explode” through the second tax apron recently implemented via the latest collective bargaining agreement.

Some of the limitations have already hit the Suns, such as who they could and couldn’t sign on the buyout market, and more are coming. Aggregating salaries in trades going forward? Nuh-uh. Not happening. A mid-level exception in free agency? Nope. Minimum signings only.

But even with those in place, the Suns can still maintain their team and sign free agents to pricey contracts. It just has to be their own, as having a hold on a player’s Bird rights will allow them to keep inflating their cap number. This applies to both key impending free agents for Phoenix: Grayson Allen and Royce O’Neale.

The only downside is the amount of money the Suns have to pay. The penalties get worse the higher the tax bill gets and more severe the longer Phoenix remains a tax team. The acquisition of O’Neale, for example, added over $20 million to it because of the increase in salary, per Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro.

All that matters is, well, paying it. And Suns owner Mat Ishbia has walked the walk so far and is certainly talking the talk.

“I don’t know what the second tax apron (is) — what is that? Nah I’m just kidding,” Ishbia joked Thursday.

His message has been about every decision coming down to just one factor, and that is if it is going to help the Suns win. Retaining both Allen and O’Neale would immensely. Letting them go and replacing them with minimum contract signings would be a gigantic downgrade to what Ishbia and company have developed into a great core of four role players around Beal, Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.

The play of Allen, O’Neale, Jusuf Nurkic and Eric Gordon is a part of why Phoenix still has an upside that reaches winning a title. Losing any of those guys could be the difference in that upside dropping.

“We’re trying to win a championship and we’re gonna try this year and then we’re gonna try to figure out how to do it next year,” Ishbia said. “And signing free agents is what it’s gonna take. And having someone’s Bird rights gives you an advantage to be able to keep those players even if you’re into the luxury tax. We’re not frivolous with money and just spending money to spend money. What we’re trying to do is win a championship and build the best team possible.”

The restrictions the second apron can inflict naturally inspire the thought processes around the NBA’s front offices of how to approach it. Phoenix’s aforementioned decision is easy to see.

Commissioner Adam Silver was in town on Thursday for the Suns announcing they are the home for the 2027 NBA All-Star Game, and he spoke on what the league has seen happen as a result of the aprons so far.

“It’s a balance,” Silver said. “Mat — as you would expect and hope as a fan of his team — wants to do everything he possibly can to compete and then from a leaguewide basis we want to create the best possible competition among the 30 teams and this is the balance we found through negotiations with the players association.”

Silver noted how successful the NBA has been in regards to parity recently, and the aprons seemingly are the latest effort to keep that a reality going forward.

Contending franchises will require someone bold with deep pockets and an incredible dedication to winning in order to stay in the picture at the top strictly through player retention.

Ishbia is by all accounts that guy. And his ultimate moment to prove it comes this summer.

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