Isaiah Thomas: Backcourt with Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic would ‘100%’ work today

Mar 21, 2024, 10:40 AM | Updated: 10:41 am

When the Phoenix Suns pulled off a sign-and-trade to acquire Isaiah Thomas from the Sacramento Kings in July 2014, the top-layer view looked like it was insurance in case restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe departed.

Fellow point guard Goran Dragic was coming off an All-NBA Third Team season a year before, and three lead guards didn’t seem to make sense.

Bledsoe’s final meeting with reporters heading into that summer hardly lent confidence he would return to Phoenix, but he was finally extended that September and Phoenix rolled into media day with a trio of point guards.

There was inevitably that storyline to be answered and a very literal metaphor that arose from a set of photos taken.

Peel back the onion on the Thomas signing, and you could argue that general manager Ryan McDonough was simply working on asset acquisition, giving his team options by piling up three All-Star caliber point guards and figuring out the rest later.

Whether McDonough was initially operating that way, the Suns sure acted like that was the case months later. At the trade deadline, Phoenix traded Thomas and Dragic after tinkering with playing three point guards — at a time in spurts but often ending games with one benched.

Nearly a decade later, Thomas has returned to the Suns. And when reflecting on his brief tenure in Phoenix back then, he thinks it could have ended a little differently under the context of the present NBA.

“I think it was just too new to the NBA,” Thomas told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Wednesday before he made his re-debut as a Sun. “In today’s game, that’s working 100% of the time. And not necessarily saying it didn’t work. We had a winning record. We were fighting for the playoffs at that time. It was just different.

“I think it took a toll on different guys, obviously. Each and every game was just different. Like, whether it be me and Bled ending the game or me and Dragic ending the game, it was always somebody that was at the wrong end of the stick. I think that was hard for three competitors … I think Dragic just came off All-NBA, I just came off averaging 20 points per game with Sacramento and then Bledsoe just got his big pay-day. I think it was just hard for everybody to take in.”

Phoenix was 29-25 at the trade deadline when Bledsoe lost his two backcourt partners and was re-paired by promising young guard Brandon Knight.

Before the trades, Dragic, Thomas and Bledsoe had shared the court in 32 games. The injection of a third guard had bumped the pace and helped the offense at risk of the Suns losing rebounding and matchup advantages on defense. It was a near-neutral impact in terms of plus-minus, but it did show signs of working in spurts.

But the Suns could only give up size so much. Two of them playing at a time was the norm.

Interestingly, Thomas was a part of seven of the eight best three-man lineups who had appeared in at least 30 games together for that entire season. Dragic was in the two best but only two of the top-eight.

Bledsoe was only in one of the top 12 three-man lineups that year.

Dragic had been most vocal about disassembling the experiment, going public about a trade request before the February trade deadline in saying he didn’t trust the Suns. He didn’t like his new role that he perceived was about standing in the corner.

The point guard was shipped to the Miami Heat, most notably for a pair of first-round picks.

Thomas was traded to the Boston Celtics, where he went on to blossom into an All-NBA player and MVP candidate himself before injuries and a Kyrie Irving trade availability ended his tenure there. McDonough only needed a year from that 2015 trade deadline to express regret in trading Thomas as the point guard blew up in Boston, becoming a 2016 All-Star.

“It was a good experience for me,” Thomas said of his time in Phoenix. “Obviously, it was a blessing in disguise that I did get traded because it like amped up my career in some ways. I think it was just ahead of its time and it was just something that I don’t think we were very patient with — not even like us as players but the organization was (not) patient with. They made a call and we moved on.”

And despite the open complaints from Dragic and the awkward roles for Thomas and Bledsoe, apparently, there weren’t sour locker room vibes.

“We got along,” Thomas said Wednesday. “Bled is a good, good, good friend of mine. Dragic, anytime I see him, anytime I’m around him (they are friendly). We were always getting along. It wasn’t nothing like we had any negative spill against each other. It was the lay of the land, I guess.”

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